It is BYU 41-Texas 7. And it is “an embarrassment,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said Saturday.
It is 15 (former and current) Longhorn scholarship players that were unavailable Saturday. It is a gutted offensive line with three new starters. It is an unpolished QB making his collegiate debut. It all coalesced in a nightmarish third quarter that saw BYU break open a tight game with 28 unanswered points. In the end, it is Texas’ worst home loss since Route 66 to UCLA in 1997.
“It’s an embarrassment to this program,” Strong said, “and it’s an embarrassment to this university.
John Harris’ 13-yard TD reception with 29 seconds left in the third quarter avoided Texas’ first home shutout since 1976.
The primary talking-point around the 40 Acres since Strong’s hire last January has been the ‘culture change’ within the program. But the times, they aren’t-a-changin’ fast enough for a fan base that must anticipate a fifth consecutive season of mediocrity and irrelevance. The only ‘T’ that got ‘put back in Texas’ Saturday was ‘turnovers’. There were four of them that led to 17 points.
“(The turnovers were) definitely out of character,” said Malcolm Brown.
Then again, BYU had all the points it needed three minutes into the second half.
For the record, I am on board with Strong’s approach (which is not so much a ‘tough love’ tactic as it is requiring players to abide by the basic expressions of human decency asked of any of us). I don’t doubt that, in a year or two, Strong will duplicate in Austin his recent success at Louisville. But is there anything upon which Texas can hang its hat this season?
About the only thing you can immediately point to is a more fundamentally sound defense that never lost heart; it only lost its breath from being on the field for more than 34 minutes. It generated six sacks, and that’s six more than in last season’s loss at Provo. Yet, you get the impression that Strong is more peeved at his defense than any other phase of the game.
“We didn’t go stop them on defense,” Strong said of BYU’s third-quarter surge (irrespective of his team’s turnovers and poor field position). “They hit the long run on us. It was an easy score. We can’t do that. We can’t allow that to happen.”
If the defense got winded in the third, well, Strong ain’t buying it.
“(Fatigue) has nothing to do with it. It’s just knowing defense. When you get them to third down, you have to get off the field.”
Still, the defense is at least solid enough to give the offense a chance. Consider this: if the offensive line can grow-up in a hurry, and if QB Tyrone Swoopes can continue to take baby-steps, and if players can stay on the right side of Strong’s ‘core values’, and if Texas remains relatively injury free, then the 2014 Longhorns have a chance to (wait for it!) go 6-6 and qualify for the post-season.
Texas will be underdogs in three of its next four games. Following the brutal opening stretch, it will require finding a way to steal a couple of road wins at venues like Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Right now, it’s hard to find five more W’s.
That’s just where this program is just five years after playing for a national title. It is what it is.
During pregame warm-ups, coaches sensed the team was not mentally prepared to play.
Said Strong: “I called the team over and told them we’re not ready to play. Our focus isn’t there. We’re getting ready to play a really good football team and we’re going to get embarrassed if we don’t watch out. And that’s what happened tonight.”
Offensive coach Shawn Watson noticed it, too, and gave the Horns an earful before taking the field.
“I told them before we even went out that we’re not ready to play,” Watson said. “This is a good football team. We’re probably going to go out here and get embarrassed.”
Surprisingly, one of the few offensive players ready to play (relatively speaking) was Swoopes.
“I was very confident,” Swoopes said. “I was confident in our preparation and the team looked good in practice all week.”
Former OU coach Barry Switzer likened Swoopes to Vince Young in a recent Tweet.
It’s enough to make you wonder if the Bootlegger’s Boy had been nipping at the jug, but Swoopes held his water during his first collegiate start. He completed 20-of-31 passes for 176 yards, including one TD and one INT. In short: Swoopes did not get Texas beat.
“Tyrone did a great job in his first start,” Watson said. “I saw a lot of things that we can build on. I’m really encouraged by what I saw in his play.”
Swoopes had more success rolling out than dropping back. I expected some zone read (even with the heightened risk of risk of another injury at QB). Texas also got away from the timing patterns that saw Swoopes complete 11-of-15 for 100 yards in the first half. Then again, the lousy field position to start the second half had something to do with that. I also expected some bubble screens to get the linebackers moving.
Fans screaming for more deep verticals fail to grasp that Texas does not have a long-ball receiver. Until Daje Johnson returns, no opposing DB need fear that a Longhorn receiver will run past him.
“For Tyrone to be a first-time starter and come out and play as well as he did was unbelievable,” Strong said.
Swoopes got little help from UT’s much-hyped backfield. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, of course, never got much push from the O-line, combining for just 81 yards is a losing formula in nearly every game left on the slate. Both are looking for their first 100-yard rushing game this season.
BYU got on the scoreboard first with a 21-yard Trevor Samson FG with 3:30 left in the opening frame. It capped an eight-play, 71-yard drive that also saw a holding penalty negate 66-yard Taysom Hill TD run. Swoopes completed nine of his first 10 attempts, but Harris fumbled at end of eight-yard completion to give BYU the ball at the Texas 49.
The Cougars mowed the chains on 4th-and-three from the 41 with a 3-yard Hill run, and again on 3rd-and-seven with Hill’s nine-yard completion. Senior LB Jordan Hicks put an end to the shenanigans with back-to-back TFL.
Gray’s fumble following a 6-yard run put BYU in prime real estate at the Texas 23. Shiro Davis and Steve Edmond combined for a 1-yard TFL on 1st-and-goal from the 10. Two snaps later, Davis lassoed Hill for a 4-yard sack to keep the Cougars out of the end zone. BYU settled for a 29-yard FG with 6:34 left in the half.
Texas picked up one first down, but BYU took over at its own eight following William Russ’ 43-yard punt. Longhorn safeties had played close to the LOS to provide run support but drifted back as BYU with 4:31 left until intermission. It gave receivers room to roam and allowed Hill to play pitch-and-catch. He completed five straight, three of them to WR Jordan Leslie. Texas called for time with 1:51 to give its gassed D-line a breather. Next play, Quandre Diggs highlight reel, over-the-shoulder INT in the back of the south end zone snuffed the drive and kept Texas in this one.
The Longhorns had not surrendered a TD during the first six quarters of the season, but the dam burst in the third quarter. That’s when the defense gave up four consecutive touchdowns, starting with Hill’s 30-yard TD run that saw him hurdle a diving Dylan Haines.
“When you give up 28 points in one quarter,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said, “you’re not ready to play.”
Meanwhile, Texas’ first two drives of the second half began at its own 11 and seven, respectively. BYU’s two opening series generated 130 yards; Texas managed minus-2. It set the tone for a miserable third-quarter and an second half that seemed to last an eternity.
Likewise, it may seem like it will take an eternity to fully effect the program’s so-called ‘culture change.’ For now, the big picture is the best place to look for a burnt orange silver lining.
“This will be a great game to see how we’re going to grow from it,” Strong concluded. “We’ll see from this game where we are and how well the leadership will step up and if the seniors can take leadership and go lead this team and finish the year out. It’s the second ballgame. We will have 10 to play.”