Saturday, October 17, 2009
Where there's a Will, there's a way for Texas
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
DALLAS -- A defensive performance like the one that Texas crafted against Oklahoma wasn’t just a result of having good players.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Defensive back Aaron Williams, No. 4, and the defense carried the Longhorns to a victory over Oklahoma.
Sure, it helped. But the true genesis of the Longhorns’ 16-13 victory over Oklahoma blossomed when defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was convinced late last season to stay at Texas with a future promise of a head coaching job at the school.
It’s hard to believe the Longhorns could have performed with the intensity or with the defensive acumen without their leader staying in place for another season.
And if Muschamp had been hired as the head coach at Tennessee, Washington or Clemson, as had been rumored late year, it wouldn’t have happened Saturday afternoon for the Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl.
“In a game like this, you need everybody and not just the 11 guys on the field,” Texas safety Blake Gideon said. “You need the guys up in the box and along the sideline. I’m not big on forecasting, but it would have been a lot more difficult.”
And that’s the genius of the deal that Mack Brown, Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and Muschamp agreed to. By keeping Muschamp around the Texas program as the Longhorns’ coach-in-waiting, the Longhorns’ defense wouldn’t have to again be overhauled with a new coordinator.
The Longhorns had played under Gene Chizik, Dick Tomey, Greg Robinson and Duane Akina in recent years. And the biggest bugaboo for the Longhorns was that they had to relearn defensive concepts with a change in coordinators coming seemingly every year.
“I think that was huge because I worried about changing coordinators four out of five years,” Brown said. “It’s hard for the kids to get continuity and learn the same defensive calls. Today, all of our defensive coaches along with Will knew what to go to.”
The best indication was the growth of the Texas secondary, which struggled at times last season and produced only six interceptions last season to tie for 113th nationally.
“Last year, we were just trying to get lined up right,” Gideon said. “This year, we’re able to relax more, rely on our experience and communicate. Those skills are really important when we’re lining up to play against an offense as good as Oklahoma.”
In last year’s Oklahoma game, Ryan Palmer went down with an injury, leaving three freshmen to play against Sam Bradford and the Sooners. The result was a tough learning experience with five touchdowns allowed in a game where the Longhorns persevered for a 45-35 victory.
“Those guys grew up that day,” Muschamp said. “They didn’t blink. And they didn’t blink today. We put our secondary in some difficult situations and they were able to come through.”
On Saturday, the Longhorn defenses finished by stopping Oklahoma on downs and producing two interceptions on the Sooners’ final two possessions to salt away the victory on Oklahoma’s final three possessions.
Muschamp said the Longhorns’ performance was indicative that his defense would “step on somebody’s throat” to wrap up a victory.
“That’s the mentality that Coach Muschamp has instilled in us,” Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle said. “We had one of those grind-it-out games where we had to seal the deal. And we got one today.”
Oklahoma was limited to minus-16 yards of rushing -- tied for the second-lowest total in FBS this season. Only Washington State which rushed for minus-54 yards last week against Arizona State had a worse rushing game than the Sooners.
“We just hammered away at it them and then took the opportunity to beat those guys,” Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. “It was a game that we took.”
But it was the play of a developing secondary where Muschamp’s fingerprints could be seen.
“He puts everybody in the right places and it’s up to you to make the play next,” Thomas said. “Coach is just a great defensive coordinator. He puts us where we need to be."
Whether the Longhorns could have come up with a defensive performance with Muschamp as a head coach somewhere else is something that Thomas didn’t want to even consider.
“I’m glad we’ve got him,” Thomas said. “I wouldn’t want to even think about replacing him.”