Deep Thoughts On OU's Mental Edge

Last season's historic blowout loss to OU, Texas' fourth straight setback to its arch-rival, has many believing that the basic difference between the two talented teams has less to do with what happens between the hash marks than what happens between the ears of UT players. Is Texas' biggest obstacle its own battered psyche? Longhorn players spoke candidly on the subject Monday.

At least one prominent Longhorn said that Texas' primary dilemma against OU is "all mental."

"People like to say that we were mentally out of it before we even stepped on the field," RDT Rodrique Wright said Monday. "I'll say that a lot of that is true. We run away from it. We'd like to deny it. We'd like to believe that we weren't but, as I think about it, we were. They (Sooners) have a swagger. Even if we weren't mentally down in that (2003) game, we just gave up. That's not us. That's not Texas. I really want to erase that memory."

Head coach Mack Brown ain't buying it.

"I've always thought the team that plays the best on Saturday wins," Brown said. "Streaks are broken because one team decides to play better than the other, and they expect to play better, and they do. I don't think the talking in the middle of the week has anything to do with it."

There has been some speculation if Brown's job security depends on his breaking the current skid before it reaches five, or possibly six, games. While two former coaches have dropped five straight to the Sooners (Ed Price, Darrell Royal), a sixth-straight loss would be unprecedented for a Longhorn coach. But for Brown, "pressure" is a relative term.

"I think if I were younger it would be different," Brown said. "People ask me about pressure. Pressure, to me, is if you've got a friend or a family member that is really sick. It's like coaches comparing a football game to war... you know it's not. I don't want to demean the fact that this is an important ball game but pressure is when you can't eat. Pressure is when one of your children are sick. I would feel, in this game, I'm a very prideful person and I'm not very proud of the performance that I've put on with our teams in this game, understanding the importance to our fans and our national chances to win the conference. It's more of a challenge to me than pressure because it's an opportunity for us to go get better. When you lose a game and you don't play it again until the next year, you try as hard as you can to get better."

Brown watches game film at least two or three times following every contest.

"I try to get away from the emotional parts because no coach likes to lose," he said. "I go home. I can't sleep so I sit and watch the film and figure out where I messed up or what we should have done differently. Usually I don't sleep much after winning and I don't sleep any after a loss. I'm just trying to get a sense of where we are and where we need to go. But I would think this is pretty normal for a coach."

The so-called pressure of this week hasn't crossed OU coach Bob Stoops mind, or so he says. (Then again, riding a four-year winning streak in this series tends to release the pressure valve.)

"It's an incredibly exciting atmosphere and I look forward to the competition," Stoops said. "I don't know that it (pressure) bothers me, though."

Stoops has been asked on several occasions why it is that the Sooners have had Texas' number as of late.

"You never hear us say that," Stoops said Monday. "I think all of that is people filling up newspaper space. What I've always said is that past success never guarantees future success. You have to go out and earn it every time."

Wright's remedy for this weekend's 99th renewal of the series is for Texas not to push the panic button during momentum shifts and to practice this week as if Texas were preparing for just another opponent.

"We need to be able to relax," Wright said. "We don't need to go into practice trying to kill each other just because it's this week. We don't need to do any extra things. I don't need to get a new stance. We just need to be ourselves. We need to be calm. We need to be poised. We need to go into it like we were playing anybody."

QB Vince Young is practically salivating at the thought of the high-profile hysteria that awaits him Saturday.

"It's something that playmakers do: they take that role and they love that role," he said. "They love putting the team on their shoulders and going out there and saying, 'Hey, man. I'm gonna make a play for you guys.'"

If other Texas players believe OU has either the "swagger" or the "mental" advantage that virtually guarantees a win, they aren't admitting it.

"I don't know about all that," TE David Thomas said. "I just know they're one of the best teams in the country. Whether we give them too much respect, or whatever, Kansas State and LSU showed some stuff. That might have brought them down a little bit but they're still one of the best teams in the country regardless of how any one else has played against them."

TE Bo Scaife. who was around when the Horns last won the Red River rivalry in 1999, insists Texas has never played scared.

"We just need to go out and execute and things will be fine," he said.

The biggest common denominator in each of the four losses has been turnovers and Texas' inability to run the ball, Brown said.

"The truth is they lined up and whipped us," Brown said.

Brown wants to assure Longhorn fans that he has looked at "every phase of this game" to detect deficiencies in his coaching.

"I am very critical of myself," he said. "I don't talk about it a lot, but when your self image is in who you are as a coach, a lot of times that's not healthy. I haven't gotten into the self-image of the wins, but there's no doubt I take the losses a lot harder. Coach Royal once said that the danger of coaching at Texas is you're relieved when you win and devastated when you lose. That's who we are here. What I've tried to do is make the players understand that this is not about me. At all."

Brown entered the past four games expecting to win.

"I don't think there was any doubt," he said. "That's the strangest thing. We had really good practices. Two of the games we had chances to win in the fourth quarter and we didn't. I thought we were going to win in 2000 and no one was talking about OU. So they really started with us when they had the run to win the national championship. Last year, I didn't like what I saw against Arkansas but we came back and did better against Rice and Tulane. So I thought it would be a heckuva game and it obviously wasn't."

Texas expects to win Saturday for a number of reasons, Brown said.

"This team has a better understanding of what you have to do to win than some of the teams we've had in the past," Brown said. "We've done a better job in that area. We hit this team a lot more. We've demanded more out of this team and they've responded to it. That's why I think the team and the coaches are really excited about Saturday and can't wait for it to get here because it's a great benchmark for us. So, let's throw it out there because this team expects to win the game against a great team."


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