When perception fails to match reality, two options remain. The first, the one that the Texas Longhorns certainly would have selected in 2010 is to fold. Preparation didn’t work, the product requires an overhaul and sans any charismatic leadership, it’s easier to look toward a life away from football, mornings spent golfing and tailgating or the riches of the NFL depending on skill level. The second, the choice Texas attempted to push for in 2011 and has readily embraced in 2012 is to ignore perception and create a new reality.
That’s where the Longhorns are as an October Big 12 slate beckons with a shoddy defense and a rising star of a quarterback.
Re-read any college football preview from the summer and the view of Texas seemed repetitive. Older, tested secondary, two future first-rounders at defensive end, athleticism at linebacker and a multitude of selections at defensive tackle. It wasn’t a question of whether Manny Diaz’s defense could carry the team, it was how heavy the burden.
Four games and four wins into this season, little has changed in the lineup. The reality on the field though is this isn’t an elite unit. Joseph Randle (25 carried, 199 yards, 2 touchdowns) led an Oklahoma State Cowboys rushing attack that forced 275 yards on a defense that wanted to be mentioned among the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers. Worse, the other portion of the 576 total yards came through the air via J.W. Walsh, redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start.
Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken rarely struggle implementing a scoring game plan but to do it with the guy who finished second in the Oklahoma State quarterback competition (and probably sported a chip on his shoulder considering the previous Texas staff chose to recruit David Ash rather than him) should sting the Texas defensive coordinator.
Judging by his comments during a press conference today, they haven’t. Diaz still believes those ails can be fixed in a span of days, never mind the time wasted through the summer, spring and early fall. Thankfully, the only punishment capable of instilling some sort of accountability is going to be utilized against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Adrian Phillips is no longer the presumed starter at one of the safety spots. Instead, Mykelle Thompson and Josh Turner share the indecisive “co-“ role. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is slated to return and his insertion can’t be understated given Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond’s issues stopping the run and covering in space.
Explosive plays were nearly a death blow to Texas in Stillwater and Geno Smith will surely accept the knife if the opportunity presents itself in Austin. The Longhorns aren’t a hysteric SEC defense though with the Georgia Bulldogs climbing in the polls and allowing 44 points in a conference victory this weekend, do they need to be?
On the flip side, in fewer words, David Ash assumed the throne. Like Vince Young and Colt McCoy before him, the Belton product overcame a spotty performance from his defense to simply outscore an opponent. There will be afternoons when Ash needs them to force turnovers but unlike 2011, those games aren’t happening weekly. Ash is confident, poised and available to execute the entirety of Bryan Harsin’s playbook with aplomb.
The Big 12 schedule, post October 6th, provides Texas an opening to BCS contention. Before the season, even the brightest of optimists believed that scenario required an above-average year at quarterback and a stellar season from the defense.
Now, just four games into 2012, the adjectives are reversed and the possibility hinging more on Manny Diaz’s unit to carry some, any of the burden or risk another summer of “are they back” blurbs.