At programs like Texas, the notion that college football has and continues to be cyclical is met with a shrug at best, derision at worst. For many, there’s an echelon of athletic department that shouldn’t face seasons where the pursuit of conference titles is woefully out of reach. But the truth remains the schools that print revenue, select rather than recruit and have alums living in Fiji and northern Idaho are just as easily exposed to a bust of a quarterback or a bad head coaching fit.
So when these traditional titans are ready to rise again, it’s usually with white-hot fury. Nick Saban leads Alabama to a 7-6 finish in his first year and is now sitting in the pole position for his third crystal football in Tuscaloosa. Some athletes sign with a brand not a staff, knowing they’re capable of turning mediocrity into stardom. And so it is with the Longhorns, on the precipice of leaving behind two numbing years and a 13-12 record, their youth is burning.
Saturday’s 66-31 victory over Ole Miss had the teachable moments every win includes but they’re decreasing, just like the questions on Mack Brown’s job security if he completes this career renaissance.
David Ash (326 yards, 4 touchdowns, no turnovers) finally showed why the Texas coaches chose him over Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh in 2010. He did more than manage the offense, his grasp of it allowed him to carry a defense that couldn’t quite put the Rebels down. His touch on the deep pass required his receivers to adjust though that’s a better conclusion that simply overthrowing them. If this is an ascent, his head coach’s journey back to BCS contention shortens considerably.
Malcolm Brown (21 carries, 128 yards, 2 touchdowns), coming off two touches against New Mexico, cemented himself as the Texas running back. He’ll share carries going forward with Joe Bergeron, Daje Johnson and Johnathan Gray but it’s his backfield. The others have their roles, he has the job.
The offensive line, viewing scourge the first two games, mauled their undersized opponents. I liked the plan to utilize Dominic Espinosa’s athleticism by letting him pull more and not waiting for a tackle to push him around. 350 rushing yards mean the uglies up front left Oxford with a passing grade and the manhood of the players across the line, even if the Rebels likely struggle heavily in conference.
On defense, the first two series’ set a physical tone. Steve Edmond’s pick-six deflated the crowd before Bo Wallace realized the out route was open nearly every play. Manny Diaz’s unit forced three interceptions but the tackling, the big gains and the leaky secondary confounded. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor maintained the edges while the linebackers and defensive backs, even Jordan Hicks pre-injury, let Donte Moncrief prey on them like an alum with a Learjet buying drinks for coeds.
Carrington Byndom isn’t performing like his all-conference preseason pub. He’s late reacting to sprinting receivers and a real fear, not yet a liability, when West Virginia arrives on the 40 Acres. In contrast, Quandre Diggs let Moncrief best him but responded with two interceptions. He’s learning, adapting and recognizing. Kenny Vaccaro might be the Thorpe Award candidate in 2012, Diggs won’t be far behind next season.
Kickoff coverage had been fantastic prior to an Ole Miss touchdown return. That’s correctable, though if it happens in a rivalry game or late in a close contest, expect Mack Brown to hire a summer consultant from the NFL to tell him his guys need work on wrapping up.
The Longhorns sit for their bye week and then travel to Stillwater at the end of the month. Wes Lunt’s injury may or may not force Diaz to prepare for Walsh under center as well. Regardless, it’s a gateway game for Texas. Lose and all of this glowing BS I’ve written means little as a rebuilding Cowboys squad simply took their upturn faster. Win and the two most significant matchups on the schedule lie ahead with conference supremacy at stake.
These players chose Texas for the notoriety of afternoons at the State Fair and hosting top ten teams in Austin. Many didn’t contribute to the 5-7 debacle but they’ve listened to people wonder whether the Longhorns are still stuck in a cyclical rut. A demolition of an SEC opponent and a three-week conference gauntlet present real estate to fade or shine. For athletes between the ages of 18 and 22, those extremes aren’t so far apart.