Texas' season had suddenly taken the feel of the 2010 debacle. A 4-0 start gave way to a narrow home loss to West Virginia and an embarrassing performance against Oklahoma in the form of a 42-point loss.
Mack Brown's job status was a topic of conversation in Austin, and the prospect of improving on last year's 8-5 record looked like anything but a guarantee. The Longhorns were playing their worst football of the year and injuries to key contributors like running back Malcolm Brown, linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat weren't helping.
Texas got a narrow win over Baylor the following week before a fourth-quarter comeback to avoid an embarrassing loss to Kansas. The past two weeks, though, Texas has gotten back to playing its best football of the season, locking down defensively and seeing a pair of performances from quarterback David Ash that made anyone in burnt orange feel a whole lot better about the future.
"The guys have just understood that we didn’t play well at times against West Virginia. We didn’t play well at all against Oklahoma. I think they just circled the wagons," Brown said. "Young guys are growing up on defense. The offense continues to build and grow."
The result: Texas is 8-2 heading into a bye week before hosting TCU on Thanksgiving night instead of its annual date with rival Texas A&M, which left for the SEC after the 2011 season.
Still, win that game and Texas travels to Manhattan, Kan., to play spoiler against No. 1 Kansas State, which would likely be playing for a place in the BCS National Championship Game.
"I think the biggest thing is that they quit listening to any outside sources and went back to work," Brown said. They understood that the only thing that’s important when it comes to football is the product that we put on the field. And for two weeks, the product wasn’t very good, and it needed to get better.
"That’s what we did. We went back to work, tried to correct the mistakes that were being made, tried to figure out more about who we were on defense specifically with young linebackers and young safeties and challenged those guys, and they’ve stepped up. Now we’ve just got to finish strong."
Doing so would pay off in a big way. Beat TCU at home, upset K-State in The Little Apple and the Horns will be tough to turn down for the BCS, perhaps sliding into one of college football's premier bowls over those Sooners who beat them so badly in Dallas back in October.
Texas would be back to its 10-game winning ways and riding a seven-game winning streak to a strong finish. Still, even a loss to K-State would likely land the Horns in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 2003.
Brown helped turn a bad situation into a good one.
"Every team is different, every player’s different, every coach is different and there’s a key to each kid. There’s a key to each coach," Brown said. "My job is to make sure I’ve turned the right key. That’s just something you learn through experience, is how to handle each situation."