Horns not there just yet

Texas is closer to reclaiming its place among the elite, but that's all

Updated: October 7, 2012, 12:30 PM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- The long wait, the one that has lasted for more than two years, continues for Texas.

The No. 11 Longhorns (4-1, 1-1) are not back. Not yet. Not after getting beat by a conference newcomer and national-stage neophyte, No. 8 West Virginia (5-0, 2-0), 48-45 in front of the largest crowd ever -- 101,851 -- at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday night. Oh sure, the Mountaineers have Heisman frontrunner Geno Smith, a coach that goes with every wild hair he has on his head, and speed and swagger.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJoe Bergeron kept Texas close, rushing for four touchdowns against the Mountaineers.
Wait, isn't all that what Texas used to have? (Minus the 'do of course.)

It was.

But the Longhorns had more. They had tradition, moxie and a mojo that had been built up over a 12-year tenure that was witness to 10-win season after 10-win season and a national title. All of that seemingly has slipped through Texas' fingers, much like so many opposing runners this season.

Yep, the wait continues. Texas, which is 1-8 against ranked teams since the start of 2010, doesn't consistently win the big ones anymore.

Because of just that fact, Oklahoma can't wait. Not after most assuredly watching what has happened to a Texas team everyone thought was on the upswing. Not after the Sooners experienced a resurgence themselves at Texas Tech, following the too-quickly-perceived foundation cracker that was the home loss to Kansas State.

The Sooners especially can't wait after watching Texas pratfall with a timing that surely elicited guffaws north of the border -- perched first and 10 on the WVU 12 against a deservedly maligned defense, the Longhorns not only failed to score but mishandled a shotgun snap for a 16-yard loss, then missed what would have been a game-tying 41-yard field goal deep in the fourth.

"I thought we would win when we got the ball down to 7 minutes 47 seconds and we forced the fumble," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I thought here we go again. This has been our story."

Not lately it hasn't. Not against top competition. Not since Alabama in 2009. And not in the past two years against Oklahoma.

Word has it the sled team of Boomer and Sooner already have started the caravan to Dallas. Undoubtedly that pair as well as thousands of others are chomping at the bit.

Whether Texas will be traveling a hearse back down I-35 from the Cotton Bowl or not remains a question. What is dead is the thought that Texas could contend for a conference title this soon after being 5-7. Yes, there is still a chance.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesFreshman Jonathan Gray had his best game, gaining 87 yards in 14 carries for Texas.
But, the thing is, Texas doesn't give itself much of a chance.

Whether because of a mixture of youth, indecision, ability, coaching or all, the Longhorns have an uncanny knack for putting a bullet through their boot. The misfires are made all the more maddening because the target is always moving. For example, once Texas fixes one issue -- let's say the quarterback -- the defense, purported to be a juggernaut of jocks, proves porous.

"The thing for me that I am having trouble with is we are giving up so many rushing yards, and I'm not used to that," said Brown who watched a defense that gave up less than 100 yards per game on the ground last year give up 207 to one player, WVU's Andrew Buie.

That's not to say the defense is a constant liability. That unit's ability to hold Smith to just 268 yards, force two fumbles, one of which was pounced on for a score, was equally parts amazing and admirable.

But the same defense allowed five fourth-down conversions, one of which assuredly falls in to the aforementioned pratfall category. Texas had West Virginia stopped. A fourth-down sack was cause for celebration and a change of possession. Oh, but see, just before the snap, not loud enough for everyone to hear except a lone official, Texas had called time out.

West Virginia lines up again and gets a 40-yard touchdown.

That only happens to rattlesnake bit programs.

"There were some 50/50 balls that seemed like they all went their way," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

That's how it works against better teams. Texas should at least know that by now.

What the Longhorns don't know is if this loss was just a minor slide on the climb back to the top or a tumble that once again could expose this program to projecting and talking about what could be in the future rather than about what should be now.

"This one hurts, but we can't let something beat us two weeks in a row," said defensive end Alex Okafor, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles. "We have to learn from this and attack the next one."

That's hard to do when Texas has become a team that is always being attacked instead. And until that M.O. changes, the wait for relevancy and respect will continue for the Longhorns.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation