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Charlie Strong and Texas have arrived (again): Thoughts on a thriller

Texas 50, Notre Dame 47. Two overtimes. A Matthew McConaughey cameo. A day not normally reserved for college football showcased college football at its best. Let's talk about it.

1. I wrote when it was announced in April, during the biggest offseason of his professional life, that ESPN's moving Texas-Notre Dame to Sunday night would amplify whatever ended up happening -- good or bad. It was a simple function of the format. On a normal Saturday, even one as historically packed as yesterday, Texas-Notre Dame would have gathered its share of the spotlight. Especially considering the 50-47, two overtime final score.

But SportsCenter would not have popped in and out of live hits from Austin all day, as it did Sunday. ABC would not have sent a special on-site studio crew, nor would it have stuck around long enough post-game to interview Tyrone Swoopes and Shane Beuchele and Strong. It might have opened Saturday evening's SportsCenter, but it would not have had the 'A' block all to itself.

And Texas would not have had the undivided eyes of a football-starved nation for the entire evening -- on a holiday weekend, no less, where most viewers could stick around for the end with no work tomorrow.

Texas had a moment on Sunday night. How long can Strong make it last?

2. When it was announced that Notre Dame would balance both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire at quarterback, I argued that Brian Kelly could look across the field for an example of how to use them. Believe me, it felt strange at the time. Kizer and Zaire are both more complete players than Swoopes.

But juggling two quarterbacks isn't about unfurling both of their talents. It's about finding a role that one could play, while the other piloted most of the flight.

Texas used its system to near perfection. Of the 27 passes Texas quarterbacks threw Sunday night, Buechele tossed 26 of them. And of the 16 carries Texas quarterbacks logged -- two bad snaps notwithstanding -- Swoopes logged 13 of them.

Kelly, on the other hand, was the last person to realize his my turn, your turn system had overstayed its welcome. Zaire played three series on Sunday night, and Notre Dame was shutout on all three of them. One less series and Notre Dame probably wins. Kelly bafflingly started Zaire for the second half, a three-and-out that lost three yards in the midst of a Texas run that saw the Longhorns flip a 14-7 deficit to a 31-14 lead.

Notre Dame's coaches not deciding in their halftime huddle to stick with Kizer in the second half was one of the most puzzling decisions of the weekend, and it likely cost the Irish a win.

3. You'll notice the parenthesis in the title. They're there for a reason. We all declared Strong arrived and Texas back after the Horns stuffed Oklahoma last season in Dallas. That lasted two weeks. The Horns were shutout at Iowa State two weeks after beating Oklahoma, a performance arguably as bad as any of Mack Brown's Red River swan dives, starting a slide that saw Texas lose three of four late-season games.

Texas has performed (relatively) well in its big games under Strong. It's the little ones that prove to be the problem. In fact, the only consistent theme of the Strong era has been the Longhorns continued throttling between two wild extremes. We saw it again Sunday night.

There was the period where Texas went on a 24-0 run, with receivers that could run by Irish defenders and ball carriers that could run over them while bottling up DeShone Kizer, a future 10-year NFL franchise quarterback if there ever was one.

And then there was the period where Texas could not get out of its own way. Procedure penalties. Special teams penalties. A turnover. A blocked extra point returned for a game-extending two point non-conversion conversion. Texas answered its own 24-0 run with a 21-0 anti-run going the other way.

But the Longhorns rallied. That right there is a step beyond where this program has been for the past six seasons. And that's the point: there's (finally) enough talent here -- in the locker room and the staff room -- to manage the two extremes, and then rebound when the valleys inevitably hit.

The key will be getting a Notre Dame effort not just when Notre Dame comes to town, but against California and Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

There's enough talent in Austin to win the Big 12. But winning a conference title isn't about talent. It's about consistency. Can Strong coax that out of this team in the biggest season of his career?