Mack Brown vs. Oklahoma: It's Getting Personal

Like death and taxes, there was no way head coach <B>Mack Brown</B> could avoid questions at the Big 12 Football Media Conference in Kansas City about his program's four-year slide against Oklahoma. But do sports reporters and Texas fans place too much emphasis on the Red River rivalry?

Brown has been on both sides of the ball in this bitter series, having served as OU's offensive coordinator in 1984. But now the focus has shifted, to some extent, from the players themselves to whether Brown is personally capable of leading his team to victory on the second Saturday in October, he suggested.

"People now want to make Texas-OU about me," Brown said, "and that's okay."

Part of that focus includes speculation about what a fifth straight loss would mean for Brown's tenure in Austin, especially if Texas gets rolled again this year. The Horns, of course, beat OU during each of Brown's first two seasons before dropping the last four. The 65-13 debacle this past season was the most lopsided in the 98-year history of the series.

"We won our first two and there wasn't any conversation about it," Brown said. "People only want to look at the losses."

Win or lose, Texas fans tend to dwell on the series longer than their Red River counterparts, Brown added.

"(UT) fans and media don't stop talking about it," Brown said. "Oklahoma goes on to the next game."

A Texas running game, that was limited to a combined 80 net yards in 2001 and 2002, at least held serve during last year's shellacking. Texas netted 171 yards (thanks largely to QB Vince Young's 127 yards on 15 carries) but the ground game was completely mitigated by six turnovers and by White's 20-of-24 passing for 363 yards and four TDs. Texas was shut out in the second half for the second time in three years as OU tacked on four more TDs following intermission. The past four years have been bracketed by a pair of historic blowout losses. Most Orangebloods would likely concur that it's one thing to lose, but it's quite another to lose like that in this game.

"Two of the last three years, it was a fourth quarter game," Brown said. "Last year, we got down early and were forced to try to catch up. The game got out of hand and we tried to catch up too fast. That made it worse."

Brown's teams tend to take on new life, or at least seem to jell, in the days following the OU game. Brown is 6-0 the Saturday after the Red River Shootout, and that includes road wins at Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Colorado, plus that 24-20 win over No. 3 Nebraska in 1999. The only other league team to have beaten Texas during the past four years in the regular season was Texas Tech in 2002.

"(OU) is the only game we've lost over a span of time so it's the one people talk about," Brown said.

Yet, no span of time can be more fateful to a head coach in this series. Brown is 0-for-the-21st-Century in the Red River Shootout. And don't tell a Texas fan that we're only four years into the new Millennium.

No Texas coach has lost more than five straight in a series that, whether fair or not, defines a career. (Ed Price got run out of Austin following his 1952-56 losing skid while legendary coach Darrell Royal went 0-5-1 against the Sooners during his final six seasons.) The cyclical nature of the series has taken its toll on the other side of the Red River as well. Oklahoma had four different head coaches from 1989-1999, and the program's 2-8-1 mark against Texas during that span certainly greased the cylinders of the coaching carousel.

History says Brown has to beat OU at least once during the next two seasons. A sixth straight loss would be unprecedented at Texas. No Longhorn coach, however personable or otherwise successful, can survive that.

Of course, Brown has heard all the talk about his failure to win the "big one". On more than one occasion, Brown suggested that the importance ascribed to certain games has been quite fluid as of late. In other words, it's all relative and based more on perception, he contends.

"People call (the OU game) the 'big one' because it's the only one we're losing," Brown said.

A qualifier: it's always been the "big one". It's the only game on the schedule that's sold-out every year since World War II. It is the litmus test by which players and coaches on both sides of the ball are often evaluated and remembered.

Here's a for-instance: what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of former QB Peter Gardere? Right! You think of his 4-0 mark against OU from 1989-92. Texas goes 1-3 against Texas A&M and gets killed in the only bowl game it played during Gardere's tenure but he is still regarded as 'Peter the Great' based primarily for his record against the Sooners.

Here's another for-instance: what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Stonie Clark? Right! You think of his wide-bodied, big-time play in that glorious goal-line stand during the waning seconds to preserve the 17-10 suh-weet victory in 1994.

The OU game is so big that the second Saturday in October is a season in itself. It's just that the "big one" becomes even bigger when you're on the losing end.

"Our players know it is an important game and that it's a national game," Brown said.

More than one Orangeblood has noted that Texas is now so psyched-out in this series that it enters the game two touchdowns behind. Brown even suggested last week that "new coaches and new faces" might help reverse the trend. But at least one old face is determined to see Texas come out on top this year. RB Cedric Benson has been absolutely shut down in two starts (35 net yards) against the Sooners. We know it and, more important, he knows it -- and it absolutely gnaws at him.

"I'm tired of losing," he said. "It's must-win for me. I don't want to go out and not win. It's the game."

Just two years ago, Brown didn't want to talk publicly about Oklahoma until the week before kickoff. Now, apparently, he's talking about it early and often. Here's another for-instance: when Inside Texas talked to UT recruits last spring, one of the questions we asked was what Longhorn coaches were telling them. Here, in essence, was the standard reply: There are two teams we have to beat this year -- Arkansas and OU.

The Texas-OU game is set for 11 a.m. (CDT) in Dallas on October 9.

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