As Texas heads into its 4th year of overhauling its schemes, coordinators, and coaches you would think Mack Brown and the Longhorns have done enough to earn their way back into the National Title discussion. Â Well, at the end of year 3 the Longhorns still arenâ€™t close to contending for the crystal ball. The team finished the season 9-4 and still has many question marks that need to be answered before it can take the next step. For those wondering, the expectations for this fall will be set at 10 wins, a conference championship, and a likely BCS bowl game (which is now a playoff game).
The last time Texas finished a season with at least 10 wins was when Colt McCoy led the Longhorns to play in the National Championship game against Alabama. Â Since then Alabama has played in 2 more title games.Â With the win against Notre Dame in the recent BCS Championship Game Alabama went 3 for 3 in those games. Unfortunately, itâ€™s been a different story for the Longhorns. Since the tough loss in 2009 against the Tide where Colt McCoy was knocked out of the game early, Texas has a combined record of 22-16; a winning record, but nothing that any Longhorn fan thinks is close to being acceptable. What makes it worse is in Big 12 play over the past 3 seasons Texas has accumulated a losing record of 11-15. That is plain awful and is a big reason why Texas fans everywhere are frustrated with the program. Â But if we break the numbers down season-by-season, we see that Texas clearly has improved upon its record in consecutive years, going 5-7, 8-5, 9-4. Â So why arenâ€™t more fans buying into next season? And why is there not the same level of “buzz” about the upcoming off-season like there has been in the past? Â There are 3 main reasons why.
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The first and most obvious reason why many are reluctant to feel confident about the 2013 season is the fact that we,Â Longhorn Nation, were spoiled with great QB play but have been devoid of that in recent years. Vince Young and Colt McCoy were some of the best quarterbacks college football has ever seen. Iâ€™d even push back the start of this uninterrupted lineage of great quarterbacks to Major Applewhite and Chris Simms, though Simms gave us numerous headaches. And hell, even Chance Mock put up good stats after Simms and before VY. Â Allright, Iâ€™ll push it back even further for the older crowd; James Brown was a household name in the mid to late 90â€™s. For over a decade having a leader at QB who could change games, lead the team, and make plays was a consistent familiarity to us all – and we all thought this trend would continue once Garret Gilbert, the #1 ranked high school quarterback, took over the reins from McCoy. We were all wrong, every single one of us. Once the Garret Gilbert experiment failed Mack was forced to abandon his plan for a Gilbert-led team and resort to plan-b, which translated to doing the best he could with what he had (Iâ€™m not trying to take a dig at Mack or Gilbert here. Every top school in the nation wanted Gilbert. Even Gatorade, not that they really scout players, gave him a National Player of the year award. I hope Gilbert is able to still move on with his life but it just didnâ€™t work out for him at Texas). The fact that he didnâ€™t pan out sent the program into a deep, dark crevice that Mack and company have been trying to shovel the Longhorns out of for 3 years now. And a big problem Mack was faced with was finding a QB to take over the reins. As we head into year 4 it looks like David Ash has emerged as the guy who will likely be under center for the Longhorns in 2013. He will be the first quarterback to be named the lone starter for the Longhorns in back-to-back seasons since Colt McCoy roamed the 40 Acres. But many fans still arenâ€™t sold on David Ash, which is one reason why many arenâ€™t sold on the Longhorns in 2013. And I understand where they are coming from. David Ash has shown success in this offense, but he has also struggled mightily in certain games. And in result it has been hard to put your finger on the guy.
A Defense Unlike Any Texas Defense Before
There is no question that Garret Gilbert created an unexpected problem for Texas at the quarterback position. But that was 3 years ago. Looking at this past season specifically, no one ever expected that the defense would play as bad as they did. This group was actually expected to be one of the best in the nation. But thatâ€™s the painful side of expectations â€“ when they arenâ€™t close to being met. The most unexpected problem on the defense, in my opinion, was their inability to stop the run. Over the past decade Texas has had some great defenses that, among other things, have been able to stop opposing running backs. Like the great QB play, itâ€™s something we have been used to. Quite frankly, there shouldnâ€™t be any reason why Texas had its worst defense in the history of the school this past season. But as we head into 2013 we still have the same defensive coordinator and many of the same players we did in 2012. This leaves many fans wondering what to think about this group next season. Â In one sense, I feel good about a lot of the players coming back. You can twist it any way you want but these guys were either young, inexperienced, or both, and were asked to do a lot. With a season full of experience under their belt it will only help. In another sense, the tackling issues still concerns me. I donâ€™t get why these big time recruits struggled with tackling. There is no question these guys have talent it should be expected that the tackling issue will be fixed next season.
I think the larger problem on defense was Manny Diazâ€™s schemes. He is a guy who likes to get creative â€“ and I have no problem with a defensive coordinator who likes to get creative. What I do have a problem with is a defensive coordinator who gets too creative in situations where the players simply need to line up, win their individual battles, and make the play. Texas doesnâ€™t need to run crazy stunts and blitzes all the time. It gets players out of position too often. And itâ€™s asking a lot for players with inexperience playing together, specifically the linebackers this past season. The bottom line is Diaz is coming back one year after Texas displayed one of its worst defensive performances in school history. I get why fans may be weary of what to expect from this side of the ball. Â Iâ€™m still weary of Diaz. Â But I think some shuffling around on the depth chart and another year of experience will undoubtedly help improve the defense. At the very least I want to see the unit slow down the run more effectively next season. Iâ€™ll be harping on stopping the run all off-season, get ready.
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Culture/Mindset/Leadership of the Team
This past season I felt like Texas didnâ€™t have the same leadership they had last season, and certainly not the same leadership they had in VY and Coltâ€™s tenure at UT on both sides of the ball. I think this drop in leadership from players shifted the culture and mindset of the team and program away from more of the dominant mindset it had in the past. I definitely think there are players on this team that can step up and be leaders for both sides of the ball, but I didnâ€™t see the accountability like I had before. For example, after the OU loss the team was still clamoring about how people should get off the teamâ€™s back because they could still be a 10-win team. I felt like it was a sense of entitlement rather than a will to fix their problems and dominate the rest of the season. Rather than having a mentality like that, I want each Longhorn team to have a killer instinct in each and every game – much like we saw in Alabama against Notre Dame. Â Which brings me back to my other post (https://www.hornsports.com/quick-shots-of-what-the-longhorns-need-to-do-to-improve-in-2013) where I mentioned why I like seeing Tevin Jackson, Peter Jinkens, Malcolm Brown, and even Quandre Diggs on the field. They play with the passion and leadership that needs to permeate throughout the entire team. Granted, I have never set foot in the locker room or on the practice field, but this is just the sense I get from listening to press conferences and watching the energy and demeanor of the team on the field.
Sure, a part of this culture and leadership falls on Mack Brown as well. I was talking with Rivals.comâ€™s own Mike Craven (@CravenMike) the other day and our conversation fell on the subject of the personality of the players Mack has recruited in the past couple of years verses the players that were on the team during Vince Youngâ€™s tenure. The conclusion we agreed upon was the personalities and dispositions of the players seemed to be different. The mean-streak and killer instinct of the playerâ€™s during VYâ€™s era was evident. Â But in recent years it hasnâ€™t been as prevalent. Â Sure, guys like Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro ran through opponents like trains this past season, but in VYâ€™s time the entire team exuberated that mean-streak, rather than only a couple of players. It circles back around to the type of culture Mack is creating with the players he has. Â Donâ€™t get me wrong, I think Mack Brown is a great coach and I will forever be thankful for where he has taken the Texas program. Â I also think the current players on the roster are very talented and can become a nasty, dangerous group to mess with. Â However in recent years that confidence and mentality hasnâ€™t been at the level I or fans would expect. It hasnâ€™t gotten close to what Alabama displayed in the National Championship Game. And it has left some fans wanting more from the Horns and calling for Mackâ€™s job.
My Final Thoughts
The past few years the Texas program has fallen into a unique position, much more so than the previous 8 years during the Vince Young/Colt McCoy era. During this â€œreignâ€ Texas was known for having a star quarterback, a great defense, and leadership on both sides of the ball. Â After McCoy left and Texas fell to 5-7 the program entered a phase that many of us werenâ€™t used to. We had been spoiled with the great quarterbacks and the top-notch defenses. Ultimately the strengths of Texas became the weaknesses. As we head into 2013 we slowly see UTâ€™s weaknesses showing potential to be the strengths again. David Ash has shown success in this offense and led a great come-from-behind victory in the Alamo Bowl. Right now Ash is definitely no â€œVince Youngâ€ or â€œColt McCoy,â€ and he may never get to their respective levels of success. He may not have to. All he needs to do is be more consistent with his play. Every quarterback faces games where they struggle, but the ones who win are the ones who do enough to keep their team in the game and make plays that help their team win, like Ash did in the bowl game. He cannot disappear like he did against Oklahoma and Kansas, or else Texas will be stuck at the same level of play that they were at this season.
On the other side of the ball the defense has to collectively play better, plain and simple. The group has talent and depth at each position but the poor tackling and poor schemes must improve. Thereâ€™s no question the defense picked it up a little bit at the end of the season but Manny Diaz has to do a better job of coaching his players to win their individual battles; whether it be fighting off blocks, not blowing coverage, or simply making an open field tackle. I look at this group and like a lot of the players but they need to get it together and they know it.
Lastly, Iâ€™d love to see more leadership emerge from the team. Since Iâ€™m not at practices or in the locker room, I can only hope these players are holding each other accountable and keeping one another focused. The incident in San Antonio was definitely disheartening. Â On top of that the two players involved were both juniors who should have been acting as role models and leaders for the team and on their sides of the ball respectively.
Texas has a lot to work on in the off-season but at the same time this team has a lot of potential. Â In 2012 we saw flashes of greatness, and there are a lot of players to like across the roster. The Longhorns seem to be headed in the right direction but they have work to do if they want to take this program to the next level, which means a win against Oklahoma, a conference championship, and at least 10 wins.