Wake-up Call, or More of the Same?

Texas' erratic 21-13 clipping of Arkansas State was potentially a nightmarish start to the 2007 season, but several key Longhorns describe Saturday's outcome in terms of wakeup call. Meanwhile, head coach Mack Brown views the too-close-for-comfort outcome as providing a "dream" scenario for the Horns as they prepare for nationally-ranked TCU.

"I think this is a dream," Brown said Monday. "I think this is the best thing to ever happen to us."

Brown referenced a couple of previous UT season-openers, characterized by big margins of victory but poor levels of play. The point: the final score of a home-opener is not necessarily indicative of team quality and may not always serve his team well.

"The year (2003) we beat New Mexico State, 66-7, I watched that film and threw up," Brown said. "We played horrible. We thought we were great, but we didn't block anybody. We stunk against Louisiana-Lafayette (2000) and won, 52-10. I walked out sick. This one (ASU game) puts focus back on everybody who might have thought he could take a lazy step because he thought we were really good. It goes back to show you that preseason polls mean absolutely nothing. Now, I would have enjoyed Saturday night more if it had been 66-0. When you play teams that you're supposed to be better than, if you jump on them early, they become blowouts because the (opponent) starts throwing and they get turnovers. This (ASU) bunch played it close to the vest, they were going to keep the ball. I never thought we were going to lose the game, but we had trouble finishing it."

As such, several Longhorn seniors believe the team will have no trouble raising their level of intensity and, presumably level of play, when the Horned Frogs come calling. The Fort Worth school, snubbed by Big 12 officials when the league was created in 1996, has won five straight against Big opposition (including a 2005 upset of Oklahoma in Norman).

"I think the guys will be a lot more focused this week," NT Derek Lokey said. "I think guys will work harder this week than if we had won by a blowout. If we had won by a blowout, there may have been a tendency to relax. This week, we have to bear down. We have to work hard to get ready for TCU. I think what happened Saturday was a blessing, in that aspect."

Make that a blessing-in-disguise. Texas' eight-point win against a 39-point underdog felt like such a loss to enough players that Lokey reminded teammates that Texas actually won its home-opener.

"We were walking out of the stadium, I made it big point to tell the guys that we're 1-0, and that we better get into the locker room and celebrate this victory because half the teams that played (Saturday) lost. We celebrated the victory because victories are so hard to come by no matter who you're playing."

It's just that many of the problems that hurt Texas in 2006 seemed to have resurfaced -- no matter who they're playing. Was Saturday's outcome simply a sluggish start against a too-lightly regarded opponent? Or, is this a continuation of last season's maladies resulting in a 1-2 finish? (i.e., an anemic running game, poor tackling, suspect run-blocking, spotty play from linebackers and susceptibility to big gainers against the pass defense).

The mistakes Texas made Saturday are correctable, according to SE Limas Sweed.

"We made some mistakes and didn't execute well," Sweed said. "You go back and look at the film, and all those mistakes are correctable."

Offensively, part of the problem was that Texas relaxed after too-easy of a start, and then pressed after the points still didn't come in the second half, Brown said. QB Colt McCoy completed his first eight passes to help lead Texas to a quick 14-3 lead. But then the Horns came away empty on four straight possessions, including on 1st-and-goal from the three. The Horns ran for 117 yards on 38 attempts, averaging little more than three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust against an undersized defensive front that no one will confuse for Oklahoma's.

"They blitzed us a bunch and had some guys run through untouched," Brown said. "You lose five (yards) here and three there. When you have penetration, you're not as effective on short-yardage and goal-line (situations). We didn't run the ball very well in the four-minute offense at the end of the game. We even ran out of bounds when we had a chance to turn it upfield. We've got a lot of things in the running game that we felt like we corrected but, because the score ended up like it did, and because we didn't score from the three, and we had a 3rd-and-two that we didn't make, that not as much credit was given to (RB) Jamaal (Charles) and the offensive line on some really good plays that they made."

Texas' defense yielded 11 explosive plays (runs of 12+ yards, completions of 16+ yards). The fact that the four leading tacklers were the starting DBs (Marcus Griffin, Ryan Palmer, Brandon Foster, Erick Jackson) would have been the norm under former Co-Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's system that spun the safeties close to the line-of-scrimmage; now, it as arguably more indicative of poor tackling and incorrect pursuit angles among the front seven.

"We didn't play the Zone Read well," Brown said. "We're disappointed in that because we see it every day in practice. We've just got to play that better. If you ask who messed up, it depends on the call. It could be an end or it could be a linebacker."

Initially, Arkansas State surprised Longhorn coaches by diverting from its power-running game by by completing 24-of-37 passes for 272 yards. It kept Longhorn defenders on their heels throughout the evening.

"When they start the game with a naked bootleg throwback that it's going to be a night-full," Brown said. "They made too many big plays. A screen (pass) went for 32 yards. The most amazing play to me in the ballgame was their double-screen on third-and-16. We covered it perfectly and (the QB) runs for 17. The first time we didn't cover the screen at all; the second time we covered it too good lose containment."

Brown pointed out that three new starters in the secondary came very close to making key stops that eventually went for big gainers (including a 50-yard completion against CB Brandon Foster).

"They're not as confident and not as experienced as what we've just left," Brown said, "but we've just left five pro guys."

Brown began Sunday's team meeting by accentuating the positives of poorly-played game that still resulted in a win. For example, WR Nate Jones collecte a career-best nine receptions for 72 yards. RB Jamaal Charles submitted his best outing in more than a year, Brown said, after the junior ran for 112 yards on a career-best 27 carries. DT Frank Okam may have played his best game as a Longhorn, Brown continued. Backup DE Eddie Jones played exceptionally well for a first collegiate game, coming up with critical second-quarter end zone INT after starter Brian Orakpo left the game with an injured knee.

"Coach (Darrell) Royal taught me that teams don't play well and teams don't play poor, but individuals do," Brown said. "If enough individuals play well, then your team plays well. If enough individuals play poorly, then it looks like your team plays poorly. If you say 44 guys played poorly, then you're insulting the ones who played well. A lot of guys played really, really well. The great runs we made, the great blocks we had, but here are the plays where we didn't block anybody. Here are the great stops we had, here are the penalties that extended drives. Here's where we have to get better. We reinforce the negative by showing them the positive at the same time."

Overall, breakdowns occurred when individual players made mistakes on particular plays, Brown said, rather than resulting from wholesale problem with either personnel or scheme.

"We all get so into what happened," Brown said, "and it's very complicated when you break it down to 11 guys, and 10 of them played well and one of them did not do his job. We can change that one, or we can coach him."

The closer-than-expected affair kept backups on the sideline, particularly a number of true freshmen and RS-freshmen with legitimate shots to crack the Two-Deep chart. LCB Curtis Brown was the only true freshman who lost his 'shirt Saturday. Most notably, true freshman QB John Chiles has yet to take his first collegiate snap.

Kickoff for the Texas-TCU game is slated for 6:00 p.m. (CDT) Saturday.

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