Texas Longhorns: Trey Hopkins

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Texas hosted its pro day on Wednesday and put its senior prospects to the test in front of representatives from all 32 NFL organizations. Here’s how the Longhorns' top draft prospects fared and a look at who helped their stock.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
AP Photo/Michael ConroyJackson Jeffcoat, shown at the NFL combine, says he's open to playing wherever a pro team wants him.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat: Texas’ top draft prospect did not participate in testing or the 40-yard dash because he was satisfied with his NFL combine times.

With father and former Dallas Cowboys lineman Jim Jeffcoat in attendance, Jeffcoat did positional drills and displayed the work he’s been putting in on dropping into coverage. Jeffcoat checked in at 6-foot-3 and 253 pounds said he’s open to playing 4-3 end, 3-4 outside linebacker or whatever else an NFL defensive staff would ask of him.

“When it comes down to it, it’s football,” he said. “Whatever a coach tells me to play, I’ll do it. It’s exciting to see they want me to play a hybrid outside linebacker rush guy. It’s fun watching Brian Orakpo and Sam Acho do it, so it would be fun to do the same thing.”

WR Mike Davis: Going into the day, perception was Davis had a chance to raise his draft stock if he put up an impressive time in the 40-yard dash.

The 6-foot, 197-pound deep threat did not run at the NFL combine, so he did have plenty to prove Tuesday. Davis looked sharp in his passing drills with former SMU and Eastern Washington QB Kyle Padron throwing to him. The 40 time? A solid 4.48.

A likely mid-round selection, Davis said he’s receiving good interest so far and has visits scheduled with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.

K Anthony Fera: For Fera, preparing for the draft has meant lots of work on his kickoffs. The consensus All-American and Groza Award finalist was Texas’ placekicker and punter but hadn’t done kickoffs in two years thanks to Nick Rose’s strong leg. NFL scouts want to see him boom the ball, and he did just that on Wednesday.

“I hit them to the back of the end zone every time, and one of them hit the roof, so I thought I did pretty well,” Fera said.

The Saints, Titans, Browns and Jaguars could be searching for their kicking solutions in this draft and Fera should be in the running to be the first kicker selected.

OG Trey Hopkins: A 42-game starter at Texas, Hopkins has a chance to be the Longhorns’ first drafted offensive lineman since Tony Hills (2008). He came away proud of his 28 reps on the bench press and said interest is picking up, with a meeting with the Cleveland Browns already set up.

“I want people to know I play all positions on the offensive line,” Hopkins said. “I can snap, play tackle in games. And of course guard is where I played the most. I’m comfortable doing any of them.”

CB Carrington Byndom: It’s possible no Longhorn helped his draft stock more than Byndom on Wednesday. The three-year starting cornerback knew there were questions about his speed, and he’s confident he answered those with a time of 4.37 in the 40-yard dash.

“I think a lot of scouts had me running a lot slower than that,” Byndom said. “I could’ve done a little better on my position work, but there’s still time for that.”

He has one workout lined up and is hoping his performance Wednesday will spark more interest in the weeks ahead.

DT Chris Whaley: A left knee injury ended Whaley’s senior season in November, at a time when Mack Brown believed he was playing like a surefire NFL draft pick. Now Whaley is trying to get healthy, get back on the field and get drafted.

The 6-foot-3, 273-pound defensive tackle said he’s about three months away from being fully healthy again, but received positive feedback from NFL doctors about the progress of his knee’s recovery. Whaley participated in the NFL combine and did only one event at the Texas pro day, knocking out 22 reps on the bench press.

OT Donald Hawkins: At 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, Hawkins knows that, like Hopkins, he’s capable of lining up at a variety of offensive line spots. He thinks he can be a swing tackle-guard but isn’t sure what to expect when draft day arrives. Hawkins’ 40 time wasn’t immediately available, but he hit 20 reps on the bench press.

S Adrian Phillips: The two-year starter set out to prove he’s worthy of a late-round selection and believed he helped his case. While there was some uncertainty about what he ran in the 40 -- some said 4.44, others thought it was closer to 4.5 -- Phillips emerged feeling confident about his coverage work and hoping he’ll hear his name called in the draft.
As we close in on national signing day, it’s an appropriate time to look back at how the top Big 12 recruits from four years ago performed.

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.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFormer five-star prospect Jackson Jeffcoat finished his career as the best defensive end in the Big 12.
Below is a closer look at what happened to ESPN 150 players who signed with Big 12 schools:

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.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 150 recruit Brennan Clay was a solid, not spectacular, tailback for the Sooners.
No. 77: Quentin Hayes, S, Oklahoma – After serving a year-long suspension, Hayes returned to win a starting job this past season. He has another year left.

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.
Five underdogs.

Three by double digits.

And only two favorites.

With this bowl season comes a prime opportunity for the Big 12 to earn national respect. Yet also, an opportunity for calamity.

This year, even though Baylor remained undefeated until the final month and Oklahoma State had just one loss until the final game, the Big 12 was never a factor in the national championship race.

[+] EnlargeStoops
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and the Sooners are heavy underdogs against SEC power Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
One reason why is no Big 12 team opened in the preseason top 10. And that was due in part to a lackluster bowl showing from the conference in 2012.

Big 12 co-champ Kansas State couldn’t hang with Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Johnny Manziel wiped out the Big 12’s other co-champ, Oklahoma in, the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

All told, the Big 12 went 4-5, with its only impressive victory coming courtesy of Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

In the spring, despite the poor showings at the top, Sooners coach Bob Stoops championed the depth of the conference. But unable to fill out its quota this year with bowl-eligible teams, the Big 12’s depth argument has dissipated.

And another poor bowl showing from the conference will do nothing but widen the Big 12’s national perception gap with power conferences like the SEC.

Of course, with several premier matchups, the chance is also there to narrow the gap -- starting with a pair of matchups against top teams from the SEC.

Oklahoma gets defending national championship Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Oklahoma State faces SEC East Division champ Missouri in the Cotton.

Sweeping those would be a huge step forward for the Big 12, as college football transitions into next year’s College Football Playoff, where perception will play a major part.

But if the Bedlam schools get waxed the way K-State and Oklahoma did last year it would do major damage to the Big 12’s case for de facto annual inclusion into the four-team tournament.

“There’s always a lot of talk because there has to be because newspapers have to be filled and air time has to be filled,” said Stoops, when asked about carrying the Big 12 banner in New Orleans. “You have to talk about something, but we don’t concern ourselves with it.”

Yet whether Stoops cares to admit it, his Sooners will in fact be carrying the Big 12 banner as two-touchdown underdogs against college football’s preeminent program of the last five years.

“Being a competitor and going up against a team like this is going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be a lot of fun, as well,” Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “We’re pretty anxious and we’re just excited to get out there and play.”

The Cowboys will be carrying the banner against the SEC, too. Even though they’ll be playing a team that was in the Big 12 just two years ago.

“We've always had a lot of respect for Missouri,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ““It's interesting that they made the change of going into the SEC and having tremendous success right away.”

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Gundy and the Cowboys have drawn former Big 12 rival Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
“It certainly makes us feel good about ourselves being in the Big 12.”

Missouri might be a former Big 12 team proving its chops in the SEC. But style points the Tigers rack up count for their current conference, not their previous one.

And as only one-point underdogs, Oklahoma State might have the best opportunity of any Big 12 school to land the conference a landmark bowl win.

“With as many games as they've won and their current ranking,” Gundy said, “they're talked about as a really good football team.”

The Big 12 has opportunity elsewhere to garner respect by toppling a pair of “name” teams.

Like fellow Big 12 flagship Oklahoma, Texas is a two-touchdown underdog to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl, even though the Longhorns will be playing just 80 miles from their Austin campus.

Texas rallied to defeat Oregon State in the Alamo last year. But the challenge here will be far greater in coach Mack Brown’s final hurrah. The Ducks ranked second in the polls for much of the season, and despite some midseason struggles still boast one of the top offenses in college football.

The Longhorns averaged 31 points per game. Oregon scored that few only twice all season.

“They are someone you definitely have to keep up with or you'll get left behind quickly,” said Texas guard Trey Hopkins. “It will be a big challenge for us against a talented opponent.”

K-State is back in the desert for the postseason, this time the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Even though it’s not a BCS bowl, the Wildcats can also give the Big 12 a big win over a big name.

“As a kid growing up, Michigan is one of those poster programs that you see all over TV, you watch them growing up,” said K-State receiver Curry Sexton. “You kind of almost idolize them – one of those programs that every kid in the country likes to watch play.”

Arizona State might not be idolized the way Michigan is. But this season, the Sun Devils are more talented, and were a fringe top 10 team late in the season. That’s a difficult National University Holiday Bowl challenge for a Texas Tech team that closed out the season on a five-game losing streak and lost starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to transfer two weeks ago.

Which is why for the Big 12 it’s incumbent Baylor prevails as the conference’s only comfortable favorite in the Fiesta over Central Florida.

Tough matchups abound elsewhere. Which is an opportunity for the league to prove its playoff mettle. But also one to lose precious ground in college football’s perception wars.

“It always helps,” Stoops said of beating the likes of an Alabama. “It’s definitely something that could boost you.”

A moment the Horns will never forget

December, 20, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The way Mack Brown tells the story, the decision was made around 3 or 4 p.m. on Saturday. That’s when he knew he was resigning. Now he had to tell his team.

Texas held a one-hour practice that Saturday, a brief workout to begin prep for the Valero Alamo Bowl. The recruits visiting for banquet weekend attended. It was a typical practice. Business as usual.

When it ended, Brown assembled the team inside the indoor practice field and made a speech as he always does. But it wasn’t the typical motivational message his Texas’ coaches, players and recruits had come to expect.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
John Albright/Icon SMICedric Reed's simple "I love you Coach Brown" in the stunned silence after Mack Brown told his players he was resigning summed up the emotion in the room.
He told them he was resigning, that he would no longer be the head coach of the Longhorns.

“I’ll just remember him saying, ‘I’m going to go ahead and resign so that y’all have the best chance,’” guard Trey Hopkins said. “He said it’s not what he came here for, it’s not what you came here for.”

He acknowledged the high standards at Texas and that he hadn’t met them this season. He admitted it was time to walk away.

“He expects more from Texas,” Hopkins said. “He knows our fans expect more, we expect more, the recruits coming in expect more from Texas. He’s stepping down just to give Texas that chance, just to see us return to that standard.”

His words were met with dead silence.

“It was tough,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “People were sad.”

Added kicker Anthony Fera: “I’m pretty sure everyone was kind of shocked.”

They’d heard the rumors and speculation for months. They were all in the Frank Erwin Center for Brown’s banquet speech and knew he made no mention of his future.

Brown had been fighting off talk of his demise all season long. Now the fight was over. Still, his players say they were blindsided by the news.

More silence. They were caught off-guard. What he was saying was hard to process, hard to get over.

And then defensive end Cedric Reed broke the silence.

“I love you, Coach Brown.”

His teammates echoed that message. The emotion spilled over.

“He beat us to it,” Jeffcoat said. “We all just told him we love him and gave him a hug. We’re going to miss him here.”

On Thursday, Reed said the words came from his heart. He thought back to Brown’s influence on his life, starting with meeting his family in their living room in Cleveland, Texas, and all he’s done for the junior in the years since.

“It was just one of those moments where I just felt something and it just came out,” Reed said.

Reed and his teammates hugged their coach. They asked him to break down the huddle -- “which I don't usually do,” Brown said -- and then they tried to move on. They walked off the practice field, still wrestling with what Brown’s resignation meant.

By the time players got off the bus at the UT football facility, Longhorn Network had already broken the news to everyone else.

Looking back on that moment five days later, Hopkins said it was actually a fitting way for Brown to go out. The foundation of his Texas tenure was always a family atmosphere. He wanted his players to know before anyone else.

“It’s kind of a credit to his honesty,” Hopkins said. “He did that because he believes he’s giving us our best chance to go forth and win. He’s doing what he thinks is best for the program. It’s a testament to him and how much he thinks of this program, how highly he thinks of us.”

Brown will lead them onto the field one more time, in the Alamodome on Dec. 30. The players set to return in 2014 can’t imagine how they’ll feel in August, or even March, when a new head coach and his new staff leads them back into the indoor practice field.

Eventually, a new era will begin. Right now, all Brown’s players want is to send him off the right way.

“He’s a big part of the reason why a lot of us came here,” center Dominic Espinosa said. “I know I did for that guy. It’s tough seeing someone go out like that."

Texas seniors endured tough run, rebuild

November, 28, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When Mack Brown introduced his latest recruiting class on signing day of 2010, he did so with great pride.

“I've been asked over the last couple of days, ‘Is this the best class that we've ever had?’” Brown said that day. “We feel like it definitely has the potential to be, because from top to bottom it covers every position and that's a very difficult thing to do.”

On Thursday, seven of those signees will take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium one final time. Senior Night has a tendency to elicit mixed emotions, a bittersweet cocktail of pride, sadness and sentimentality.

It’s hard to assess this Texas class with anything else but mixed emotions. You wonder if they feel the same. After all, this four-year run was not what these seniors signed up for or expected back in February 2010.

Of the 13 scholarship seniors being honored during Texas’ Thanksgiving home finale against Texas Tech, more than half came from the 2010 class that ranked No. 2 nationally. They signed after Texas won 13 games and played for a national title. The senior class that departed after 2009 went 45-8 in their four seasons.

Today’s seniors made their debuts for a 2010 team that was No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. Expectations were as high as ever. Brown seemed poised to chase another championship.

Instead, this class ended up inheriting the task of helping lead a rebuilding project, one that still isn’t complete. They hope this is their legacy, that their efforts will get this Longhorn program back on track.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat calls his Texas career a roller coaster ride.
“To their credit, they would tell you they haven’t accomplished what teams at Texas would want to have accomplished as seniors,” Brown said.

The fourth-year seniors enter Thursday night’s home finale against Texas Tech with a career record of 29-19. If the Red Raiders pull the upset, this group will drop to 17-17 in Big 12 games.

They haven’t been particularly successful at DKR, either, with a record of 13-11 at home in the past four years. They’ve won six conference home games and lost nine.

Most of these seniors been playing from the very beginning. Guard Mason Walters, a 2009 signee who redshirted, and receiver Mike Davis were starters on the 5-7 team of 2010. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, cornerback Carrington Byndom and guard Trey Hopkins are three-year starters. All together, this senior class has combined for 266 starts.

It's a group that, to this point, has endured an awful lot. The first losing season of Brown’s tenure. A coaching staff shakeup. The end of the Texas A&M rivalry. One win and three losses to Oklahoma. No Big 12 championships. No BCS bowl games.

“It's been a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I'm better for that.”

Jeffcoat signed to play for then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Case McCoy has been tutored by three different quarterback coaches and playcallers. These Texas seniors received an education in embracing change.

“A lot of things have gone good, a lot of things have gone bad,” McCoy said. “That's part of the game, that's part of life. One thing I know in this game and in life, you’ve got to battle. You can't give up. That's why I love this team. I love the way they're playing. I love their hearts because we haven't given up.”

They know they had Texas-sized standards to live up to in their careers. When a program bottoms out the way the Longhorns did in 2010, everything achieved since has been in the commitment to getting back on top.

There have been high points along the way, but it all seemed to be building toward 2013. Brown believed Texas had a chance to win every game this season. That didn’t work out.

To the seniors’ credit, he said, they didn’t fold after starting off 1-2 this year. They didn’t give in and they rallied to win six in a row.

“They were very, very strong-willed in stepping up with their leadership and telling the other guys, ‘This is our last time now, we’re going to make this work,’” Brown said. “I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve handled adversity, proud of the way they fought through it.”

And Jeffcoat believes the legacy of these seniors is unfinished. They’ll earn a share of the Big 12 title, and perhaps more, if they win out. Three games left means three more chances to get the Longhorns back in the right direction.

“I think we definitely have that opportunity,” McCoy said. “We have the opportunity right now to put our final stamp on it and put it where we need to go.”

Texas’ seniors have had a rough journey. As the end nears, though, they still believe their story can have a happy ending. And they seem to have few regrets.

“If I had to choose all over again,” Jeffcoat said, “I’d come to Texas.”

McCoy still Longhorns' best bet at QB

November, 22, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown doesn’t enjoy postgame press conferences. If he could skip them, he probably would. It’s not that he has disdain for the reporters and their questions -- well, OK, that could be part of it -- he just doesn’t like the answers he gives.

He’s fresh off the field and out of the locker room speech. His adrenaline is usually at a high, win or lose. He thinks the setting leads to too many hastily thought-out answers, to the occasional comment he ends up regretting in hindsight on Sunday.

So after Texas’ 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State, Brown changed up his routine. On six occasions, he responded to questions by saying he needed to review the game film first. He didn’t want to force an answer.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
AP Photo/Michael ThomasTexas QB Case McCoy said he plans to learn from his struggles (3 INTs, 0 TDs) against Oklahoma State.
Several of those questions involved Texas’ quarterback situation. When asked to describe the mistakes Case McCoy made against the Cowboys, Brown held back.

“We'll have to look at it on video,” he said.

So Brown was asked again. What about the interception for a touchdown McCoy threw to Justin Gilbert?

“We'll have to look at all of them on video,” Brown said. “For me to sit here and analyze what he did without looking at anybody else, the route or anybody else would be unfair to him.”

With Texas on a bye week, Brown hasn’t had a chance to reveal his findings to reporters. But there isn’t much that needs to be said at this point in the season: Case McCoy is Texas’ quarterback and, right now, it’s only legitimate option at quarterback.

McCoy is coming off the worst start of his senior season, at least by raw QBR standards. His stat line -- 26-39, 221 yards, no TDs, three INTs -- drew a QBR of 29.8. The quality of OSU’s defense improved that number to 65.4 in opponent-adjusted QBR, his second-worst start behind the Kansas game.

The only number that mattered on Saturday was his three interceptions, each one costly. He’s now thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in 2013, all nine turnovers coming in Texas’ last five games. He won six straight games, but those miscues aren't the results the Longhorns expect from their game manager.

Texas’ offensive futility in the second half against OSU -- six drives, 3 points -- has some clamoring for more playing time for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who has appeared in three games since burning his redshirt. He’s put up 18 passing yards and 40 rushing yards, with all of his appearances coming in the final minutes of ballgames.

Brown didn’t offer up a postgame answer on his Swoopes-related plans, but the philosophy on his usage hasn’t changed much. He still has a lot to learn. He’s not ready.

And neither is David Ash, who appeared on the sidelines last weekend for the first time in two months. He wore a hat and sunglasses. He’s not in playing shape. He’s not yet capable of a full week of practice, much less a game.

As long as Texas is chasing a Big 12 championship, McCoy gives Brown his best shot at winning. And teammates have bought in to that plan.

“We are all a family in this thing, and I know what Case did out there,” guard Trey Hopkins said. “I know he is the quarterback that we are backing, and I know he is still the guy we are backing.”

McCoy’s response to his poor showing against Oklahoma State was similar to his coach’s. He’s reviewing the tape, learning from it and moving on.

“All we can do is go back to the film room and go back to work,” McCoy said. “What we did, we dug ourselves in a hole. We had bad field position from the get go and just got behind, and with an offense like that and we weren't playing well, that's something we've just got to get fixed because we've got two more offenses in the next couple of weeks that can score points too.

“So me, personally, I have to get things fixed, and we have to be able to score points.”

Games against Texas Tech and Baylor could demand lots of points. Both could develop into high-scoring shootouts. The Longhorns might have to ask a lot of their game manager, and they can’t afford turnovers. McCoy knows that.

“It’s on me,” he said. “My team knows it’s on me, and we’re going to get it fixed and go win.”

Longhorn players not ready to give up yet

November, 20, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown was trying to make sense of a lopsided home loss.

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.”

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond (left) and Texas' defense will have to regroup quickly with games against Texas Tech and Baylor to close the season.
They kept trying. Texas beat Kansas State. Then the Longhorns beat five more Big 12 teams, and that goal of a conference title got more real and tangible on a weekly basis.

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.

Planning for success: Texas

October, 31, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Case McCoy had no business wearing such a clean uniform as he walked off the Amon G. Carter Stadium field early Sunday morning.

In Texas’ 30-7 victory at TCU, McCoy had once again not been sacked. After playing half a game on a wet grass field, his white jersey and white pants ended up faring quite well.

He has his offensive line to thank. And they’ll remind him who deserves the credit.

“Oh I know, trust me,” McCoy said. “They let me know.”

That Texas offensive line is playing so well and so consistent, with dominant showings against the Horned Frogs and Oklahoma, that the unit is almost unrecognizable today. Yet it’s rolling with four of the same five usual guys.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy and Dominic Espinosa
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDominic Espinosa (right) has helped keep Case McCoy upright and Texas' offense running.
McCoy has not been sacked in three of the Longhorns’ last four games. He’s gone down five times this season and three times in Big 12 play. The lineup of tackles Donald Hawkins and Kennedy Estelle, guards Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters and center Dominic Espinosa is finally finding consistency after years of scrutiny.

“We’re grading out well, everyone is playing well,” Espinosa said. “The biggest thing is everyone playing together, all five at the same time. We’re getting everyone on the same page on every play.”

Entering the year, Mack Brown had repeatedly preached the need for 10 linemen who can play at any moment. Texas has seven or eight at this point. But this starting five is doing just fine without much help.

Estelle, a sophomore, has filled in for the injured Josh Cochran at right tackle and, in the opinion of Walters, has the “extreme confidence” of his teammates.

Those fellow linemen have started a combined 132 games in their Longhorn careers. Add in Cochran’s two-plus years and that number climbs to 155. A line that experienced is supposed to be this good.

“They’re older. I know that’s weird to say because you have Kennedy, a younger guy, but Kennedy is playing like a veteran,” McCoy said. “Those guys have pulled him in. It’s fun to play behind those guys. I never have a worry stepping on the field with those five.”

The confidence that Texas’ current five is showing makes life a bit less stressful for offensive line coach Stacy Searels. He signed one the most highly touted freshman class of linemen that Texas has had in Brown’s tenure. They were supposed to compete for starting jobs from day one. They simply haven’t had to this fall.

Same goes for junior college tackle Desmond Harrison, who came in with NFL-caliber expectations and hasn’t lived up to them yet. He’s getting time to develop and won’t be shoved into the lineup until he’s ready.

What has the starters playing so well, just in time for their games against the Big 12’s best defensive lines? It could be Texas’ commitment to running the ball -- 60 rushes against OU, 52 against TCU -- and the mere fact that run blocking is easier than pass blocking.

That’s not how Espinosa sees it. The balance that Texas has managed to strike under McCoy with a power run game and big-play passing has helped get opposing defenders on their heels.

When those plays aren’t working, those watching the ball blame linemen. When everything is clicking, the big guys up front don’t get talked up much. That’s just how they like it.

“It’s nice not getting all that kind of scrutiny,” Espinosa said. “We know we played two great defenses the past two weeks, some of the best in the Big 12. So it definitely gives us confidence knowing how we were able to run the ball against both those teams. It definitely helps us the rest of the year, knowing what we’re capable of.”

And just what is this line capable of going forward, after their best games in a long, long time?

“We want to go out there and be the best offensive line in the nation,” he said. “That’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to do. If that’s getting more physical and giving the quarterback more time, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Texas finds unsung hero in OG Hopkins

October, 17, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The guy who will be Texas’ first offensive lineman drafted in six years didn’t dream of playing in the NFL. No, Trey Hopkins wanted to be an anesthesiologist. These days, he’s working toward a different profession: Physical therapist.

The Longhorns’ senior offensive guard has job shadowed at a local rehab center and interned at Austin Sports Medicine. He’s planning for a long future in the business, no matter when his playing days end.

“As far as the NFL and physical therapy, I’m kind of taking those kind of things one step at a time,” Hopkins said. “Both are things I’d love to do. Whichever happens, happens. I’m just making sure both options are available.”

[+] EnlargeTrey Hopkins
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas OG Trey Hopkins has started 35 games, can play every O-line position and should be the first UT O-lineman drafted since 2008.
Coming out of high school, Hopkins knew his future: He’d be in the medical profession no matter what. He gave no thought to being an NFL player. He realizes now that’s going to be an option.

Hopkins is the 6-foot-4, 300-pound unsung hero of the Texas offense. He’s worn burnt orange for 43 games and has started 35. The left guard can play every position on a line and was once a 13-game starter at right tackle. He’s everything a coach could ask for, and one of the players line coach Stacy Searels trusts most.

“I like everything about Trey, to be honest with you,” Searels said. “He’s our most consistent lineman in grading. He has not given up a sack. Very few pressures. The kid is really solid. He’s a leader. No negatives off the field. Smart kid. He’s the kind of player you want.”

He’s quietly put together a resume that will impress NFL personnel men. There hasn’t been a Longhorns lineman drafted since tackle Tony Hills went to the Steelers in the fourth round in 2008. Hills, by the way, was an elite tight end prospect in high school. Back in the Class of 2003. So, yes, it’s been a while.

Hopkins laughs when asked about breaking that strange streak.

“To know I would be starting that pipeline back up for offensive linemen would be great,” he said.

But, again, this was a goal he only recently began taking seriously.

The past year changed his vision. A 63-21 beatdown from a far more physical Oklahoma team last October was the catalyst. Hopkins decided it was time to reevaluate.

“I really thought about everything I was doing. I thought about how important it was to me,” he said. “If it is that important, why not be more consistent? Why allow yourself to be held back by something?”

The next game, a home win against Baylor, was the first in Hopkins’ career where he truly felt he’d played a great game.

“That’s the mentality I bring into every game now: How important is it to you?” Hopkins said.

His dedication was put to the test in December, when team doctors determined Hopkins would need surgery for a stress fracture in his right leg. According to Searels, he’d had been playing through the fracture and shin splints for a while. Hopkins toughed it out and waited until after the regular season finale for the bad news.

He missed the Alamo Bowl. He missed spring practices. And he hated every second of it. Hopkins considered those months missed easily the most difficult of his college career, and those “terrible, completely awful” days brought new perspective.

“It just makes you think, ‘I really can’t live without playing this game,’” he said.

The guys he lines up next to on a weekly basis only deepen his love. Hopkins helps tie this offensive line together. It’s a quirky group led by veterans who have made a combined 151 career starts.

The guys who’ve been doing this a long time -- Hopkins, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Donald Hawkins, Josh Cochran -- go out to eat together and play video games. They mess with each other in one long, running group text message. Sometimes, they’ll even trade books.

Well, OK, that’s just Hopkins and Walters. It started when Walters suggested Hopkins try “1984.” He enjoyed it. So Walters recommended a personal favorite, “Catch 22.”

“He starts reading it and he says, ‘Man, this is terrible. It’s an awful book. It’s not a good book, Mason,’” Walters said. “Maybe I was being a little abstract in my reading of it and trying to connect too many dots, and he’s trying to read it at face value. So that was the end of the book club. But I think he’s reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ now…”

Walters is disappointed Hopkins doesn’t share his cynical view of bureaucracy, but they’ve still formed a bond that makes them a special duo. It’s almost a good cop-bad cop dynamic.

“I mean, I’m kind of the even-keeled guy,” Hopkins said. “I’m not really the fire-starter like Mason is. I would say it’s Mason’s job to get everybody going.”

The Texas line certainly got going last Saturday. One year after Hopkins wondered what this game meant to him, he and his fellow lineman are coming off their finest performance of the season.

This time, they were the ones owning Oklahoma at the line of scrimmage, paving the way for 59 carries and 255 rushing yards. He finally got to put on the Golden Hat.

“It’s indescribable,” Hopkins said after the game. “I’m really proud of my fellow seniors and really proud of this group. To go through all the lows we’ve gone through and finally accomplish this big milestone is great for all of us.”

Keep this up and Hopkins really won’t have a choice. His career as a physical therapist will just have to wait.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 7 in the Big 12:

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.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell had one of the worst performances statistically by an OU QB since 2005.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma. While Texas found its identity in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners seemingly lost theirs. The defense’s Achilles' heel resurfaced from last season, as Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. That made the Sooners vulnerable against deep passes, which McCoy capitalized on with a pair of long touchdowns. As much as the defense struggled, the offense looked completely lost. Blake Bell took four sacks, threw two interceptions and was utterly miserable on third down. Bell’s QBR on third down, in fact, was 0.1 percent (he had been 89.8 on third downs coming into the game). Bell wasn’t much better the rest of the game with an Adjusted QBR of 2.8, which was the fourth-worst single-game adjusted QBR of any FBS quarterback this season. Curiously, Bob Stoops said the offensive staff didn’t feel comfortable running Bell in this game. And the Sooners couldn’t figure out which running back to feature, with no back receiving more than seven carries. This is a team that doesn’t look like it knows who it is all of a sudden.

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.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDaje Johnson delivered Texas' first punt return for a touchdown since 2009.
Special-teams players of the week: Texas returner Daje Johnson, Texas kicker Anthony Fera and Iowa State returner Jarvis West.

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

Iowa State a real trap game for Texas

October, 3, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- This is a trap game. But in fairness, so are most Big 12 games this season.

Let’s lay out all the reasons why Iowa State can beat Texas on Thursday (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). It’s an exercise that’s easier than expected.

[+] EnlargeJosh Lenz, Christian Scott
AP Photo/Darren AbateIowa State is no stranger to upsetting Texas, as the Cyclones went into Austin and toppled the Longhorns in 2010.
Assume that Texas will roll the Cyclones with ease, as it has the past two years, if you please. Step back, though, and you’ll see this game has the elements you’d look for in a trap game.

Texas is playing without quarterback David Ash, who didn’t make the trip to Ames while he continues to recover from a concussion. Texas is 1-6 when Ash’s replacement, Case McCoy, attempts 16 or more passes.

Texas is coming off a bye week, and the high-pressure Oklahoma game is a week away. A close victory over Kansas State has this team confident it’s about to turn the corner, but losing two of their first three games means the Longhorns don’t have the luxury of expecting easy victories from any foe.

“I think after our second and third game, we’re not going to overlook anybody,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Our coaches aren’t going to allow that.”

Texas must also play without perhaps the most important cog of its defense, linebacker Jordan Hicks, after another season-ending injury. The defense never struggled more last season than in the first few games it played without him, and the Longhorns already had the seventh-worst run defense in the country statistically.

Iowa State, meanwhile, has a track record of winning these kinds of games. Paul Rhoads-led teams pull off one substantial upset every season like clockwork. Last year, it was a No. 15 TCU squad that would go on to beat Texas. ISU also notched a home win over Baylor, which ended the 2012 season as perhaps the Big 12’s best team.

In 2010, Rhoads bested Texas at home, which only furthered the Longhorns’ downward spiral toward 5-7. In 2011, No. 2 Oklahoma State came to Ames on a Friday night and went home stunned.

They’ve done this enough times to know that spending time talking about upsetting Texas won’t help much.

“Any kid in our program knows we’re capable of winning on any given Thursday, any given Saturday, any given et cetera,” Rhoads said. “They also know that a lot of hard work and preparation goes into that to lead to game-day execution.

“Those aren’t fairy-tale victories. Those aren’t games that are won just because it was time for a Cinderella team to do it. Those are games that are won because we played well and prepared well.”

And the Cyclones traditionally fare well in this setting. They’re 7-2 in Thursday and Friday games since 2008. ISU isn’t dealing with a short week this time, either, after playing another Thursday night game last week.

Add all that up and, well, Iowa State at least has a shot, right?

Brown and Rhoads both recognize that anything can happen in a year when the Big 12 is as wide open as ever. It’s a safe bet that each coach talked up the lessons learned from West Virginia’s upset win over Oklahoma State to his team.

That’s the Big 12 in 2013: Expect the unexpected. Doesn’t matter if Texas is 2-2, Rhoads and his players are respecting this opponent as if UT were 4-0.

“They’re probably hitting stride right now, and with 12 days of preparation, they’re a very scary outfit for us to prepare and play,” he said.

Texas senior lineman Trey Hopkins was on the 2010 team that lost to ISU. He’s helped defeat the Cyclones the past two seasons.

He fully recognizes that this season can be a different story, as it might be throughout the league. Hopkins has enough respect for what Iowa State does that he isn’t calling this a trap game.

“I think we all know that they’re a talented team,” he said. “They’ve come in here and played us tough every time. It’s a tough place to play and their fans are always in it and very loud and electric. Especially being a Thursday game, they’re going to be pumped. We really have to come prepared.”

Texas leaning on players' leadership

September, 19, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas – Jackson Jeffcoat said the words with equal parts self-assuredness and defiance. Last Monday, he laid down the law.

“This team is going to be a player-led team,” he said. “No matter who the coach is coming in, as leaders, we'll get this thing corrected.”

And if that’s what Texas’ senior defensive end is saying to the media, you have to wonder what’s being said behind closed doors, especially a week later, following another loss to kick off his final season in burnt orange with a 1-2 record.

The talk of these Longhorns being player-led sounds like a good thing. It sounds as if there are veterans stepping forward and taking ownership of this season.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIJackson Jeffcoat is among 14 Texas seniors trying to right the Longhorns before Big 12 play begins.
But how exactly is that belief manifesting itself in the locker room? Reinforcing that culture is a lot easier when the wins are piling up, but it’s far more important now as Texas tries to break out of its two-game funk.

“The biggest thing is just making sure you keep everybody together and don’t let there become any dissention among the team,” senior lineman Trey Hopkins said. “That’s a thing the seniors have really been looking out for and making sure we don’t have any of that. I think it’s been good for us so far.”

In the wake of those two losses, Texas is trying to take a high-accountability approach to cleaning up its mistakes. On Sunday, the full team gathered for a film session. That’s not the normal routine -- usually, especially after wins, they review in their position groups.

Mack Brown and the staff played it all for them. The good, the bad, the ugly. If one guy screwed up, everyone else saw it. Everyone is clear on who is and isn’t doing his job.

This wasn’t about calling out the struggling players. The aim was to get everyone on the same page and it’s another step towards ensuring the players are looking out for each other.

A bunker mentality is setting in and the Longhorns are closing ranks. They’re concerned only with what’s going on in their building, in their locker room. Anything else – especially outside negativity – just serves as a distraction.

“We’ve stayed together pretty good with these two losses,” senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley said. “That’s going to help us out a lot. When people start falling apart, things can go bad. That’s our mindset right now. We’ve got to stay together and pull together even stronger.”

A year ago Texas didn’t have that luxury. Kenny Vaccaro and Alex Okafor were the leaders of a small senior class and much was made of how vocal they needed to become, and that switch got flipped around midseason.

This year, the senior class has 14 scholarship players, most of them starters. Hopkins said he gave a speech to the team laying out what this start means to the seniors and how ending their college careers on this note won’t be acceptable.

It’s times like these, junior linebacker Jordan Hicks said, that you find out which guys can lead and which ones want to follow.

“When a team goes through adversity, you find out a lot about your team,” Hicks said. “It’s the same in life. Once you go through adversity, you find out who you are. We’ve done a lot of good things. There have been a lot of positive actions that have been seen throughout the locker room, after practice, before practice.”

Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite remembers dealing with these kinds of hard times as a player. He could tell at practice on Sunday that the seniors, the guys who can count the number of games they have left, step forward in these times.

“It always meant something to me when a coach said you’ve got 44 games, but that guy over there has 11,” Applewhite said. “I felt a sense of obligation to make sure the seniors go out the way they want to go out. Now that we start conference play, you could feel that a bit in practice.”

Mack Brown says this team isn’t like the 5-7 group in 2010. That group, he says, was too selfish. These guys are giving everything to get the season turned around, and doing so together.

Texas players began the season with a new team motto: “For the man on my right and the man on my left.”

Three games into the year, they’re figuring out what that really means.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Years from now, the 2011 BYU-Texas game won’t likely be remembered for anything more than its 17-16 final score, just another pair of numbers on a list of all-time results. A win, a close win but still a win, and nothing more.

But if Mack Brown is right and Texas does make another run at a national title soon, if the Longhorns do become elite again, perhaps we’ll look back on Sept. 10, 2011, as one of the key milestones of the rebuilding project.

You see, it was in that game when, with 9:42 left in the second quarter and a chorus of boos raining down from the stands of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, Garrett Gilbert walked off the field and never returned.

The fresh start Gilbert would get under new offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin lasted less than two games, undone by a bum shoulder and a deeply shaken confidence. He had surgery three days later and left the program within three weeks.

David Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesDavid Ash played against BYU two years ago, but he's a completely different player now.
Oh, and Texas trailed BYU 13-0. David Ash and Case McCoy would have to take over and scrap together a victory, initiating a quarterback battle that would continue for nearly another year.

That Longhorns team was inexperienced and full of freshmen. It had five new coaches. It had to lead the program out of the 5-7 ditch. Two years later, Texas and BYU meet again.

These Longhorns might not look too terribly different from the 2011 squad, but so much has changed.

“Back then we still had, what, three quarterbacks?” senior offensive lineman Trey Hopkins said. “We had a new offense, a whole new staff came in, so many things. Young offensive line, young quarterbacks, young wide receivers, young everything. Everything was brand new and fresh to us.”

The Texas team that takes the field Saturday in Provo will feature 14 starters who played against BYU in 2011, including eight who will have started both games. The Texas two-deep has nearly 30 players who appeared in that 2011 contest.

“Now people have settled in. We know the system, we know each other, we’ve played next to each other for years now,” Hopkins said. “We’ve been in the great wins and the tough losses together. It’s almost like a completely new team going against them now.”

The task of rebuilding Texas has largely fallen on the shoulders of Texas’ 2011 recruiting class. From that group of 21, 13 played against BYU as true freshmen. None of the signees have transferred. They’ve agreed to ride this roller coaster together.

Seven of those 2011 signees will start against BYU this weekend, and a total of 14 have earned starts in their career. They comprise the core of this veteran roster.

Remember, these are the kids who signed two months after the 5-7 season ended. They signed despite that 2010 season and despite the coaching shakeup. They signed because they wanted to fix Texas.

Those players say now that having to overcome adversity before they ever showed up on campus made them closer and more determined to turn the program around.

“That group had something special about them, or they would’ve left,” Brown said. “They cared about Texas. They were very loyal to me and to the coaches that were still here. They had every opportunity to be negative and leave, and they didn’t.

“I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve come in here and helped us get this thing back in the right direction.”

Junior cornerback Quandre Diggs was one of the guys who kept that class intact during the turmoil. He still remembers sitting in the stands with Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, M.J. McFarland and others and watching Texas’ season fall apart. When the coaches left, he worked the phones to make sure everyone stuck to their word.

“We all stuck together,” Diggs said. “It’s just tremendous, tremendous chemistry we have between our 2011 class. I love those guys like brothers. It’s something special we have.”

Back when BYU came to town, Diggs and Jaxon Shipley were learning on the job as true freshman starters. Malcolm Brown led the team in rushing. Now they’re just a few of the veteran leaders of a vastly different team.

The Longhorns have won 16 games and lost nine since BYU came to Austin. They’ve found their starting quarterback, surrounded him with weapons and developed one of the nation’s most experienced offensive lines. Their defense is out to prove itself after take a step backward in 2012.

“If we want to claim we’ve grown since the last time we played them, the table is set for a great challenge and, really, a measuring stick at this point in the season to see where we’re at,” offensive lineman Mason Walters said.

Garrett Gilbert is long gone now, as are any doubts about who should be Texas’ starting quarterback. Ash had to laugh Monday when asked how much he has grown up. These past two years haven’t always been easy, but he’s proud of how far his team has come.

“I think we came in at a difficult time when things were changing a lot,” Ash said. “A lot of us had to play young. We took our licks early, but I think we’re starting to learn from it all, all of the things we struggled through. I think now we’ve played football long enough that I think we can be a good ballclub.”

Just how good? We’ll know more after Saturday, after Texas takes on a familiar foe.

Texas depth chart preview: Offense

August, 20, 2013
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The Texas Longhorns have yet to release their official depth chart for the season opener, and don’t be surprised if that comes out later this week. But why wait?

With so few position battles in this year’s fall practices, it’s time to make start projections on how the depth chart will look when Texas takes the field Aug. 31 against New Mexico State.

Today, we look at Texas’ offensive depth. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the defense. Here’s where the Longhorns appear to stand with only a few days left in camp.

Quarterback

David Ash, Case McCoy, Tyrone Swoopes, Jalen Overstreet

No surprise here. Ash has been solid throughout the fall and pretty much exactly what we’d expected. He’s the unquestioned quarterback of this team, and his fellow Longhorns have bought in. A sore hamstring has limited Swoopes to some extent lately, and it’s still unclear if he’s the mop-up guys or a redshirt candidate. McCoy would still be the first guy off the bench if Ash gets hurt, but he’s got to cut down on his turnovers.

Running back

Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron, Jalen Overstreet

Shipley-Davis
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesJaxon Shipley (left) and Mike Davis are set to start at receiver, but after them, the depth gets dicey.
Gray is your likely starter, but Brown and Bergeron will see the field plenty in the first few weeks. Gray acknowledged Monday that Texas is using more two-back sets in practices, which could mean more snaps and opportunity for all three running backs this fall. Bergeron is earning rave reviews for losing weight without losing his ability as a thumper, and Brown appears to be fully healthy. He’s got to stay that way. What’s Overstreet’s role? Hard to tell right now. He might be a utility back/slot guy who shines late in nonconference games, but right now it seems unlikely he’ll assume the duty of Wild formation quarterback. Gray is just too good in that role.

Wide receiver

Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson, Marcus Johnson, Jacorey Warrick, John Harris, Bryant Jackson

The good news is Davis and Shipley are back and practicing. The bad news is that too many other guys aren’t. Sanders is the clear No. 3 receiver, but he’s suspended from the opener. Jackson had a chance for some first-team reps, but the foot injury he suffered Sunday drops him down this list. Everyone has praised Daje Johnson for his maturity this summer, and he’s going to be a dangerous threat in the slot. Warrick has garnered the most attention of the four freshman receivers, but several of them could be in the mix to play against New Mexico now that Jackson is out. The sleeper is Harris, who could get some play at outside receiver, and we don't know when Marcus Johnson will return.

Tight end

Geoff Swaim, M.J. McFarland, Greg Daniels

This could be one of the few surprises of the preseason depth chart. Swaim has been better than Texas coaches expected, both as a receiver and blocker, and the juco transfer is definitely rising. Ash had strong praise for his play Monday. McFarland, the guy everyone expects to start, is still too inconsistent but has the potential to be a big-play guy over the middle in this offense. We didn’t list a fullback since Texas is going to more spread looks, but sophomore Alex De La Torre appears to be the favorite to hold down that job.

Tackle

Donald Hawkins, Josh Cochran, Desmond Harrison, Kennedy Estelle, Kent Perkins

Harrison was expected to easily take over the left tackle job in fall camp, but he hasn’t practiced since Aug. 5 due to his academic issue. So, for now, Hawkins stays at left tackle and Cochran maintains his right tackle job. Estelle has made big strides entering his sophomore year, and of all the touted freshmen offensive linemen, it was Perkins who cracked the two-deep early on in camp and has impressed his fellow linemen. Until Harrison’s situation gets resolved, expect Estelle and Perkins to contribute right away.

Guard

Trey Hopkins, Mason Walters, Sedrick Flowers, Curtis Riser, Rami Hammad, Darius James

Hopkins continues to get a little work at center, but Texas must prepare for the possibility that Harrison is unavailable and appears likely to stick with Hopkins and Walters on the starting line. Hopkins says the starting linemen hardly consider Flowers a backup at this point due to his experience, and he’ll be one of the first guys off the bench to relieve Hopkins and Walters. Riser is also stepping up in his second year in the program. Hammad has been as good as advertised, and while James started in less than idea playing shape, he’s coming along. It’s hard to tell, though, whether those two freshmen play or redshirt at this point.

Center

Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins, Garrett Porter

Espinosa would likely be the odd man out if Harrison gets back in the mix and earns the left tackle job, but right now he’s safe. If he were to go down, it stands to reason that Texas would feel comfortable with Hopkins at center and Flowers or Hawkins at left guard. Porter is the No. 2 or No. 3 guy in this group and appears to remain ahead of freshman Jake Raulerson in the pecking order.

Placekicker

Anthony Fera, Nick Jordan

This is seemingly one of the few unanswered questions among starting jobs. Fera, the Penn State transfer, is healthy this fall and impressing with his leg. He’s likely the favorite to start off as placekicker over Jordan, but realistically the guy who loses out now could get another shot at some point this season if the starter struggles.

Texas season preview

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
9:30
AM ET
Today we continue our Big 12 preview by taking a look at Texas, which is gearing up to make another run at a Big 12 title.

Texas Longhorns

Coach: Mack Brown (237-117-1, 150-43 at Texas)

2012 record: 9-4 (5-4 Big 12)

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
John Albright / Icon SMIManny Diaz and the Texas defense returns nine starters, but will they be improved as a unit in 2013?
Key losses: S Kenny Vaccaro, DE Alex Okafor, WR Marquise Goodwin, RB/WR D.J. Monroe, TE D.J. Grant, WR Cayleb Jones

Key returnees: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, RB Johnathan Gray, QB David Ash, OG Trey Hopkins, WR Mike Davis, CB Carrington Byndom, WR Jaxon Shipley, OG Mason Walters

Newcomer to watch: OT Desmond Harrison

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 12 vs. Oklahoma (in Dallas), Nov. 16 vs. Oklahoma State, Oct. 26 at TCU, Nov. 21 vs. Kansas State

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Can Manny Diaz fix the Longhorns' defense? Texas might be the Big 12 preseason favorite had its defense in 2012 lived up to the standard set by Diaz’s first unit in 2011. Instead, injuries to Hicks and then Jeffcoat rendered the third-year coach’s D slow-reacting and ineffective. Basic tackling was a serious issue on a near-weekly basis. Diaz gets nine starters back from that unit, but that’s not necessarily a good thing if the same problems hit just in time for the Big 12 slate.

Forecast:

Let’s talk about the floor and the ceiling for the potential of this particular Texas team.

Make no mistake, this Longhorns team has all the parts necessary to emerge as one of the nation’s 10 best. There is just way too much returning experience and talent at each position to dispute that.

The ceiling is a Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl game appearance, especially if Ash takes the next step and becomes one of the Big 12’s best QBs. If he’s good and healthy, Brown is confident this team can accomplish more than most expect.

The issue is the floor. Another blowout loss to Oklahoma or an early-season stumble against Ole Miss or Kansas State could send this Texas train off the rails. One serious injury to Ash, and it’s a whole different season.

What Texas is trying to avoid is falling right in the middle of that floor and ceiling, as it has the past two years. An eight- or nine-win season with losses to UT’s toughest opponents just won’t cut it this time, not with all that experience, talent and leadership on board.

That falls on Brown, who has plenty to prove this fall. He has a compelling roster of talent. What’ll he do to raise everyone’s game and make that jump from fourth place to first in the Big 12?

On paper, the offense looks loaded, and having Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron at running back is a luxury. The defense has plenty of veterans back at all three levels. Texas’ special teams should be solid if former Penn State transfer Anthony Fera gets past his injury issues.

All the pieces are there for another big run for the Horns, and the Big 12 is wide-open. It will be on Brown and his staff to put all those pieces together.

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