For the fifth time this season, the Longhorns were forced to put into words what yet another loss meant for the Texas program. The final thing several players and coaches saw after their loss to Baylor was a giant banner across the Jumbotron at McLane Stadium that read: “Championship Game Bound.”
That feeling of not being good enough has hit Texas multiple times this year. And unlike most things in life, the more it happens, the less normal it seems.
“When you win, you're on top of the world. And when you lose, you feel like you hit rock bottom because we put in so much work every day,” senior defensive lineman Malcolm Roach said following the loss. “That's the reason we feel like this after every loss … you put so much into it, and when it doesn't go your way, it's hard to swallow.”
Using Roach’s logic, the Longhorns have hit rock bottom five times this year — more than expected. This season has been a hard one to process. Even if some of the goals — being a team that contends in the College Football Playoff, for example — were probably out of reach from the start, having the season go as poorly as this was never seen as a possibility.
After the most recent disappointing loss to Baylor, frustrations culminated in senior offensive lineman Zach Shackelford doing his best Bill Belichick impression, answering questions with cliches, one-liners and “next questions.”
“What do you think?” Shackelford said when asked if he expected his season to play out the way it has. “We’ve just got to get back to doing the little things. … We’ve just got to go 1–0 vs. Tech.”
The loss to the Bears ended a lot of possibilities for Texas, most notably the chance at a second-consecutive Big 12 Championship Game appearance, but the Longhorns still have one final regular season game.
Texas has stumbled into the end of the season out of gas, sputtering and looking for any kind of jumpstart at the next stop. It still has one final game to infuse life into the season: a date with Texas Tech on Black Friday.
“We've got one game left in (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) for these seniors,” head coach Tom Herman said after the loss to Baylor. “And I'll be damned if any of us throw in the towel because those guys deserved much more for everything that they've done for this program since we've gotten here.”
The underclassmen, especially those who are about to fill the void left by graduating seniors, understand the importance of the matter at hand.
“(They) do deserve a win at the stadium on their way out,” junior defensive back Chris Brown said. “Seeing the things they’ve seen and (having) been through the things that they’ve been through, they’re more than deserving of a win for their last game at (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium).”
It will be the end of an era for another senior class. It will also be the final senior class that was coached by Charlie Strong. When he was fired, the program had to pick up the pieces. And to a certain extent, they succeeded when they won the Sugar Bowl in 2018.
Now they get to do it one more time. Although it won’t be the most glamorous of games –– an 11 a.m. game against a 4-7 team on Black Friday –– it is the last opportunity for Texas to show what it is made of, and to show what could’ve been.