Dallas Colleges: Carrington Byndom
TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 ½-inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3½ and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.
Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.
Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.
Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.
Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.
Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.
West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.
Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11½-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.
Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.
Texas hosted its pro day on Wednesday and put its senior prospects to the test in front of representatives from all 32 NFL organizations. Here’s how the Longhorns' top draft prospects fared and a look at who helped their stock.
With father and former Dallas Cowboys lineman Jim Jeffcoat in attendance, Jeffcoat did positional drills and displayed the work he’s been putting in on dropping into coverage. Jeffcoat checked in at 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds said he’s open to playing 4-3 end, 3-4 outside linebacker or whatever else an NFL defensive staff would ask of him.
“When it comes down to it, it’s football,” he said. “Whatever a coach tells me to play, I’ll do it. It’s exciting to see they want me to play a hybrid outside linebacker rush guy. It’s fun watching Brian Orakpo and Sam Acho do it, so it would be fun to do the same thing.”
WR Mike Davis: Going into the day, perception was Davis had a chance to raise his draft stock if he put up an impressive time in the 40-yard dash.
The 6-foot, 197-pound deep threat did not run at the NFL combine, so he did have plenty to prove Tuesday. Davis looked sharp in his passing drills with former SMU and Eastern Washington QB Kyle Padron throwing to him. The 40 time? A solid 4.48.
A likely mid-round selection, Davis said he’s receiving good interest so far and has visits scheduled with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.
K Anthony Fera: For Fera, preparing for the draft has meant lots of work on his kickoffs. The consensus All-American and Groza Award finalist was Texas’ placekicker and punter but hadn’t done kickoffs in two years thanks to Nick Rose’s strong leg. NFL scouts want to see him boom the ball, and he did just that on Wednesday.
“I hit them to the back of the end zone every time, and one of them hit the roof, so I thought I did pretty well,” Fera said.
The Saints, Titans, Browns and Jaguars could be searching for their kicking solutions in this draft and Fera should be in the running to be the first kicker selected.
OG Trey Hopkins: A 42-game starter at Texas, Hopkins has a chance to be the Longhorns’ first drafted offensive lineman since Tony Hills (2008). He came away proud of his 28 reps on the bench press and said interest is picking up, with a meeting with the Cleveland Browns already set up.
“I want people to know I play all positions on the offensive line,” Hopkins said. “I can snap, play tackle in games. And of course guard is where I played the most. I’m comfortable doing any of them.”
CB Carrington Byndom: It’s possible no Longhorn helped his draft stock more than Byndom on Wednesday. The three-year starting cornerback knew there were questions about his speed, and he’s confident he answered those with a time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash.
“I think a lot of scouts had me running a lot slower than that,” Byndom said. “I could’ve done a little better on my position work, but there’s still time for that.”
He has one workout lined up and is hoping his performance Wednesday will spark more interest in the weeks ahead.
DT Chris Whaley: A left knee injury ended Whaley’s senior season in November, at a time when Mack Brown believed he was playing like a surefire NFL draft pick. Now Whaley is trying to get healthy, get back on the field and get drafted.
The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defensive tackle said he’s about three months away from being fully healthy again, but received positive feedback from NFL doctors about the progress of his knee’s recovery. Whaley participated in the NFL combine and did only one event at the Texas pro day, knocking out 22 reps on the bench press.
OT Donald Hawkins: At 6-foot-4 ½ and 295 pounds, Hawkins knows that, like Hopkins, he’s capable of lining up at a variety of offensive line spots. He thinks he can be a swing tackle-guard but isn’t sure what to expect when draft day arrives. Hawkins’ 40 time wasn’t immediately available, but he hit 20 reps on the bench press.
S Adrian Phillips: The two-year starter set out to prove he’s worthy of a late-round selection and believed he helped his case. While there was some uncertainty about what he ran in the 40 -- some said 4.44, others thought it was closer to 4.5 -- Phillips emerged feeling confident about his coverage work and hoping he’ll hear his name called in the draft.
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.
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.
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.
This is not a final list, just an early rundown of who we know that has decided where to showcase their skills in front of the NFL scouts.
REESE'S SENIOR BOWL (Jan. 25, Mobile, Ala.)
- Mike Davis, WR, Texas
- Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
- Jalen Saunders, WR, Oklahoma
- Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
- Kirby Van Der Camp, P, Iowa State
- Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
AUSTIN, Texas -- When Mack Brown introduced his latest recruiting class on signing day of 2010, he did so with great pride.
“I've been asked over the last couple of days, ‘Is this the best class that we've ever had?’” Brown said that day. “We feel like it definitely has the potential to be, because from top to bottom it covers every position and that's a very difficult thing to do.”
On Thursday, seven of those signees will take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium one final time. Senior Night has a tendency to elicit mixed emotions, a bittersweet cocktail of pride, sadness and sentimentality.
It’s hard to assess this Texas class with anything else but mixed emotions. You wonder if they feel the same. After all, this four-year run was not what these seniors signed up for or expected back in February 2010.
Of the 13 scholarship seniors being honored during Texas’ Thanksgiving home finale against Texas Tech, more than half came from the 2010 class that ranked No. 2 nationally. They signed after Texas won 13 games and played for a national title. The senior class that departed after 2009 went 45-8 in their four seasons.
Today’s seniors made their debuts for a 2010 team that was No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. Expectations were as high as ever. Brown seemed poised to chase another championship.
Instead, this class ended up inheriting the task of helping lead a rebuilding project, one that still isn’t complete. They hope this is their legacy, that their efforts will get this Longhorn program back on track.
The fourth-year seniors enter Thursday night’s home finale against Texas Tech with a career record of 29-19. If the Red Raiders pull the upset, this group will drop to 17-17 in Big 12 games.
They haven’t been particularly successful at DKR, either, with a record of 13-11 at home in the past four years. They’ve won six conference home games and lost nine.
Most of these seniors been playing from the very beginning. Guard Mason Walters, a 2009 signee who redshirted, and receiver Mike Davis were starters on the 5-7 team of 2010. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, cornerback Carrington Byndom and guard Trey Hopkins are three-year starters. All together, this senior class has combined for 266 starts.
It's a group that, to this point, has endured an awful lot. The first losing season of Brown’s tenure. A coaching staff shakeup. The end of the Texas A&M rivalry. One win and three losses to Oklahoma. No Big 12 championships. No BCS bowl games.
“It's been a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I'm better for that.”
Jeffcoat signed to play for then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Case McCoy has been tutored by three different quarterback coaches and playcallers. These Texas seniors received an education in embracing change.
“A lot of things have gone good, a lot of things have gone bad,” McCoy said. “That's part of the game, that's part of life. One thing I know in this game and in life, you’ve got to battle. You can't give up. That's why I love this team. I love the way they're playing. I love their hearts because we haven't given up.”
They know they had Texas-sized standards to live up to in their careers. When a program bottoms out the way the Longhorns did in 2010, everything achieved since has been in the commitment to getting back on top.
There have been high points along the way, but it all seemed to be building toward 2013. Brown believed Texas had a chance to win every game this season. That didn’t work out.
To the seniors’ credit, he said, they didn’t fold after starting off 1-2 this year. They didn’t give in and they rallied to win six in a row.
“They were very, very strong-willed in stepping up with their leadership and telling the other guys, ‘This is our last time now, we’re going to make this work,’” Brown said. “I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve handled adversity, proud of the way they fought through it.”
And Jeffcoat believes the legacy of these seniors is unfinished. They’ll earn a share of the Big 12 title, and perhaps more, if they win out. Three games left means three more chances to get the Longhorns back in the right direction.
“I think we definitely have that opportunity,” McCoy said. “We have the opportunity right now to put our final stamp on it and put it where we need to go.”
Texas’ seniors have had a rough journey. As the end nears, though, they still believe their story can have a happy ending. And they seem to have few regrets.
“If I had to choose all over again,” Jeffcoat said, “I’d come to Texas.”
Record: 7-4 (4-4 Big 12)
All-time record vs. Texas: 15-47
Last meeting with Texas: Last season, Texas went on the road and won 31-22 against the then-No. 18 Red Raiders, a win sealed when Carrington Byndom blocked a Ryan Bustin field-goal attempt late. Mike Davis enjoyed a career day with 165 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and the Longhorns defense held Tech to field-goal attempts on four of its red zone trips.
Key player: Everyone knows the key to the Texas Tech offense is unstoppable tight end Jace Amaro, and the fact he isn't a John Mackey Award finalist is absolutely laughable. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 92 receptions for 1,157 yards and six touchdowns. Mack Brown called Amaro "a bigger, thicker Jermichael Finley" on Monday and acknowledged he's a matchup nightmare for any defense.
Why Texas Tech might win: This is a team with plenty to play for, even after its perfect season fell apart. Despite its recent struggles, Texas Tech still has the No. 1 passing offense in the country (400.1 ypg). Texas wants to play a ball-control game and pound the rock and probably can't afford to engage in a shootout.
Why Texas Tech might lose: The Red Raiders have given up 277, 281, 291 and 340 rushing yards in their four losses. They've had a bye week to try to shore up that vulnerable run defense, but you know Texas will test it early and often. Another glaring flaw for this Tech team: Turnovers. The Red Raiders are minus-12 in turnover margin after giving the ball away 28 times this fall. Hard to beat good teams when you do that.
First comes a Thanksgiving night game against a foe that already has four conference losses. Then a regular-season finale on the road against one of the teams atop the Big 12 standings. A share of the Big 12 title could be on the line, but not if Texas can’t win the first one.
Here’s what’s fascinating about that statement: It was just as true on Nov. 22, 2012, as it is today.
This time it’s Texas Tech and Baylor on the slate. Last season, Texas was eyeing a trip to a BCS bowl and maybe even a slim hope of winning the conference with TCU and Kansas State standing in the way.
Those hopes were dashed by a Turkey Day disaster, a 20-13 home loss to the 6-4 Horned Frogs after Texas had clawed its way up to No. 16 in the BCS standings and back onto the national radar.
“We missed a great opportunity to get back in the mix for some things," Texas coach Mack Brown said afterward.
Then came a 42-24 loss to K-State, sending the Wildcats to the Fiesta Bowl. Before this season, Texas players said they remember the bitter taste left from having to watch their opponent celebrate a co-Big 12 championship.
Now they get an opportunity to replace that negative memory with a positive one.
“We just have to go back and regroup knowing that we still have a chance to win the Big 12,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said after Texas’ 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State. “We just have to win out.”
Last year, it was a Baylor win over Kansas State that created a glimmer of hope for Texas. This time around, Baylor’s loss to Oklahoma State has made perfectly clear what UT needs to do to snag a share of the Big 12 title: win out.
Two wins plus an Oklahoma victory over OSU in Bedlam means an outright title for Texas and the elusive BCS bowl trip.
That’s not much different from last year’s scenario, except Texas was crossing its fingers for a Sooners loss in 2012. Doesn’t matter if you don’t take care of your own business, though. And the Longhorns stumbled.
Texas turned the ball over four times, two coming on interceptions thrown in the red zone by an injured David Ash and one on a last-ditch effort to rally from Case McCoy. TCU won the rushing battle 217-86. The Longhorns squandered their big opportunity by squandering lots of little ones that night.
“At times we all didn't play well tonight. That's football,” lineman Mason Walters said after the loss. “Someone's got to step up and be the man, and we didn't have anyone doing that.”
That Texas team was coming off four straight wins. This one strung together six Big 12 victories in a row before the Cowboys came to Austin and blew them out. Nine days have passed since then.
This team has to defeat a Texas Tech team that began the year 7-0 and has now lost four in a row, then go on the road and beat a Baylor team that, despite revealing its vulnerabilities in a 49-17 loss this weekend, is still No. 9 in the BCS and capable of putting up 50-plus on the Longhorns.
What's it going to take to get to 9-3? Some of Texas' best football yet at a time when six starters are injured or out and the margin for error is slim.
"I don't think anybody is capable of playing perfect football. Football is a game and nothing's going to be perfect," receiver Jaxon Shipley said after the loss to OSU. “Ultimately, I think it's if you can be persistent. If you are facing adversity, can you overcome those?
"Today we didn't do that, but I think we can bounce back and we've still got a shot at winning the Big 12 championship."
And to pull that off, the Longhorns need a perfect 2-0 record to close the season. They need to do something they couldn't one year ago.
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.”
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.
Mack Brown has now literally weathered storms twice this season, with markedly different results. He found himself, and his team, surprisingly well-prepared for the unusual circumstances of Texas’ 30-7 win over TCU on Saturday.
“I wish somebody had told me before Brigham Young how to handle that,” Brown said Monday.
His team didn’t respond well. Texas struggled on offense and didn’t show up on defense in the 40-21 loss. Brown blames himself for how his team handled the delay. He thought their wait would be as brief as 20 minutes, so his players prepared accordingly.
Then more lightning struck, and 20 minutes became an hour, then an hour and 50 minutes. Getting fired up to start a game two or three times isn’t so easy.
With that experience under his belt, Brown took a new approach when Texas and TCU were sent back to their respective locker rooms on Saturday. They had no expectations for when the game would resume.
“We told them we’ve got no clue,” Brown joked.
What ensued was a delay of 3 hours, 6 minutes. About an hour in, Brown and his coaches accepted it was going to be a long night.
“It just kept continuing and kept continuing,” Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom said.
This time, when the players hit the locker room, the pads came off right away. The Longhorns approached the break, which came with 6:08 left in the second quarter, as if it were an extended halftime.
They went over in-game adjustments, though both teams were prohibited from reviewing film of the first quarter and a half. They held position meetings. And then they went back to waiting.
“We told them, ‘Do anything you need to do to get yourself ready to go back out,’” Brown said. “Go to sleep. Take your pads off. Listen to music. Walk around. Talk with your buddies. Doesn’t matter.”
That low-pressure approach seemed to help. So did breaking into the halftime PB&Js and the postgame food supply -- copious amounts of chicken tenders -- around 9:30 p.m.
Coaches reviewed and tweaked their plans. Some took naps, though Brown couldn’t. He had to work with game officials and TCU coach Gary Patterson to hammer out a plan for the rest of the night.
For Texas, the locker room vibe was much different this time around. They’d taken a 17-7 lead into the break and had plenty to talk about, and plenty more to feel good about.
“We went in there with some points on the board,” center Dominic Espinosa said. “I think going in there we felt it out already and knew how they were going to come at us and what was going to work for us. That definitely gave us some confidence.”
Brown and Patterson agreed to finish out the second quarter, remain on the field for a brief halftime and then kick off the third quarter. They agreed on a five-minute intermission, which later got cut down to three, and huddled their teams on the sidelines during the commercial break-length intermission.
Finally, around 10:45 p.m., they were cleared to begin warmups. The game resumed at 11 p.m. CT and finished just after 12:30. Despite the slippery conditions and long layoff, no Texas players went down with injuries in the second portion of the game.
And this time, they came out firing. The Longhorns defense forced TCU to punt on eight of its nine drives after the break. Texas came away with 10 points on its first two possessions to put the game away.
Nobody was more relieved after the 186-minute delay than Brown. His coaches didn’t panic. His players didn’t either, and more importantly, they were ready to play.
“I thought the fact that they did not waver, and I couldn’t tell any difference in the attitude in the team when they came back out than when they went in, that’s huge,” Brown said. “That’s huge for your team to be mature enough to handle all of those circumstances and just go play.”
Coach: Mack Brown (237-117-1, 150-43 at Texas)
2012 record: 9-4 (5-4 Big 12)
Key returnees: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, RB Johnathan Gray, QB David Ash, OG Trey Hopkins, WR Mike Davis, CB Carrington Byndom, WR Jaxon Shipley, OG Mason Walters
Newcomer to watch: OT Desmond Harrison
Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 12 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas), Nov. 16 vs. Oklahoma State, Oct. 26 at TCU, Nov. 21 vs. Kansas State
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Can Manny Diaz fix the Longhorns' defense? Texas might be the Big 12 preseason favorite had its defense in 2012 lived up to the standard set by Diaz’s first unit in 2011. Instead, injuries to Hicks and then Jeffcoat rendered the third-year coach’s D slow-reacting and ineffective. Basic tackling was a serious issue on a near-weekly basis. Diaz gets nine starters back from that unit, but that’s not necessarily a good thing if the same problems hit just in time for the Big 12 slate.
Let’s talk about the floor and the ceiling for the potential of this particular Texas team.
Make no mistake, this Longhorns team has all the parts necessary to emerge as one of the nation’s 10 best. There is just way too much returning experience and talent at each position to dispute that.
The ceiling is a Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl game appearance, especially if Ash takes the next step and becomes one of the Big 12’s best QBs. If he’s good and healthy, Brown is confident this team can accomplish more than most expect.
The issue is the floor. Another blowout loss to Oklahoma or an early-season stumble against Ole Miss or Kansas State could send this Texas train off the rails. One serious injury to Ash, and it’s a whole different season.
What Texas is trying to avoid is falling right in the middle of that floor and ceiling, as it has the past two years. An eight- or nine-win season with losses to UT’s toughest opponents just won’t cut it this time, not with all that experience, talent and leadership on board.
That falls on Brown, who has plenty to prove this fall. He has a compelling roster of talent. What’ll he do to raise everyone’s game and make that jump from fourth place to first in the Big 12?
On paper, the offense looks loaded, and having Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron at running back is a luxury. The defense has plenty of veterans back at all three levels. Texas’ special teams should be solid if former Penn State transfer Anthony Fera gets past his injury issues.
All the pieces are there for another big run for the Horns, and the Big 12 is wide-open. It will be on Brown and his staff to put all those pieces together.
2012 conference record: 5-4 (third in the Big 12)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1
Top returners: QB David Ash, RB Johnathan Gray, WR Mike Davis, WR Jaxon Shipley, LT Donald Hawkins, RT Josh Cochran, G Mason Walters, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Carrington Byndom
Key losses: P Alex King, S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Johnathan Gray* (701 yards)
Passing: David Ash* (2,699 yards)
Receiving: Mike Davis* (939 yards)
Tackles: Kenny Vaccaro (107)
Sacks: Alex Okafor (12.5)
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs* (4)
1. Under center: Texas has finally ended all the debate about its quarterback situation and settled on David Ash. While Ash has yet to be stellar in his first two years at Texas, the junior has steadily improved -- he was top 25 in pass efficiency rating in 2012 -- and has won the trust of new quarterbacks coach Major Applewhite. Applewhite believes Ash is the quarterback best suited to run the new up-tempo, spread attack.
2. Loaded at linebacker: One year after being the worst tackling team in the Big 12, Texas went into the spring looking to shore up its linebacker position. And it had plenty of options. Texas has seven linebackers who have started at least one game. Included in that group is Jordan Hicks, who is back after missing 10 games last year because of a hip injury. Hicks will team with true sophomores, Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens for what should be a much faster and aggressive unit in 2013.
3. Along the lines: While there were a sprinkling of injuries along the offensive line this spring (Josh Cochran and Trey Hopkins), Texas appears to have finally solved the depth riddle at that position. Tackle Kennedy Estelle was able to get quality snaps and should prove to be a solid backup and Sedrick Flowers finally emerged as an option at guard. While Texas returns all five starter from a year ago along the line, the Longhorns know that in the new up-tempo offense it will have to lean heavily on these backups.
1. Speed thrills: Texas wants to move the ball fast. So fast that the offensive players were even taught how to quickly get the ball back to the official so that they could put it down and Texas could line up and run the next play. But Texas only decided it wanted to play this way in mid-December when there was a change in playcallers from Bryan Harsin to Applewhite. So Texas has only had a handful of practices to get up to speed. With a schedule that has Texas at BYU for the second game of the season there doesn’t appear to be much time to get things perfected.
2. Safety dance: Texas’ defense was the worst in school history and that was largely due to the play of the back seven on defense. And now the best player in that back seven, Kenny Vaccaro, is gone. He was a first-round draft pick. That has left Texas wondering who will step up and make some stop at the safety position. Adrian Phillips takes over for Vaccaro, but he was inconsistent last season. The coaches blamed a shoulder injury and the fact he missed the spring. Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner also missed their share of tackles but both are being called on to be possible starters.
3. Receiving praise: Texas has not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jordan Shipley in 2009. Mike Davis had 939 yards last year and appears poised to break the 1,000-yard mark this season. But to do that he will need help. And right now there are some questions as to where that help will come from. Texas wants to go with four wide receivers but two of the four players expected to fill those roles -- Cayleb Jones and Kendall Sanders -- are currently suspended because of legal issues. Both will probably be back. But even then, Texas is very thin at wide receiver and needs some other players to step up to help take the double teams away from Davis.
OFFENSE: It was obvious from the start that this offense would only go as far as David Ash would take them, and the offense looked really, really strong in the first four games, including wins on the road against Ole Miss and Oklahoma State. He played well against West Virginia, but the wheels came off for everything in a blowout loss to Oklahoma. Ash was benched against KU and Case McCoy rescued a win, and McCoy got some run against TCU and K-State when Ash suffered a rib injury. Ash was OK this year, but has to eliminate the rough outings. The receivers were solid, but the running game still has yet to become the force that the raw talent at running back suggests it should be. It's been good, but the Longhorns still keep their backs healthy. The offense was better this year and earned Bryan Harsin a head-coaching job at Arkansas State, but there's a lot of room for improvement for this unit. GRADE: B-
DEFENSE: This is where it could get ugly, considering we generally grade these units on a curve relative to the talent present. Texas looked like a runaway candidate for the Big 12's best defense. The defensive line was beastly and deep at defensive tackle, and the linebackers were young, albeit promising. The secondary returned all of its best talents and Kenny Vaccaro and cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs could arguably be considered the Big 12's No. 1 and No. 2 corners. That was in the preseason, though. Texas never found much ability to slow the run, and Diggs and Byndom were disappointments compared to their 2011 seasons. The linebackers had to deal with the loss of leader Jordan Hicks for most of the season, so they get somewhat of a pass, and the defensive line recovered well from the loss of Jackson Jeffcoat. Alex Okafor was one of the Big 12's best defenders, but that inability to stop the run cost the Longhorns. GRADE: C-
OVERALL: That 4-0 start had plenty of folks, myself included, thinking Texas was back. The loss the following week to a top-10 West Virginia team (back then, anyway) was nothing to be ashamed of. That Red River loss, though, cast a huge shadow over the season and even a late four-game winning streak and a big win on the road at Texas Tech couldn't erase that. A Thanksgiving night disastrous loss to TCU might have repercussions on the recruiting trail in the future, and the Longhorns weren't ready to play 60 minutes with Kansas State, who ran away in the second half. The bowl win over Oregon State was Texas' best win of the season, but in a season in which Texas hoped to be back, it simply wasn't enough. Nine wins doesn't cut it at Texas. GRADE: C+
More Big 12 report cards:
Here's who made the postseason team.
How did our All-Big 12 preseason team stack up at season's end? Here's how the preseason All-Big 12 offense ended up. Now, let's look at the defense.
DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Jeffcoat was off to a solid start with 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks with a pair of forced fumbles in his first six games, but a torn pectoral muscle ended his season early and he didn't make the postseason team.
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
Maponga was TCU's lone representative on the preseason team, but he didn't quite live up to expectations, and was overshadowed by teammate Devonte Fields. Maponga made just six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, neither of which ranked in the top 10 of the Big 12. He did force two fumbles but didn't make the postseason team.
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
Okafor was solid this season, and wasn't far off from being the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. He was third in the league with eight sacks and sixth in the league with 11.5 tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles and made the postseason team.
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
I took some flack for including Williams on my preseason team, but I'll have the last laugh here. I loved his relentless motor and underrated technique and use of hands in 2011. This year, it paid off with a Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year trophy after leading the league with 9.5 sacks and finishing third with 13.5 tackles for loss. He obviously made the postseason team.
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
Klein returned as the league's Defensive Player of the Year and had a really solid year with 98 tackles and an interception returned 87 yards for a score. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss and made the postseason team.
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Brown didn't have a huge statistical year but he held together a solid K-State defense and flew around all season, even playing through a painful ankle injury. He won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for his efforts and made 91 tackles, six tackles for loss and intercepted two passes, returning one for a score. He obviously made the postseason team.
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
Knott was having a great year with 79 tackles and two interceptions through eight games, as well as five pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, though, and played one last game, going out on top with a win over Baylor. Despite the injury, I still placed him on the postseason team.
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
Byndom was my pick as the league's top corner this year, but he was part of Texas' defensive struggles and got surpassed by some better players. The Longhorns pass D ranked third in the league, but Byndom was 21st in pass breakups, though he did have three interceptions and two blocked kicks.
CB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
Brown and teammate Justin Gilbert were two of the bigger disappointments across the league this year. The duo combined for 10 picks a year ago. Neither had one this year, and OSU ranked seventh in the league in pass defense. He was surpassed by better performances on this year's team by Aaron Colvin and Jason Verrett.
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Vaccaro had a solid year with 93 tackles, two interceptions 3.5 TFLs and two forced fumbles, but I gave the narrow nod to K-State's Ty Zimmerman for the second safety spot on the postseason team.
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
Jefferson was one of the league's best defenders this year and finished second in the league with 113 stops. He picked off two passes and broke up three more. He made the postseason team.
How bad is it? Really bad, according to the data compiled by ESPN Stats and Info.
Texas missed a season-high 16 tackles against Oklahoma, raising its total to 69 on the season, 16 more than the second-worst tackling team in the Big 12. Kansas has missed 53 tackles this season through six games.
"The defensive line played pretty good," Texas coach Mack Brown told reporters this week. "We're still giving up way too much space and room, and linebackers and the deep safeties are not tackling like they need to when we get the ball out in the field."
Cornerback Carrington Byndom has missed nine tackles this season, tied with Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman for the most in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis has missed eight tackles, the third-most in the Big 12 and eight other players in the league are tied with six missed tackles.
As the season has progressed, Texas' tackling problems seem to have only gotten worse. Here's how the missed tackle totals looked in each game, according to ESPN Stats and Info:
- Wyoming: 5
- New Mexico: 12
- Ole Miss: 13
- Oklahoma State: 10
- West Virginia: 13
- Oklahoma: 16
One of those missed tackles allowed Wyoming to connect on an 82-yard touchdown catch and run that put the Cowboys up 9-7 early in the Longhorns' 37-17 win.
It won't get any easier for Texas this weekend when it hosts Baylor, the nation's No. 2 offense.
"There have been times where I've been on teams where they've had an issue with turning the ball over, and it becomes such a battle cry that it can almost become the guys almost start holding the ball too hard and causing more turnovers until it becomes a psyche," defensive coordinator Manny Diaz told reporters this week. "I've seen the same thing happen with tackling before, where when tackling becomes such a major issue and we have worked obviously to the nth degree in practice, that the players can become so robotic in the tackling that what starts to happen is still the No. 1 thing in tackling is running your feet through contact and wrapping the guy up - is that you almost start to say, 'Okay, here I am.' And you start to slow down to do everything fundamentally absolutely right, where in a game like that you can't do that."
How does the rest of the Big 12 stack up when it comes to missed tackles? Let's take a look:
1. Oklahoma - 29 missed tackles
2. Baylor - 37
3. Oklahoma State - 40
4. Kansas State - 43
4. Texas Tech - 43
6. TCU - 44
7. Iowa State - 45
8. West Virginia - 52
9. Kansas - 53
10. Texas - 69
- Holy cow, I don't know about you, but I absolutely can't wait for West Virginia and Texas to tangle. There still seems to be more skepticism about the Longhorns than there is about WVU, but there's no doubt that West Virginia will have the best player on the field. He'll be facing one of the best defenses he'll see all year in Texas. Or will he? The Longhorns' tackling issues haven't gone away, but their form seems to have gone missing. Can Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs figure out how to cover Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin? I'm not sure it's possible. Help from the rest of the secondary will be needed. This is more than a one-man job.
- Oklahoma: How good is this team? There's plenty of reason to doubt the Sooners, who have looked poor in two of their three outings this season. What about Texas Tech? The offense sputtered in the first half against Iowa State, but it has been impressive in three games against patsies. We'll learn a lot about both of these teams this week, but you'll be hearing plenty about the Sooners' troubles in Lubbock. They haven't won there in almost a decade.
- Geno Smith is the Heisman front-runner, but this is one game in which he can really win this thing. A good enough performance on Saturday might give Smith enough slack to even suffer a loss and still maintain his lead in the race, as long as he plays decent in the loss.
- Iowa State couldn't get the win against Texas Tech, but TCU has left doors open all season long, and nobody's taken advantage. Other than K-State, is any team in the Big 12 more liable to take advantage of anything a team gives it? ISU is very dangerous heading down to Fort Worth. TCU gets somewhat of a pass for the mistakes against SMU because of the rain, but this is still becoming a trend.
- Will the bye week matter for Kansas? KU has gotten absolutely steamrolled against rival K-State the past two years, as the Wildcats have turned in some of their best performances. K-State has pretty much nothing to prove in this game, but can KU at least make this thing competitive? For the sake of those of us who have to watch these games (ahem), I hope so.
- Oklahoma State gets a week off to think about last week's heartbreaking loss to Texas. Baylor's also off this week after losing to West Virginia on Saturday, despite scoring 63 points.
Want the full Big 12 schedule? Here you go (all times ET):
- Kansas at No. 7 Kansas State, noon, FX
- No. 17 Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2 (reverse mirror)
- No. 15 TCU at Iowa State, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Network
- No. 8 West Virginia at No. 11 Texas, 7 p.m., FOX
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