Big 12: Adrian Phillips

As we close in on national signing day, it’s an appropriate time to look back at how the top Big 12 recruits from four years ago performed.

2010 was a banner year for the Big 12 in recruiting, as the league collectively landed 23 from the ESPN 150.

A few, such as Jackson Jeffcoat, Ahmad Dixon and Shaun Lewis, became stars. Others washed out before their careers ever got off the ground.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFormer five-star prospect Jackson Jeffcoat finished his career as the best defensive end in the Big 12.
Below is a closer look at what happened to ESPN 150 players who signed with Big 12 schools:

No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Though he never reached a high level of team success, Jeffcoat had a great individual end to his career, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league with 13 sacks.

No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – Hicks has been good when he has played. Because of multiple injuries, that hasn’t been often. Hicks missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, just a year after also being knocked out with a hip flexor injury. After getting a medical redshirt from his 2012 season, Hicks has one more year of eligibility remaining.

No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas – Davis finished in the Big 12’s top 10 in receiving the last two seasons, compiling 200 career catches and 18 touchdown receptions.

No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas – Bible never played a down at Texas, leaving after his redshirt freshman season because of issues with grades. Bible ended up at Carson-Newman.

No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor – Dixon had a tremendous tenure with his hometown school, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors as a senior as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title in 2013.

No. 18: Demarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas – The Tulsa, Okla., native has appeared in 29 games on special teams and as a defensive reserve. He missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury.

No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas – After making just six catches his first two seasons, White transferred to Missouri. He caught just seven passes this season for the Tigers, but has another year of eligibility left.

No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma – In his first season, Jefferson was the Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the year, and he was a three-year starter before leaving early to go pro.

No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas – After serving as a reserve throughout his career, Dorsey was projected to start this season, but he transferred out days before Texas’ season opener.

No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma – After getting playing time as a third tight end early in his career, Haywood unexpectedly quit in the middle of the season, tried to earn his way back on the team, failed and ended up transferring to Central Arkansas. After getting suspended there, Haywood gave up football.

No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma – Nelson shined early this season after finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter. That, however, was short-lived, as Nelson tore his pectoral muscle in an early October win over TCU and sat out the rest of his final season.

No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma – The “Belldozer” starred his first two seasons as a situational, short-yardage QB. But in the preseason, Bell was beaten out by Trevor Knight for the starting job. Bell, however, still had his moments this season because of injuries to Knight. He led OU to a win at Notre Dame, then quarterbacked OU’s game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State.

No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas – He appeared in 51 games as a defensive reserve. Wilson had 19 tackles and a sack as a senior.

No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas – Jones transferred out after one year, and never played.

No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State – Lewis made an immediate impact, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors along with Tony Jefferson. Lewis was a four-year starter and a big piece in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround this season.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 150 recruit Brennan Clay was a solid, not spectacular, tailback for the Sooners.
No. 77: Quentin Hayes, S, Oklahoma – After serving a year-long suspension, Hayes returned to win a starting job this past season. He has another year left.

No. 86: Tevin Jackson, LB, Texas – Jackson has been a backup linebacker for the Longhorns and will be part of the team’s great depth there in 2014.

No. 103: Adrian White, CB, Texas – Played in 17 games, then joined the mass transfer exodus from this Texas class.

No. 109: Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia – McCartney never became a No. 1 receiver, though he did contribute on West Virginia’s explosive offenses in 2011-12. He only had 12 catches this past season as a senior, however.

No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas – The cousin of former Texas running back great Cedric Benson has only been a contributor on special teams.

No. 122: Carrington Byndom, S, Texas – One of the few players from this Texas class to pan out. Byndom made 39 career starts and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this past season.

No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma – Clay proved to be a reliable and steady force in the OU backfield. He finished his career with 1,913 rushing yards, including 957 in 2013.

No. 134: Adrian Philips, ATH, Texas – Phillips settled in the Texas secondary, collecting 28 career starts there. He was second on the team this past season with 82 tackles.

No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas – Hopkins became a stalwart up front, making 42 career starts along the offensive line. He was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.

No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma – McCay transferred to Kansas after two years in Norman. He had nine receptions and a touchdown, which also was the first scoring catch by a Kansas wide receiver in almost two full seasons.

Season report card: Texas

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
3:00
PM ET
As bad as things got for Texas in 2013 -- and they did get bad -- the Longhorns played for a Big 12 championship on the final day of the regular season after rallying following a horrible nonconference slate. Nonetheless, 8-5 isn’t going to get it done in Austin, Texas.

Offense: C

The Longhorns offense was average in pretty much every area except running the ball. UT was third in the Big 12 with 196.2 rushing yards per game thanks to a deep group of ball-carriers. Johnathan Gray is one of the Big 12’s top running backs and his injury against West Virginia was a bigger loss than most realize as the Longhorns lost three of their final four games after his injury. They had won six straight games before Gray was hurt. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are solid runners in their own right and give the Longhorns quality running back depth.

UT’s quarterback play was terrific at times, like the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, and horrible at other times, like the Longhorns' blowout losses to Baylor and Oregon. Case McCoy brought confidence and moxie but was too confident at times and hurt his team with some of this poor decision-making and throws. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, UT’s receivers struggled to be consistent and explosive for much of the season.

The Longhorns' offensive line was solid, allowing a sack just 3.6 percent of the time quarterbacks dropped back to pass, ranking second in the Big 12, and paving the way for their bevy of running backs.

Defense: C

Much like the offense, the defense wasn’t great at much of anything with the exception of getting to the quarterback. Texas finished first in the Big 12 with 39 sacks thanks to 23 combined sacks from Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) and his opposite defensive end Cedric Reed (10).

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Will Smith
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns finished the 2013 season 8-5 after losing to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The defensive line was great at times and subpar at other times. The lack of consistency killed the team and made the entire defense just as inconsistent. When its defensive front played well, however, the defense was much tougher to handle. Safety Adrian Phillips, linebacker Dalton Santos and linebacker Steve Edmond all finished among the top five on the squad in tackles and were active defenders. But the Longhorns didn’t seem to have many difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.

In UT’s five losses the defense allowed 36.4 points per game, 497 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, and 2.4 points per drive. Ugly numbers for a team with the talent the Longhorns possessed. Injuries played a role in the defense’s struggles but talent wasn’t the issue as it was clear the unit improved when Greg Robinson took over and simplified the system.

Special Teams: B-

Anthony Fera was the clear bright spot among an average group of special teams units. He handled the place kicking and punting and did both well for the Longhorns. Daje Johnson was a scary threat on kickoff and punt returns with his speed but didn’t rank among the Big 12’s best in either category.

Overall: B-

The Longhorns won eight games and competed for a Big 12 championship during a season that will be remembered for its faults. They could have, and should have, been better but they did dominate an OU team that defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and had one of the Big 12’s most impressive stretches of the season during their six-game win streak. It was a disappointing season but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would like to believe.

Longhorn players not ready to give up yet

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
10:00
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown was trying to make sense of a lopsided home loss.

It was Sept. 14. After losing 44-23 to Ole Miss, Brown tried to espouse hope and confidence about leading a troubled two-loss Texas team on a Big 12 title run. At some point during the discussion, he was asked what fans should think about where the program is heading.

“Forget the coaches, come for the kids,” Brown said. “Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often. They just need to keep supporting the players.”

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond (left) and Texas' defense will have to regroup quickly with games against Texas Tech and Baylor to close the season.
They kept trying. Texas beat Kansas State. Then the Longhorns beat five more Big 12 teams, and that goal of a conference title got more real and tangible on a weekly basis.

The goal seems long gone now, after Oklahoma State sent the Longhorns crashing back to reality with a 38-13 loss, but it isn’t. Texas can claim a share of the conference if it wins out. And once again, that’s all the Longhorns are clinging to after a loss that sincerely shocked some players.

“I’m very surprised. As a team, we had some momentum,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “We had a close game last week, and we had a good week of practice. On game day, everything didn’t work out the way that we wanted it to, and these are one of the ones you wish you could have back. It’s not a good feeling.”

Such a thorough loss like that stings. The victory over No. 12 Oklahoma was Texas’ signature win of 2013, no doubt about that, but it seemed those six victories were building toward an opportunity like this. A top-15 team had to come to DKR, its Big 12 title hopes on the line. For Texas, the table was all set for this moment.

And it slipped away quickly. The Longhorns dropped out of the polls one week after entering. A Big 12 title is attainable but Texas no longer controls its own fate. An upset of No. 4 Baylor in Waco on Dec. 7 is now an absolute necessity.

“It was frustrating, but we can’t get too down,” sophomore defensive tackle Malcom Brown said. “We still have two more games going into the Big 12 championship. We have to stay focused and go play Texas Tech like we didn’t even lose.”

For players like fourth-year seniors Phillips and cornerback Carrington Byndom, there was unmistakable encouragement. They’ve had to pick themselves up and keep going before and will do it again.

“It was a bit of a shock,” Byndom said, “but that’s just called the game of football.”

Last time the Longhorns lost, though, they followed through on what they vowed. The post-Ole Miss promises worked. Improvement happened, leadership emerged. Texas’ offense found a way to win without David Ash. Its defense is getting by without Jordan Hicks again.

The circumstances have changed plenty since Sept. 14. Guard Trey Hopkins conceded after OSU that there’s no margin for error now. There are no easy games left.

Texas is on a bye week before hosting Tech on Thanksgiving. The Longhorns have plenty of time to regroup. There is plenty of time to review the Oklahoma State film, and plenty more to move past it.

But perhaps in this stressful off time, they’ll think back to September. Back then, folks were questioning if this was Mack Brown’s next 5-7 team. Texas players were determined to prove just how wrong that fear was.

Now they’re facing what could be a similarly unsatisfactory finish.

“It’s a setback, but it’s a setback for a major comeback. That is what we say,” running back Joe Bergeron said. “Honestly, it is just a speed bump in the road and we will get over this. We still have two more games and we just have to get everybody to understand it is not the end of the world.”

Nor is it the end of the season. The Longhorns have six more days to figure out what they’re going to do about that.

Texas has no answers in loss to OSU

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
10:18
PM ET
Texas graphicESPN Stats & Information It's been five years and counting since Texas last beat a top-25 team at home.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas got handed a beatdown on Saturday. There’s no other fair way to put it.

In a game billed as one of the Big 12’s biggest of the season, between two teams streaking and in control of their conference title hopes, No. 12 Oklahoma State took control early and never let go in a 38-13 victory over the No. 24 Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Clint Chelf accounted for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in the Cowboys' win over Texas.
The Cowboys handed coach Mack Brown the most lopsided home loss of his 16 years in Austin, and there was nothing fluky about it.

OSU won a big-time conference test with a stingy defense, a superior run game, far better special-teams play and three forced turnovers. All against a Texas team that had won six straight and truly believed it could play with the Big 12 title contenders.

“I’m disappointed,” Brown said. “I don’t get stunned about anything anymore.”

The Longhorns, who hadn’t lost in two months, never led in this game. They started slowly, rallied back to 14-10 and then gave the game away in a matter of only seven plays.

The first six came on a 67-yard touchdown drive sparked by a 29-yard pass from Clint Chelf to a wide-open Jhajuan Seales on third-and-10. Two plays later, Chelf sent a pass right into the hands of Texas safety Adrian Phillips that bounced off and into the grasp of receiver Tracy Moore for a 12-yard score.

“It’s just a play I have to make,” Phillips said. “I make that play every day. It just went through my hands. Sometimes when you roll the dice, it doesn’t go your way.”

Down 21-10 with 75 seconds left in the first half, Texas’ offensive coaches opted to roll the dice and go for a score. They got one. OSU corner Justin Gilbert baited Case McCoy into throwing an out that Gilbert picked off and returned 43 yards to the end zone.

“Yeah, I was forcing things. There’s no doubt about it,” McCoy said.

McCoy threw two more interceptions on the day, including one swiped by linebacker Caleb Lavey that the Cowboys turned into a 21-yard touchdown one play later. That was the final score of the day, and with 1:54 left in the third quarter, the game was over.

“The quarterback goes out and throws three picks, you’re not going to win the ballgame,” McCoy said. “It’s very rare that happens. So it’s on me, my team knows it’s on me and we’re going to get it fixed and go win.”

That's not to single out McCoy and Phillips. There were mistakes all over the field in this game, and OSU repeatedly capitalized. Texas had no answer in the second half. One field goal and no spark. No big plays, no momentum, no change. It hadn't faced that feeling in a long time.

And there’s not much to second-guess. Oklahoma State was the far superior team. Brown was asked afterward about his usage of freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, which remains one of the great red herrings of Texas’ issues this season. Brown offered as honest an answer as he could have.

“You never make decisions when you’re tired and when you’re frustrated,” he said. “I’d say we’re both tonight.”

The clichés his players will lean on after this one -- about 24-hour rules and not letting one loss become two -- are actually apt. Texas still has plenty to play for. This team needs help to get to the Fiesta Bowl, yes. But Texas (7-3, 6-1 Big 12) gets more than 10 days to prepare for a Thanksgiving meeting with Texas Tech. Win that one and it'll still be in the thick of things with a trip to Waco on the horizon.

For now, though, all the Longhorns can worry about is fixing themselves. They made things far too easy for a talented Oklahoma State team that had very little trouble doing what it wanted to do in.

Brown wasn’t ready to assign much blame after the game. A thorough film session is needed before he can reach some conclusions, and he knows this season isn’t over yet.

“There’s a lot of football to be played,” Brown said. “You just can’t get your head down and lay down and quit when you have a bad night. You have to go back to work.”

There’s plenty of work to be done, even after the two-month run this team was on. Texas got its big moment on Saturday and got flat-out beat. Its Big 12 title hopes took a blow. We’ll know in two weeks whether it was a fatal one.

Texas keeping us-against-world mentality

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
11:00
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- The music inside the Texas locker room briefly echoed into the hallways as players packed up after their 30-7 win over TCU. Maybe it was booming from a player’s headphones, or maybe everyone was listening.

The track playing was off Drake’s new “Nothing Was the Same" album. It’s safe to say, now that their team is rolling again, the Longhorns in that locker room are latching on to the rapper’s motto of late: "No new friends."

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMIQuarterback Case McCoy and his Texas teammates closed ranks during a rough start to the season. Now their perseverance is paying off.
“If you weren’t there when we were struggling, we don’t need you there now,” safety Adrian Phillips said last week. “Of course, that’s how it always happens. When you lose, they hate you. When you win, they love you.”

Those fans he’s calling out are loving the Longhorns more than ever these days. A month ago, there were whispers -- and, on message boards, shouts -- that this team would have a hard time getting to six wins.

And then the Longhorns ran off four straight wins to start Big 12 play and trounced Oklahoma to the complete surprise of most. Now they’re a win away from six and playing like the talented, veteran-loaded team folks dreamed of in the preseason.

Now that times are good again, though, the players say they haven’t forgotten how quickly that same fan base turned on them when the record was 1-2.

“I really don’t care about the bandwagon and all that,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “If you with us, stay with us. If you’re not, get out the way.”

Diggs and his teammates plan to hold on to their us-against-the-world mentality, even in the face of win after win. Now that the fans are back on board, they’ll need a few new motivators.

Here’s one: Texas is tied for first place in the Big 12 standings but remains unranked. Wins over 2-5 Kansas and 3-5 West Virginia in the next two weeks might not change that, either, even if the Longhorns are rolling with a six-game winning streak.

Quarterback Case McCoy isn’t that surprised. He recognizes his team is still being punished for its early-season losses to BYU and Ole Miss.

“I think the way we started off the season was not acceptable for this program,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting against that. Our job isn’t to rank ourselves, thank goodness. Our job is to keep winning. If we keep winning, the polls will take care of themselves.”

So there’s the disrespect card. That one usually proves valuable in locker rooms. How about a little revenge, too?

Kansas embarrassed Texas last season in Lawrence and came oh-so-close to pulling the upset. West Virginia handed Texas its first loss of 2012, in a game the Longhorns could have won if not for a few untimely mistakes late.

“Trust me, we will hear about that,” McCoy said. “We understand how we played against them last year, the immaturity that we had. There are still guys and teams we definitely have a target for, we’re going after. That’s part of it.

“Our goal is a Big 12 championship. You slip up and lose one, that quickly starts fading out the window.”

The Longhorns were a two-score underdog against OU and a two-point dog at TCU. They’ll be favored in the next two weeks; there’s little doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still feel underestimated.

Diggs is happy to embrace the feeling. He says the days following those first two losses were brutal. But they provided a catalyst for this team, a need to close ranks and stop paying attention to what anybody outside that locker room was saying.

Just because the Longhorns have won four games doesn’t mean that changes. Just because fans are showing him love on Twitter again and hopping back on the bandwagon doesn’t change a thing. Nor does it matter if Texas is a 28-point favorite this week. Diggs doesn’t want to hear it.

“Nah, keep us underdogs,” he said. “We want to be underdogs. Leave us the underdogs. What do they say: The hungry dog gets the bone. That’s been our mentality. That’s just what we do.”

How Texas has grown under Greg Robinson

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
11:00
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- Greg Robinson is neither elusive nor evasive, but he does remain something of an enigma.

He’s met with reporters a few times in his nearly 45 days on the job as Texas’ new defensive coordinator. When the 62-year-old speaks, he rarely talks specifics about his defense, focusing more on the simple concept of hard work.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayGreg Robinson's changes to Texas' defense have been subtle but focused on fine-tuning and cleaning up mistakes.
That ideal makes it difficult for Robinson to explain why the Longhorns have enjoyed a defensive turnaround since he replaced Manny Diaz on Sept. 8. He makes it sound as if this would’ve happened eventually, as if it didn’t take much to produce better results.

“It’s easy to say a lot of things. The proof is in the pudding. Time will tell,” Robinson said. “But I just know this: We’re going to work very hard. Come Saturday, we’ll be able to evaluate. But I don’t know that there’s any magic wand that this is what does it. It’s a matter of just working and focusing in. That part of it, I believe that’s what we’ve got around here, guys who can do those things.”

This is essentially Robinson’s argument. The players got more reps every week. The coaches did some fine-tuning. Together they had a positive experience in a 31-21 win over Kansas State. They gained confidence. The puzzle pieces came together against Oklahoma.

He’s selling this process short, of course, and doing so rather humbly.

“I wasn’t real interested in revolutionizing anything in the defense or things like that,” he said. “There might be a twist here or a twist there, but I think it was just trying to help them do certain things and techniques they were doing and do them better. Maybe there’s a little something I can give that can add something to it.”

Ask Texas’ defensive leaders what changed since Robinson arrived and they’ll give mostly similar accounts. His imprint on the defense, while understated, is clear to them.

He brings energy and passion to every practice. He demands technicians. Do a drill right or you’ll do it again.

He’s taking a hands-on approach with every position on defense, not just the linebackers. He gets his point across without being a rah-rah guy, defensive tackle Chris Whaley said.

With 30-plus years of experience under his belt, he can easily spot a flaw, big or small, and explain how to get it fixed. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said Robinson is specific and precise in those moments.

He also puts trust in Texas’ veterans. Cornerback Quandre Diggs says Robinson has a selected group of starters -- Diggs is one of them -- that he knows can get the defense going at any moment. Players respond well to that.

“He’s always wired up before practice,” Diggs said. “He has his guys that he talks to and he lets those guys know that we’ll have a great practice and we can’t settle just because we had a great practice the day before.”

He’s a positive influence. He gets guys to buy in and believe. And doggone it, people like him.

These are the little touches Texas needed. Its early-season struggles were not a product of inexperience or a lack of talent, and he hasn’t steered the defense too far away from what it intended to be under Diaz.

“Coach Robinson, he basically kind of reiterated what Coach Diaz was trying to get across and I think as a unit, as we saw how things happened, we took it upon ourselves that we were going to get this changed around,” safety Adrian Phillips said.

It’s hard to fairly compare the results Robinson has coaxed out of his players with Texas’ performances in Diaz’s two games of 2013. The first came against a New Mexico State team that’s now 0-7. The second was one of the worst performances in school history.

But throw out Robinson’s debut game against Ole Miss -- he had just three practices to prepare for the Rebels and zero time to make meaningful changes -- and the three-game progress is evident.

Since Sept. 21, Texas’ defense ranks No. 44 nationally in total yards, 52nd against the run and 53rd against the pass. This unit forced as many turnovers (seven) as it allowed touchdowns during that span, with 13 three-and-outs.

If those fairly average national ranks aren’t impressive, don’t forget that Texas had the third-worst run defense in the country and the 10th-worst total defense when Robinson came back to Austin. Back then, the Longhorns’ confidence could’ve crumbled.

It’s sky-high now that Texas has finally shut down the Sooners, and that victory seemed to be clear proof of progress not only in execution but also attitude.

“If everybody brings that type of energy to each game, we’ll win all the games,” Diggs said.

Robinson, meanwhile, is sticking to cautious optimism. He’s comfortable with this team. He senses confidence will continue to grow. But the answer for TCU this week is no different than his goal any other week: More hard work.

“You know what? There are no guarantees,” he said. “The moment you kind of think you’ve got it, you better look out.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
11:00
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 7 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell had one of the worst performances statistically by an OU QB since 2005.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma. While Texas found its identity in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners seemingly lost theirs. The defense’s Achilles' heel resurfaced from last season, as Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. That made the Sooners vulnerable against deep passes, which McCoy capitalized on with a pair of long touchdowns. As much as the defense struggled, the offense looked completely lost. Blake Bell took four sacks, threw two interceptions and was utterly miserable on third down. Bell’s QBR on third down, in fact, was 0.1 percent (he had been 89.8 on third downs coming into the game). Bell wasn’t much better the rest of the game with an Adjusted QBR of 2.8, which was the fourth-worst single-game adjusted QBR of any FBS quarterback this season. Curiously, Bob Stoops said the offensive staff didn’t feel comfortable running Bell in this game. And the Sooners couldn’t figure out which running back to feature, with no back receiving more than seven carries. This is a team that doesn’t look like it knows who it is all of a sudden.

Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.

The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.

In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).

Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.

Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.

Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.

Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDaje Johnson delivered Texas' first punt return for a touchdown since 2009.
Special-teams players of the week: Texas returner Daje Johnson, Texas kicker Anthony Fera and Iowa State returner Jarvis West.

Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.

West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.

Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.

Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown

Robinson sees Texas defense progressing

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:00
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- Greg Robinson can spend hours in the film room and at a dry erase board planning and scheming for opponents. That’s the easy part, the job he’s been doing for more than 30 years.

But getting to know his own kids takes time. Entering week three as Texas’ new defensive coordinator, Robinson is glad that familiarity is finally coming along.

“I don’t call them by their numbers anymore,” Robinson said with a chuckle. “Starting to call them by their names.”

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayNew Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson saw drastic improvement from his players in game two since taking over for Manny Diaz.
Robinson arrived in Austin on a Sunday night two weeks ago with the daunting task of fixing up Texas’ defense with only three days of practice at his disposal amid the embarrassing 40-21 loss at BYU that cost Manny Diaz his job.

He’s been hard at work ever since, doing everything he can to prepare for Texas’ opponents and find solutions for the flaws he inherited. Nobody expected perfection in his first week on the job, but Mack Brown needed to see progress by week 2, when Big 12 play began. And time heals all wounds, right?

The time Robinson gets this week is invaluable. A bye weekend means no opponent, which means plenty more time to focus on his personnel and implementing his ideas. It means, finally, he can slow down.

“Having a bye this week is really, really helpful,” Robinson said.

He hasn’t installed everything he has planned, but an extra 10 days could do wonders for him and his players. Getting Iowa State on a Thursday night next week also means extra prep time for Oklahoma.

As Diaz learned the hard way, this is a results-driven business. No matter the challenges Robinson faced in taking over on less-than-short notice, he has to coax better play out of his Longhorns defenders. If Texas’ performance against Kansas State is any indication, he might have this defense back on the right track.

We could go over all the numbers that say Texas’ defense got better from week 1 under Robinson to week 2, but most of them aren’t going to tell the story. Frankly, Ole Miss’ offense is better than the one K-State brought to Austin. A few numbers are promising, though.

Ole Miss averaged 6.04 yards per rush. K-State, which ran only four fewer plays than the Rebels, was held to 3.03. Texas stopped twice as many Kansas State rushes at or behind the line of scrimmage than it did against Ole Miss.

An interesting measure of a bend-don’t-break defense is how often an opponent scored after getting its initial first down on a drive. Ole Miss scored on 75 percent of those occasions. K-State? 33 percent.

Some of that is scheme and preparation, and a lot of it is motivation. Texas was staring down the possibility of starting the season 1-3. That scenario was unacceptable to its seniors.

“We control our effort,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “That’s the thing. They can’t coach effort. We have to go and play hard, executed everything. That’s what we did. We made sure we executed the plays they put it.”

In the moments after the BYU loss, the leaders of Texas’ defense offered their unconditional support to Diaz and said he was still the right man for the job. They didn’t know much about Robinson when he arrived, but they’re buying in to what he brings to the table as their new leader.

“He made the promise that he was going to give us all he had, and that’s what he did,” defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. “We make the promise that we’ll give him all we have, so it was a great second week.”

Brown said he’s proud of how Robinson has collaborated with the rest of Texas’ defensive coaching staff. He has an especially strong connection with Duane Akina, the veteran secondary coach whom he’d worked closely with back in 2004.

“They’ve done such an amazing job,” Brown said. “They argue, they fight, but they did in ‘04. Then they come up with good stuff.”

They’re just getting started. Senior safety Adrian Phillips – or No. 17, as Robinson probably called him -- said he’s looking forward to finding out just what kind of coach Robinson really is over this next week.

The defensive coordinator can appreciate that. He too is starting to get a better sense of what he’s working with.

“Just being in the room with these guys, I’d be shocked if they didn’t just keep doing what they’re doing,” Robinson said. “And that’s getting better.”

Texas still trying to solve option defense

September, 17, 2013
9/17/13
10:00
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- Even Mack Brown isn’t afraid to have a good laugh about Texas’ run defense.

“Kansas State will run the option,” Brown said Monday. “I told our defense this morning, if they didn't run it, they'll put it in. My gosh, we’ve got to stop it.”

The Longhorns’ new defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson, is hard at work trying to find solutions in his second week on the job. The past two Saturdays have taught his players that making those stops is easier said than done.

Bo Wallace
AP Photo/Michael ThomasBo Wallace and Ole Miss had success against Texas while using only a few offensive sets last week.
Robinson had to simplify his plans against Ole Miss, considering he hadn’t coached this defense since 2004 and had so little time to prepare. What the team didn’t know is just how straightforward the Rebels would be on offense.

Ole Miss’ offensive attack was stunning in its simplicity. The Rebels appeared to have two go-to sets on Saturday: A concept built around a sweep-read, and a read-option with an offset back.

Runs, passes, play-action passes, read-option keepers, screens. All built around and made possible by two looks. Those two sets, plus 10 plays out of a standard three-back pod formation, accounted for 56 of the Rebels’ 72 snaps on offense.

Twenty-five plays came from variations of the zone sweep, the play for which Texas had few answers on Saturday. Ole Miss picked up 218 total yards of offense on those 25 snaps, or nearly half its total yardage.

Speedy scatback Jeff Scott does deserve credit, as does the decision-making of quarterback Bo Wallace. The scheme suits their talents. The problem is, Texas defenders saw all of these offensive wrinkles on film. They knew this was coming, and they couldn’t stop it.

“We knew that Ole Miss was going to take a page out of BYU’s playbook, because we didn’t stop it,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “We knew that we had to come out there and if we wanted to be successful, we had to stop what we saw the week before. We couldn’t get the job done.”

Both BYU and Ole Miss leaned heavily on the read-option, probably more than they’d planned going in, because Texas just didn’t defend it with correct reads, gap integrity and in-game adjustments.

“If you have the quarterback, you have to take the quarterback,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “If you have the dive, you’ve got to take the dive. You have to do your job. It’s just little things in there. Some people, including myself, are trying to make plays and miss their job. We have to get back down to technique and do our job.”

Texas’ run defense now ranks third-worst in the nation. The unit has permitted 30 rushes of 10-plus yards, second-most in FBS. The BYU blowout inflated those stats, no doubt, but they are what they are.

Might fatigue be a contributing factor? The Longhorns' defense has been on the field for 255 snaps, more than any team in the country. They’ll face several more high-tempo teams now that Big 12 play has begun, making depth a must.

Brown likes his defensive line and is confident he has two future NFL defensive ends in Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Ole Miss usually struggled when those two got in the backfield and pressured Wallace. But it takes 11 guys playing their assignments effectively to make a defense really improve.

Robinson had only three practices last week, and because of that, Brown understood why his new coordinator had difficulty against the Rebels. He’s raising his expectations this week.

“We had more trouble making adjustments against their option than we should,” Brown said. “Hopefully that will be better this weekend, because we have six days to prepare for that instead of trying to get things lined up right. We didn't make the decision for Greg for last weekend. We made it for the Big 12 Conference.”

The first four Big 12 teams Texas faces all have quarterbacks with rushing days of 70-plus yards on their resumes. The option game isn’t going away, especially not after Ole Miss made it look so easy.


AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown got the camera crews, the extra visitors and anyone who didn’t belong out of his locker room. On this Saturday night, he did the talking.

“It was very quiet. They were very disappointed,” Brown said. “All they do is go back to work and get ready.

“They’re lucky they’ve got a conference and they’re lucky they can start over, and they’re lucky they’re playing a really good team next week that we haven’t played well against.”

He must’ve said more optimistic things than that, because his Texas players who emerged after being thoroughly shut down in the second half of a 44-23 loss to Ole Miss were still espousing faith. That’s all they can do after a game like this, which drops the Longhorns to 1-2.

“We have to be confident,” senior safety Adrian Phillips said. “If we’re not confident we can win the Big 12, we have no chance and the season is a loss. We have no choice but to be confident.”

Texas players say this team can still win the Big 12 championship, and from the looks of things this is not yet a dejected group. Brown isn’t questioning their effort or want-to, but something greater than execution is missing.

The seniors who lead this team were freshmen when Texas went 5-7. They haven’t forgotten how much that depressing collapse of a season hurt. It’s their job now to prevent that from happening all over again.

Look at the schedule. There aren’t gimme wins anymore, no clear and easy path to six victories. A lot has to change for Texas in a short amount of time.

“We refuse to have another 5-7 season,” senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. “That was one of the worst seasons Texas has ever had. We just refuse to have another season like that.”

When viewed in a vacuum, Texas losing to Ole Miss made sense. The Longhorns were missing their quarterback and their most explosive weapon on offense. They were asking new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to enact meaningful change in three practices.

But this is a season of no excuses. This is not what Brown has been rebuilding for and not what he expected.

Think about it: A lot needed to happen in the Longhorns’ favor on Saturday night if they hoped to win. They needed a Case McCoy-led ball-control offense, with more power rushing than they’d relied on all season, to do just enough. That worked fine in the first half, but three-and-outs doomed Texas in the third quarter.

They needed a defense that had serious problems with the zone read and tackling to suddenly fix those flaws in one week. The Rebels wisely exploited that Achilles’ heel to the tune of 221 rushing yards from Bo Wallace and Jeff Scott.

Like BYU before them, they didn’t have much need for a passing attack. They ran the same sweep play over and over because nobody could figure out how to stop it.

Texas needed good luck, turnovers, Ole Miss mistakes and all the kinds of things that programs with teams with less talent, coaching and confidence tend to hope for.

That’s what it has come to for this Longhorns team, with its 19 returning starters, experience-loaded depth chart and ability to recruit anyone. They aren’t playing like a team with more talent than their opponent.

“We just didn’t come out and play Texas football, be aggressive, full-speed, fighting, everything,” Whaley said.

All they’ve proved, so far, is that they can beat one of the worst teams in FBS. What comes next is simple: This is a season that must be taken one game -- and week -- at a time.

Brown liked how his team dedicated itself completely to Ole Miss for seven days. He just can’t figure out why they’re so inconsistent, why they can know exactly what’s coming and still not make plays.

The team that comes to Austin next knew this was coming. Don’t forget the once-controversial line Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker uttered back in July, calling out the Longhorns for giving up in last season’s finale.

“They kind of laid down a little bit,” Walker said. “That’s nothing to say about their character. That’s just what they do.”

That’s just what 5-7 teams do, too. This group will get back to work and vows the season isn’t over. But they’ll need a lot more than luck to get this fixed.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nearly 24 hours have passed since Texas announced the hiring of Greg Robinson as its new defensive coordinator, and to say they’ve been a whirlwind would be a severe understatement.

Mack Brown made the call to Robinson early Sunday afternoon. Manny Diaz is out. We need you in Austin. He accepted, boarded a plane, landed in Austin around 6:30 p.m. and headed straight to practice.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTexas coach Mack Brown said Saturday's loss to BYU was unacceptable and that led to making the change at defensive coordinator.
Robinson was up past 1 a.m. cramming for his first big test as the new leader of the troubled Texas defense. He was still catching up on Texas’ defensive terminology on Monday. He is, understandably, too busy to do interviews with Texas media this week, and Brown said Monday he hadn’t even met with Robinson to talk scheme and planning for Ole Miss.

“He’ll have three practices between now and Saturday to try to get us in a better spot,” Brown said. “It’s a tough deal for him.”

It’s a tough deal for everyone in this Longhorn program. Usually these kinds of coaching changes are made on bye weeks. Brown let Diaz go Sunday in part because he had to buy as much time as he can to get Robinson ready for Texas’ Big 12 schedule.

The biggest reason may have been this: Brown couldn’t afford to sit back and watch things get even worse.

“That was unacceptable on Saturday night,” Brown said. “It went back to the three to four games we had in a row last year where we couldn’t stop the run. I wasn’t going to let that continue.”

He does not expect Robinson to work a miracle and fix every flaw in one week. Brown just needs to see progress, and the veteran leaders of his defense are ready to get to work … once they get their game plan.

“Obviously right now, we’re not sure what the game plan is,” Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “Coach Robinson, coach [Duane} Akina, coach [Bo] Davis are all in there getting all the film sessions and game plans ready to go. The biggest thing we’ve got to do is execute. We felt prepared for BYU. We were prepared. We’ve got to go out there and put it on ourselves to actually execute a game plan and do that effectively.”

Hicks admitted he was shocked Diaz was let go but believes his former position coach would want the team to move on and get ready for No. 25 Ole Miss.

Brown said Monday the plan Texas had to attack BYU was a good one. The players’ inconsistent execution of that plan was the real problem, and their coach was held responsible for that.

“If we would’ve performed better, if we would’ve executed his scheme better, he wouldn’t be in this position and we wouldn’t be in this position,” Hicks said. “We feel like we could’ve played better against BYU and had better opportunities.”

Brown saw enough from working with Robinson in 2004 to know he’s the kind of guy Texas’ defenders need right now.

“Greg brings a wealth of knowledge. He’s a true veteran,” Brown said. “He’s a guy that has three Rose Bowl rings and a Super Bowl ring, so he’s been there before. He handles pressure well, he makes great adjustments. When he was here before, we tackled very well, we chased the ball and we were very sound fundamentally. He’s a guy kids love to play for.”

The big question is how different his take on Texas’ defense will be. Expect a more simplified approach focused on sound tackling and physical play, and Robinson will add his own wrinkles along the way. But there isn’t enough time at this point to implement sweeping big-picture changes.

“I guess we’ll have to see,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what to expect defensively. I’m not sure if we’re sticking with the same stuff or taking it in a new direction. I have no clue. We haven’t talked about it yet.”

To Texas safety Adrian Phillips, losing Diaz was just as painful as losing in Provo. Both results, he said, felt like a punch in the face. But he felt Robinson made a great impression in his first time meeting with the team Sunday night, and he’s confident his teammates will rally around their new boss.

“I mean, we have no choice,” Phillips said. “If we want BYU to be our only loss of the season, we have no choice but to buy in. I know my teammates want to be successful just like I do. We’ll buy into it.”

What exactly did Robinson say to his new players in his first night on the job?

“He was very brief with them,” Brown said. “He said, ‘Tough situation for all of us. I’m going to come in and try to do the best I can do to help get back on track.’ He broke them down. That was it.”

With less than 140 hours to repair Texas’ defense, he didn’t have time for much else.

Chat: Ames, Texas DBs, OU offense

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
4:40
PM ET
Thanks for all your questions in today's chat. Here's where you can find the full transcript.

Got more to say? Send it to the Mailbag and you can see it here later this week on Friday:

Advisor (Lubbock): You had Texas Tech eighth in your power rankings. Is there a Big 12 team with a wider gap between talent according to the media all-Big 12 teams and preseason expectations than Texas Tech?

Jake Trotter: I put Tech 8th because of the QB situation. If Brewer were healthy and starting, that rank would have been different.

Greg (Germany): What do you need to see from Texas in the first three weeks to make you a believer that they've got a Big 12 title run in them?

Jake Trotter: I need to see them not get shelled by Oklahoma in Dallas.

Erik (Austin, TX): Regarding the Horns, how concerned should Texas fans be about (Adrian) Phillips and (Mykkele) Thompson at the safety positions? They weren't very good last year.

Jake Trotter: Hearing good things about Texas' secondary this preseason, including the safeties. Has a chance to be elite. That said, you could have said the same thing this time last year.

Paul U. (Brownwood, TX): Please explain how UCLA is ranked ahead of Baylor when the Bears completely manhandled them in the Holiday Bowl and return an even better defense. Don't tell me it's inexperience at QB. Last time I checked, Art Briles is still coaching there.

Jake Trotter: I would put Baylor ahead of UCLA. Unfortunately, nobody listens to me.

Cole (Arkansas): ESPN is calling our offense "zone-read style." Is this accurate? I thought (Josh) Heupel said he would only run the QB sparingly?

Jake Trotter: Think Colin Kaepernick/Nevada. That's the offense OU will be running.

Paul R. (Ames, Iowa): Do you like Ames, Iowa?

Jake Trotter: Been to Ames twice. Love Ames. Great tailgate scene.

Fred (rural Iowa): ISU has a history of upsets, who could they snip this year?

Jake Trotter: The Cyclones have been a giant killer. Here's a prediction. The Clones take down either TCU, Texas or OSU in Ames this year. Going to happen. It always does.

Jeremy (Houston): Which of the true freshmen QBs will start for Texas Tech on Friday?

Jake Trotter: Has to be Davis Webb, right? If it's Baker Mayfield, it's a great story. But you have to wonder about the QB situation in Lubbock if a walk-on true freshman can stroll in there and take the starting job.
The Big 12 has developed a reputation over the years for struggling to play quality defense. So what is the perception of the conference from coaches and players within the league? They counter there's a reason defense in the Big 12 is so difficult to play -- the quality offenses.

"The Big 12 offenses are the best to go against," Texas defensive end Adrian Phillips said. "The most challenging. You never know what to expect."

The Big 12 has transformed over the past decade. In the late 1990s, all but a couple Big 12 offenses were still operating out of the predictable I-formation. When Bob Stoops brought Mike Leach to coordinate the Oklahoma offense in 1999, he unintentionally ignited a revamping of the conference's identity. Leach left his spread attack in Norman while also bringing it to Texas Tech. Before long, Oklahoma State and Baylor adopted similar schemes via Leach disciples. Today, the majority of teams in the league have attacks derived from Leach's "air raid" offense.

"In the Big 12, there's guys on offense trying to score every snap," said Baylor coach Art Briles, one of those disciples who brought the Leach system to Waco, Texas.

As a result, the Big 12 has become an attractive destination for quarterbacks and offensive skill players. That has made defending in the Big 12 all the more challenging.

"The quarterbacks, the offenses, the tempo -- those are challenging in this league," Stoops said. "The NFL has a whole bunch of guys who have been through this league who are quarterbacks. And you look at the way people spread it out, and the tempo they use, it's tough to deal with."

As a result, Big 12 defensive numbers have been on the decline. Last season, TCU was the only Big 12 member to rank in the top 30 nationally in total defense, at 16th. But does that tell the entire story?

"I think the style of play dictates a lot of times how one side of the ball is [viewed]," Briles said.

Briles might have a valid argument. At least, a closer analysis of the numbers suggests so. When applying ESPN's new college football statistical metric (expected points added, or EPA) -- which accounts for the strength of an offensive unit a defense is facing -- the Big 12 defenses fare much better statistically.


TCU, for example, actually had the fourth-best defense in the country, according to EPA. Most of the other Big 12 defenses enjoyed a similar bump, all the way down to Briles' Bears, who go from having the second-worst defense nationally to 87th.

"People don't realize how high-powered the offenses are in the Big 12," Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey said. "When you're actually in the conference and at these games as a coach or player, you actually see how high-powered these offenses are. You see how fast the wide receivers are, how fast the running backs are, how fast [the offenses] get back to the line of scrimmage. You don't realize that until you're on the sideline."

Big 12 defenses sure have had more success matching up against offenses from other conferences than their own. Against Big 12 offenses, the league surrendered an average of 33.3 points per game last season, but in nine bowl games, the Big 12 defenses allowed just 28.8.

"The offenses in the Big 12 are the most difficult to defend in the country," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We've studied it very, very hard, and I think we have the best offensive teams in America in this league."

Ultimately, though, perception in college football is reality. Especially under the coming four-team format of the College Football Playoff. And the opinion of many people outside the Big 12 seems to be that the defenses are inferior. The only way to change that is to win, and to win with defense.

"A lot of people seem to have a bitter taste about what Big 12 defenses have to offer," Lackey said. "When people say stuff like that, you use it as motivation.

"We want to prove people wrong."
AUSTIN, Texas -- One year ago, Adrian Phillips had a bum shoulder. Now he has a chip on his shoulder.

Much was expected of the Texas free safety as a junior, and in hindsight that might’ve been unfair. Now that he’s a senior, he has only one chance to make up for a season that was a disappointment.

“I really had to go deep inside myself,” Phillips said, “and say, ‘Look, forget everything that has happened. Only look ahead.’”

[+] EnlargeAdrian Phillips
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDespite struggling with a shoulder injury from the outset, Texas safety Adrian Phillips still finished third on the team in tackles.
Look back, though, and it’s easy to see this wasn’t entirely his fault. Phillips missed spring practices and fall camp last year while recovering from shoulder surgery that was supposed to sideline him up to six months. So yes, when he was thrust right back into the starting lineup for Texas’ opener against Wyoming, he was playing hurt.

He downplayed the pain early last season, perhaps because Phillips had exceedingly high expectations for himself. This was the year he planned to make a name for himself, to win awards and make All-Big 12 teams and prove he’s one of the next great members of “DBU.”

There was only one problem, and a rather glaring one: Tackling. Missing the hard-hitting days of fall practice proved more problematic than he’d anticipated.

Phillips unwittingly became somewhat of a whipping boy for a Texas secondary that struggled far too often to make stops in the open field. And he couldn’t fathom why.

“You can watch film from my freshman year of me hitting bigger guys than I’ve ever hit before and taking them to the ground. That’s why it was hard for me to understand,” Phillips said. “Everybody knew I wasn’t that player. The fact I was playing that way, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

“I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. If I knew, I would’ve fixed it.”

Texas secondary coach Duane Akina searched for solutions and tried starting Josh Turner and Mykkele Thompson at free safety, but Akins didn’t give up on Phillips either.

The dissatisfying season did end on a good note, with interceptions in Texas’ final two regular season games. Phillips still finished third on the team in tackles with 72.

“What turned it around for me was, I just went back to the basics,” he said. “Make contact, run your feet, wrap up. Don’t worry about trying to do too much or trying to get on a highlight tape. Just make contact, run your feet, wrap up.”

He did his best to not let the criticism from Longhorns fans get to him, but there’s no doubt the trials shook his confidence at times. When you’ve come this far yet have no answer for what’s wrong with your game, that’s only natural.

“If you doubt yourself, that’s when problems happen,” Phillips said. “Of course, when you hear that criticism it’ll make you mad, but you never want to use that as doubt. Once you do that, you’re going to lose from the start. You remember what happened and make it better for the next year.”

Akina didn’t need to tell the members of his secondary that their play wasn’t up to the “DBU” standard. The ups and downs of 2012 were motivation enough.

“No matter if you’re coming off a great season or a horrible season, it’s never going to be good enough,” Phillips said. “Coach Akina always wants to raise the bar. That’s why he’s the best coach in America right now.”

Phillips is raising his own expectations too. He says he’s now 100 percent healthy for the first time in a long time, and a full workload in spring practices and summer lifting undoubtedly helped.

He’s grateful his teammates had his back last season when he struggled, and he’s especially appreciative that Akina still believes he can emerge as a top-flight safety. He’s ready to reward his coach’s faith.

“He stayed on our side,” Philips said. “A lot of credit goes to him, because he helped us in our time of need. We are going to get that changed this year."
Big 12 media days are less than three weeks away, set for July 22-23 at the Omni Hotel in Dallas. The two-day event will host half the league on Day 1 before the second half checks in for Day 2.

Teams can bring a few players to represent the program to media, and Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has the lineup for who's coming to Dallas:

Monday, July 22

Oklahoma State

Kansas State

TCU

Kansas

Texas Tech

Tuesday, July 23

Oklahoma

Texas

West Virginia

Baylor

Iowa State

A few thoughts:
  • Most notable: Only two quarterbacks will be making the trip. Texas' Ash and Kansas' Heaps will be coming to Dallas. There's not many household names at QB and not many people the media will be clamoring to talk to, but both of those guys are interesting and will have major impacts on their teams building on 2012. That said, I'm a little surprised Baylor's leaving Bryce Petty behind. TCU leaving Casey Pachall at home is an obvious decision that would likely be a major distraction from the team as a whole at media days. Oklahoma State doesn't want to talk about its quarterback decision, so it's not too surprising to see it not bringing Clint Chelf.
  • The biggest attraction will certainly be Seastrunk. For one, he's shown he's not afraid to speak his mind and provide a memorable quote, but he's also the biggest returning star in the league on offense in a league mostly devoid of offensive star power.
  • Kansas officials were fawning over Sendish to me earlier this offseason, so it's no surprise to see the new cornerback in KU's travel party. I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.
  • Glad to see K-State is bringing Walker back to media days. He was great last season and missed the second half of 2012 after a knee injury. His road back from it hasn't been easy, but he's one of the more emotional leaders of an inexperienced defense. He'll be a great interview this August.
  • My pick to steal the media day show? Last year, it was West Virginia's Joe Madsen (and the Mountaineer, who provided this golden photo). This year, I'm going with Oklahoma's Ikard.

SPONSORED HEADLINES