Pride key to Texas' revival
Longhorns defense dug deep after losses to West Virginia, Oklahoma
AUSTIN, Texas -- In the prism through which Kenny Vaccaro views college football, Texas did things the right way.
"Anybody could take the easy route and win all their games and play perfect defense," the senior safety said. "But I think it means a lot more when you face a lot of adversity. A lot of guys backed us in a corner saying we're horrible and [defensive coordinator Manny] Diaz isn't going to be here. But I think we got together as a team. We could've quit after OU. We got together as a team and took the initiative to turn this thing around. And I think that means a lot more than just cruising through the season."
But there was a point hidden in the above ramblings. Not one that was eloquently made. He is coached by Mack Brown, not Dale Carnegie. So a pass should be granted. And it's worth sifting through his words for the truth because it does ring.
What Vaccaro was attempting to say was the tried and true, "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."
Given that this was a group left for dead, as Vaccaro accurately pointed out, following the Oklahoma game and possibly even the Baylor game, the crash-cart revival that has taken place in the past three games is startling and remarkable.
Through the first seven games, Texas had allowed 35 points and 472 yards per game. In its last three, Texas has allowed 15.3 points and 330 yards per game.
A smaller snapshot provides an even more startling picture: In 10 quarters of play from OU to the first half of the Kansas game, Texas allowed 127 points, 15 touchdowns, 1,485 yards and seven yards per play. In the last 10 quarters, Texas has allowed 32 points, three touchdowns, 790 yards and 4.9 yards per play.
"Confidence," Mack Brown said. "It's really more confidence than anything else."
That confidence came as a result of a confluence of several different forces -- maturity, schedule and work ethic.
Young players, forced to play without linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, started to grow up. Peter Jinkens, Kendall Thompson, Tevin Jackson and Dalton Santos each have played significant minutes now and have given Texas a patchwork two deep at linebacker. Cedric Reed, Jeffcoat's replacement, has 11 tackles in the past two games.
Alex Okafor, a senior leader, started to step up. Vaccaro neglected to mention it, but it was Okafor who backed the run defense in a corner when he said he had "zero confidence" in its ability. Okafor's willingness to call out the players and the effect that it had cannot be underestimated. The defensive end is not prone to emotional outbursts and previously had not been willing to use his voice to lead a defense void of seniors.
"I'm proud of our team because we rose up, and that shows our resilience," Okafor said. "We definitely had to turn it up a lot, not only in practice but in meetings, and just take the whole game a lot more seriously."
The schedule -- Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State -- was much easier than running the gantlet against Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor. All four of those teams are in the top 11 of FBS in total offense.
And finally Texas started to push at practice.
"The practices have been a lot harder, a lot more physical, a lot different," Vaccaro said.
"Our work ethic has been better," safety Adrian Phillips said. "We took more pride in our work."
That it took a blowout loss to Oklahoma and near-losses to Baylor and Kansas for some pride to surface might be cause for alarm. Certainly one would assume it is a coach's responsibility to make sure the players are prideful of their work ethic and display that work ethic from day one.
At Texas that evidently didn't happen. Chalk it up to a lesson learned. That the Longhorns finally do have some pride in what they have accomplished could help them chalk up two more wins against TCU and Kansas State. True, that pride might lead a to an over-the-top statement -- ahem, Vaccaro's opener -- or two. But it is better for this team, given where it has been and how it played at times, to be imbued with a smidge too much pride than the other way around.
At least that is the way Vaccaro and Texas are choosing to look at it.
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