Texas Longhorns: Case McCoy

Big 12 games of the year: No. 3

January, 23, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 3. One of the most competitive games of the year went down to the wire in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 3: Nov. 9, Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT)

This back-and-forth thriller featured big plays from both teams and seven combined touchdowns after halftime.

What happened: Texas made the plays when it needed them. West Virginia did not.

On fourth-and-7 at the West Virginia 47, Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, Anthony Fera tied the game at 40 with 13 seconds left, sending this one to overtime.

In overtime, McCoy was clutch again with a third-down conversion to Marcus Johnson followed by a two-yard touchdown pass to Alex De La Torre on third-and-goal. It was the Texas defense’s turn on WVU’s overtime possession, as it tightened its resolve after a 20-yard run by Mario Alford to start the possession. WVU gained one yard in the next four plays, capped by Steve Edmond’s interception to end the game and send the Longhorns back to Austin with their Big 12 title hopes intact.

Player of the game: UT defensive end Cedric Reed. Several Longhorns defenders had exceptional games, but Reed was relentless. He finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Not a bad day’s work.

Stat of the game: 6. WVU allowed six sacks and had six fumbles (losing three). UT’s defense was opportunistic and aggressive throughout the game, as its defensive line was all over Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard after knocking Clint Trickett out of the game.

Quotable: “When one of us gets a sack, that means the other guys are doing their job. We just knew we had to put pressure on these guys and disrupt them.” -- Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

The rest of the list:

Big 12 games of the year: No. 6

January, 22, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12. Here's No. 6, a true nail-biter that nobody saw coming.


No. 6: Oct. 3 -- Texas 31, Iowa State 30

In a Thursday night game neither team will soon forget, Texas came oh-so-close to fumbling away a loss in Ames but escaped with a one-point victory over Iowa State that was far closer than the score suggests.

What happened: A game with twists and turns -- from a Hail Mary before halftime to a 97-yard pass and a whole bunch in between -- came down to one goal-line battle and one controversial play.

On first-and-goal at the 3, Johnathan Gray ran up the middle and, at some point, lost the football. Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George scooped it up and ran off, believing he’d secured victory. Instead, game officials called Gray down at the 2, reviewed the play from five camera angles and determined no undisputable evidence of a fumble could be found.

Texas kept possession and scored two plays later on a Case McCoy dive to go ahead 31-30. Jackson Jeffcoat sealed the win with a last-second interception and the Longhorns improved to 3-2 by the slimmest of margins.

McCoy needed a career-high 45 pass attempts -- and a good bit of luck -- to pull off this win. Just as things were starting to look bleak, he lobbed a 44-yard touchdown pass to John Harris with time expiring in the second quarter, giving Texas a 17-13 lead.

The teams traded a few scores from there, highlighted by Quenton Bundrage’s 97-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and ISU led by 6 with 3:40 left. Texas answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a game-winning score and a very unhappy Paul Rhoads.

Player of the game: Lots of possible choices, including a few Cyclones, but Gray had an important performance. He started the day off with a 45-yard touchdown run but was fairly underused from there, finishing with 89 rushing yards on 16 carries. He did chip in two key runs on the final drive before the controversy began.

Stat of the game: With the win, Texas improved to 10-1 against Iowa State.

Quotable: “I've got the privilege as the head coach of this football program to face my players, win or lose, and look them in the eye and [tell them] how proud I am of the work they put forth, the effort they gave. And to make a play on the 1-yard line, with their backs against the wall -- clear to everybody -- and have it taken away from them … that's hard to express. You don't just put an arm around a guy and tell him it's OK when that happens to him. I'm so proud of the effort my kids gave to win this football game tonight." -- Rhoads, during his postgame comments

Quotable, part II: "I've got pretty good eyesight. The view I had of that gigantic screen in the north end zone showed a player that was not down and our guy with the football." -- Rhoads

The rest of the list:

Season report card: Texas

January, 13, 2014
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As bad as things got for Texas in 2013 -- and they did get bad -- the Longhorns played for a Big 12 championship on the final day of the regular season after rallying following a horrible nonconference slate. Nonetheless, 8-5 isn’t going to get it done in Austin, Texas.

Offense: C

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.

Defense: C

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).

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Will Smith
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns finished the 2013 season 8-5 after losing to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The defensive line was great at times and subpar at other times. The lack of consistency killed the team and made the entire defense just as inconsistent. When its defensive front played well, however, the defense was much tougher to handle. Safety Adrian Phillips, linebacker Dalton Santos and linebacker Steve Edmond all finished among the top five on the squad in tackles and were active defenders. But the Longhorns didn’t seem to have many difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.

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.

Overall: B-

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.

Valero Alamo Bowl: Three thoughts

December, 31, 2013
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The Mack Brown era ended with a thud on Monday, as Texas fell to Oregon 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Here are three initial thoughts from the game:

1. This is why Brown had to leave: It was a bummer that Brown’s last game had to go this way. But the truth is, too many games like this the past four years are why Brown had to resign in the first place. The Longhorns played hard and played tough. But Oregon’s elite talent simply outclassed Texas’ elite emotion. There was nothing stunning about Monday’s result. Frankly, Oregon could have won this game by a larger margin had it not continually self-destructed in the red zone. This is who Texas has been since the 2009 national championship game. And it’s why the time for a change had come.

2. Texas’ QB woes have got to be solved: The first order of business for Brown’s replacement will be finding an answer at quarterback. That won’t be easy. The Longhorns are in woeful shape in the position, underscored by Monday’s showing. Senior Case McCoy threw for more interception yards to the other team for the second straight game than he did yards to Texas receivers. McCoy was pulled for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who didn’t fare any better with one completion in six attempts. Poor quarterback play is the biggest factor in Texas’ demise the past four years. And the cupboard isn’t exactly full in 2014, either. David Ash’s football future remains in question after all his concussion issues. Swoopes is athletic with a big arm, but he has to show a lot more to prove he’s the long-term answer. Who knows, maybe the answer is Jerrod Heard, the No. 6 dual-threat QB recruit in the country, who will be in Austin next fall. Either way, that will be something Texas’ new coach will have to address. And until it is addressed, the Longhorns will have a difficult time returning to the lofty perches of the Vince Young and Colt McCoy days.

3. The eyes of Texas now all turn to the coaching search: Now that Brown’s final game has come and gone, the attention on Texas’ coaching search will ramp up another notch. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said Monday he wants to have a coach in place within two weeks. Which direction will Patterson go? The Longhorns have reportedly vetted Louisville’s Charlie Strong, Baylor’s Art Briles, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Any one of those four coaches would be capable of success in Austin. But this is an important hire for the Longhorns. And one that not only will define Patterson’s tenure, but chart the course of Texas football for the next decade.

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.

Three keys for Texas in Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
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The Mack Brown era at Texas comes to a close Monday night during the Valero Alamo Bowl (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN). Pac-12 power Oregon provides a stern test for the Longhorns as UT tries to send Brown out with a win.

Here are three keys for Texas:

Success on the ground. In Oregon’s two losses, to Arizona and Stanford, the Ducks allowed 289 rushing yards per game. In the Ducks' 10 wins, they allowed 139.4 rushing yards per contest. The Longhorns have a talented backfield with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, so Texas could try to take the Ducks’ explosive offense out of the game by ramming the ball down the throat of their West Coast opponent, much like Stanford did. UT’s chances of success can’t rest solely on the shoulders of Case McCoy.

Slow the Ducks' tempo. Few offenses can operate as quickly and efficiently as the Ducks. Oregon finished among the top five nationally in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Texas must figure out a way to slow their offense. The best way would be getting consistent pressure on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, so Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat will need to show why he earned that honor.

Big plays. UT’s destiny in this game depends on big plays, both creating them and preventing them. Texas must limit an Oregon offense which had 27.7 percent of its plays go for 10 yards or more, second in the FBS. Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play machine and the rest of the attack is full of speed and athletes. Fortunately for UT, the Longhorns match better than most teams with their athletes on both sides of the ball. Only 16.9 of UT's plays went for 10 yards or more so if the Longhorns find a way to have more explosive plays than Oregon their chances of winning will skyrocket.

Stats that matter: Texas season review

December, 13, 2013
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Each week this season, we dug into the numbers to break down three stats that mattered for Texas. Now it’s time to step back and review five that defined the Longhorns’ 2013 campaign.

1. 45

Once David Ash went down, Texas bought in big to a new identity as a physical offense powered by the run game. The Longhorns’ commitment to that philosophy was obvious in Big 12 play.

[+] EnlargeLonghorn Defense
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWhile Texas' defense certainly faltered at times, the Longhorns were one of the best at rushing the passer.
Since its Big 12 opener against Kansas State, Texas ranked in the top 30 in FBS in rushing yards and yards per rush. That’s because Texas was rushing the ball an average of 45 times per game, a rate that ranked 14th nationally.

The Longhorns were one of only 11 teams to surpass 150 rushing yards in eight conference games, a feat matched by no other Big 12 program. They ran the ball on first down nearly 70 percent of the time for a total of 888 rushing yards.

Credit a veteran offensive line that played at a steady, solid level and a talented trio of backs, but a lot more people deserve praise for that too. This isn’t the identity Texas expected to accept in 2013, but once it emerged it was embraced.

2. Sixth

When Greg Robinson arrived in Austin, Texas’ defense was ranked No. 115 in the nation in total defense and No. 121 in rush defense through two games. The BYU game numbers were so outrageous that there was really nowhere to go but up for Robinson and this Longhorns’ defensive staff.

By Big 12 standards, Texas was statistically fairly average. In Robinson’s 10 games, the Longhorns ranked No. 6 in the league in scoring, total and rushing defense. They were the Big 12’s best in one key category: Sacks. Texas ranked among the 10 best nationally in that department with 37.

Texas’ final-season stats also show a marked improvement from 2012 in three areas: Scoring defense, yards per play and yards per attempt. If Oregon puts up 431 total yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl, though, Texas' defense will surpass the 2012 unit for most yards allowed per game in a season in school history.

3. 85

Texas’ four losses came by a total of 85 points, the closest of the bunch a 19-point loss in Provo. When you’re losing by an average margin of three touchdowns, you’ve got issues.

Add it all up and you could argue the offense was more to blame: In losses, Texas was 21-of-68 on third-down conversions (30.9 percent) and scored touchdowns on seven drives and went three-and-out on 17. The Longhorns’ 1.16 points per drive in losses ranked No. 96 in FBS. You can’t score fewer than 17 points per game against four of your toughest opponents and win, plain and simple.

But here’s something else to consider: The Texas defense’s ratio of turnovers forced to touchdowns allowed was 20-17. That’s good. In losses? 4-16. When a game started slipping away, the Longhorns rarely got game-changing plays from their defense.

4. 114th

This is no surprise, really, but a narrative has started to emerge in the past week from Mack Brown’s backers: Texas couldn’t win more games because of its quarterback. While it’s undeniable that Case McCoy’s worst game came with the Big 12 title on the line in Waco, what do the numbers say?

First off, McCoy was never going to be the downfield passer Texas coaches needed when drawing up their new spread offense. His yards per attempt average of 6.04 ranked a brutal No. 114 in FBS. He had zero 300-yard games. This wasn’t that unexpected.

What was expected is that he could play caretaker, and he did so with success most of the season. McCoy went 5-0 in games when Texas rushed for more than 175 yards. Of his nine starts, only three came against top-40 scoring defenses.

McCoy was better than serviceable in most starts. He was fantastic against OU. And he struggled mightily against the elite defenses of OSU and Baylor. Isn’t that pretty much what most expected?

5. 6-0

Can’t sum up this season without talking about the six-game win streak to start Big 12 play. Sure, only two of those wins came against teams that went on to become bowl-eligible, but to embark on that kind of a run after starting 1-2 was simply unexpected, especially when those two bowl teams -- Kansas State and Oklahoma -- have had Texas’ number for a while.

During that streak, the Longhorns averaged 35 points per game, gave up 21, had a top-25 defense in yardage allowed, a turnovers margin of plus-7 and a kicker who went 12-for-13 on his field goal attempts.

Texas was one of only 16 teams in FBS this season that managed to reel off six or more conference wins in a row this season. Funny thing is, Brown has now done that five times in the past decade.

Ten plays that defined Texas' season

December, 12, 2013
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Counting down 10 of the biggest plays of Texas’ season, the ones that ended up defining the 2013 Longhorns:

10. McCoy’s no-look TD pass at Baylor: The epitome of Case McCoy’s moxie magic. On 4th-and-goal down big in Waco, McCoy faked a handoff but the pass was well-covered so he scrambled to his left, but the run was blown up quickly. McCoy turned back and, amid good pressure, fired off a long pass to a wide-open Malcolm Brown for the score. It’s about as a tough a 2-yard touchdown as you’ll find, and McCoy probably had no business making the throw. But it worked.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesDaje Johnson's TDs against New Mexico State in the opener displayed Texas big-play potential on offense.
9. Daje Johnson goes deep: Try to remember what this meant at the time. Late in the second quarter of a low-scoring game, Texas ran a four-verticals play, and David Ash hit an open Johnson from the slot. He found space and dash untouched past three New Mexico State defenders for a 66-yard score. At the time, it was a sign of Texas’ potential to become a big-play offense in its new up-tempo spread attack.

8. Justin Gilbert pick-sixes McCoy: The phrase “slim margin for error” came up a lot in the final weeks of Texas’ season. This play was certainly indicative. Down 21-10 to Oklahoma State, Texas was driving to trim the deficit before halftime, but Gilbert baited McCoy into forcing a pass to Kendall Sanders along the sideline, then picked it off and ran it back 43 yards. There would be no coming back from 28-10 against Oklahoma State.

7. Jeffcoat finishes off the Sooners: We had to get one of Jackson Jeffcoat’s 12 sacks on the list. This one came on 4th-and-13 late in the fourth quarter against OU. Blake Bell, in the red zone and threatening to possibly cut Texas’ lead to 36-28, dropped back but had no chance. Cedric Reed’s rush forced Bell to his left, where Jeffcoat dropped him for a sack and a 12-yard loss to kill the Sooners’ last-ditch rally. One of many times Texas’ defensive end duo made a big play.

6. Taysom Hill’s first touchdown run: A sign of big, bad things to come for Texas’ defense. Hill faked a handoff on 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter and darted around his left tackle. Adrian Phillips took a bad angle and missed. Sheroid Evans and Josh Turner both dove for Hill’s legs and missed. He scooted 68 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns. It was the beginning of the end for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

5. “Score pass” to beat West Virginia: Arguably Major Applewhite’s best play call of the season. The Longhorns’ first possession of overtime against West Virginia could’ve stalled after Brown was twice stopped on goal-line runs. But they caught WVU by surprise on 3rd-and-goal. McCoy faked a handoff and tossed a short pass to fullback Alex De La Torre for the 2-yard touchdown. The go-ahead score was DLT’s first career catch, and McCoy had missed on this exact same play vs. OU.

4. Ash goes down at BYU: We don’t know for certain when Ash suffered his concussion against BYU. But one play stands out: With less than nine minutes left in Provo, Ash scrambled out of the pocket and was hit hard from behind by end Bronson Kaufusi as another defender wrapped up his legs. Ash was helped up, went back down, knelt and put his head down as trainers rushed out. He missed the rest of the game and nearly the entire rest of the season.

3. McCoy’s Red River dime: In another example of McCoy’s infinite irrational confidence, he chucked a 30-yard pass down the sideline and perfectly hit Marcus Johnson in stride off a wheel route. Johnson burned his defender for a 59-yard score to put Texas ahead 17-3. It was a real game-changer both for momentum and for the confidence of the Longhorn offense.

2. The near-fumble at Iowa State: Paul Rhoads and his legion of Cyclone fans had a hard time getting over this one. It’s entirely possible Johnathan Gray lost a fumble at the goal line with less than four minutes left, but no camera angle could confirm this to game officials. and McCoy would later score. Imagine where this season would’ve headed had ISU won the review and the game, sending Texas to a 2-3 record.

1. Chris Whaley’s INT for a TD against Oklahoma: No play better sums up Texas’ six-game Big 12 win streak. Whaley, the 295-pound defensive tackle, slipped back into coverage in a heavy blitz front. Adrian Phillips got to Blake Bell, whose pass sailed wide and right into Whaley’s hands. He rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown that gave Texas a stunning 10-3 lead. Just a crazy, inexplicable play that led to an unexpected rout.

What we learned: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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WACO, Texas -- Texas got exactly what it wanted on Saturday: A chance to play for an outright Big 12 title and a BCS bowl. The Longhorns came up short again, dropping to 8-4 with a 30-10 loss to No. 9 Baylor. Three lessons learned:

1. Not ready for a championships: Texas really did do everything it wanted to in the first half, at least when it comes to stopping Baylor, and yet this was a 3-3 score at halftime. The game was there for the taking, and the Longhorns missed their shot. They couldn't sustain drives, Case McCoy couldn't pass (12-34, 54 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), and they paid for it once the Baylor offense got going. Their only touchdown drive began at Baylor's 11-yard line, and they still needed seven plays and a miraculous throw from McCoy to get the score. You can't go 2-for-17 on third downs and expect to beat anybody, especially a top-10 team on the road.

2. Defining success: Some Texas players admitted on Monday that they wouldn't consider the 2013 season a success until Texas won at least a share of the Big 12 title. They got their chance and couldn't get the job done, but most players who met with reporters after the loss -- all of them juniors and seniors -- believed this was still a successful season regardless. Or at least that's what they said, citing adversity and injuries and rallying from a 1-2 start. Still, it's a tough ending for a senior class that, for the first time in Mack Brown's tenure, never won a division or conference title in their four years on campus.

3. Buckle up: All four of Texas' losses this season have come by 20-plus points. They weren't close. While this blowout doesn't officially doom Brown's hopes of returning for 2014, it's not going to help. These next few weeks in Austin could get messy depending on what direction this program is going when it moves forward. UT president Bill Powers and new AD Steve Patterson -- who's only been on the job for two weeks -- face an uncomfortable decision, but it's one they'll have to make soon. The Texas standard is not eight wins, but for the second season in a row that's the result in the regular season.

Texas coach Brown has a decision to make

December, 8, 2013
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WACO, Texas -- For the second year in a row, Texas players watched and walked away. Another team celebrated a Big 12 championship after beating the Longhorns. Another team got to party at home.

Last year, Kansas State. This time, Baylor. Both headed off to the Fiesta Bowl while Texas is left to wonder where this is all going.

This time, coach Mack Brown had to address and assess the future. He didn't convey much worry about where he fit into the Longhorns' future.

"Just got to keep playing, keep winning," Brown said. "We had our chance to get in the Big 12 championship this year. Guys will go out recruiting tomorrow. Go back to work, try to win the bowl game, get your ninth win and go back to spring practice. We've got spring practice in February, so it happens fast."

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTexas couldn't capitalize on first-half opportunities Saturday, such as this blocked field goal attempt.
Back to business as usual. He'll try not to dwell too much on what slipped out of Texas' grasp in this game, but it's hard to ignore. Oklahoma gave Texas a chance to win the Big 12 on Saturday. Baylor gave Texas a first half to win the Big 12. The Longhorns didn't take it.

The game, the day, the season -- all opportunities missed. And Brown acknowledged that, to some extent. He opened his postgame press conference by running through the laundry list of costly mistakes.

What he didn't want to speak to, though, was whether he has decided if he wants to come back and give it another go in 2014.

"I'm not talking about any of that tonight," Brown said. "I'm in the same position I was when I've been asked the other 15 times. We'll talk about the team tonight."

The hard, complicated question isn't whether Mack Brown should come back. It's this: Why would he want to?

That Texas got this far was admirable, considering all the injuries and hurdles. It was truly a crazy, unpredictable season, all the way down to the final quarter of this game.

But does Brown want to do this all over again? Why would he sign up for another season of this?

If Texas president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson give Brown another season, it's hard to envision a 2014 campaign that won't be just as rough and challenging as this one, if not more so.

The schedule next season is awfully similar, with the marquee non-conference game a showdown with UCLA at AT&T Stadium next September. Lose that game -- to a Bruins program that went 9-3 this season, has serious momentum and began Mack's misery in 2010 -- or stumble against BYU, and we'll go right back down this road again.

Week after week of scrutiny and distractions and fires to put out. A fan base growing more discontent and apathetic each Saturday. Who wants to coach in that culture?

Brown already will be tagged and tarred as the coach on the hottest hot seat this offseason if he returns. The national chatter that he's running out of time will undermine his efforts in recruiting. The doubters can cause the same kind of prove-yourself mentality that doomed former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

That's not to say he can't win next year. That's not to say that, if Texas struggles early, Brown can't unleash another masterful performance of crisis management and coax his players to go on another run.

But he has coached 50 games since the BCS championship game against Alabama. Texas is now 30-20 in the last four years and one game above .500 (18-17) in Big 12 games. Brown restructured after 2010 around two coordinators who now are gone. If things go downhill from here, is he really interested in rebuilding his rebuild?

Texas lineman Trey Hopkins said Brown still has the full support of the locker room. His players aren't bailing on him. But 10 senior starters will graduate. David Ash will have to lead the offense after missing 10½ games this season with a concussion.

And if you want to go deeper, recognize the hole Texas could be in if Ash has issues. Case McCoy is gone. Tyrone Swoopes wasn't entrusted to contribute much as a freshman. ESPN 300 commit Jerrod Heard can't enroll early for spring ball. Jalen Overstreet moved to running back. Bringing in an experienced transfer quarterback seems like a must now.

Brown will do this kind of math, calculating whether Texas can win with what returns. He wants to win and win big.

He thought the Longhorns could do that this year, and in all fairness, it has been a hell of a season. If Brown had been on this job only a few years, he'd get the injury mulligan that Will Muschamp received at Florida. Heck, he still might. Brown's team fought and overcame and came up short.

Just as important, though, the guy wants some respect. Brown put up with an awful lot this season. He put his pride on the line and tried to shoot down all the speculation as best he could. But at a certain point, when is it no longer worthwhile?

Forget legacy and statues and ego for a moment. Signing up for another year of this carnival would make any coach miserable over time.

Brown will travel to New York this week with Powers and Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions. At some point, there will be a discussion about the future.

But Brown has a decision of his own to make. He has to search his feelings. Even if he's given the choice, does he really want to do this again?

Five things Texas, Baylor must do to win

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
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Breaking down five things Texas and Baylor must do to emerge victorious in Waco, Texas, on Saturday. Here are the keys to the game:

Five things: No. 25 Texas Longhorns

1. Be the more physical team: This was the most important reason why Texas upset Oklahoma. It wasn’t scheme, it was attitude. That’s applicable to both sides of the ball, but it’s especially important up front with an offensive line that must get rolling to power Texas’ essential run game. As Major Applewhite put it after OU, the key was “playing you’re a** off.” The Longhorns did that against Texas Tech and need more of the same on Saturday.

2. Limit big plays: In the blowout loss at Oklahoma State, Baylor put up 453 yards on 83 plays. Half of those yards came on seven plays. The Bears gained 30-plus on just two. That’s about as good as you could’ve asked for, defensively, if you’re the Pokes. A strong defensive showing can fall apart with just a few busts, like permitting an easy 50-yarder for Antwan Goodley or joining the many who have let Lache Seastrunk dash 80 yards. Weather permitting, Texas must get a few big plays of its own from speedsters Mike Davis, Marcus Johnson and/or Daje Johnson.

3. Turnover battle: Texas is 96-6 in the Mack Brown era when it wins the turnover battle, including 5-1 this season. TCU could’ve pulled off a huge upset in Fort Worth last week if not for the fact that Baylor’s defense created three touchdowns, two on pick-sixes. The Bears were minus-3 against Oklahoma State. Considering the weather expected for this game, there’s a good chance turnovers decide this game.

4. Challenge Petty: Baylor QB Bryce Petty has been sacked 10 times in his last four games. Texas notched nine sacks in its last game. But it’s not just about takedowns. When a defense gets physical with Baylor’s receivers, Petty’s timing in the pocket can get thrown off and he starts overthrowing. If Jackson Jeffcoat plays his “spinner” role again, can he and the Texas defensive line cause problems for the All-Big 12 quarterback?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat and Texas' defensive front must hold up and get pressure on Baylor's Bryce Petty.
5. Hang in there: Could Texas have taken Oklahoma State four quarters if not for a pick-six in the final minute of the first half? We’ll never know. Unsatisfied with taking a 21-10 deficit into halftime, the Longhorns got greedy and it cost them. A game this big requires taking shots, but they have to be smart. Baylor can fire off a few scores quickly; it’s what this team does. How will Texas make adjustments and answer?

Five things: No. 9 Baylor Bears

1. Establish run game: Baylor leaned heavily on a now-healthy Seastrunk early last week, giving him 19 first-half carries and a career-high 24. Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood need to pound the middle of a Texas front that, from an experience standpoint, is basically down to two linebackers and two defensive tackles. Keep an eye on the QB run game, too. It remains Texas’ greatest weakness as a defense, and Petty has rushed for 161 yards (excluding sacks) in his last four games.

2. Scoring explosion: In six games this season, the Bears scored at least 21 points in the first quarter. This Texas offense needs to control the tempo and would have a hard time keeping up if Baylor comes out firing and lights up the scoreboard early. But remember: Against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, Baylor scored a combined 20 first-quarter points. The good defenses haven’t made it easy.

3. Make McCoy beat you: It’s a phrase that has probably been uttered by every Big 12 defensive coordinator Texas has faced. And yet, the Longhorns are 7-1 in the league. McCoy has a 10-9 TD-INT ratio, which hasn’t burned him much, with the exception of a three-interception day against OSU. McCoy has had some big moments in 2013 and vows he’s a different quarterback than the gunslinger that threw four picks in Waco two years ago. Still, if Baylor can stop the run consistently and force McCoy to win the game with his arm, the Bears will like their chances.

4. Second-and-long, 3-and-out: No Big 12 team has forced more 3-and-outs than Baylor this season. Texas’ offense has the second-fewest in Big 12 play. Something’s got to give. With how heavily Texas relies on the run, getting into second-and-long and third-and-long will mean lots of advantageous situations for a banged-up Bear defense.

5. Depth needed: We talked the depth up plenty when Baylor was rolling. The injuries that have piled up and finally took a toll against Oklahoma State. The Bears gritted out a close one with TCU despite missing several starters, but once again, the second-stringers will need to step up big when called upon.

Stats that matter: Texas-Baylor

December, 4, 2013
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats & Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference on Saturday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ regular-season finale on the road against Baylor.

1. 235

What makes this Baylor offense so deadly and such a statistical juggernaut is its big-play ability.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
John Albright/Icon SMITexas QB Case McCoy is 6-2 as a starter on the road.
Baylor has gained 10 or more yards on 235 plays this season, which ranks fifth-best in FBS. The high-tempo offense Texas just shut down a week ago, Texas Tech, is No. 2 in that category.

Baylor’s 96 plays of 20-plus yards are second to only Oregon nationally. Nobody in FBS has more plays of 30-plus (53) and 40-plus (36) than the Bears.

Three teams have legitimately tested Baylor in 2013: Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State. It’s no coincidence those three allowed the fewest 10-plus plays of the Bears’ foes. TCU and KSU held Baylor to 13 and 12 plays of 10-plus, respectively. OSU kept it to 18.

Those three Big 12 teams were also the only ones to slow down Baylor’s run game. The Bears averaged 323.6 rushing yards per game against its other eight opponents but just 124 per game against this trio.

2. 53.8

Going into the Oklahoma game, Bryce Petty was one of the nation’s best passers in nearly every important category. The past month has been a different story.

Petty has completed 53.8 percent of his passes and averaged 7.7 yards per attempt in Baylor’s last four games. He ranks 21st nationally in Total QBR, 48th in passer efficiency and 93rd in completion percentage since the start of November. To his credit, Petty’s TD-INT ratio in those games was 10-1.

Facing better opponents plays a role here, as do injuries in the Baylor lineup. Also, Petty is facing more pressure. He has been sacked 10 times in his last four games, and only 13 FBS QBs have taken more sacks during that span.

Texas is coming off a nine-sack performance against the Red Raiders. Tight, physical coverage from the secondary and a consistent pass rush will get Petty out of a rhythm, and that’s probably a must in this matchup.

3. 45

Darrell Royal liked to say “dance with the one that brung ya.” What got Texas into this position, at 8-3 and 7-1 in the Big 12, was a physical offense that pounded the run and sprinkled in shots downfield in the passing game.

By that philosophy, Texas’ two most impressive offensive performances this season came against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Both were high-pressure, must-win games. In both, Texas had two backs surpass 100 rushing yards.

The last time Case McCoy played in Floyd Casey Stadium, he went full gunslinger and threw for three touchdowns along with a career-high four interceptions. He knows that’s not his job this weekend.

The Longhorns haven’t lost when they’ve run the ball more than 45 times this season. In their five closest games, they averaged 135 rushing yards. Ground and pound will have to win the day on Saturday if Texas wants to leave Waco with a Big 12 trophy.

Three more to remember

634.4: Baylor’s offense has put up 634.4 yards per game this season. The FBS single-season record is 624.9 per game, set by Houston in 1989.

56: The number of Baylor touchdowns drives that ended in 2:00 or less. That’s eight more than any other FBS team.

6-2: McCoy’s career record as a starter on the road. The two losses were both regular-season finales, against Baylor in 2011 and at Kansas State last season.

What we learned: Week 14

November, 29, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas rebounded from its meltdown against Oklahoma State with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving. A look at three big takeaways from the night:

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy, Pete Robertson
AP Photo/Eric GayCase McCoy and the Longhorns turn their attention to Baylor after routing Texas Tech.
1. Here's the formula: You want to know how Texas beats Baylor next week? Seemed impossible a month ago, that the Bears would put up 60-plus and Art Briles would have the last laugh, but Texas once again showed off many of the traits that have made this team a tough out in Big 12 play. A power run game, a menacing defensive line, strong play from the offensive line and secondary, a smart effort from Case McCoy, a defense that forces turnovers, the occasional huge play -- all that got put on display against Texas Tech. When it's not working, like against Oklahoma State, comebacks are very difficult. When it's all clicking, Texas can be pretty tough to beat.

2. Robinson deserves praise: He isn't one of the 40 finalists for the Frank Broyles Award honoring the nation's top assistant coach, but the job Greg Robinson has done to help Texas' defense get back on track this season remains impressive, almost shockingly so. You can tell that, nine games in, he's comfortable with the personnel at his disposal because he and his fellow defensive coaches are bringing new wrinkles to the table. The use of Jackson Jeffcoat in the "Viper" role with a three-man front against Tech was especially impressive. Robinson inherited a lot of talent, and this defense has proved to be a dangerous unit when playing to its potential.

3. The clouds overhead: Let's be honest, if Texas had stumbled and lost to a clearly inferior Texas Tech team, we all know what the narrative would've been. You would've heard people saying that was Mack Brown's final home game at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. There will still be a few regardless, sure, but that kind of a convincing performance helps Brown's cause. The score was a lot closer than this game ending up being, truthfully. If Texas plays Baylor close or pulls off the upset, no matter the bowl result, Brown would have the right to say "good luck with that" to anyone calling for his job.

Longhorns bounce back to set up big game

November, 29, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no better cure for a 25-point loss than responding with a 25-point victory.

That's not some old Darrell Royal saying or an axiom that coaches have been known to share. It's just a fact. And just when we thought we had Texas and its troubles figured out, this team fought to live another week.

The Longhorns who won six conference games in a row showed up again, keeping their Big 12 championship hopes alive with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayJoe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 in honor of injured Johnathan Gray, had 102 yards and a touchdown.
"Proud of our team. Proud of the way they fought," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."

There was plenty of talk in the past two weeks that Oklahoma State finally exposed Texas and its various flaws, that the six Big 12 wins that came before it were somehow less meaningful or some kind of mirage.

If the meltdown against the Cowboys revealed Texas' thin margin for error, Thursday's victory reminded how good Texas can be when it achieves everything it sets out to do.

Brown wanted a slowed-paced game, not a shootout. Texas had to control the tempo. Check.

He wanted to pound Texas Tech's recently awful run defense. Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown both surpassed 100 yards. Check.

He hoped Texas' defense could force erratic play by the Red Raiders' young quarterbacks. The Longhorns netted nine sacks, including three each from Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Check.

"It's not a pretty brand of ball. It's not very stylish," Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "But it's what we had to do."

Thursday's performance was about as close to a defensive masterpiece as Texas could have hoped for. The Red Raiders' No. 1 ranked pass offense finished with 5.8 yards per attempt. They went 5-for-18 on third downs. Tech's leading rusher on the night? Punter Ryan Erxleben, who dashed 51 yards for the first score of the night. Texas' special teams gave up that score. Its defense allowed one touchdown the rest of the night.

"It was a good game. I don't know if it was better or not. I guess you guys make those decisions," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "We played real well here against a good offense."

But since so many will discount the result, pointing out that Texas Tech lost five in a row after starting 7-0, let's cut to the chase: If this is Texas, if these are the real Longhorns going forward, can they do enough to beat No. 9 Baylor?

Ask Brown whether his team played up to its formula for victory against Tech and he'll rattle off the things his team didn't do. Texas turned the ball over twice. Other than placekicker Anthony Fera, a Groza Award finalist who's now 19-for-20 this season, the Longhorns are still a mess in several areas of special teams.

His players were no different. They see a need for improvement. They won't celebrate this win much this weekend. They know what they're up against next.

Preparing for Baylor will require that kind of perfectionist attention to detail. Like Texas, the Bears showed their vulnerabilities against Oklahoma State. They're not at all unbeatable. But they have the respect of their next opponent.

"We fully assume Baylor will win [against TCU] and be right there," quarterback Case McCoy said. "It'll be a game that, as a senior class, we want to go out with a chance to put numbers on these walls and have a Big 12 championship."

The Longhorns made their senior night count. They made the next game matter. They're not done yet.

"We're still in the race," Jeffcoat said. "We had to win this one. This was a must-win. And we have to win the next one."

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.”

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