Frisbie -- One of the best to predict what folks will do in the future is to observe what they have done in the past.
That's what makes picking a winner in Saturday's game at Kansas State so difficult. Which trend do we honor?
With but two exceptions, a Mack Brown Texas team usually finds a way to win after a loss. The coaches have generally not allowed a crushing defeat to steamroll into another, and then another. Consecutive losses are now the exception, and it's not always been that way at the Forty Acres. No UT team on Brown's watch has lost the week after playing Oklahoma (home wins against Nebraska and Baylor, road wins at Colorado and Oklahoma State). Texas has won 10 consecutive road games (excluding neutral sites), and 14 of its last 16 in an opponent's back yard.
You've gotta like that trend. But it's the other tendency that gets my attention. And that is the "big game" bugaboo that continues to dog both Brown and QB Chris Simms.
Right now, this is the biggest game of the year for Texas. There are no more big games in 2002 if the Horns drop this one. Since the dawn of this new century, Texas has beat all the teams it should beat but not the ones it needs to beat to be mentioned in the same breath as Miami and Oklahoma. That's a helluva bad trend, since KSU is a nationally ranked team that Texas needs to beat.
This is the perspective I get from this team based on the coach-speak: since Saturday, Brown has stressed that his team won three-quarters of the OU game, and it was just a matter of converting third-downs in the second half. He also talks about pride, tradition and how his team can "play well and still lose" on Saturday. When I asked RB Cedric Benson about what kind of pulse this team has, he said (in essence) the spirit was willing but the flesh is weak. That is, the team still has its chin up emotionally but they are "drained." He then heaved a deep sigh before adding, "It's gonna be another tough week."
Both Brown and Benson are being honest. It just doesn't bode well for this weekend.
The defense should be able to control the Wildcats' speed option attack as well as its catch-them-when-they're-not-looking deep ball threat. But it's those draw plays and fullback dive options up the middle where the defense is surprisingly vulnerable this year (maybe it's because the defense isn't used to seeing a fullback who actually gets a carry).
Offense coordinator Greg Davis has "simplified" the offense this week (not in terms of dumbing it down but eliminating from the game plan the plays his unit have not consistently run in practice). But SE Roy Williams is not 100 percent, and may not be all year (hamstrings tend to tighten at halftime). Brown continues to insist the offensive line is "playing great" (great enough to pave the way for the No. 60 rushing attack in the country).
This game epitomizes "gut check." More than schemes and game plans, that which will chart the direction of this "season on the brink" is what is happening right now not so much between the has marks but between the players' ears (i.e., their mental toughness and resolve). We're not talking about "wanting" to win but "expecting" to win. It is the stance OU head coach Bob Stoops has taken since the day he arrived, and it trickles down to his players. His 9-1 record against Top 10 teams speaks for itself. And while Stoops is considered arrogant, cocky and brash, wouldn't you forgive a few character flaws in exchange for a national title and three straight wins against your bitter rival? (In my opinion, it's what separates a 13-0 squad from 11-2).
Brown is a true southern gentleman who is classy and personable. Losses eat at him. I like him, and I am still glad that he is piloting the Longhorn ship. There is no doubt that what he privately tells his players and staff is different from the even-keeled, sometimes glib, responses he presents to the media. But just once I'd like to hear him say that, dammit, he is the head coach at The University-of-by-God-Texas, and that his team is going up to Kansas to open up a can of whup-ass, and they expect to win because he gets paid $1.7 million a year to do just that in precisely this kind of game.
…unless the defense and special teams come up huge, I expect Texas to "play well and lose." So do the Vegas odds makers, who list Texas as a ‘dog for the first time this season.
C'mon, Texas! Prove us wrong. Kansas State 24, Texas 20.
Ross -- Remember last Saturday in the Cotton Bowl when the Sooners scored the go-ahead TD and the Texas offense trotted back onto the field? You probably screamed and cheered and crossed your fingers, hoping for the Horns to engineer a comeback. I did. But deep down, you probably also expected a fired-up OU defense to tee off on the Texas O-line and then on the immobile Chris Simms. I did. And it indeed came to pass, allowing Oklahoma to dominate the final minutes of the game and pull out to an 18-point fourth quarter lead (before a meaningless late TD by Texas made the score look, ahem, respectable).
What the heck does that have to do with this Saturday's game at Kansas State? Well, I'm afraid, everything. The Wildcats, a team coached as well or better on game day than the Sooner team that dismantled the Horns last weekend, will treat the visitors in Burnt Orange to another sack-filled second half humbling, which will snowball into another big loss. And this time, Texas won't have half a stadium of Orangebloods to keep it close into the fourth.
Earlier this week, the idea that UT would bounce back from the OU loss, as it did in '00 and '01, had me optimistic about the team's chances in Manhattan. That was before I heard the comments coming out of Bellmont, including the seeming utter denial by Mack Brown that anything is wrong with his offense aside from converting third downs (converting third downs is not the problem; it is the result of the problem) and his claims of "great" OU game performances from LDE Cory Redding (a whoppin' three tackles, including one after about a 12-yard Sooner gain, does not a "great" performance make) as well as DT Marcus Tubbs and MLB Reed Boyd (apparently, holding Oklahoma RB Quentin Griffin just shy of 250 yards, almost all through Tubbs' and Boyd's middle of the defense, constitutes a "great" performance). Sadly, I see these as signs of a coach in denial, unlike in '00 after the 63-14 shellacking when he had no choice but to admit his team's top-to-bottom failure and fix it. The attitude now is different. It's overly defensive. It's sarcastic (as evidenced by the "We're just stupid" response Brown made to a legitimate question about the offense on his weekly call-in show). It's defeatist (multiple variations of "We could play our best in Manhattan and still lose" from Brown and the players). And the anger, what little there is, is focused in all the wrong places. This is a team that is primed to be blown out.
Desperately, I hope it doesn't happen. Realistically, I expect it to. K-State 35, Texas 17.