Horns On the Road Again

Chris Hall. courtesy of TexasSports)
Chris Hall. courtesy of TexasSports)

By: Chris Hall

I always preferred away games to home games. Always. The experience meant so much more than playing at home (with a few exceptions). I’m not dissing Texas fans or Darrell K. Royal Stadium — those I dearly love. Although, we are known for leaving in the third quarter.

When a team travels, there’s so much involved: the itinerary, the downtime, the hotel, and the meals. Away games break up the monotonous ordinary; in a long season that’s something to be desired. One of the biggest highlights of those trips were the snacks (obviously). Nothing delights the heart of a large man like food.

The snacking would begin before boarding the bus Friday morning. Chick-fil-A would be setup in the field house before position meetings, ready to give us all the chicken biscuits and burritos we could eat. After position meetings, coach McWhorter would toss a bag of specialty fudge to each traveling offensive lineman. They were fondly known as “Hawg Treats” and homemade by Becky McWhorter (a.k.a Momma Hawg).

After arriving at the airport and boarding the plane, we would then find a sack lunch awaiting us in our seats. Probably an hour had passed since eating breakfast, but who’s counting? I’d thoroughly enjoy mine as soon as I sat down. Just before takeoff, Sally Brown and Jean Bryant would hand-deliver homemade cookies to the entire team. True story. During the flight, you guessed it, more snacks. The flight attendants had chips and candy bars of all kinds. (Or maybe the ice cream and candy were saved for the flight home, I don’t remember). We’d then eat from a made-to-order pasta bar for dinner that night.

In the midst of it all is downtime with your teammates. Not to mention, nice hotel rooms and beautiful destinations. My favorites were Laramie, Wyoming and Denver, Colorado (the Rocky Mountains), San Diego and Los Angeles, California (the Pacific Ocean). But the best part of away games is none of these things.

The best part of away games is the hostile environment.

It’s your team against 80,000, essentially. The exact number depends on how many people are in the stands. But the feeling is the same no matter the size: it’s your squad against the world. Champions embrace it and thrive in the midst of it. In my five years at Texas, we only lost three away games. (Four, if you count a certain bowl game against the Crimson Tide).

When Texas plays at Notre Dame on September 5th the situation will be the same. In some sense, they’ll just be playing 11 men in golden helmets. It doesn’t matter if it’s played in the parking lot or anywhere else. But at another angle, they’ll be playing the crowd, the momentum, and the past 100 years of Fighting Irish tradition. That’s what makes it fun. That’s what makes it a challenge. That’s college football.

Championship teams own it. Then they enjoy the spoils on the plane ride home.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Winning in a hostile environment is hard. Just ask the teams who play in Death Valley against LSU — at night. Or try beating the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on Thanksgiving Day. (I speak from experience).

For one, it’s hard to hear — that makes running an offense difficult. The first time I played center against OU was 2007. I started the game at right tackle, but rolled in at center one series just before the half. Colt McCoy called the play and said it was one-two. (That means I’m supposed to snap the ball on the second “hut”). But somehow I forgot whether it was one or two, and jogged to the line thinking I would just figure it out. (Note: how I ever thought that was a good idea is beyond me. Why didn’t I just ask somebody? I was the center, if anyone needed to know the snap count it was me.)

Colt went through his cadence as he always did. But when he got to his second “hut” (to his surprise) nothing happened. I froze. For some reason, I didn’t snap the ball. I wasn’t sure when to snap it so I didn’t. Colt immediately shouted “HUT! … HUT!!!” two more times as loud as he could, hoping I would finally initiate the play. The amazing thing: not a single offensive lineman was flagged for a false start.

Why? Nobody could hear what Colt was saying in the first place. He was shouting frantically for me to snap the ball. But it didn’t matter I was clueless of when to snap it anyways. Nobody could hear his cadence, not even the guards within three feet to our immediate left and right.

Yes, the Red River Rivalry is that loud. Yes, it occurs to me now I may have been concussed.

Notre Dame Stadium will be loud when Texas arrives. A heavy dose of hurry-up, if it’s effective, will help this young Longhorn offense adapt. In a true hurry-up, every play is on “first sound”. That means as soon as the quarterback is ready the play happens; every offensive player is expecting to move instantaneously. Thus, there’s no need to hear anything anyways, even if the environment allowed them too.

Another great thing about the hurry-up: there’s no time. It hinders the defense’s ability to adjust, plus there’s no time for a young offense to make stupid calls and bad reads. The playbook is reduced to sheer simplicity, because there’s only a few things an offense can do that quickly: max protect, inside and outside zone, play action, bubble screen and not much else. Sometimes the center won’t even “ID” who everyone should be working to. Every lineman will take a gap and work in the same direction in unison. It’s not dummy proof but you can’t get much closer. For an offensive line that may start two true freshmen, that’s a good thing.

Ultimately on the road, the less the Longhorns think the better. They need to be able to “just play ball” in South Bend. Their first test of the season is a stout one to say the least. But it may be one they always remember, too. There’s something about winning in a hostile environment, that makes the fight and pain of it all drastically worth it. Down to the snacks.