Texas must plug leak to stay afloat at Red River Rivalry

Jori Epstein

Before Texas’ matchup with Oklahoma State two weeks ago, no Longhorn football team had ever lost three games by September’s end.

Sure, two of the Horns’ losses this season combined to leave a 4-point deficit. But the program is still setting records – and not the kind a team hopes to set. By scheduling Notre Dame and Cal alongside Big 12 matchups with Oklahoma State and TCU, Texas’ first five games included four ranked opponents. In NCAA basketball tournament seeding, that strength of schedule might count for something. For football, the numbers don’t lie — Texas boasts an 80 percent losing rate. The record is unacceptable for a well-endowed state-university program. And it’s even more unacceptable in a state where high school football rules supreme.

Head coach Charlie Strong said his team needs to show more pride and contain its mistakes.  

“When things go wrong, they continue to go and we don’t stop them,” Strong said after TCU beat Texas 50-7 on Saturday. “We don’t plug the leak. We don’t stop it.”

Texas’ leak stems from various sources — the team’s poor record, Strong’s job security and the team age dynamic. With freshmen filling an unusually high number of roles on the depth chart, older players struggle to keep their hold on leadership. At times, this power struggle breeds discord. Junior safety Dylan Haines did just that, puncturing a new hole Monday.

“[The freshmen] can’t win the conference on their own,” Haines said. “So we have some juniors and seniors trying to lead those freshmen, and some of them are resistant and hesitant to change because they haven’t been a follower before.”

As an upperclassman, Haines should know better than to instigate such dialogue – especially in public. The walk-on-turned-model-scholarship-player was long a story of inspiration, not instigation. Freshman wide receiver DeAndre McNeal didn’t take kindly to Haines’ knock.

“We’re supposed to be a team, but instead we’re bashing on each other…” McNeal wrote in a note he tweeted. “If we don’t have cohesiveness then we don’t have nothing…us ‘FRESHMAN’ are go getters and we don’t accept mediocre ANYTHING we are here to pull Texas out the drought.”

Texas football is in a bad place. TCU’s No. 2 ranking doesn’t forgive the Horns’ inability to score for more than 54 minutes. Even unranked Texas Tech put up 52 points against the Horned Frogs. With teamwork and determination, similar production was possible for Texas, too. Instead, the Horns fell apart. The offense stagnated, the defense allowed 31 first downs and special teams accounted for two shanked field goals. They came home and fought with one another, called names and deferred responsibility. Such attitudes will only spur further losses.

The road doesn’t get easier. Facing No. 10 Oklahoma this week, a disjointed Texas team will see no success. The squad – which has allowed opponents to outgain it by 843 yards this year – desperately needs cohesion to pose a threat. Rivalry games hinge on momentum, so the Horns have a chance to upset. Their chances will plummet should they not come together.

Texas’ freshmen show great potential for Texas’ future. But the class must join upperclassmen to compete Saturday. Infighting and social media threats won’t plug the leak – they just make the team vessel come closer to drowning. The players must patch up holes quickly to stay afloat on the Red River.