Monday, October 29, 2012
Faith, hope and not so much clarity
By Carter Strickland HornsNation
AUSTIN, Texas -- The last thing to die is almost always hope.
So it was a glimmer of just that Case McCoy was still grasping at Monday, two days after Texas was very nearly hopeless against a hapless Kansas.
"Everyone is going crazy, 'Fellas, we won,' " said the backup quarterback, who did win the game. "We didn't play great and we didn't do all the right things, but we won. When you look at all the notches, that notch went in the win column.
As one of the team's leaders, safety Kenny Vaccaro has taken it upon himself to try to get the Longhorns' defensive issues corrected.
"Everyone needs to chill out and keep doing their thing and go play ball like they have been doing forever."
But it seems like forever since Texas has done its thing. And, more to the panicked point made by all the fellas, it seems like Texas is forever away from doing it again. Sure Texas is bowl-eligible at 6-2. Not that it matters that much even to the players.
"We didn't have any celebrations in the dressing room about being bowl-eligible," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "We would have in 2010."
Ah, so there has been some progress over the past two-and-a-half years. But just how much will depend on the final four games. Again, there is the hope among coaches and players that somehow Texas, a team that lacks consistency, intensity, direction and a defense, can win all four.
"We put all three phases together, we can do it," said safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Kids say the darnedest things. At Texas, they get it from their coaches.
"We told them, 'Look around, there are a lot of two loss teams right now that are not happy,' " Brown said. "Some with two losses some were expected to win the national championship. We have got a tough stretch here and we have got to continue to play better."
But while there might be hope that Texas could do that -- the Longhorns are four points away from being 7-1 -- there is little evidence to convince that they can -- the Longhorns are three plays away from being 3-5.
Then there is this to stick between check and gum: Texas Tech is up next. The Red Raiders are No. 20 in the AP poll with their only two losses to Oklahoma and Kansas State. Texas has lost nine in a row to ranked opponents.
Then comes Iowa State, TCU and Kansas State.
Iowa State held Baylor to 21. TCU held Baylor to 21. Texas held Baylor to 50.
And Kansas State is No. 2 in the BCS. The game is Dec. 1 at KSU. (No doubt there will be hot seats provided in place of benches for players to sit on the sidelines in that game. Coaches will most likely avoid them if only to avoid the irony of it all.) Brown is 2-5 in his tenure against KSU. The two wins came in 2002 and '03. Both years, Texas was ranked ahead of KSU headed into the game.
Oh yeah, plus Texas faded down the stretch last year with a much better defense. The Longhorns finished 2-3 in their final five after being 6-2 to start the season.
But there is still hope.
"I think we can win out from here," said guard Trey Hopkins. "We have to continue to press ourselves to get everything perfect."
First, Texas might want to try to remember what perfection is. Anyone got a copy of the 2005 season? Well, at the very least Brown has a memory of the 2004 season. After escaping Kansas with a win, he compared this year's team to the one that barely beat KU and went to the Rose Bowl.
Before taking up 50,000 words on the world of difference between then and now, it might be easier to pick just one quality that team had that this one doesn't. How about consistency?
Week in and week out, the 2012 version is simply not consistent in its preparation or execution. That's not just a defensive thing, either. But defensive coordinator Manny Diaz does go on ad nauseam about how his guys just allowed one or two big plays that changed the game. To which the response from everyone is "exactly."
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Over on the offensive side, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has not been consistent in his schemes. At KU, he waited until the fourth quarter to start running wide despite reams of evidence his players are very good in space and significantly faster than those put on the field by the Jayhawks.
Harsin said those were his "silver bullet" plays and he didn't want to waste them early in case they didn't work and he needed them later. So essentially Harsin allowed KU's defense to dictate the game until he was ready to ride in and use his silver bullets.
Never mind that all year everyone, from every corner of the Big 12, including Texas, has repeatedly said this league is dominated by offenses that have a huge advantage and cannot be stopped. Everybody must have been talking about offenses that go against Texas.
But the point is if Texas wants to have hope that it can win these next four, it must first figure out how to be consistent. It's not as if the talent is not in place. A conservative estimate puts the number of NFL players currently starting on the defense at four. No one has ever shied away from saying Texas was talented.
What no one can figure out is why Texas cannot be consistent. Players such as cornerback Quandre Diggs said it is a matter of everyone, all 11 on the field, playing each play. That is not happening every play.
Guard Mason Walters likened it to shaving. Players need to go through the same routine every day and figure out how to not cut themselves. Slight aside here: Walters, Hopkins and Espinosa, the three interior linemen most responsible for the failed inside run game, all have beards.
If Texas loses three of the next four -- or even two -- everyone on the team might consider growing a beard and pulling the cap down low. But for now, that is not even on the players' minds. They still have hope.
"I feel like we can get to a BCS bowl," said wide receiver Mike Davis. "We got hope."