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Longhorns secondary grew up after last-second loss at Texas Tech in 2008

Texas made its last trip to Lubbock with a secondary full of freshmen and sophomores who were just trying to keep up against the wizardry of Texas Tech's passing offense.

The Longhorns paid the price for it.

Freshman safety Blake Gideon dropped a sure interception. One play later, sophomore cornerback Curtis Brown and freshman safety Earl Thomas were beaten on the sideline, allowing Michael Crabtree to scoot into the end zone for Texas Tech's winning touchdown with 1 second left.

Thomas is now in the NFL, but Gideon and Brown are going back to Lubbock on Saturday night when sixth-ranked Texas (2-0) and the Red Raiders (2-0) meet in the Big 12 opener for both teams. Both say they are better players because of what happened to them in that game, including perhaps the most memorable play of the 2008 season.

"It forced us all to grow up," Gideon said.

"There was a lot of criticism for (those three)," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Now one of them is a first-round draft choice and the other two are great college football players. Those guys have used it to move forward. I'm sure they'll be a little extra motivated."

Back in 2008, Gideon shouldered a lot as a freshman. From his first game, he was counted on to call the coverages for the secondary, making the game at Texas Tech even more daunting.

Gideon now has started all 29 games of his career. After his big drop against Texas Tech, he had six interceptions last season. Curtis Brown has played in 42 career games, starting 20 of the last 22 at cornerback.

Both players said they quickly got over the mistakes they made that night two years ago. If Gideon had only caught Graham Harrell's errant throw, top-ranked Texas would have stayed on course for a possible national championship.

"I forgot it about a year and 51 weeks ago," Gideon said. "I can't think about it. I owe it to my teammates to prepare and perform. For me to keep thinking about that would not have been fair to them."

Brown needed to be even stronger mentally.

Texas fans remember Gideon's drop, but it's Brown who keeps showing up on the television screen every time there's a highlight of Crabtree's touchdown.

Brown sees it "every time I turn on the TV."

He tried to swat the ball away with his right hand, then desperately tried to get Crabtree out of bounds. Thomas, who was late in coverage, swore he heard a whistle and thought the play was dead.

Brown said he didn't hear a whistle. He was hoping Crabtree stepped out of bounds until he saw an official signal the touchdown.

"It was just a play made by a good athlete," Brown said. "He just made it against me."

That whole season was a learning process for the secondary.

The Longhorns ranked No. 104 in the nation in pass defense in 2008. Texas gave up 3,372 yards passing, the second highest total in school history.

In 2009, the Longhorns improved to 19th in pass defense and led the nation with 25 interceptions.

After two games this season, Texas has allowed just one passing TD and is giving up 165 yards per game. Along with Brown, Aaron Williams has emerged as a shutdown corner and Gideon and Christian Scott are the big hitters in the backfield.

Of course, Texas Tech quarterback Taylor Potts played against this group last season. He passed for 420 yards as Texas won 34-24.

"That's kind of what the secondary is made up of, pure athletes," Potts said. "Texas has always had them."