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October 13, 2012

How does a loss like this happen?

Texas suffered yet another humiliating loss at the hands of Oklahoma, and it came in a game in which the two teams were thought to be evenly matched. How does this keep happening? That's one of the five questions we address following the 63-21 loss.

Five questions following the game
1. How does a game like this even happen?

Before we get into answering some questions, a warning ... don't read this report if you can't handle negativity. There's no silver lining to be found in Saturday's performance.

Now, to the question ... how in the hell can Texas be so outclassed by Oklahoma in a game that most thought would be close?

It really is unfathomable. Every team has days when things just don't go their way. We've all played in games or watched games when nothing seemed to go right. But I'm not sure I've ever seen a team get dominated as bad as Texas was in the first half. Ever.

To turn in that kind of performance against your arch rival, in a game that both teams desperately needed, is inexcusable. The fact that it happened against a team that, on paper, appeared to be evenly matched, makes it even harder to comprehend.

This one is on players and coaches alike, but it has to start at the top. In his 15 years at Texas, Mack Brown has now been the man in charge of some of the most one-sided losses in the history of the series. Mack owns a 6-9 record overall against OU - not horrible, but certainly not good - and he's been on the wrong end of the following scores: 63-14, 65-13, 12-0, 55-17 and 63-21.

Oklahoma was so much better than Texas in every single area on Saturday, and let's be honest - this is an OU team that hasn't exactly set the world on fire with its play in 2012. The Sooners dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, they forced turnovers, they were tougher, they were better prepared, they were ... everything.

We could go on and on with the ways Texas was terrible in this game, but it's about the bigger picture. This was yet another humiliating loss on the biggest stage on which the Texas program plays. Efforts like the one Texas turned in on Saturday should never happen at a program like UT, from scheme, to effort, to attitude, to execution. It's inexcusable and you have to wonder if Mack Brown will ever find the answer to the question of why these types of blowouts continue to pop up against Oklahoma.
2. How much does the apparent loss of David Ash hurt this team?

There's no official word just yet on the severity of David Ash's injury, but it certainly didn't look good to the naked eye.

Ash was taken to the locker room in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a severe left wrist injury. Based on the tennis ball-sized lump that immediately flared up, it doesn't look like Ash is coming back any time soon.

Assuming he's out, what does that mean for the Texas offense? Is all hope lost?

Maybe not. Case McCoy had very little pressure in stepping in for Ash in a game that was long gone at that point, but McCoy did play very well while he was in the game. McCoy completed 5-of-8 passes for 102 yards and 2 TDs, and he made a couple really nice throws in mop-up duty.

We'll see if McCoy can carry that over into games against starting defenses when there's actually something to play for, but the coaches have to like what he showed on Saturday.

If Ash is out for an extended period of time, this could be a situation where Texas really benefits from the pre-season quarterback competition. Ash obviously won the job for a reason and he's played well, but it should benefit McCoy that he got so many meaningful snaps in fall camp.

Some fans will argue that the ship is already sunk after Saturday's performance. I get that. But I wouldn't throw in the towel solely based on Ash's injury. We'll see how McCoy holds up in what will likely be extended action, but he played well enough in relief action that there might not be a huge drop-off.
3. Just how bad was it in the first half?

There wasn't a single area of the game where Texas graded out with a passing performance. It was a failure across the board.

The Oklahoma offensive line abused Texas up front, both against the run and the pass. David Ash was beaten and bruised just about every time he dropped back to pass. The Texas backs had nowhere to run, with the Longhorns managing -4 rushing yards in the first half.

The Sooners took a 36-2 lead into the break and outgained Texas 258-71 in the first two quarters. Texas gave up a 95-yard touchdown run. Texas gave up a 73-yard reception to OU fullback Trey Millard (how bad was it for UT? Millard outgained the entire Texas offense 164-150 through the three and a half quarters of the game ... yes folks, a fullback).

The Longhorn tight ends dropped passes that would have moved the chains. David Ash was off-target. When Texas needed 5 yards, it completed a pass behind the sticks and came up two yards short.

Texas went three-and-out on its first four possessions. By the time the Longhorns got a first down, they were already losing 27-2. After picking up their initial first down of the game midway through the second quarter, Ash threw an interception on the very next play. Texas wouldn't get another first down until the closing seconds of the half (coincidentally, the pass after that first down was also intercepted).

Texas gave up a safety when Joe Bergeron couldn't get out of the end zone. In fact, he couldn't even get close to getting out of the end zone due to OU's dominance up front.

The tackling on defense was atrocious yet again, including an open-field whiff my Mykkele Thompson on the 95-yard TD run that was so bad it took him and Carrington Byndom out of the play.

One of Texas' few productive plays was a first-down pass that covered 7 yards. Texas then proceeded to gain 2 yards on second down and no gain on 3rd-and-1, forcing the Longhorns to punt on fourth down.

It was a comedy of errors for Texas and even when the Longhorns weren't making mistakes and actually played OU straight up, they were completely outclassed. It was one of the worst halves of football these eyes have ever witnessed.
4. Why does Oklahoma seem to be better prepared in this match-up?

This is a question that we really can't clearly answer, but it has to be addressed.

For whatever reason, Oklahoma always seems to come out charged up for this game and in attack mode. Texas, on the other hand, seems like it's trying to absorb OU's initial surge and then hoping to respond. The problem is, by the time Texas has a chance to counterpunch, the game is all but over.

Oklahoma has scored first in the last six meeting and the Sooners have put the first points on the board in 10 of the last 13 meetings. It's not just a random coincidence that the Sooners start quicker and generally seem more prepared for this game, both mentally and physically.

There have been games in the past, when Oklahoma was clearly the better team coming into the game, that Mack Brown has admitted that Texas played it conservative with hopes of keeping the game close and giving Texas a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. That's not exactly a cut-throat mentality and it seems to trickle down to the players.

OU looks more motivated, more energized and more prepared when it first takes the field, and the Sooners have used that energy to race out to big leads from the opening gun.

I'm not sure how Texas changes that culture. I'm not sure it can be changed. But it's something Mack Brown has to look at, and he has to find a way to change the mental make-up of the team as it relates to this game. It needs to start at the top. The ultra-conservative game plans and the mindset of basically playing not to lose aren't getting it done and they're helping bring some embarrassing results.
5. where does the team go from here?

Mack's been able to get Texas out of these types of Red River ruts before, but this one feels different. Texas came into this season, and this game, with high expectations. Mack Brown himself has said repeatedly that Texas is "close" to getting back to national prominence. Saturday's effort was a big step backward for the program and it's going to be tougher than ever to get the team back on track.

Baylor will head to Austin next week with its high-powered offense. After the way Texas played on Saturday, and with the way Baylor has played in its first four games (the Bears play TCU tonight, looking to improve to 5-1), it's entirely possible that Texas won't be able to keep up with the Bears. Texas will have to play very well to avoid a three-game losing streak.

Looking at the rest of the schedule, there's only one game that looks like a sure-fire win (at Kansas). The rest of them now look like they're toss-ups at best.

The Longhorns have to be able to put this game behind them and basically forget it ever happened. I'm just not sure how a team can do that after getting whipped in every phase of the game by its arch rival for the second year in a row.

This program is at a bit of a crossroads. If Texas bounces back and plays well over the second half of the season, Mack Brown can continue to sell that Texas is "close" to getting back to where it needs to be. If the Longhorns struggle down the stretch, which now seems possible, it raises serious questions about the overall direction of the program. Truth be told, those questions are already being asked by the Texas fan base after Saturday's humiliating performance. The pulse of Longhorn nation is much different after this game than its ever been before during Mack's tenure.
Bonus: Will this game impact recruiting?

This individual game has never really affected recruiting before on a large scale, and Texas has taken some pretty bad beatings from OU on Mack Brown's watch. The guess here is that we'll see similar results this year. Prospects aren't going to jump off the Texas ship based on the result of one game. Most of the players that Texas has committed grew up dreaming of playing at UT, and they'll want to step up to the challenge of getting things turned around.

But if you look at the big picture, and take the last two-and-a-half years in their entirety, it could start catching up with Texas. The Longhorns aren't the big boy on the block any more. Other schools are recruiting the state of Texas more aggressively than they ever have before and like it or not, a program like A&M is on the upswing while Texas took a big step back on Saturday and now looks like a team that will find itself in some tough games every single week for the remainder of the year (aside from Kansas).

Texas' recruiting momentum has stalled some this year, as evident with decommitments from guys like Ricky Seals-Jones and Daeshon Hall, plus at least one Longhorn commitment (A'Shawn Robinson) taking other visits. The Horns have lost one key head-to-head recruiting battle with Baylor and they're in a fight with the Bears for another top remaining target. That would have never happened three years ago. This one game won't directly impact recruiting, but the overall body of work that Texas has put on the field the past couple years is allowing other programs to close the gap on the recruiting front.



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