The week off that followed Texas’ 66-31 victory over Ole Miss wasn’t filled with pats on the back and warm feelings.
No, this bye week was as much a welcomed break as it was a necessary step toward making the leap from nonconference play to a daunting Big 12 slate. No flaw went ignored.
Even for Texas’ most successful units in Oxford, Miss., the bye still provided a challenge. Just ask Mason Walters, one of the leaders of a Longhorn line that helped rack up 101 knockdown blocks against Ole Miss.
Texas had its most explosive game of the season on offense and its line held up both in the run and in pass protection. Donald Hawkins and Trey Hopkins played, in Walters’ estimation, perhaps their best games this season. Still, taking the next step meant putting that performance in the rearview mirror.
“There were some times when the only reason a play was explosive was because a guy misses an arm tackle or doesn’t fit the right hole,” Walters said. “Those are the things we need to be keyed up on. When we get into conference play, everything is going to be a lot more detailed. Everything is going to be a lot more crisp and on point.
“You’ve got to be better so you can spring those plays like at Ole Miss, but because you did your job right and not just because somebody didn’t do theirs.”
The tenor of offensive line coach Stacey Searles didn’t change much in line meetings last week. He and his big men praised the good as much as they criticized the bad. That’s the standard they’ve set.
“Win, lose or draw, we like to stay about the same tone on how critical we are,” Walters said. “There’s no gray area, there’s no, ‘Oh, that’s OK, you didn’t quite get there and do your job.’ I think we were all encouraged by the game we had, and we want to see it again.”
For Texas’ defense, the critiques were much sharper. The 11 missed tackles defensive coordinator Manny Diaz counted against Ole Miss had to be addressed and resolved.
Coach Mack Brown said that required going back in last week’s practices and recreating the scenarios in which Longhorn defenders whiffed, in an effort to better dissect those failures.
“We just wanted to correct our mistakes -- all the missed tackled, giving up the big plays -- that’s what we really emphasized, and I think we did a good job of doing that,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said.
Diaz is sensitive to how he approaches the missed tackle issues. So far, they’ve been a problem that’s more fixable than fundamental. But the 120-plus yards Ole Miss gained after missed hits couldn't get overlooked.
“When you tell players two missed tackles gave them a quarter of their offense, it gets their attention,” Diaz said. “But if you start freaking them out, then they start believing something that’s not real. What’s real? What’s real is my angle. What’s real is leverage. I put my faith back in leverage and in tackling as a team.”