Six and two. That's the Longhorns' record through eight games. And that puts Texas exactly where LonghornDigest.com predicted the Longhorns to be through eight games.
So why the vitriol? Why all the "Mack Brown must go?" Let's take a look at five primary reasons, in no order.
1) This isn't the team we expected
Ask any Longhorn for their expectations before the season and it would have come out this way: dominant defense, somewhat improved offense (thanks mostly to experience and health). And while the offense took a bigger step forward than most thought, the defense dropped way, way off.
Manny Diaz, who entered the 2012 season as a Golden Boy coach, now serves as many's scapegoat, thanks to a unit that has consistently found itself out of position and has tackled poorly.*
* A decently long aside. Mike Finger, reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, asked one of the better questions this fall when he questioned Diaz about whether tackling was an inherent trait, or one that could be learned. Diaz answered that it was a little of both, that better athletes often made for better tackles (for obvious reasons), but that it also was a skill that could be taught.
And here's my thing: I don't blame Diaz for the tackling issues. To me, tackling can be learned, but it isn't something that a player should have to be taught by his college coach. It's like dribbling for a basketball player. Sure, college coaches will run drills to work on dribbling, and try to enhance a player's skill level there. But as far as going all the way back, there really isn't the time to teach guys all of the basics there.
It's apparent now that many of us, myself included, glossed over the loss of experienced and talented players in the middle of the defense. While Brandon Moore has been awfully good at times, no defensive tackle has played at Kheeston Randall's level consistently. And the linebackers haven't been able to replicate the performance and sound gap responsibility that flew under the radar last year from Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho.
2) No consistent identity
The above might be OK if 1) the offense became an elite unit every week or 2) the defense made strides every week. But with the way the Longhorns have played, it's darned near impossible to state heading into each game what the team's strengths are.
David Ash has been excellent for most of the season. The offensive line has had its great moments. And the running backs have been great for the most part. The most consistent unit has probably been the receiving corps, though obviously their yardage output depends largely on the line and quarterback.
But then you have the running game against West Virginia, and the offense against both Oklahoma and Kansas.
And of course, there's the defense. The maddening, maddening defense. It would be simpler if the defense was just poor. But it seems like nearly every week, the Longhorn defense puts up signs of great play, only to get buried at other times. The D was dominant in the first half against Ole Miss, then poor in the second half. It was outstanding in the red zone against Oklahoma State, forced a number of fourth downs against West Virginia, allowed one touchdown (an eight-yard fumble forward by Nick Florence at that) in a 40-minute period against Baylor and destroyed Kansas in the second half.
Then, every Monday, Diaz comes before the media and talks about how he liked more things they did on tape. And every Saturday, the opposing offense puts up yards and points. For whatever reason, the Longhorns just haven't been able to make that transition to a full-game's worth of defense.
Look at Kansas: the Longhorns were run all over in the first half, allowing almost 200-yards rushing. In the second half, Kansas was held to 75 yards. But then there's this: after Texas tied the game at 14, and seemed to have all the momentum, the Longhorns allowed the Jayhawks to drive the length of the field and kick a field goal to go back into the lead.
3) Flirting with disaster in conference play
Remember Texas's 56-50 win over Baylor? That was Texas's biggest margin of victory in conference play. Seriously. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma State 41-36, lost 48-45 to West Virginia, were throttled 63-21 by Oklahoma (more on this later), beat Baylor 56-50, then slipped by Kansas 21-17.
A glass-half-full person would respond with this stat: Texas is arguably a fumbled snap away from sitting at 7-1 and 4-1 in conference play. A glass-half-empty person would point out that Texas is one play a game away from being 3-5 and winless in the Big 12. Texas lucked out with a non-fumble-call against Oklahoma State and a dropped interception on the final drive against Kansas. And if Florence didn't throw an interception to Josh Turner on a miscommunication, it isn't hard to see the Bears grabbing the necessary touchdown to win that game, either.
Fair or unfair, being at a football school at Texas requires a certain number of style points. And that means beating the tar out of less-talented teams. Texas has yet to do that, which gives the impression that the Longhorns are dancing along a knife's edge. They were cut against West Virginia, but made out with the breaks in their other three close games. And at least partially because of that, it's hard to see this year's team as improved over last year's team, when last year's squad blasted squads like Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State.
4) Another blowout in the Red River Shootout
Texas fans don't like to lose to Oklahoma. That's a given, and as the Longhorn head coach, that's a well-known part of the job description.
So what happens when you're not competitive in that game? What happens when your average person feels like you enter that game with, at worst, equal talent? Or when your players say afterward that they STILL feel like they're just as talented as the Sooners, even after losing by 42 points in a game that wasn't that close?
People get mad. People get angry. And people who have been looking forward to this year's game ever since last year's not-close contest, well they go downright insane.
It's a cliché that at Oklahoma or Texas, you can go 1-11 as long as the win was over your rival. But while it's not exactly true, the general theme of the Red River game meaning almost as much as the rest of the season is probably pretty accurate.
5) A near-loss to a then-1-6 team
And this is the most recent reason. Here's what I wrote in my matchups piece leading up to Texas-Kansas:
It's an 11 a.m. game, against a 1-6 team in a less-than-ideal atmosphere and in a really cold place. All are factors that could lead to a sleep-walking performance. The Jayhawks play much better at home, but part of that is that other teams just don't seem to play well in Lawrence. Last year's game with Oklahoma was a two-score game in the fourth quarter, and the Jayhawks actually led 10-win Baylor 24-3 in the final stanza. This year, both TCU and Oklahoma State won in Lawrence, but both were sloppy, close contests.
So to some extent, this was something that I saw coming. But even I didn't think this one would end up that close … I picked Texas to play sloppily in the first half and put it together in the second half to get a double-digit win (I picked 35-17).
Of course, after the game, Brown was quick to compare it to the close 2004 game that propelled the Longhorns to the Rose Bowl. And while the comparison looks silly now — that game was played late in the season, when Texas was already established as one of the top teams in the Big 12 — there are some similarities. A largely flat effort against an inferior Kansas team. Some coaching head-scratchers. And ultimately, a win pulled out by the skin of their teeth.
But the biggest similarities are probably these two: if Texas lost either contest, Mack Brown was potentially in trouble. And if Texas goes on to win 10 games and BCS bowl, it will slide to the edge of Texas fans' consciousness like it never actually happened.
So the Longhorns sit at 6-2, like we expected, with the losses we expected them to have. But the devil's in the details, and Texas hasn't gotten there in the manner that most expected.
Still, here's the bottom line: if Texas wins the rest of the games — again, as expected — 'Horn fans will be in a much happier place at season's end.