“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
– Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on the Pearl Harbor bombing, 1941
The flurry of emotions I felt Saturday night washed over me like rape allegations coming at Bill Cosby on Twitter. The first ones were self-effacingly sort of expected, then they kept coming and coming and coming until I thought they would never stop and I could no longer deal with their volume, frequency or level of intensity. Joy. Elation. Nervousness. Excitement. Hope. Frustration. Vindication. Sweet, sweet vindication.
And, strangely, anger. By the end of the game, I was not just annoyed; I was pissed. Genuinely, fist-clenchingly furious. I wasn’t mad over the outcome of the game (the Horns’ first home win over a ranked team since the Taft Administration) or even our miserly offensive output in the second half (with a huge lead and a mistake-prone quarterback, we’re naturally going to go conservative), but I found myself angry about … possibilities.
Where the hell has this defense been since 2005? We had the players to line up and hit people like this, but instead we stood on a table in the high school cafeteria and did the Manny while our classmates choreographed to the “Grease” soundtrack?
Watch the Tech game again. Why do you think they dropped so many passes? Sweaty palms? The side effects of venereal disease? Red Raiders’ (going by jersey color only) receivers were afraid – genuinely terrified – about being blown up by a linebacker corps and defensive secondary that was no longer grabbing jerseys but was hitting with ferocity and impunity. After Quandre Diggs laid out backup Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, we quickly went from Deion Sanders to Rod Woodson. And the other team immediately took notice.
Saturday night, West Virginia receivers were running out of bounds, sliding, and covering up in anticipation of being on the business end of Duke Thomas or Mykkele Thompson. The Mountaineers didn’t appear terrified like Tech the week before, but they were definitely cautious – and had their fair share of drops as well.
Then the anger returns. Why did we have to wait so long? Why couldn’t Mack Brown hire a real defensive coordinator? Why couldn’t we coach the players we had? Why has Jordan Hicks made more progress as a linebacker in three games this year than his previous three seasons combined?
It’s like I spent hours and hours at work on a project, miserably wrestling with new software, only to be told by the part-time, zit-faced, voice-changing intern that there’s a tab that does what I’d been trying to do for days with the click of a mouse.
What the hell, man? I’ve been on my hands and knees, lapping from the dogs’ water bowl when I could have had a V-8? I’ve been crawling, unsuccessfully begging Rosie O’Donnell to let me kiss the back of her hand when Ann Hathaway sat in the next room with a bottle of Dom, a slinky, black cocktail dress, Al Green on the stereo and a sign around her neck that said, “Come get me, Sailor”?
At any rate, I’m extremely proud of our team and Coach Strong and his staff. The West Virginia game was a huge win in terms of momentum, recruiting, and player development. Yeah, it would have been nice if Baylor and A&M had lost, but at some point you have to stop worrying about what the other guy doesn’t have and focus on what you do have.
Which is a well-coached, intense bunch of enforcers on defense. A reborn Cedric Reed with a chip on his shoulder and the taste of blood in the water. A man-child in defensive lineman Malcom Brown who is re-upping his draft status with every beaten double-team. A developing defensive two-deep that will soon be impervious to fatigue or injury. Two different goal line stands, one when the game was on the line, but the second, just as intense, just as cathartic, just as important to our coaches and, significantly, to our players, over a meaningless potential score at the end of the game.
Fantastic game, Coach. Congratulations on waking the sleeping giant. The numbness in our extremities is not a stroke or debilitating nerve disease; we just slept on them wrong. At first our hands will tingle as the blood flow starts again, then we’ll be able to make a fist, then … God help those poor receivers on crossing patterns.
And it only took nine years.
A 1986 graduate of the University of Texas, Jeff Conner has held many jobs in his life: husband, brother, uncle, son, oil field roustabout, short-order cook, sandblaster, irrigation pipe mover, musician, retail assistant manager, attorney-at-law, public school teacher, preacher, cartoonist and writer. While he does have a hot, young wife, Conner is neither as clever nor as good-looking as he believes himself to be. Jeff is currently teaching 8th grade math and Pre-A.P. algebra in Taylor, Texas, home of the Fighting Ducks. Conner’s regularly submitted commentary appears in InsideTexas.com and Inside Texas Magazine. The opinions presented do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inside Texas editorial staff.