This weekend’s Red River Rivalry means crunch time for the no. 21 Texas Longhorns.
The annual showdown with Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas is usually the Horns’ biggest game of the season, and this year is hardly different.
But this time, the result can mean so much more.
After a humiliating 34-12 loss at the hands of Rick Neuheisel’s UCLA Bruins last weekend in Austin, the Longhorns were left with a disgustingly bitter taste in their mouth just a week before their meeting with the eighth-ranked Sooners.
Texas put out a strong defense, but was dealt a blow to its normally intimidating swagger after getting pounded by UCLA’s run game. The Longhorns’ offense is the root of the problem, and finding the bread-and-butter of a relatively young offense has ultimately crippled the high expectations of fans and coaches.
The dedication to the running game is not developing as many thought it would, and the passing attack under sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert is lacking the flare and fluidity that Colt McCoy so proficiently displayed only a year ago.
The offensive line still is not generating a mean streak: the mauler mentality that can open up the offense, enable the explosive plays, and begin to build that confidence of a championship caliber team.
That is not in the make-up of this Mack Brown team, and if drastic modifications are not made quickly and determinedly, the burnt orange nation will be in a foul mood in a couple of weeks.
A Big Difference Between 5-1 (3-0) and 3-3 (1-2)
The Sooners are not the only team on the radar for the Longhorns, despite the popular ideology of taking in the schedule one game at a time.
After the Oklahoma matchup, Texas has a much-needed bye-week to reassess and analyze where this team is headed. But on Oct. 16th, the Horns travel to Lincoln in what may be one of the most hyped fixtures in the 2010 season.
Should Texas find a way to make it past Oklahoma unscathed, the Longhorns hit the bye week holding a respectable 4-1 record—probably back in the top 15—with two out of the three most difficult conference games already in the books.
The road trip to Lincoln will shape up to be another gridiron fistfight, with the Huskers seeking revenge from last year’s Big 12 Championship Game debacle. Another win for Texas puts them at 5-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big 12 with the opportunity to run the table and a chance to defend the Big 12 crown.
But it all rides on the offensive identity. Can that unit find the playmakers? Can the coaching staff fix the penalties and the inconsistencies along the line in just a matter of days and weeks? Will a leader by example emerge to carry them over the next two games?
There are plenty of positives riding on these matchups, but the expectations of a win only will create a harder fall if they lose.
Gilbert Needs Help to Construct a New Identity
Perhaps too much pressure has been thrown on Gilbert’s shoulders.
Despite his freshman classification, the Longhorns’ signal caller was thrown into the national championship game before he had even started a game.
Now a sophomore in his first year as the starter, the anticipation is high, but he is hardly getting the help he needs to succeed even though his own inconsistencies are compounding the problems.
Colt McCoy before him had weapons like Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley—two of the most sure-handed receivers in Texas history. Gilbert gets a slew of inconsistent pass catchers and a flurry of youthful talent just like him at his side.
But that youthful talent is just that—young and gifted, but very raw.
Following up the kind of year the Horns had in 2009 with a young quarterback who had barely seen significant time is a daunting trial.
The loss of the offensive weapons in McCoy and Shipley—whose chemistry now appears to have been taken for granted—was a huge hit to the demeanor and stability of the offense.
It will take more than a talented sophomore quarterback to usher in a new era of Texas Longhorns football.