Texas Football: Mack Brown Says He'll "Get This Fixed," but Can He?
Two years in a row, two stunning routs by Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. The 63-21 debacle in Dallas, Texas was so bad that not even a deep-fried Twinkie could wash out the ugly taste left in Longhorn fans' mouths.
"I'm way too competitive and have way too much pride to leave something bad," the Texas coach said. "I'm going to get this fixed."
So is Brown saying the Longhorns are "bad" and that's why he's not leaving? Most Texas fans will admit their football program has been mediocre at times. But "bad"?
The offense looks really good. The defense has tremendous talent. So what if the defense is giving up huge plays and tackles like its upper torsos, arms and hands were dipped in butter? It's not bad. It just hasn't been developed. It hasn't been taught the fundamentals of defense.
You know, like wrapping up. Maintaining gap discipline. Staying in an assigned zone. T-A-C-K-L-I-N-G.
Most of this falls on defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Granted, Diaz had a big pair of shoes to step into when Will Muschamp left Texas for Florida, but there's way too much talent in the secondary to be playing so far off the receivers or being out of position to make tackles.
It doesn't all fall on Diaz's shoulders, however. Strength and conditioning coach Duane Akina has a hand in this as well. Perhaps the defense gives up so many big plays because it is gassed late in the third quarter. This is Big 12 football; prolific offenses reign supreme and are taxing on a defense. Akina realizes that, surely.
Akina was asked about his pregame routine and he said he likes to lie down, close his eyes and take a nap. On his official profile at TexasSports.com, Akina talked about that routine while he was an assistant at Arizona.
When I was the offensive coordinator at Arizona, we were playing USC, a big game, and I fell asleep in my office. My son, Kainoa, who usually held my cords, would always come up and knock on the door before we would go. Well, he didn't get back from his Pop Warner game so I slept through pregame.
It's a cute story only because Arizona beat USC, but it does leave you wondering just how intense these conditioning workouts and practices are when you have an assistant who likes to nap before a game.
If your team is kicking everyone's butt, then the nap thing works.
When your defense gives up 63 points to its rival on national television, ditch the nap thing and start getting these guys into better shape or at least appear to look like you're doing just that.
UCLA went through a similar situation when then-head coach Rick Neuheisel allowed his players to ditch one practice a year. UCLA's defense, in Neuheisel's final year, was ranked No. 89. The problem was obvious; fundamentals not being addressed and out-of-shape players.
Neuheisel was canned last year and Jim Mora was hired to bring back UCLA's football program. Already, there is much more physicality and toughness to the Bruins defense because Mora addressed it in spring camp.
You can't fix poor tackling in one week, but can Brown get this fixed? Possibly, but not likely. It's a little late in the season, don't you think?
Why wasn't this problem addressed in fall camp, when all of the basics were supposed to be in place? Didn't anyone notice the poor tackling techniques?
This is the middle of the college football season. The team can't be re-learning how to tackle, re-learning how to avoid over-pursuing a ball-carrier and re-learning how to keep a receiver in front of a defender.
What the defense is supposed to be focusing on right now is game strategy for its next opponent More specifically, how to contain Baylor and its quarterback Nick Florence.
Due to NCAA time restrictions, Brown can't add extra practice time—at least not without the NCAA sticking a microscope up his nostrils—so trying to fix things that should have been taught in spring and fall camp is almost impossible. It's akin to giving in to your two-year-old's tantrum at the grocery store every time he wants a candy bar and then, after six months of giving in, expecting that two-year-old to stay quiet when you finally say "no" to a candy bar.
Good luck with that. He's been programmed by your lack of discipline.
In the meantime, Diaz can watch game film and figure out the perfect defensive scheme to stop Baylor, the team that put up 63 points against West Virginia and still lost. Perfect game plans work assuming the defenders can execute assignments and tackle.
But back to the Longhorns' perfect game plan.
The Longhorns defense needs to...
Pressure Nick Florence? Great idea. Blitz Nick Florence? Of course.
And that leaves it up to the Longhorn secondary to make the play if Florence gets a pass off before he gets hammered by Jackson Jeffcoat or Alex Okafor. It could work. Most of the time.
But that's the very heart of the Longhorn defense's problem.
When asked to come up and stop a big play, more often than not, it hasn't because of lack of leadership. Attention to details. Consistently sticking to the fundamentals of the sport.
You can perform the most difficult dives in the world off of a platform, but if you don't point your toes, you won't win a gold medal. Little things count. If you haven't learned that after all your years of training, then you probably won't remember that when it matters most.
If the Longhorns keep their toes pointed this Saturday, Brown will have fixed the problem. But don't count on that.
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