That Was Quite A 'Statement'

Texas coach Mack Brown said two weeks ago that his team would be worthy of BCS consideration if it made a 'statement' at Texas A&M. Fridays's 38-30 stinker was a statement, all right.

First of all, this one was no fluke. Texas was outplayed by freewheeling Texas A&M and outschemed by the Aggies' lame-duck coaches. And you could live to be 100 and not see a worse Longhorn pass defense than the ones Texas has fielded the past two seasons.

This is second straight year that Texas' pass defense has written, and re-written, school records for futility. It makes some of John Mackovic's units look like the Dallas Cowboys. That's why A&M's wide-open game plan wasn't as innovative as it was inevitable. Play-action pass, throwbacks, wheel routes and screens? It doesn't take the Ol' Ball Coach to come up with that kind of stuff. Do you suppose Aggie coaches might have seen Texas' defensive game film against Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech?

QB Stephen McGee had more completions at the end of the first-quarter than he did in the entire game in Austin last year. He had a career passing day by halftime (209 yards) and finished with Texas Tech-like numbers (362 yards). Hey, if McGee could inflict this type of damage with just two weeks to prepare, imagine what either Missouri's or Kansas' seasoned passing attacks might have done against Texas' undersized, arm-tackling DBs and its overpursuing, out-of-position, arm-tackling starting linebackers?

The defense allowed a 95-yard drive to fall into a 17-0 deficit after the Aggies score on a fake FG. Later, there wasn't a linebacker within 10 yards of RB Michael Goodson on the wheel route that negated the momentum generated by Quan Cosby's 91-yard KO return for TD. There was less than 10 minutes remaining in the game before the defense forced the second Aggie punt.

There has been plenty of talk that Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina is far more effective strictly as a DB positions coach rather than managing the entire unit. A few have called for his head, but that talk is entirely premature given the fact that Akina replaced three starting DBs from the program's worst-ever pass defense. But Akina must be served notice (the same goes for first-year linebackers coach Larry Mac Duff) that there must now be significant improvement in the pass defense because it cost Texas dearly Friday. Problems with the pass defense began last year when coaches failed to build depth in the secondary. (When scholarship athletes do not log their first start until their senior year, there usually is a reason for that.) Little was done this year to build depth in the secondary as Texas now looks to replace three more starting DBs.

On top of being relegated to second-tier status, this marks the first time in 14 years that Texas has lost both to A&M and Oklahoma in the same season. By Texas' standards, there is no way this can qualify as a good season despite the possibility of another 10-win campaign. Meanwhile, the Aggies were able to pressure QB Colt McCoy without a steady diet of blitzes, manufacturing an honest pass rush against Texas' young, patch-work offensive line. Evidence of why freshman LT Tray Allen hasn't received more PT? His man went unblocked to flush McCoy out of the pocket on 3rd-and-three to end a promising first-quarter drive.

There is a larger issue. ABC commentators asked why Texas failed to play with any sense of purpose despite working its way back into BCS consideration and with a legitimate shot to play in the Big 12 Championship just 80 miles south of Austin in Horn-friendly San Antonio. Despite some heroic comebacks that kept a 9-3 campaign from cratering into a 6-6 season, this is a Texas team that has generally played without any sense of purpose and without urgency until it finds its butt in a crack late in the game. It's been that way since the lackluster home-opener against lowly Arkansas State, and Brown said he can't figure it out

So, I'm offering my two cents worth:

1) There is no bonafide, in-your-face, vocal leader on this year's team. McCoy and the DTs (Derek Lokey, Roy Miller, Frank Okam) come close, but they are quiet leaders. At they very least, none seem to possess the presence that the likes of Vince Young, Cory Redding, Derrick Johnson and Cedric Benson brought to the program.

2). Players reflect their coach's persona, and that's not always a good thing at Texas. Despite Brown's tremendous upside, he worries (justifiably so) that his players mirror his demeanor that is uptight in the so-called 'big games' while far too casual and relaxed against some of the lesser lights on the schedule. (That's why several Longhorn fans hoped for a fiery, edgy linebackers coach cut in the mold of OU's defensive coordinator Brent Venables rather than another folksy, affable, low-key personality like Larry Mac Duff).

But before anyone gets thrown under the bus, the 2007 season had all the makings of a 'tweener year (by Texas' standards). We probably should have seen a three-loss regular season coming four years ago when Brown signed the smallest and least-regarded recruiting class of his tenure. In fact, the class was more renowned for the ones that got away (RB Adrian Peterson, QB Rhett Bomar) and was perceived as the first chink in Brown's armor. Brown has privately said, on a number of occasions, that the overall talent wasn't there this season. And he has openly questioned the leadership, or lack there of. The last thing this year's squad needed was the injuries along the offensive front and at DE, as well as the off-the-field distractions that virtually defined the season.

There is a silver lining.Brown is still 7-3 against the Aggies and looks to sign a Top Six class in February.

The two stellar classes signed following the Rose Bowl wins will now begin to fill out the two-deep chart. Several months ago, Brown privately said that he thought Texas should be "really, really good" in 2008 and 2009 and should be championship-caliber. Texas' offensive line will grow up and should emerge as one of the finest in the Big 12. McCoy will be a year older and wiser, and RB Jamaal Charles has already announced he will return for his senior year. WRs Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, and TE Jermichael Finley return as formidable stretch-the-field targets. Texas will possess enough firepower to move the ball on all comers.

The biggest problem, of course, is defense. No college team will have more depth at DE than the Horns. DT Roy Miller is a natural leader but needs to flex his vocal chords. The backup linebackers will be the starting linebackers. And the secondary just can't get much worse. It should get a solid boost with backups Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown logging more snaps.

Someone much wiser than me once said: 'Trends are bunk, Angry men win football games.' The trend that the Aggies reversed was failing to post a home-win over their arch-rival this entire decade, and they were able to transform whatever anger they had into a sense of purpose and more swagger than you may ever see from a formerly 6-5 team that could roast weenies atop their coach's hot seat.

Longhorn fans can only hope that their 9-3 also-rans are as naturally motivated, starting with the bowl game.

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