With wild, ludicrous rumors swirling almost every five minutes ranging from whether Terry Saban prefers colonial or ranch-style to whether Steve Patterson or Bill Powers or a big donor with a close parking place fires Mack Brown, the Texas head coach has gotten accustomed to having to deal with what-now.
But he might forever wonder what if.
What if he had pulled the plug on Manny Diaz in January and inserted Greg Robinson onto the staff as defensive coordinator?
Would Texas’ defensive players played like their hair were on fire as the Longhorns did Thursday, or would they still have been victimized by BYU’s Taysom Hill and Ole Miss’ tandem of Bo Wallace and Jeff Scott?
Certainly Robinson would have had a better scheme to keep Hill under — gulp — 259 yards rushing. And the home loss to the Rebels was more a reflection of an offensive meltdown when Texas didn’t score a point after halftime.
We’ll never know. Nor will Brown, who is rightfully more preoccupied with concerns for the present and the near future — hello, Baylor — than the past.
Still, it may be more than an interesting sidelight to this topsy-turvy season. On Thursday night, Robinson came up with some exotic formations to completely stymie a prolific Texas Tech passing attack in a 41-16 win and help secure a showdown against the Bears next week for a shot at an outright Big 12 championship, should Oklahoma upset Oklahoma State.
If kicker Anthony Fera’s not the team MVP, the 62-year-old Robinson might be for matching up personnel with team-specific gameplans.
Robinson gave his team confidence. He gave his players belief. He gave them a chance.
Of course, this is the same defensive coordinator who couldn’t stop Oklahoma State and couldn’t get an average West Virginia offense with a backup quarterback off the field, so it hasn’t all been roses and rainbows in this 8-3 season.
Despite the loss of his best linebacker, one of his best defensive tackles and a cornerback as well as a game-ending injury to linebacker Steve Edmond after one quarter, Robinson transformed the Texas defense and dramatically altering it with 3-4 looks and 4-2 alignments with defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat at middle linebacker as well as one of three defensive ends up front.
Texas was so effective on defense that Texas Tech’s best two plays came on its own fake punt and a roughing-the-punter penalty that extended one of the Red Raiders’ few scoring drives.
But it all started with the pass rush, which produced nine sacks, the most Texas Tech has surrendered in more than 13 years. Oklahoma and Ohio State each put the Red Raiders quarterback on his rear seven times in 2000. It’s a pretty key stat, considering Texas produced zero sacks in its three losses and 35 in its eight wins. “That’s amazing,” Robinson said of the sacks.
Texas also got air-tight coverage from its secondary, which lined up in nickel and dime coverages and put safety Adrian Phillips at linebacker at times and held Tech almost 100 passing yards under its average of 400. Few teams blitz as successfully as the Longhorns, who have thrived on corner rushes from Quandre Diggs, Carrington Byndom, Phillips and, on this night, Duke Thomas.
The Longhorns also put the clamps on probably the best tight end in the country and held Jace Amaro to six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown, although he had but three receptions for 33 yards in the first three quarters when the game was settled. Texas bracketed coverage of Amaro with a cornerback and a safety on top and rushed Baker Mayfield so quickly, the Tech quarterback barely had time to blink.
Jeffcoat had a game right out of the Alamo Bowl when Alex Okafor abused Oregon State’s offensive tackles and mashed quarterback Cody Vaz for 4 1/2 of the Longhorns’ 10 sacks.
Mayfield didn’t fare much better.
The former Lake Travis product may have brought a perfect 2-0 personal record in games played at Royal-Memorial Stadium, but those games were against Westlake and Cedar Park, the latter in a 4A playoff game. But he was treated much more rudely in his homecoming Saturday night as Jeffcoat and friends battered him with a pass-rushing onslaught that had been missing of late.
The impressive performance by the defense, especially Jeffcoat and bookend Cedric Reed, underscored a nice turnaround from the last two weeks when West Virginia and Oklahoma State combined to score 78 points. In fact, Texas has allowed 38 points or more in four games this season, once before Robinson replaced Diaz and another when Robinson arrived with four days of preparation before Ole Miss.
Brown never plays the what-if game, but because the defense completely suffocated Tech, he can look confidently to what’s-next.