Column: Loss to California no reason for panic

Michael Shapiro

The unbridled confidence of Longhorn fans following the burnt orange’s 2–0 start faded in the wee hours of Sunday morning as Texas fell 50-43 to California in Berkeley.

It was an ugly defeat for head coach Charlie Strong’s team. Texas surrendered 507 yards and 43 points, allowing California senior quarterback Davis Webb to fire four touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Chad Hansen ran rampant through the Longhorn defense, catching 12 balls for 196 yards. Hansen flashed a horns down sign on one of his two touchdown catches, adding insult to injury.

The other side of the ball was additionally shaky at times. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele looked rattled, throwing for under 200 yards and tossing an interception in the second quarter. 

Panic had already set in for the Longhorn faithful by the time Texas arrived in Austin around 7 a.m. on Sunday morning. There were calls for the dismissal of defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and questions surrounding the Longhorns’ senior leadership.

But these worries are little more than panicked, snap judgments from a fan-base desperate to see the return of a historically successful program. However, they’re nothing new for Strong.

The Longhorns’ leader has faced criticism throughout his tenure. Distress amongst fans began following Texas’ 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the 2014 AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl in which the Longhorns mustered just 59 total yards. Fans and media also called for Strong’s job after a 50-7 beatdown against then-No. 4 TCU last October. 

Strong righted the ship to a degree in 2015, garnering upset wins over then-No. 10 Oklahoma and then-No. 12 Baylor despite a 5-7 record. And he won over Texas fans again after reeling in the No. 7 recruiting class this year, according to the 247Sports composite. 

“I have some unbelievable coaches and we know how important winning is and we know we have to win some football games,” Strong said on Feb. 6. “We just have to continue to work, continue to build and continue to put them in the right place.” 

The high spirits continued through the season’s first two weeks, as the Longhorns upset then-No. 10 Notre Dame and dismantled UTEP 41-7. But after Saturday’s defeat, the doubts surrounding Strong’s program have returned. 

Regardless of their validity before, those doubts are still premature. The future of Texas football is as bright now as it’s been during the entirety of Strong’s tenure. 

The burnt orange found a viable quarterback for the future in Buechele, and have restocked the cupboards on defense. For the first time since former head coach Mack Brown’s departure, the Longhorns have enough talent to compete for conference titles.

Saturday’s defeat raised legitimate concerns regarding Texas’ ability to stop the Big 12’s best offenses in 2016. But the team still flashed a high-powered attack, scoring 43 points behind a true freshman quarterback in his first road game. The Longhorns’ schedule still presents numerous challenges, namely against the aerial assault of Texas Tech and the passing prowesses of Baylor senior quarterback Seth Russell and Oklahoma signal caller Baker Mayfield.

But the fundamentals of the Texas program are solid. Strong has assembled a talented young roster and proven his ability to win big games — including a double-overtime win against then-No. 10 Notre Dame in week one. 

The loss to California was a sharp reminder that Texas will still face growing pains with a young team, especially on defense.

Still, it’s no time to panic. Strong looks to be the right man to lead the Longhorns back to national prominence.