December 2, 2008

The Fix: Anger, angst and a lot to be proud of


Before he turned his players loose for a week of conditioning and preparing for finals next week, Mack Brown encouraged his players to be angry, to vent, to feel sad, disappointed and frustrated.

But he also told them to be proud and to be ready.

If Missouri was to somehow pull the upset this weekend against Oklahoma, there's a good chance the Lunchpail Longhorns will be packing their Thermoses for the BCS national title game. If not, it's most likely a trip to the Fiesta Bowl for a game against Ohio State.

CHIP ON THE SHOULDER

And if chips on shoulders emerge from losing last weekend's popularity contest to OU for a trip to the Big 12 title game, so be it.

"Hopefully, they'll come out of this ready to pound someone," said a source inside the football program.

Texas coaches, players and fans were sure ready to pound someone Sunday night.

NOT AGAIN

Finding out Oklahoma was going to its seventh Big 12 title game in 10 seasons under Bob Stoops was tough enough. Then, Stoops held a press conference touting his team's accomplishments sprinkled with a few jabs at Mack Brown and Texas.

Stoops talked about how he was invited to conduct an interview during Texas' game against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving, but didn't do it because, "I didn't think it was right." (A shot at Brown for doing an interview during OU's game with Oklahoma State.)

About the 45-35 banner flown over Boone Pickens Stadium before the OU-Oklahoma State game, Stoops said he should have flown banners reading 39-33 and 65-21. The testiness in Stoops' voice sounded a touch defensive, like someone who knew he had gotten away with one.

INCREASING THE BAD BLOOD

Needless to say, if Stoops wanted to make sure that every last drop of blood between the two schools was bad, he did it. If it's possible for the Red River Shootout to get any bigger, more heated or hated, it just did.

But Brown was quick to remind his troops that any anger needs to be converted into motivation.

"It is what it is," Brown said. "We don't like it, we don't agree with it or think it's fair, but, like anything else, we'll handle it and move forward."

Players were angry. But they have responded to adversity all year. Whether it was being down twice by 11 points to Oklahoma or being down twice by 19 points to Texas Tech. Texas battled back.

"It's very unfortunate for us that two teams we beat are playing in the Big 12 Championship, but that's the way it works," said senior receiver Quan Cosby. "We have to stay positive, and I think that's what the older guys and leaders on the team are doing for the younger guys."

FINISH THE SEASON RIGHT

Added senior defensive end Brian Orakpo, a finalist for the Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Hendricks awards: "I've just been telling the guys to keep their heads up. We have a lot to play for. We'll use this as motivation. We still want to prove to everyone that we're the best team in the country. It's really important to us that we play well in the bowl game because we want to finish this season off right."

Orakpo called this is his favorite season at Texas.

"There were a lot of people saying that we weren't going to be that good," Orakpo said. "A lot of people doubted us. But, we played great this season. We were consistent each and every week. We worked hard, played hard and acted right during the year. The word I would use to describe it is phenomenal."

MCCOY IS THE MAN

Colt McCoy seemed to do everything he could against Texas A&M to remind Heisman Trophy voters why he is deserving except clean up Royal-Memorial Stadium afterward.

Now, OU quarterback Sam Bradford, now apparently sporting torn ligaments in his left (non-throwing hand), gets another week to show off for Heisman voters. Ballots are not due until 5 p.m. EST on Dec. 10. So many voters will undoubtedly wait to see Bradford's performance before sending it off.

Of course, McCoy is focused squarely on his team.

"There is a lot left out there to play for and crazy things happen all the time in college football so who
knows where we'll end up," McCoy said. "We'll stay focused and be ready to finish this season strong, especially for our seniors. Once we know where we're going, we'll get ourselves prepared to play our best game of the season."

AFTER THE FACT

Brown said he supports a change to the Big 12's tiebreaker system to one that mirrors the SEC and ACC. In those leagues, if there's a three-way tie, the bottom team by BCS ranking is eliminated and the top two teams go head-to-head. In that scenario, Texas would be going to Kansas City this Saturday for the Big 12 title game.

Because there had never been a three-way tie since the Big 12 adopted its tiebreaker in 1998, any amendments to the rule will be too little, too late.

"I'm really disappointed for our kids that two teams we beat this season will be playing for the Big 12 championship," Brown said. "I'll try to explain it to them, but most importantly, my message will be that you've done enough to put yourself in position to play for the conference championship, you had a
great season and there still is a lot out there for you to play for."


THREE THINGS …

… THAT GOT BETTER

1. Defense -
Sergio Kindle, Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton were everywhere. So were Earl Thomas and Roddrick Muckelroy. To hold Texas A&M to minus-24 yards rushing, record six sacks and hold a second straight opponent to less than 10 points shows just how well this defense is playing. The Longhorns' under Will Muschamp are playing their best defense of the year right now, which makes it all the more disappointing for UT not to be in the Big 12 title game to keep bringing the pain.

2. Colt McCoy - This kid loves the big stage. He knew what was on the line for Texas and he provided a Heisman Trophy moment - 60 of them (OK, 50 of them since he came out early in the fourth quarter). But when the running game wasn't there with the backs, McCoy took over with his legs. Of course, he was his usual self in the passing game, completing 82 percent of his passes (23 of 28 for 311 yards and two touchdowns).


3. Brandon Collins - You can see Collins' confidence growing. McCoy is also gaining confidence in him, and Collins was a huge part of the offense early, when the game was on the line. Collins had a 13-yard catch on third-and-9 in the first quarter, and his 20-yard TD pass in the second quarter putting Texas up 14-0 came on third-and-8. Collins finished with six catches for 103 yards. His next step is to have a game like that on the road.

… THAT STAYED THE SAME (OR GOT BETTER)

1. Third-down conversions -
Give Colt McCoy a ton of credit for Texas being second nationally in third-down conversions this season (89 of 156, 57.1 percent) behind only Tulsa (59.0 percent). McCoy and the Texas offense put on a third-down clinic against Texas A&M, converting 14 of 17 times. And that was without much help from a designed running game with the backs. It was McCoy buying time, finding receivers or running himself. Eight times McCoy faced third-and-6 or more and converted, including two third-and-8s, two third-and-9s and two third-and-11s.

2. John Chiles - Chiles came in and had success in the fourth quarter, including a 9-yard pass to Montre Webber on third-and-7. Chiles also ran for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the A&M 2. It wasn't earth-shattering, but it was a step in a positive direction.

3. Youth movement - In addition to sophomore Brandon Collins having a big day, red shirt freshman Malcolm Williams caught a 13-yard pass on third-and-7 in the second quarter. Freshman Aaron Williams blocked his third punt of the season. Like the other two, it was deflection (next step, a complete block). Sophomore Sam Acho recorded this third sack of the season. Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas also helped shut down A&M.

… GOT WORSE

1. Rush offense -
It's broken record time folks. Through the first three quarters, no back for UT averaged 4 yards per carry against Texas A&M, which had the nation's 115th-ranked rush defense (of 118 teams), giving up 219.6 yards per game on the ground. Foswhitt Whittaker had 10 carries for 35 yards (3.5 ypc), and Vondrell McGee had 10 carries for 32 yards (3.2 ypc). It wasn't until garbage time that Cody Johnson broke loose for 102 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns. UT's hulking offensive line is excellent in pass protection but is totally inconsistent with its steps in zone blocking, allowing penetration by the defense and leaving no room to run.

2. Field goal kicking - One of the enigmatic position battles this season has been kicking field goals. Ryan Bailey missed a 36-yard field goal in the second quarter against A&M, and was replaced by Hunter Lawrence. Bailey had replaced Lawrence after Lawrence missed twice against Baylor (from 44 and 20 yards). Lawrence opened the season 9-of-9 before missing twice against Baylor. Texas has only played two games settled by less than a touchdown - against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. UT didn't attempt a field goal against Okie State, and Lawrence was 2-of-2 at Tech (from 43 and 25 yards).

3. Forcing turnovers - Texas actually won the turnover battle with A&M 1-0. But this is a general gripe about the lack of turnovers produced by a team with such a strong pass rush. Texas finished the regular season +3 in turnovers. By comparison, Oklahoma is +20. The obvious explanation is Texas' young secondary. As those young safeties keep getting more comfortable and baiting quarterbacks, they'll pick off more passes. But how do you explain Texas forcing 24 fumbles and jumping on only 10 of them? Bad luck. The same way explain Texas having 35 fumbles and losing only nine during its national title season in 2005. Bounce of the ball.


BOWL PROJECTIONS
These projections are based on conversations with bowl officials, who asked not to be identified.

TEXAS (11-1) -
If Oklahoma wins the Big 12 title game and goes to the BCS national title game, Texas is headed to the Fiesta Bowl to face Ohio State. If Missouri beats OU on Saturday, Texas is likely headed to the BCS national title game. (If USC beat UCLA and somehow jumped Texas in the BCS rankings - which is a super long shot - Texas could end up in the Sugar or Rose bowls.)

OKLAHOMA (11-1) - If OU wins the Big 12 title game, its headed to the BCS national title game. If the Sooners, lose, it's the Holiday Bowl against Oregon.

TEXAS TECH (11-1) - Is headed to the Cotton Bowl against Ole Miss.

OKLAHOMA STATE (9-3) - If OU beats Missouri, Oklahoma State is headed to the Holiday Bowl against Oregon. If OU loses to Mizzou, Oklahoma State is headed to the Alamo Bowl against Northwestern.

MISSOURI (9-3) - If the Tigers beat Oklahoma, they are headed to the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. If they lose to OU, they are headed to the Alamo Bowl against Northwestern.

NEBRASKA (8-4) - The Cornhuskers' 57-yard field goal to beat Colorado with 1:43 left definitely hurt Texas in the BCS computers but helped ensure the Big Red's trip to the Gator Bowl against Florida State.

KANSAS (7-5) - The Jayhawks are headed to the Insight Bowl to face either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

COAST TO COAST

THE TOP FIVE

1. FLORIDA -
The Gators steamrolled Florida State in Tallahassee and have confidence flowing out of their earholes.

2. TEXAS - The Longhorns should be in the Big 12 title game with a chance to earn the right to play for it all. UT might be playing the best defense of anyone right now.

3. OKLAHOMA - The Sooners can talk all they want about their high-powered offense, but their defense is anything but.

4. ALABAMA - The Tide beat up on a deflated Auburn team, but might just have enough defense to make it interesting Saturday against Florida

5. USC - The Trojans can backdoor their way to a Pac-10 championship with a win against sputtering UCLA Saturday. The Pac-10 just blows.


CHIP'S PICKS

USC (-33) at UCLA -
USC 38, UCLA 14

BOSTON COLLEGE (-1) vs. VIRGINIA TECH - Boston College 24, Virginia Tech 21

ALABAMA vs. FLORIDA (-9.5) - Florida 28, Alabama 17

OKLAHOMA (-17) vs. MISSOURI - Oklahoma 38, Missouri 31


ONE FINAL THOUGHT

If someone said before the season this Texas team was going to finish the year 11-1 with a chance to go to the BCS national title game or the Fiesta Bowl, most every Longhorn fan would have taken that. So amidst all the angst and anger over Bob Stoops and the Sooners getting the BCS love - yet again - remember that and be proud of one hell of a year so far.

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