The Longhorns are tired of losing. They’re tired of being scrutinized for mistakes and they want to be the team and the program they’ve been for the past 12 years under head coach Mack Brown.
The last time the Longhorns lost three regular season games in a row was in 1997, the year before Brown came to Texas. The Longhorns have lost to UCLA and Oklahoma so far this year and could possibly fall to Nebraska this weekend, making that three consecutive losses.
“This is not fun. You want to win,” Brown said. “We’ve had enough character building.”
Texas heads into this weekend’s national game hydrated by a bye week. Both players and coaches said Monday that the fact that they could spend an entire week focusing solely on Texas rather than an opponent will give them an edge on Saturday.
“I’d say our mood is fresh,” said senior wide receiver James Kirkendoll. “I’d say we’re really motivated, too. We’re really getting back to the basics and relaxing and having fun.”
Just because the Longhorns didn’t have a game last weekend doesn’t mean they were sleeping in and eating cupcakes all week. Rather, the bye week was all about getting back to the level of play that has been missing all season.
Junior safety Blake Gideon compared last week’s practices to summer two-a-days, physical and intense workouts with tackling drills every day.
“You could see the intent and the aggression in all our coaches eyes,” Gideon said. “It was a good week and I definitely feel like we got better.”
Brown spent much of the week trying to get his coaches back on track. He instructed offensive coordinator Greg Davis and his defensive counterpart Will Muschamp to review every third down and red zone play the Longhorns have had this season.
After doing his homework, Davis acknowledged that he’s probably been a bit too conservative with sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert. He even said he’s going to call more downfield passing plays. Davis also noted that sophomore running back D.J. Monroe is at the point where he can be on the field more than he has been in the past two games.
Muschamp noticed that his rush defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the country in 2009, has been inconsistent. The group will get another opportunity to convince the nation that they can stop the run this weekend, as the Longhorns will have their hands full not only with Nebraska’s tailback duo of Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead, but with quarterback Taylor Martinez as well.
Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback who passed for 128 yards on seven plays and rushed for 241 yards on 15 carries against Kansas State last week. He’s averaging 10.3 yards per pass and 10.8 yards per rush on the season as a first-year starter.
Junior linebacker Emmanuel Acho said that if the defense does its job and minimizes mistakes and penalties, they will be able to contain Martinez.
“It’s another game, it’s another team, he’s another quarterback,” Acho said. “It’s not about what he does, it’s about what we do. He’s a good player. I’ll leave it at that. There’s nothing — if we play to Texas standards — nothing that we should be too worried about.”
Losing is not part of the Texas standard equation that the team talks about so much. But to climb back atop the Big 12 and BCS ladders, Texas will have to play smarter, more disciplined football.
“We’re not used to losing around here,” Kirkendoll said. “We’ve learned from these losses and understand we don’t want to feel this way again. Losing is not a good feeling and we’ve got to play to our standard. If we compete at that level we talk about, then I don’t think too many teams can play with us.”