Texas Longhorns: Adrian Phillips
Moving on: Safety Adrian Phillips brought experience and leadership to the Texas secondary, a senior who played in 50 games and started 28. An honorable mention All-Big 12 selection in 2013, Phillips dealt with a shoulder injury throughout his final two seasons. He could be inconsistent at times but still managed to start 23 games during that period.
The contenders: Lots of questions here, starting with a curious one: Who’s coaching the safeties? Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn are both assigned to the secondary. We’ll see which one takes charge of running this group, or if it’s a shared duty.
Either way, it’s a clean slate for a group of safeties that could probably use one. If not for the great Kenny Vaccaro, it’d be easy to point to this unit as a disappointing one in recent seasons. Former secondary coach Duane Akina coached up some greats at these spots -- Vaccaro, Earl Thomas, Michael Huff, etc. -- but who among these returning safeties is capable of upholding the “DB U” tradition?
Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner enter their senior seasons with starting experience but haven’t lived up to their potential yet. Adrian Colbert is an intriguing option and entering his third year in the program.
Also in the mix are Erik Huhn and Kevin Vaccaro, who both missed the 2013 season with injuries, and incoming freshmen John Bonney and Jason Hall arrive in the summer.
Moving forward: Thompson has the most experience of the group, with 18 starts in 38 career games, but remains a work in progress when it comes to being a physical hitter. He had a knack for blocking kicks as a sophomore but wasn’t much of a playmaker as a junior, recording 72 tackles and one interception (the first of his career). He has to get better.
Another veteran with a chance to impress the new staff is Turner. He’s been used as a utility defensive back so far in his career, with five career starts and two INTs in 2012, but couldn’t beat out Phillips or Thompson last year. The former ESPN 150 recruit has one year left to play up to his potential.
Behind them is a group of inexperienced DBs who will compete for snaps, led by Colbert. He recorded six tackles as a redshirt freshman, all on special teams, and can be the hard-hitting athlete Texas needs patrolling the secondary if he makes big progress this offseason.
Of the four other underclassmen, Bonney could have the best chance of contributing early. He’s a polished, confident defender with big upside, and a lot of Big 12 schools coveted his talents.
Prediction: Bedford and Vaughn work closely with Thompson to raise his confidence, and they move Turner around to try several roles in their secondary. Colbert becomes a rising star at a free safety, starting in spring ball, and wins one of the jobs. The redshirt sophomore is worth keeping a very close eye on in the next few months.
2010 was a banner year for the Big 12 in recruiting, as the league collectively landed 23 from the ESPN 150.
A few, such as Jackson Jeffcoat, Ahmad Dixon and Shaun Lewis, became stars. Others washed out before their careers ever got off the ground.
No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Though he never reached a high level of team success, Jeffcoat had a great individual end to his career, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league with 13 sacks.
No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – Hicks has been good when he has played. Because of multiple injuries, that hasn’t been often. Hicks missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, just a year after also being knocked out with a hip flexor injury. After getting a medical redshirt from his 2012 season, Hicks has one more year of eligibility remaining.
No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas – Davis finished in the Big 12’s top 10 in receiving the last two seasons, compiling 200 career catches and 18 touchdown receptions.
No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas – Bible never played a down at Texas, leaving after his redshirt freshman season because of issues with grades. Bible ended up at Carson-Newman.
No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor – Dixon had a tremendous tenure with his hometown school, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors as a senior as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title in 2013.
No. 18: Demarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas – The Tulsa, Okla., native has appeared in 29 games on special teams and as a defensive reserve. He missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury.
No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas – After making just six catches his first two seasons, White transferred to Missouri. He caught just seven passes this season for the Tigers, but has another year of eligibility left.
No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma – In his first season, Jefferson was the Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the year, and he was a three-year starter before leaving early to go pro.
No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas – After serving as a reserve throughout his career, Dorsey was projected to start this season, but he transferred out days before Texas’ season opener.
No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma – After getting playing time as a third tight end early in his career, Haywood unexpectedly quit in the middle of the season, tried to earn his way back on the team, failed and ended up transferring to Central Arkansas. After getting suspended there, Haywood gave up football.
No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma – Nelson shined early this season after finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter. That, however, was short-lived, as Nelson tore his pectoral muscle in an early October win over TCU and sat out the rest of his final season.
No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma – The “Belldozer” starred his first two seasons as a situational, short-yardage QB. But in the preseason, Bell was beaten out by Trevor Knight for the starting job. Bell, however, still had his moments this season because of injuries to Knight. He led OU to a win at Notre Dame, then quarterbacked OU’s game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State.
No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas – He appeared in 51 games as a defensive reserve. Wilson had 19 tackles and a sack as a senior.
No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas – Jones transferred out after one year, and never played.
No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State – Lewis made an immediate impact, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors along with Tony Jefferson. Lewis was a four-year starter and a big piece in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround this season.
No. 86: Tevin Jackson, LB, Texas – Jackson has been a backup linebacker for the Longhorns and will be part of the team’s great depth there in 2014.
No. 103: Adrian White, CB, Texas – Played in 17 games, then joined the mass transfer exodus from this Texas class.
No. 109: Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia – McCartney never became a No. 1 receiver, though he did contribute on West Virginia’s explosive offenses in 2011-12. He only had 12 catches this past season as a senior, however.
No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas – The cousin of former Texas running back great Cedric Benson has only been a contributor on special teams.
No. 122: Carrington Byndom, S, Texas – One of the few players from this Texas class to pan out. Byndom made 39 career starts and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this past season.
No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma – Clay proved to be a reliable and steady force in the OU backfield. He finished his career with 1,913 rushing yards, including 957 in 2013.
No. 134: Adrian Philips, ATH, Texas – Phillips settled in the Texas secondary, collecting 28 career starts there. He was second on the team this past season with 82 tackles.
No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas – Hopkins became a stalwart up front, making 42 career starts along the offensive line. He was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.
No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma – McCay transferred to Kansas after two years in Norman. He had nine receptions and a touchdown, which also was the first scoring catch by a Kansas wide receiver in almost two full seasons.
The Longhorns offense was average in pretty much every area except running the ball. UT was third in the Big 12 with 196.2 rushing yards per game thanks to a deep group of ball-carriers. Johnathan Gray is one of the Big 12’s top running backs and his injury against West Virginia was a bigger loss than most realize as the Longhorns lost three of their final four games after his injury. They had won six straight games before Gray was hurt. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are solid runners in their own right and give the Longhorns quality running back depth.
UT’s quarterback play was terrific at times, like the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, and horrible at other times, like the Longhorns' blowout losses to Baylor and Oregon. Case McCoy brought confidence and moxie but was too confident at times and hurt his team with some of this poor decision-making and throws. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, UT’s receivers struggled to be consistent and explosive for much of the season.
The Longhorns' offensive line was solid, allowing a sack just 3.6 percent of the time quarterbacks dropped back to pass, ranking second in the Big 12, and paving the way for their bevy of running backs.
Much like the offense, the defense wasn’t great at much of anything with the exception of getting to the quarterback. Texas finished first in the Big 12 with 39 sacks thanks to 23 combined sacks from Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) and his opposite defensive end Cedric Reed (10).
In UT’s five losses the defense allowed 36.4 points per game, 497 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, and 2.4 points per drive. Ugly numbers for a team with the talent the Longhorns possessed. Injuries played a role in the defense’s struggles but talent wasn’t the issue as it was clear the unit improved when Greg Robinson took over and simplified the system.
Special Teams: B-
Anthony Fera was the clear bright spot among an average group of special teams units. He handled the place kicking and punting and did both well for the Longhorns. Daje Johnson was a scary threat on kickoff and punt returns with his speed but didn’t rank among the Big 12’s best in either category.
The Longhorns won eight games and competed for a Big 12 championship during a season that will be remembered for its faults. They could have, and should have, been better but they did dominate an OU team that defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and had one of the Big 12’s most impressive stretches of the season during their six-game win streak. It was a disappointing season but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would like to believe.
Akina had coached the Longhorns secondary for nearly 13 years but acknowledged his tenure at Texas is over on Friday in a series of posts on his Twitter account.
I want to thank all the support staff, players & coaches that have been so good to me and my family for the past 13 yrs. HOOKEM HORNS— Duane Akina (@CoachAkina) January 10, 2014
Thank you all for the unbelievable support. It's a grt feeling knowing your hard wrk is appreciated The DBs r in good hands w/coach Bedford— Duane Akina (@CoachAkina) January 11, 2014
Akina came to Texas in 2001 and in in his time in Austin coached 11 current NFL defensive backs, two Thorpe Award winners and 14 first-team All-Big 12 selections.
Akina briefly left in January 2011 for Arizona and returned to coach the unit again for the 2011 season. He had served as assistant head coach under Mack Brown since 2008.
His departure was not a major surprise, considering expected defensive coordinator Vance Bedford coached the secondary at Louisville, but the news that Akina is leaving elicited a strong reaction on Friday from his former players.
Man it’s hard to lose a great coach like @CoachAkina. I know whoever picks him up is a lucky team. 100% real all the time.— Adrian Phillips (@Phillips_17) January 11, 2014
Best DB coach hands down. You can’t replace a man like that— Adrian Phillips (@Phillips_17) January 11, 2014
Hard to comprehend how you can get rid of the Best DB Coach in College Football. @CoachAkina you are truly a great coach & even better man!— Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) January 11, 2014
Come on @CoachAkina no way! Your account must be hacked or something , can't get rid of a legend like yourself! You've done to much for us— Aaron Williams (@ajwilliams23) January 10, 2014
Texas has not lost any verbal commitments over the news that Akina is leaving, but two commits said they were stunned by the news.
Three-star safety Jason Hall (Grand Prairie, Texas/South Grand Prairie) said he’s still solid in his pledge but was disappointed to learn he won’t get to play for Akina next season.
“It’s a tragic loss for Texas, the one who built ‘DBU’ where it’s at right now,” Hall said, “but I’m pretty sure Coach Strong has his logical reasons to not rehire Coach Akina.”
Jalen Campbell, a cornerback in Texas’ 2015 class from Corpus Christi (Texas) Flour Bluff, has been committed since last March and said the prospect of continuing the "DBU" tradition at Texas under Akina was a big reason why he chose Texas.
“It was surprised and I’m still kind of shocked a little bit,” Campbell said. “Nobody really knew if he was going to stay there or get kept or not. I liked him a lot, he’s real fun. Even when I went for sophomore day, he was yelling and screaming and stuff. It was exciting to see a DB coach with that much passion.”
Beford has yet to be announced as Texas' defensive coordinator but is officially listed in the UT directory. Incoming strength coach Pat Moorer and linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary have also been added to the directory.
On Tuesday, we brought you a look ahead at the 2014 offensive depth chart for Texas. Here's a breakdown of what the Longhorns are working with on defense. It's a unit that loses key starters but brings back considerable experience.
Remember, this is subject to change plenty in the coming months as Strong's staff shuffles the lineup and discovers new breakout players.
Cedric Reed, senior
Bryce Cottrell, sophomore
Once the new staff is in place, winning over Reed and convincing him to return for his senior season will be an absolute must for Strong. He finished with 10 sacks and 19 tackles for loss as a junior and was just as good as Jeffcoat for most of the season. Between Cottrell and Caleb Bluiett, who started in the Valero Alamo Bowl, Texas must find a significant contributor. Both are under a lot of pressure if Reed goes pro.
Hassan Ridgeway, sophomore
Brown has the makings of becoming an All-Big 12-caliber defensive tackle and maybe more. He’ll be one of the best players on the field for this defense in 2014. Ridgeway is still young and coming along, but showed flashes in limited stints this season. Big potential there.
Desmond Jackson, senior
Alex Norman, sophomore
Tank Jackson has 13 starts and plenty of experience. Norman and fellow redshirt freshman Paul Boyette disappointed in their first year of playing, but Texas is running low on depth here after taking some recruiting hits. Abilene’s Jake McMillon is the only DT pledge left. Strong will have to recruit this spot hard in the next month.
Shiro Davis, junior
Derick Roberson, freshman
There should be some fairly good competition to replace Jackson Jeffcoat, and nobody would be surprised if Davis wins the job. He’s a freakish athlete and speed rusher who flashed in 2013 and needs an expanded role. Roberson needs to put on weight, but he was a sack master in high school and is one of the gems of this class.
Jordan Hicks, senior
Kendall Thompson, senior
What is Texas getting in year five with Hicks? The injury-prone former five-star recruit went down with a torn Achilles four games into the season and has missed 19 games in the past two seasons. He’s a leader when he’s healthy. This is his last chance. Thompson and Tevin Jackson return to provide depth.
Dalton Santos, junior
Peter Jinkens, junior
It’s hard to know which direction Texas will go in at some of these spots, as both seem like obvious candidates. That’s the challenge with everyone coming back. The Longhorns’ next defensive coordinator has the luxury of several options with every UT linebacker slated to return next season.
Steve Edmond, senior
Tim Cole, sophomore
It’s entirely possible Santos takes over the middle next season, considering the way he finished this season, but don’t count out Edmond. He had a promising junior year before missing the final two games. Cole got a few opportunities in his debut year, but has work to do.
Quandre Diggs, senior
Sheroid Evans, junior
Diggs had a solid junior season and won’t be turning pro this offseason. He played all over the field in his nickel role, but with Carrington Byndom graduating, that likely means he’ll slide back to corner. The speedy, long-armed Evans has as much potential as anyone in this secondary, but suffered a torn ACL this season.
Mykkele Thompson, senior
Adrian Colbert, sophomore
Josh Turner, senior
Leroy Scott, senior
With Adrian Phillips graduating, this is presumably Turner’s spot to lose. He’s played in 37 games. Scott is sneaky good and made a few nice plays this season. It’s time to see what he can do with more responsibility.
Duke Thomas, junior
Antwuan Davis, redshirt freshman
Thomas took a few lumps in his first season of starting, but also led the Longhorns with three interceptions. Davis is a guy coaches would’ve loved to play in 2013, but they didn’t want to burn his redshirt. He’s in for a big-time debut both on defense and special teams.
Nick Rose, junior
Will Russ, senior
Texas should have a fairly open competition for Anthony Fera’s punting duties. Rose’s specialty is kickoffs, and Russ was hampered by injuries in the past but should be in the mix. So is walk-on Mitchell Becker.
It was Sept. 14. After losing 44-23 to Ole Miss, Brown tried to espouse hope and confidence about leading a troubled two-loss Texas team on a Big 12 title run. At some point during the discussion, he was asked what fans should think about where the program is heading.
“Forget the coaches, come for the kids,” Brown said. “Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often. They just need to keep supporting the players.”
The goal seems long gone now, after Oklahoma State sent the Longhorns crashing back to reality with a 38-13 loss, but it isn’t. Texas can claim a share of the conference if it wins out. And once again, that’s all the Longhorns are clinging to after a loss that sincerely shocked some players.
“I’m very surprised. As a team, we had some momentum,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “We had a close game last week, and we had a good week of practice. On game day, everything didn’t work out the way that we wanted it to, and these are one of the ones you wish you could have back. It’s not a good feeling.”
Such a thorough loss like that stings. The victory over No. 12 Oklahoma was Texas’ signature win of 2013, no doubt about that, but it seemed those six victories were building toward an opportunity like this. A top-15 team had to come to DKR, its Big 12 title hopes on the line. For Texas, the table was all set for this moment.
And it slipped away quickly. The Longhorns dropped out of the polls one week after entering. A Big 12 title is attainable but Texas no longer controls its own fate. An upset of No. 4 Baylor in Waco on Dec. 7 is now an absolute necessity.
“It was frustrating, but we can’t get too down,” sophomore defensive tackle Malcom Brown said. “We still have two more games going into the Big 12 championship. We have to stay focused and go play Texas Tech like we didn’t even lose.”
For players like fourth-year seniors Phillips and cornerback Carrington Byndom, there was unmistakable encouragement. They’ve had to pick themselves up and keep going before and will do it again.
“It was a bit of a shock,” Byndom said, “but that’s just called the game of football.”
Last time the Longhorns lost, though, they followed through on what they vowed. The post-Ole Miss promises worked. Improvement happened, leadership emerged. Texas’ offense found a way to win without David Ash. Its defense is getting by without Jordan Hicks again.
The circumstances have changed plenty since Sept. 14. Guard Trey Hopkins conceded after OSU that there’s no margin for error now. There are no easy games left.
Texas is on a bye week before hosting Tech on Thanksgiving. The Longhorns have plenty of time to regroup. There is plenty of time to review the Oklahoma State film, and plenty more to move past it.
But perhaps in this stressful off time, they’ll think back to September. Back then, folks were questioning if this was Mack Brown’s next 5-7 team. Texas players were determined to prove just how wrong that fear was.
Now they’re facing what could be a similarly unsatisfactory finish.
“It’s a setback, but it’s a setback for a major comeback. That is what we say,” running back Joe Bergeron said. “Honestly, it is just a speed bump in the road and we will get over this. We still have two more games and we just have to get everybody to understand it is not the end of the world.”
Nor is it the end of the season. The Longhorns have six more days to figure out what they’re going to do about that.
1. Mistakes proved costly in big game: It's not just the trio of Case McCoy interceptions. This game is not all on him. There were plenty of miscues to go around: Adrian Phillips' dropped INT-turned TD. The return of bad read-option defense. The horrific returns, especially a botched reverse that put Texas at its own 6 to start the third quarter. Bad special teams play all around, really, outside of Anthony Fera. You can't do that kind of stuff against a top-15 team and expect a close contest, no matter how many games you've recently won.
2. The Big 12 title picture: If Baylor beats Oklahoma State next weekend in Stillwater, Texas still can win the conference with a win over Texas Tech and a head-to-head win over Baylor on Dec. 7. If Oklahoma State knocks off the Bears, we have a three-way tie in the standings. Texas would then need to run the table and plus an Oklahoma road win over OSU in the Bedlam game. Simple enough, right? Let's get even simpler: None of these scenarios matter if Texas can't defeat a Texas Tech team that has lost four in a row.
3. Is Swoopes' usage really an issue? Freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes had his best game yet: 4-for-7 passing, 17 passing yards, 22 rushing yards. He played one series. Evidently that's causing some factions of the Longhorn fan base to declare he must play more. Based on what? McCoy has struggled but Swoopes hasn't shown much so far, and that's to be expected from a true freshman with little experience. Maybe it's time to try a run package with him, but you can't ask for a whole lot more. He's not ready to run the full offense and win games on raw talent. And right now, all Texas cares about is winning.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas got handed a beatdown on Saturday. There’s no other fair way to put it.
In a game billed as one of the Big 12’s biggest of the season, between two teams streaking and in control of their conference title hopes, No. 12 Oklahoma State took control early and never let go in a 38-13 victory over the No. 24 Longhorns.
OSU won a big-time conference test with a stingy defense, a superior run game, far better special-teams play and three forced turnovers. All against a Texas team that had won six straight and truly believed it could play with the Big 12 title contenders.
“I’m disappointed,” Brown said. “I don’t get stunned about anything anymore.”
The Longhorns, who hadn’t lost in two months, never led in this game. They started slowly, rallied back to 14-10 and then gave the game away in a matter of only seven plays.
The first six came on a 67-yard touchdown drive sparked by a 29-yard pass from Clint Chelf to a wide-open Jhajuan Seales on third-and-10. Two plays later, Chelf sent a pass right into the hands of Texas safety Adrian Phillips that bounced off and into the grasp of receiver Tracy Moore for a 12-yard score.
“It’s just a play I have to make,” Phillips said. “I make that play every day. It just went through my hands. Sometimes when you roll the dice, it doesn’t go your way.”
Down 21-10 with 75 seconds left in the first half, Texas’ offensive coaches opted to roll the dice and go for a score. They got one. OSU corner Justin Gilbert baited Case McCoy into throwing an out that Gilbert picked off and returned 43 yards to the end zone.
“Yeah, I was forcing things. There’s no doubt about it,” McCoy said.
McCoy threw two more interceptions on the day, including one swiped by linebacker Caleb Lavey that the Cowboys turned into a 21-yard touchdown one play later. That was the final score of the day, and with 1:54 left in the third quarter, the game was over.
“The quarterback goes out and throws three picks, you’re not going to win the ballgame,” McCoy said. “It’s very rare that happens. So it’s on me, my team knows it’s on me and we’re going to get it fixed and go win.”
That's not to single out McCoy and Phillips. There were mistakes all over the field in this game, and OSU repeatedly capitalized. Texas had no answer in the second half. One field goal and no spark. No big plays, no momentum, no change. It hadn't faced that feeling in a long time.
And there’s not much to second-guess. Oklahoma State was the far superior team. Brown was asked afterward about his usage of freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, which remains one of the great red herrings of Texas’ issues this season. Brown offered as honest an answer as he could have.
“You never make decisions when you’re tired and when you’re frustrated,” he said. “I’d say we’re both tonight.”
The clichés his players will lean on after this one -- about 24-hour rules and not letting one loss become two -- are actually apt. Texas still has plenty to play for. This team needs help to get to the Fiesta Bowl, yes. But Texas (7-3, 6-1 Big 12) gets more than 10 days to prepare for a Thanksgiving meeting with Texas Tech. Win that one and it'll still be in the thick of things with a trip to Waco on the horizon.
For now, though, all the Longhorns can worry about is fixing themselves. They made things far too easy for a talented Oklahoma State team that had very little trouble doing what it wanted to do in.
Brown wasn’t ready to assign much blame after the game. A thorough film session is needed before he can reach some conclusions, and he knows this season isn’t over yet.
“There’s a lot of football to be played,” Brown said. “You just can’t get your head down and lay down and quit when you have a bad night. You have to go back to work.”
There’s plenty of work to be done, even after the two-month run this team was on. Texas got its big moment on Saturday and got flat-out beat. Its Big 12 title hopes took a blow. We’ll know in two weeks whether it was a fatal one.
You don’t win games like Texas’ 47-40 overtime victory over West Virginia last weekend without sneaking in a handful of those small, but significant plays. Under Brown, Texas is 22-5 in games decided by three points or less. You don’t win those without getting the upper hand on a few sneaky-important plays.
While nobody else was looking, tight end Greg Daniels dove on a Malcolm Brown fumble near the end zone on second and goal in overtime. Texas scored on the very next play.
On West Virginia’s first offensive snap in overtime, Mario Alford took a reverse 20 yards to the 5. He could've scored, but Texas safety Adrian Phillips fought off a block and managed to force Alford out of bounds.
On second-and-goal on the Longhorns’ game-deciding goal-line stand, cornerback Quandre Diggs got a finger on Paul Millard's pass to an open receiver. The box score didn’t credit him for a pass breakup. On the final play of the night, Diggs pressured Millard with a blitz off the edge and was smart enough to avoid roughing the passer.
Those aren’t glorious plays like Steve Edmond’s interception or Jaxon Shipley’s touchdown, both of which merited praise, but these details garner almost no attention from the public and they helped swing a shootout on the road that sent Texas home 6-0 in the Big 12.
Under Mack Brown, Texas has now pulled of 31 second-half comebacks and 20 fourth-quarter comebacks. The Longhorns might need a few more of those plays to go their way against a 12th-ranked Oklahoma State team that’s a tough out in all three phases.
What makes the Longhorns so proficient in these close games? You could chalk it up to practice habits or savvy play-calling or plenty of other factors. It’s a bit simpler than that to co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite.
“Me personally, just my own personal opinion, I think you’ve got good players,” Applewhite said. “When you have Vince Young and Colt McCoy and you have Ricky Williams and you have Jaxon Shipley, I just think players usually end up winning the game over the course of time.
“I’d love to attribute it to something out there, but I think it’s good players making big-time plays in big-time situations.”
But contributions like the ones Byndom, Daniels, Phillips and Diggs made don’t go unnoticed. They’re the kind of detail plays that come from a 2013 team loaded with experienced veterans.
It’s also a group that has produced enough close wins and last-second victories to know how to thrive in these high-pressure spots.
“I don’t think anybody wants to be in a close game with us in the fourth quarter,” senior guard Mason Walters said. “I’m really confident the guys I play football with thrive in that. I really think it’s that pride in being able to win close games that really helps us.”
And by now, this Texas team has had enough close calls to know the “big-time plays” Applewhite seeks aren’t always the ones that put points on the scoreboard.
The track playing was off Drake’s new “Nothing Was the Same" album. It’s safe to say, now that their team is rolling again, the Longhorns in that locker room are latching on to the rapper’s motto of late: "No new friends."
Those fans he’s calling out are loving the Longhorns more than ever these days. A month ago, there were whispers -- and, on message boards, shouts -- that this team would have a hard time getting to six wins.
And then the Longhorns ran off four straight wins to start Big 12 play and trounced Oklahoma to the complete surprise of most. Now they’re a win away from six and playing like the talented, veteran-loaded team folks dreamed of in the preseason.
Now that times are good again, though, the players say they haven’t forgotten how quickly that same fan base turned on them when the record was 1-2.
“I really don’t care about the bandwagon and all that,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “If you with us, stay with us. If you’re not, get out the way.”
Diggs and his teammates plan to hold on to their us-against-the-world mentality, even in the face of win after win. Now that the fans are back on board, they’ll need a few new motivators.
Here’s one: Texas is tied for first place in the Big 12 standings but remains unranked. Wins over 2-5 Kansas and 3-5 West Virginia in the next two weeks might not change that, either, even if the Longhorns are rolling with a six-game winning streak.
Quarterback Case McCoy isn’t that surprised. He recognizes his team is still being punished for its early-season losses to BYU and Ole Miss.
“I think the way we started off the season was not acceptable for this program,” he said. “We’ll keep fighting against that. Our job isn’t to rank ourselves, thank goodness. Our job is to keep winning. If we keep winning, the polls will take care of themselves.”
So there’s the disrespect card. That one usually proves valuable in locker rooms. How about a little revenge, too?
Kansas embarrassed Texas last season in Lawrence and came oh-so-close to pulling the upset. West Virginia handed Texas its first loss of 2012, in a game the Longhorns could have won if not for a few untimely mistakes late.
“Trust me, we will hear about that,” McCoy said. “We understand how we played against them last year, the immaturity that we had. There are still guys and teams we definitely have a target for, we’re going after. That’s part of it.
“Our goal is a Big 12 championship. You slip up and lose one, that quickly starts fading out the window.”
The Longhorns were a two-score underdog against OU and a two-point dog at TCU. They’ll be favored in the next two weeks; there’s little doubt about that. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still feel underestimated.
Diggs is happy to embrace the feeling. He says the days following those first two losses were brutal. But they provided a catalyst for this team, a need to close ranks and stop paying attention to what anybody outside that locker room was saying.
Just because the Longhorns have won four games doesn’t mean that changes. Just because fans are showing him love on Twitter again and hopping back on the bandwagon doesn’t change a thing. Nor does it matter if Texas is a 28-point favorite this week. Diggs doesn’t want to hear it.
“Nah, keep us underdogs,” he said. “We want to be underdogs. Leave us the underdogs. What do they say: The hungry dog gets the bone. That’s been our mentality. That’s just what we do.”
He’s met with reporters a few times in his nearly 45 days on the job as Texas’ new defensive coordinator. When the 62-year-old speaks, he rarely talks specifics about his defense, focusing more on the simple concept of hard work.
“It’s easy to say a lot of things. The proof is in the pudding. Time will tell,” Robinson said. “But I just know this: We’re going to work very hard. Come Saturday, we’ll be able to evaluate. But I don’t know that there’s any magic wand that this is what does it. It’s a matter of just working and focusing in. That part of it, I believe that’s what we’ve got around here, guys who can do those things.”
This is essentially Robinson’s argument. The players got more reps every week. The coaches did some fine-tuning. Together they had a positive experience in a 31-21 win over Kansas State. They gained confidence. The puzzle pieces came together against Oklahoma.
He’s selling this process short, of course, and doing so rather humbly.
“I wasn’t real interested in revolutionizing anything in the defense or things like that,” he said. “There might be a twist here or a twist there, but I think it was just trying to help them do certain things and techniques they were doing and do them better. Maybe there’s a little something I can give that can add something to it.”
Ask Texas’ defensive leaders what changed since Robinson arrived and they’ll give mostly similar accounts. His imprint on the defense, while understated, is clear to them.
He brings energy and passion to every practice. He demands technicians. Do a drill right or you’ll do it again.
He’s taking a hands-on approach with every position on defense, not just the linebackers. He gets his point across without being a rah-rah guy, defensive tackle Chris Whaley said.
With 30-plus years of experience under his belt, he can easily spot a flaw, big or small, and explain how to get it fixed. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said Robinson is specific and precise in those moments.
He also puts trust in Texas’ veterans. Cornerback Quandre Diggs says Robinson has a selected group of starters -- Diggs is one of them -- that he knows can get the defense going at any moment. Players respond well to that.
“He’s always wired up before practice,” Diggs said. “He has his guys that he talks to and he lets those guys know that we’ll have a great practice and we can’t settle just because we had a great practice the day before.”
He’s a positive influence. He gets guys to buy in and believe. And doggone it, people like him.
These are the little touches Texas needed. Its early-season struggles were not a product of inexperience or a lack of talent, and he hasn’t steered the defense too far away from what it intended to be under Diaz.
“Coach Robinson, he basically kind of reiterated what Coach Diaz was trying to get across and I think as a unit, as we saw how things happened, we took it upon ourselves that we were going to get this changed around,” safety Adrian Phillips said.
It’s hard to fairly compare the results Robinson has coaxed out of his players with Texas’ performances in Diaz’s two games of 2013. The first came against a New Mexico State team that’s now 0-7. The second was one of the worst performances in school history.
But throw out Robinson’s debut game against Ole Miss -- he had just three practices to prepare for the Rebels and zero time to make meaningful changes -- and the three-game progress is evident.
Since Sept. 21, Texas’ defense ranks No. 44 nationally in total yards, 52nd against the run and 53rd against the pass. This unit forced as many turnovers (seven) as it allowed touchdowns during that span, with 13 three-and-outs.
If those fairly average national ranks aren’t impressive, don’t forget that Texas had the third-worst run defense in the country and the 10th-worst total defense when Robinson came back to Austin. Back then, the Longhorns’ confidence could’ve crumbled.
It’s sky-high now that Texas has finally shut down the Sooners, and that victory seemed to be clear proof of progress not only in execution but also attitude.
“If everybody brings that type of energy to each game, we’ll win all the games,” Diggs said.
Robinson, meanwhile, is sticking to cautious optimism. He’s comfortable with this team. He senses confidence will continue to grow. But the answer for TCU this week is no different than his goal any other week: More hard work.
“You know what? There are no guarantees,” he said. “The moment you kind of think you’ve got it, you better look out.”
Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.
Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.
The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.
In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).
Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.
Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.
Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.
Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.
Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.
Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.
West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.
Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.
Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown
If the celebrating the trio has done on their Twitter accounts is any indication, it’s safe to say the second-year linebackers are more than up to the challenge Thursday night at Iowa State (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). This week, their contributions should be critical.
The Longhorns defense fell apart without Hicks last season during its toughest five-game stretch. His absence opened the door for others, and a total of seven linebackers earned starts in 2012.
Yet Robinson didn’t chose any of the remaining six to take over for Hicks. He picked Cole, a redshirt freshman from Brenham, Texas, who’s spent nearly all of his debut season on special teams.
“Tim did a tremendous job against Kansas State on special teams, and because of that and practice the last four days, Greg Robinson is convinced he wants Tim out there as a starter,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
There’s the benefit of getting a fresh set of eyes on Texas’ linebackers. Cole wasn’t in line to contribute much to that unit before Robinson took over for Manny Diaz last month.
A four-star prospect who came to Texas last year with best friend Malcom Brown, Cole makes up for non-prototypical size (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, but that’s generous) with a strong football IQ and a knack for leadership.
When Texas was recruiting him, Brenham coach Glen West vowed that Cole would end up being a team captain for Texas. His new coaches don’t doubt that, and teammates recognized what made Cole unique early on.
“Since he got here, he was different than a lot of other guys,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “I knew he was a little more mature than other guys. His football game has come a long way since he first got here, but he looks good. He knows he has to step up and play well, and I think he will.”
He’ll team up tonight with Jinkens and Santos, two high-energy sophomores coming off strong finishes in Texas’ win over Kansas State. Steve Edmond will likely have some role in the game, but he can’t play in the first half after receiving a targeting ejection in the second half against KSU.
Juniors Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson were the presumptive favorites to step into the lineup in Hicks’ place, but the Longhorns’ young trio won over their new position coach.
They’ll have to reward his faith with a stout showing against the Cyclones, who got a 137-yard rushing performance out of newcomer Aaron Wimberly last week vs. Tulsa.
In their first three game without Hicks last fall, Texas’ defense let opposing running backs produce games of 199, 207 and 167 yards, respectively. That can’t happen again, not if the Longhorns are hoping to turn the season around after a 2-2 start.
What matters more to Brown, though, is the leadership void that Texas must fill now that Hicks won’t be on the field. Jeffcoat said he’ll take on the responsibility along with defensive tackle Chris Whaley and defensive backs Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips.
Simply having more seniors to rely on this time around means more accountability across the board.
“That’s a lot of guys who can keep their positions up and make sure guys don’t start slacking off and guys pick up the slack from what was lost with Jordan,” Jeffcoat said.
The sophomores are doing their part, too. Of the 25 members of Texas’ 2012 class still on campus, Cole is about to become the 13th to earn a start.
While others broke into the starting lineup in year one, Cole was patient. He kept working and kept waiting for an opportunity. Here it is.
“He’s upbeat and positive and smart and never makes a mistake,” Brown said. “Greg Robinson said the other day, ‘Don’t tell him something that’s wrong, because he’s going to remember it and he’s going to do it.’ He just plays so hard. It’ll be fun to watch him on Thursday night.”
But getting to know his own kids takes time. Entering week three as Texas’ new defensive coordinator, Robinson is glad that familiarity is finally coming along.
“I don’t call them by their numbers anymore,” Robinson said with a chuckle. “Starting to call them by their names.”
He’s been hard at work ever since, doing everything he can to prepare for Texas’ opponents and find solutions for the flaws he inherited. Nobody expected perfection in his first week on the job, but Mack Brown needed to see progress by week 2, when Big 12 play began. And time heals all wounds, right?
The time Robinson gets this week is invaluable. A bye weekend means no opponent, which means plenty more time to focus on his personnel and implementing his ideas. It means, finally, he can slow down.
“Having a bye this week is really, really helpful,” Robinson said.
He hasn’t installed everything he has planned, but an extra 10 days could do wonders for him and his players. Getting Iowa State on a Thursday night next week also means extra prep time for Oklahoma.
As Diaz learned the hard way, this is a results-driven business. No matter the challenges Robinson faced in taking over on less-than-short notice, he has to coax better play out of his Longhorns defenders. If Texas’ performance against Kansas State is any indication, he might have this defense back on the right track.
We could go over all the numbers that say Texas’ defense got better from week 1 under Robinson to week 2, but most of them aren’t going to tell the story. Frankly, Ole Miss’ offense is better than the one K-State brought to Austin. A few numbers are promising, though.
Ole Miss averaged 6.04 yards per rush. K-State, which ran only four fewer plays than the Rebels, was held to 3.03. Texas stopped twice as many Kansas State rushes at or behind the line of scrimmage than it did against Ole Miss.
An interesting measure of a bend-don’t-break defense is how often an opponent scored after getting its initial first down on a drive. Ole Miss scored on 75 percent of those occasions. K-State? 33 percent.
Some of that is scheme and preparation, and a lot of it is motivation. Texas was staring down the possibility of starting the season 1-3. That scenario was unacceptable to its seniors.
“We control our effort,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “That’s the thing. They can’t coach effort. We have to go and play hard, executed everything. That’s what we did. We made sure we executed the plays they put it.”
In the moments after the BYU loss, the leaders of Texas’ defense offered their unconditional support to Diaz and said he was still the right man for the job. They didn’t know much about Robinson when he arrived, but they’re buying in to what he brings to the table as their new leader.
“He made the promise that he was going to give us all he had, and that’s what he did,” defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. “We make the promise that we’ll give him all we have, so it was a great second week.”
Brown said he’s proud of how Robinson has collaborated with the rest of Texas’ defensive coaching staff. He has an especially strong connection with Duane Akina, the veteran secondary coach whom he’d worked closely with back in 2004.
“They’ve done such an amazing job,” Brown said. “They argue, they fight, but they did in ‘04. Then they come up with good stuff.”
They’re just getting started. Senior safety Adrian Phillips – or No. 17, as Robinson probably called him -- said he’s looking forward to finding out just what kind of coach Robinson really is over this next week.
The defensive coordinator can appreciate that. He too is starting to get a better sense of what he’s working with.
“Just being in the room with these guys, I’d be shocked if they didn’t just keep doing what they’re doing,” Robinson said. “And that’s getting better.”
“Kansas State will run the option,” Brown said Monday. “I told our defense this morning, if they didn't run it, they'll put it in. My gosh, we’ve got to stop it.”
The Longhorns’ new defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson, is hard at work trying to find solutions in his second week on the job. The past two Saturdays have taught his players that making those stops is easier said than done.
Ole Miss’ offensive attack was stunning in its simplicity. The Rebels appeared to have two go-to sets on Saturday: A concept built around a sweep-read, and a read-option with an offset back.
Runs, passes, play-action passes, read-option keepers, screens. All built around and made possible by two looks. Those two sets, plus 10 plays out of a standard three-back pod formation, accounted for 56 of the Rebels’ 72 snaps on offense.
Twenty-five plays came from variations of the zone sweep, the play for which Texas had few answers on Saturday. Ole Miss picked up 218 total yards of offense on those 25 snaps, or nearly half its total yardage.
Speedy scatback Jeff Scott does deserve credit, as does the decision-making of quarterback Bo Wallace. The scheme suits their talents. The problem is, Texas defenders saw all of these offensive wrinkles on film. They knew this was coming, and they couldn’t stop it.
“We knew that Ole Miss was going to take a page out of BYU’s playbook, because we didn’t stop it,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “We knew that we had to come out there and if we wanted to be successful, we had to stop what we saw the week before. We couldn’t get the job done.”
Both BYU and Ole Miss leaned heavily on the read-option, probably more than they’d planned going in, because Texas just didn’t defend it with correct reads, gap integrity and in-game adjustments.
“If you have the quarterback, you have to take the quarterback,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “If you have the dive, you’ve got to take the dive. You have to do your job. It’s just little things in there. Some people, including myself, are trying to make plays and miss their job. We have to get back down to technique and do our job.”
Texas’ run defense now ranks third-worst in the nation. The unit has permitted 30 rushes of 10-plus yards, second-most in FBS. The BYU blowout inflated those stats, no doubt, but they are what they are.
Might fatigue be a contributing factor? The Longhorns' defense has been on the field for 255 snaps, more than any team in the country. They’ll face several more high-tempo teams now that Big 12 play has begun, making depth a must.
Brown likes his defensive line and is confident he has two future NFL defensive ends in Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Ole Miss usually struggled when those two got in the backfield and pressured Wallace. But it takes 11 guys playing their assignments effectively to make a defense really improve.
Robinson had only three practices last week, and because of that, Brown understood why his new coordinator had difficulty against the Rebels. He’s raising his expectations this week.
“We had more trouble making adjustments against their option than we should,” Brown said. “Hopefully that will be better this weekend, because we have six days to prepare for that instead of trying to get things lined up right. We didn't make the decision for Greg for last weekend. We made it for the Big 12 Conference.”
The first four Big 12 teams Texas faces all have quarterbacks with rushing days of 70-plus yards on their resumes. The option game isn’t going away, especially not after Ole Miss made it look so easy.
Vance Bedford: Dream to be Back on Forty Acres
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35