Dan Neil: What was the Difference for UT?

This season, here on HornsDigest.com former Texas All-American offensive lineman DAN NEIL, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998) who opened holes for 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis, is breaking down film of Texas games and telling you what he sees.

Post your questions for Dan in this thread, and he will answer them. Catch Dan on “Upon Further Review” on the Longhorn Network on Mondays at 6 pm CT.


The first thing everyone asks after a game like Texas' 24-17 pounding of No. 10 Oklahoma is, "What was different?" 

Everyone expects to hear there was a different game plan or maybe different players.

How can a team look so bad against TCU and so great against OU? 

Remember, Charlie Strong said last week’s loss was the worst day of his coaching career.  What changed???????

Let me start by pointing out a few things to everyone.  Texas has played the toughest schedule in the country.

They were 1-4 going into OU and if they kick an extra point and catch a snap on a punt they are 3-2 with maybe the youngest team in college football. 

I also want to point out the Oklahoma State game had a bunch of clowns reffing the game and contributed to that loss.

I would not point any of this out if Texas had not won Saturday. 

When you lose, there are no excuses, and Charlie would be the first to say that.  He took blame all week for the TCU game.

I am not coaching the team, so I can make excuses for the team when it is appropriate.  I think after what they showed us against OU, it is appropriate.

Charlie had to deal with the TCU loss, Kris Boyd's halftime tweet, Dylan Haines' comments to the media and subsequent tweets by his teammates and get ready to play Texas' most hated rival - a Top 10, undefeated OU. 


I also enjoyed reading all week everyone who knew what needed to be done to fix the problems with the team.

The best solution I heard was the well thought out  “Fire the coach” solution.  That seems to always solve the problem when a team is not playing well.

I am the first to point out that I have very limited knowledge.  I barely graduated from a little state University in Austin, Texas, and went on to bang my head into people for a living.

What I do know is what Charlie pulled off this week is the reason he is a head coach at the University of Texas.  Somehow, he got his players to believe in themselves.

The difference this week and the previous weeks was this team believed they were going to win that game!

Coach Vance Bedford ran the same defense he has called all year.  The difference was everyone was in their gaps and very few missed tackles.

The sacks came from great downfield coverage and great individual effort by the rushers.  Linebackers were filling gaps on run plays with the intent to not tackle but to hurt someone.

This unit made the decision this week that they were going to shut down this offense and they did.

The offense ran the same formation all day.  They ran the speed sweep, zone read all day.  OU never could figure out who had the ball and looked confused.  I think Texas ran about four run plays all day - over and over again. 

There was no coaching miracle Saturday by Jay Norvell when it came to play calling.  Players made blocks, and backs made people miss. 

What changed this week happened at practice and in the locker room.  Only the coaches and players know what transpired, but I think I can guess at what went on. 

The players realized they need each other.  The seniors need the freshman and the freshman need the seniors.

And frankly, it does not matter!  We're all Longhorns regardless of age, and we all expect each other to play to a standard every play.

I’m sure Charlie pointed out how close this team was to being 3-2 and how many great plays this team had made this season.

Sometimes it helps to see on film what you are capable of accomplishing.  As a family, these Texas Longhorns started to believe in each other and themselves in a powerful way. 

One story I love to tell is about the Big 12 title game against Nebraska in 1996.  I know everyone knows it, but since I was there and I enjoy reliving that game, I will tell it again. 

We were 21-point underdogs going against two-time defending national champion Nebraska, whose only loss in three years was to eventual Rose Bowl-bound Arizona State in Tempe. And if they beat us, they'd be playing for a third straight national title.

They were seen as a monster, and we weren't given a chance. 

Going into that week of practice, Mackovic told the team not to give Nebraska any bulletin board material. Just talk about how great the Cornhuskers were.

The next day, on the front page, was the article about how our quarterback, James Brown, said he thought we were going to win by 21. 

What you need to know is what kind of guy James is.  He is a pretty quiet guy who did not say much. 

When he did say something, he meant it.  When we heard about the article, we realized he believed it.  It was exactly what the team needed.  Once we realized our leader believed we were going to win, we believed.

The team's mindset became, "If James really believes it, and he is what makes the team go, then why not!"  Guess who made the game-clinching play in that game?  James Brown. On fourth down. 

Believe and never doubt - no matter what transpires during the game.  That is the key to winning.  You can’t fake it. You have to believe it.

For those who have read my articles before, you realize I will call it like I see it.  What I saw this week was an amazing coaching job, and it had nothing to do with Xs and Os.

It was all done between the players’ ears.

Congratulations to Coach Strong and his staff, they certainly deserve it after last week.

If you ask me what to look for in a head coach, I would tell you humility and compassion. Not as easy to find as you might think. I judge coaches by what former players say about them - the guys who actually play for the man. 

These UT players love their coach, and I feel he truly cares about them.  The biggest influences in my life, besides my father, were the coaches I played for.

What stays with me isn’t the wins or losses, rather the lessons learned.

It is no coincidence when we learned a tough lesson and stuck together it usually resulted in a win.

Congratulations to Coach Strong for being a positive influence on his players.

One last note about that 1996 team.  When we rolled into St. Louis for the Big 12 championship, we were maybe the hottest team in college football.  We had just rolled A&M 51-15 and were playing great football.

I’ve said all year I want to see this team beat Baylor, and I believe they will.  There may be some more ups and downs this year. You can almost bet on it. But as long as they believe, this team will win a few more big games - including Baylor!

I do want to point out one individual player this week.

I've been pretty hard on OL Marcus Hutchins’ play this year, and deservedly so.  His play Saturday deserves to be recognized.  He made me proud, and he should be as well.  He played hard all day and made some outstanding blocks. 


He was not the only one, but he was by far the most improved.

Let's see how much progress this team can make during a bye week. It will help guys like DTs Poona Ford and Hassan Ridgeway, both of whom played with shoulder injuries Saturday against OU and continued to make plays, as well as Kent Perkins (knee) and Daje Johnson (head injury) to heal up and give the coaching staff more time to develop and polish some hungry, young playmakers.

And then we'll talk again after the Kansas State game.

Horns Digest Top Stories