The default bromide for many among the desperate in sports is that they just have to go back to playing (fill in team name and sport).
That’ll fix everything!
“We are not playing Texas football,” Chris Whaley, the Longhorns’ senior defensive tackle, said after a 44-23 loss to Mississippi on Saturday night.
Except that they are, at least as defined by the past four seasons, a pretty long stretch.
Texas is 23-18 since losing to Alabama in the BCS championship game at the end of the 2009 season.
The details of failure and mediocrity might vary from one season to the next – mostly offense in 2011, primarily defense in 2012 – but the bottom line is that Mack Brown can’t get any traction for his efforts to elevate his program back to an elite level.
Brown seemed confident he was en route to that during preseason camp, opening six practices to media, three of those to fans as well. Happy Mack was more available to reporters, a habit that carried into the season.
And then this: consecutive losses to Brigham Young and Mississippi, by an average of 20 points. Those were games the Longhorns needed to win to make a start toward what many seemed to regard as reasonable expectations: nine victories, maybe 10.
During the previous two seasons, when the Longhorns finished 8-5 and 9-4, they were not terrible on both offense and defense.
Now they are. Ole Miss rushed for 272 yards, and that was rightfully regarded as progress. After all, BYU gained 550, the most ever against Texas.
Both opponents mystified the Longhorns with option football that made use of the tailback and quarterback as runners.
“Really, they were running the same play over and over again,” Longhorn linebacker Jordan Hicks said of Ole Miss. “It’s pretty disappointing.”
Greg Robinson, appointed defensive coordinator a week ago, said he was satisfied with the effort. Asked what needs to change to produce better results, Robinson said, “Well, to make a statement like that right now without watching the film, it just wouldn’t be right.”
The Texas offense, after an encouraging second quarter against Ole Miss – 16 points and 136 yards — gained 100 in the second half and went scoreless.
In fairness, the Longhorns were without two key, injured players – quarterback David Ash and all-around fast guy Daje Johnson.
On the other hand, they had Ash for the most of the BYU game and scored only 21 points.
Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite didn’t have an explanation for the second half against Ole Miss.
“I thought we were able to run the ball in the first half,” Applewhite said. “That’s why we found ourselves in good down situations in the first half. That’s why we scored in our last four series. In the second half, we weren’t as effective. There are always different reasons. You can put the blame wherever you want.”
But not in Brown’s ability to attract players. Between 2010 and 2013, only Alabama signed more four- and five-star recruits as ranked by Rivals.com.
Brown was bewildered after watching his Longhorns succeed against Ole Miss in the second quarter and fail the rest of the game.
“I told them that I don’t know why we’re playing inconsistent,” Brown said.
Still trying to figure that one out, they will move on to the Big 12 opener at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday against Kansas State, which has a five-game winning streak against the Longhorns.
Reaching for something to hold on to, coaches and players pointed out they still can attain their goal of a Big 12 championship.
So they have a talking point as well as something that sounds like a new marketing slogan.
Brown, booed when his image appeared on the Godzillatron scoreboard to deliver a public service announcement, was asked what he would say to the fans about the direction of his program.
“Forget the coaches,” Brown said. “Come for the kids.”
TEXAS VS. KANSAS STATE
7 p.m. Saturday, ABC, 1300, 98.1
QUESTIONS FACING THE HORNS
1. Injuries: Will we see quarterback David Ash, receiver/tailback Daje Johnson, right guard Mason Walters or right tackle Josh Cochran on Saturday? This offense needs playmakers.
2. Get defensive: Texas’ new-look defense under Greg Robinson looked eerily similar to the one we saw in Provo. Can he make some fixes stick with another week under his belt?
3. Hello, conference: The Longhorns, off to a 1-2 start for the first time since 1998, are limping into the start of their Big 12 schedule — literally and figuratively. Will they right their ship?
THEN AND NOW
How this year’s Texas-Ole Miss game compared with last year’s for the Longhorns statistically:
Time of poss.;37:03;31:49