Texas suffered disappointing ends to the regular seasons in both 2006 and 2007, losing all momentum from a national championship. The Horns did indeed win last season's Alamo Bowl, but the, frankly, flat victory over a 6-6 Iowa team did not bode well for the 2007 campaign.
This year's Holiday Bowl stomping was quite different.
But the direction of momentum was not changed by luck or random lot, it was changed by sheer force of will by both the Texas players and Texas coaching staff. Decisions were made and plays were executed like they should have been all season. Apparently Texas fans did not need to attend practice to know that John Chiles should be incorporated into the offense, that a greater variety of blitzes was necessary and that Jamaal Charles needed to get the ball. A lot.
Changes occurred slower than they should have, but what speaks well for next season is that the changes were made. They finally happened. But each of those individual elements mentioned are less important than the Longhorns' newfound sense of accountability.
Many rolled their eyes at Texas head coach Mack Brown's statement that all positions on the team were "open." The frustration wasn't unfounded because the quote it hearkened back to Brown's statement from earlier in the year when he said that he wasn't going to denigrate his players publicly, but that they were accountable "in the film room."
But being accountable in the film room means nothing, absolutely nothing. Saying, "well, you should of made that tackle" is just talk and has no impact if a player isn't benched for consistently making the same mistakes. True accountability only comes from actions and Brown took action for the 2007 Holiday Bowl. There were new starters at multiple positions and players reported fighting for their jobs every day in practice.
A new Texas football team showed up to Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday and Texas could go a very long way in 2008 if a team with that same attitude shows up in 2008.
Although the game did contain many, many actions that Texas should have taken this season, it also contained actions Texas should take next season. Lessons from the 2007 season are learned, momentum is in Texas' favor and a plan appears to be in place. It just needs to be executed.
-Texas didn't just put new starters on the field. We also saw several back-ups get more playing time, most notably Chiles. The freshman quarterback got his first significant action since the Baylor game (yes, it's been that long) and did not disappoint, running for 21 yards on five carries and leading Texas on a couple of touchdown drives.
We need to see a lot more of Chiles next season, as his set of skills compliment Colt McCoy in a Chris Leak-Tim Tebow fashion. Amusingly, the next day's San Diego Union-Tribune improperly identified him as "Texas running back John Chiles" in a photo caption, although it may not be terribly inaccurate given how little we've seen of Chiles' throwing this season.
Is this fully taking advantage of his skills? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it's doing a much better job of taking advantage of his skills than his previous position: benchwarmer.
-From an offensive standpoint, Texas did a good job of getting quite a few players involved and highlighting their abilities, including the WR reverse pass from Quan Cosby, which fell incomplete but was a good call. The only person who was missing was Jermichael Finley, who unfortunately remained missing for the rest of the game...until he went and got the ball himself. Finley was the fifth player into the pile for McCoy's fumble, but emerged with the ball in the end zone.
-Derek Lokey even got a catch before Finley, scoring the game's first TD on a two-yard grab. Lokey had been pushing to get a touch and finally got it in his last game at Texas. After the game, Lokey openly lobied for DT Roy Miller to take over his job at fullback next season, which may not be a bad idea, but will also be determined by the development of fullback Antwan Cobb, who Texas lost to injury this season.
-The Texas DBs did a good job of being very physical with the Arizona State receivers, and with Carpenter for that matter. One of the reasons for this was the officials doing a good job of letting the players play, only calling pass interference when it got blatant. Not surprising, given that it was an SEC crew. They seemed to be used to a more physical brand of football. Outside of Jessie-gate, it was overall a well-called contest by the officials.
-Texas once again did a great job of stopping the run, but we saw a lot more swarming to the football than in previous games and much stronger tackling because of it. There were still breakdowns, especially late in the game when DBs seemed to slack off receivers a bit, but Texas played a much more aggressive style game and it showed up on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, 34 points for ASU also showed up on the scoreboard and there are many elements of the defense, especially in the passing game, that must be addressed.
-Chris Jessie didn't actually touch the football, but given that the replay official said he did, it was then left up to the head ref, who chose to return the ball to the line of scrimmage and then mark off an unsportsmanlike penalty, which took the ball half the distance to the goal, but not a first down since unsportsmanlike is not an automatic first down penalty. Weird, yes, but interference penalties are rightly left up to the official on the field on how to fix. How it was fixed is debatable, but it was handled pretty well from the officials on the field. For example, if there was a standard yardage penalty assessed each time interference occurred, then Joe Schmoe Operations Staff Guy would come onto the field and make a tackle any time an opposing player was headed for the end zone. It has to be left up to the officials on the field if interference is the official call. The mistake in this whole debacle was made by the replay official, who said in a release after the game that Jessie touched the ball when he actually did not. Thankfully for Jessie, Texas won the game and his penalty will remain as an amusing anecdote, as opposed to turning him an irrationally hated scapegoat. And the hatred would have been completely irrational. Give it up myopic Cubs fan. Bartman didn't give up eight runs, six of them unearned, in the final inning and two-thirds and then completely blow Game 7. Your team choked. This goes back to the personal accountability issue we discussed earlier.
-Strange combination of university bands for the half-time show. Arizona State seems to be of the 'jam as much crazy stuff onto the field as possible' philosophy. They had a full marching band, pit instruments (xylophones, etc.), three electric guitars, a drum set, a dance team, a flag team and two twirlers. The Longhorn Band, on the other hand, went with the old standby of Wall-to-Wall Band, the one military-style, as opposed to traditional corps-style, show that LHB does. See, what makes Wall-to-Wall band so interesting is the three different counter-marches that are used, which result in...wait, where are you going? Ok, ok, back to football.
-After the Horns built a significant lead, we saw a little too much shutting down and going to the ultra-conservative Texas we all know. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis thankfully got out of the rut of swing passes and not getting Charles involved in the ground game (or even having a ground game) and back to the things that were working. The wide-receiver screen, swing pass, sideways running attack we occasionally see from Texas is almost the prevent defense of offenses. Just as the old football adage goes: "The prevent defense will prevent you from winning," referring to any time a team with a lead switches to soft coverage and gets beat underneath. Stick with what works.
-Wow. I knew the Arizona State offensive line was bad. I didn't know it was that bad.
-Henry Melton has some serious hands. He did a great job of fielding an unexpected sky-kick against Texas A&M, made an impressive sliding grab to prevent a turnover when USC attempted the same against Texas in the Rose Bowl and made a key diving fumble recovery while huffing it down the field on a punt against Arizona State. It's a curious niche he's carved out for himself, but it's one he's been fulfilling very admirably. Great effort by the RB/DE/who-knows-what.