Aside from beating the Cowboys in Stillwater this weekend and possibly going to a great bowl, not a single one of those goals listed above are within the Horns' reach without a lot of help from other teams. Oklahoma, of course, completely controls its own destiny in conference play, as does A&M. Both teams are 2-0 in league play and 5-0 on the season. With its league loss to the Sooners Saturday, Texas is 1-1 in the Big 12 and 4-1 on the season, and barring two losses by OU, will be sitting at home the first weekend in December rather than making a return trip to Dallas for the Championship Game. That would, of course, effectively eliminate the Horns from the national title picture.
Brown, despite his optimistic statements, faces a motivational challenge now that the plateau his team is playing for has been substantially lowered. Remember, though, that Texas faced a similar situation last fall after the debacle in Dallas, and the Horns ran the regular season table, which given the schedule is not out of the question again this season.
"Last year, we were in complete disarray," the head coach said of his team's post-OU game condition. "We were horrible. We had nothing to hang our hat on on either side of the ball or on special teams. We had to start over. Yesterday, we played a team with 17 straight wins, the defending national champion, and as disappointing as the loss is, the defense should be excited that they held Oklahoma to 200 yards and one touchdown. Offensively, we had opportunities, but we didn't take advantage of them."
The coaching staff's approach to revamping the demoralized and ineffective offense this fall may be similar to what we saw last October. Brown and Greg Davis simplified the O starting with the Colorado game, slimming down the playbook and focusing on fewer plays, including far more runs. Brown Sunday hinted that something similar could be in order based on the OU game results.
"Offensively, we got away from running the ball in the second half and we gave Chris (Simms) too much to do in the second half," he said, adding that the offense may have too many plays for Simms and his offensive teammates to consistently execute.
Perhaps an offensive simplification will allow Cedric Benson, who got in on just one snap vs. Oklahoma, to see more action starting this weekend with Oklahoma State. Brown cited Benson's inexperience in the passing game and the success of Victor Ike as the reasons the true freshman played so little.
The head coach called the 14-3 defeat an "even ballgame" between "two great football teams," adding that it was "as hard fought a game as I've ever been around."
"I told the team that in a game of this magnitude, you can't make mistakes and we made mistakes," Brown said, pointing to the INTs, Nathan Vasher's punt catch at the three and the Horns' (few) defensive breakdowns. "That's how fine the line is between winning all the games and losing. (And) that's how close we are to being really, really good. I'm really, really proud of our football team. I'm proud of the way they fought but they need to play a little better."
Asked if his team is as good as the national contenders like Florida and Miami and Oklahoma, Brown said, "We can be. But we've got to make those three plays." By not making "those three plays" Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, Texas, just as it did last fall when it didn't make "those three plays" in the Holiday Bowl, lost its chance to justify a spot in the top 10. UT dropped to No. 11 while OU remained No. 3 in both major polls released Sunday.
Rather than rankings, the Texas head coach wants his team focused on the week-to-week tasks at hand. "We need to win every game and now there's more importance on the Oklahoma State game," Brown said. "We've got to put this one behind us the best we can and be ready for (OSU)."
Notes: Kalen Thornton and Victor Ike, who left the game in the fourth quarter after a hit from OU corner Andre Woolfolk, were to be evaluated on Sunday. Their status for the Oklahoma State game should be known Monday. . . . Brown said the players and the staff "put more into" this year's game (as the score would suggest) but that he couldn't characterize either loss as easier to accept. "Neither is easy," Brown said. "When you lose you lose. Last year was more embarrassing but this year it hurts more."