AUSTIN — “Wake up,” said Charlie Strong as he good humored Tyrone Swoopes during Monday’s weekly press luncheon on the UT campus, but then noticed that his starting QB may have been atypically demure. Swoopes’ body language quickly prompted Strong to inquire, “What’s wrong?” The conversation remained private but then, one after another, high-profile players candidly assessed the one thing that is still wrong with the Texas football program.
It’s neither a lack of personnel nor preparation, they said. It has nothing to do with physical toughness, nor work ethic, nor X’s and O’s. It’s not the attrition that has removed nearly a dozen scholarship players from the roster. No, it primarily has to do with this:
The team, by and large, no longer expects to win, players said. It does not have the confidence, the attitude, the swag, or as Quandre Diggs put it, the “dog in ’em” to put it all together. That’s what happens when a team averages six losses during the past 4.5 seasons.
Said Diggs: “I expect to go out and win, but I don’t think all the guys expect to go out and win. Guys are young, but that’s no excuse. I had that mentality my freshman year, but I guess everybody don’t have that dog in ‘em.”
If it takes a ‘dog’ to know a ‘dog’, then Diggs has found a kindred spirit in Malcom Brown (“That’s a dog right there”). Same applies to former backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro. According to Diggs, ‘dog’ has to do with the kind of brazen, chip-on-the-shoulder demeanor that is largely innate.
“Some people are just born with it,” he said. “I’m born with it. I’m born different than other people.”
A winning attitude cannot necessarily be taught, but it can be contagious. Winning is the cure-all, according to WR John Harris.
“I’m not saying that we’ve got used to losing because that’s not where we’re going,” said Harris. “If we can just get on a roll and score some points, our defense is playing great, we can get out of that. We can get these younger guys moving forward and teach them how to win football games and get this reputation of Texas losing all the time out of the way.”
It’s something that RB Malcolm Brown tried to get out of the way during his pre-Baylor pep talk. Although high school and collegiate ball are worlds apart, there still must be some carry-over from players who hail from championship-= caliber prep programs, he believes.
“When I was in high school, I never went into a game thinking we were going to lose,” Brown said. “There wasn’t a game where I didn’t think we weren’t going to smash the other team. I told the team last week that we needed to get that type of confidence.”
Lack of ‘confidence’ may currently be the biggest impediment for Swoopes. He concurred with co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s assessment that he played “nervous’ in Saturday’s loss to Baylor.
“I got hit a couple of times and that made me nervous,” Swoopes said. “(Watson) told me that’s part of playing quarterback. You’re going to get hit.”
The 99-yard drive to end the first half is evidence of an offense that can get into a rhythm “from everybody not really thinking about what was going on; we were just out there playing,” Swoopes said. The second fumble inside the 5-yard line in as many weeks, however, is evidence of Swoopes thinking too much during pre-snap.
“Being close to the goal line and knowing we’re about to score, I guess both of us (freshman C Jake Raulerson) get anxious and didn’t do what we need to do to execute the exchange,” Swoopes conceded. “I think it’s more of that than anything else.”
Strong’s staff has players more prepared each week than previous Texas coaches. As such, preparation is not the problem, he believes. It still comes to ‘dog’, he said. Or, in this case, dog gone.
“If you had dogs, if you had that mentality, you go out there and expect to win. I think that’s No. 1. I honestly think that’s the biggest thing right now, in my eyes. When I don’t see it, it disappoints me. I’m going to do the best I can to get those guys going. If you’re a man, you’re going to go out and try to beat the other man. I have too much pride to let guys score touchdowns all over me. That’s totally out of my character. I want guys to have the mentality that it’s one-on-one, and I’m not gonna let that guy beat me. That’s your livelihood. You’ve got to live with that. Some guys need to figure out what they’re playing for and who they’re playing for.”
Otherwise, they will continue to play for a once-proud program.