The past week couldn't have been easy for Texas coach Mack Brown. It will surely only get harder after Saturday.
Coming off a crushing loss to BYU in which the Longhorns defense gave up 550 yards rushing, Texas needed to find its guts. Manny Diaz was removed as the team's defensive coordinator (enter Greg Robinson) and two key offensive players—quarterback David Ash and wide receiver Daje Johnson—were out with injuries.
Ole Miss had Texas pretty much where it wanted. The question was how UT would respond.
They wouldn't, as Ole Miss went on to win 44-23.
Kirk Herbstreit brought up a good point Saturday morning during ESPN's College GameDay. When asked about Texas' game against Ole Miss, Herbstreit pointed to the responsibility of the players.
And he had a point. Eventually, someone has to take matters into their own hands on the field and make a play. Or, multiple plays.
The most recent example would be former 'Horns defensive end Alex Okafor's performance against Oregon State in the 2012 Alamo Bowl when he turned into nightmare fuel for the Beavers with 4.5 sacks. Texas would win 31-27.
That's the kind of performance Texas needed out of someone, anyone, Saturday night against the Rebels. Quarterback Case McCoy, for all his inconsistencies, would be a logical choice. Despite his shaky win-loss record when having to carry a game, he can still hang his hat on beating Texas A&M in 2011.
Point being, he's been in a critical situation before and come out on top.
Brown has received more than his fair share of criticism for the direction his teams have taken over the past few years. Since the end of the 2009 season, UT has been an average program in the Big 12 despite the resources and, supposedly, talent to compete at a much higher level.
He deserves that criticism. The complexities of running a successful major college football program are beyond what most of us can possibly comprehend. But, in the simplest of forms, Brown's job to win games.
But there's only so much he can do to get leaders to lead. That's one of the few things as a head coach he doesn't have complete control over. Brown can motivate and inspire. He can push buttons. He can put his players in a position to be successful. But he can't physically make them make a play when they've been backed into a corner or figuratively (and, perhaps, literally) hit in the mouth.
That falls on the responsibility of the players.
There were numerous moments from Saturday where Texas had an opportunity to take control. In fact, if that game was anything, it was a game of momentum swings. After quickly falling behind 14-0, the Longhorns put together an impressive 23-0 run between the first and second quarters.
That's where the run ended. Texas wouldn't score another point for the rest of the night. It would be a case where the less experienced team (Ole Miss) bounced back better than the team with 19 returning starters.
How does that happen?
Without directly comparing the two seasons, this has shades of 2010 written all over it. That team, which finished 5-7, had no direction from its coaching staff, let alone leadership on the field. Brown will insist that's not the case with this team. Following the loss to the Rebels, Brown pulled out the "we can still win the Big 12" defense.
Technically, he's correct. That's still an achievable goal. But after the way this team played in back-to-back losses, there can't be many (any?) people left watching who feel it's a realistic one.
Then again, it doesn't matter what we think. It matters what the team thinks and does.
But here's the reason to doubt: championship teams respond. Alabama responded when it trailed 14-0 Saturday against an opponent much better than Ole Miss in Texas A&M.
What did Texas do when things got rough? Early in the fourth quarter down 14 points and in Ole Miss territory, Longhorns running back Malcolm Brown ran into McCoy on what looked like a miscommunication. The ball fell free to the ground and the Rebels recovered.
Four plays later, Ole Miss had scored a touchdown and held a 21-point lead.
Bad things happen. Sometimes in bunches. Good teams have bad days. There's no such thing as a timely turnover for an offense or a non-brutal holding call. They all stink something fierce. It's what a team does in response that determines what they are.
And many people think Texas is soft right now.
Who's to blame for that?
It's a combination of both the coaching staff and the players. While it's the athletes who have to find that extra gear themselves, it's the coaches who have to get the players to believe they can succeed. Right now, this doesn't look like a team that believes it can survive so much as a turnover.
There are other problems, to be sure. The defense still can't stop the run—Ole Miss had 272 yards on the ground—and tackling was a major issue on Jeff Scott's punt return for a touchdown.
Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said after the game that Texas' defensive scheme was basically the same as it was a week ago. But, realistically, how much could Robinson expect to change in a few practices when fundamentals are a primary issue?
But a bigger concern should be whether this coaching staff is starting to lose this team. There are still plenty of chances left in the season to prove otherwise, but after giving up over 1,100 yards and 84 points the past two games to fringe Top-25 teams, it's a fair question to begin considering.
If that does come to fruition, that's a problem from the top down.
The 'Horns didn't need to beat Ole Miss Saturday to prove it was tough. They needed to rebound from BYU and show some fight. And they did—for a quarter or so. Even then, the passion on display was ultimately quashed by the read-option, of all things.
Moral victories are overrated because, well, name a coach or player who believes strongly in them. But Week 3 would have been an appropriate exception. UT could have proved it had the grit to recover from the embarrassment in Provo. After all, you may not win, but you sure as hell can kick someone's rear end in the process.
At least that would be kind of fun if you're Texas.
But no one looks like they're having fun.
If things don't turnaround, that won't change. And maybe only then will real change occur.
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