There were some who said, "A&M had more to play for since their coach was leaving." That was a weak and inexcusable alibi for the Texas players and coaches and, to his credit, Mack Brown went to the source: poor assistant coaching and players playing football without passion.
It happens at all levels and since coach Brown is more CEO than an Xs and Os type, he didn't spot the problem until the Aggies already had their pound of Longhorn beef for the second year in a row.
Frustration, and perhaps even some good healthy rage, prompted Brown to re-examine his approach and put the players and coaches on notice. He took his "family" to the woodshed.
Coach Brown admitted to taking his squad through tougher practices including drills at 6 a.m. That can't be done on a regular basis during a school week because of taping and dressing in full pads, but it had the desired effect on the Horns: a great start, essentially, to the 2008 season!
This was the PAC-10's co-champion squad (along with USC), a team that came in 10-2 and ranked just outside the top 10!
Thursday's Holiday Bowl was by far the best defensive game of the year by Texas. I actually enjoyed watching the Longhorn defense. I know you saw what I saw; when Sun Devil receivers caught the ball they were tackled and the Texas pursuit was outstanding.
No doubt, from Frank Okam to Rod Muckelroy to Brandon Foster, all parts of the Longhorn defense came to play. You could hear the hits and when any Sun Devil got daylight he was soon covered by Burnt Orange pursuit. It was exciting to watch Texas play in that fashion again.
It has been since the second half of the 2006 Oklahoma game that I have seen such passion arise in the Texas defense. When I saw Okam in on a sideline screen pass tackle because he turned from pass rusher to pursuer (which was entirely different from how he played against Texas A&M), I felt good about our chances. Okam is a fine person, an excellent student and will be a top NFL player, but against Arizona State, unlike his performance at Kyle Field, he was playing as if he had to make every tackle or Texas would lose.
Duane Akina and Larry Mac Duff were both involved on the Texas sidelines in an effort to keep the Longhorn defenders on task.
Did the efforts of the Texas defense save Akina and Mac Duff's jobs? Perhaps.
The move of Adam Ulatoski to left tackle and the infusion of young talent helped the offensive line play considerably better than the ragged effort vs. the Aggies a little over a month ago. But Colt McCoy needs more ball carrying drills if he's to continue to tuck and run, and, as good as he looked at times vs. the Sun Devils, Jamaal Charles isn't ready for the NFL. He needs another year of getting in pressure games and proving himself.
So the Texas running game still pales when compared to Oklahoma's, and that's why Bob Stoops can win with quarterbacks you've never heard of.
Stoops has always held the whip in his hand toward his team and he is a defensive-oriented coach; however, we've witnessed a change in Mack Brown since the A&M loss. Let's hope he learned something for the long-term.
I salute coach Brown and his staff for getting the Texas team mentally and physically ready to represent what University of Texas football, as well as all the high schools the players come from and the Big 12 as a whole, stands for.
What Mack Brown couldn't see against Arkansas State and even Kansas State he finally saw against Texas A&M. He did something about it. The buck stopped with Mack and 52 points later the 2007 Longhorns regained their pride as a football team.
Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.