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.