Over the past three seasons, the Texas
Longhorns have compiled a set of average records in a fashion that is
something other than average.
In 2010, the unranked Longhorns
beat No. 7 Nebraska in Lincoln before promptly losing at home to Iowa
State. UT only managed five wins that season, and two of
those were road victories at Nebraska and Texas Tech.
Games against Oklahoma come to mind as
well. This past season No. 15 Texas walked into the State Fair
and looked like a desperately out-matched Division III program. The Longhorns were even ranked higher the year before (No. 11) when
they lost 55-17 to the Sooners.
Hopes were raised earlier this season
after a surprising win at Texas Tech before the Horns turned around
and gave up 217 rushing yards to TCU (a TCU team that finished 8th
in the conference in rushing offense). Even in the Alamo Bowl the
Longhorns not only played better in the fourth quarter, but they looked
like an entirely different football team.
Sudden explosions such as the one we
saw late in San Antonio may be enough to beat an Oregon State team
without a quarterback, but the element that is most elusive to the
Texas Longhorns – and is most important for a return to national championship-level performance – is consistency.
Consistency is a word that get thrown
around a lot in football. But mostly it’s to comment on the surface
elements, the results of consistency (or, as in the above paragraphs,
the results of inconsistency). The root is a standard of execution
that the best have and the rest don’t.
The example that stands out to me came
from Alabama during the Tide’s crushing of Notre Dame and
collection of, yet another, BCS National Championship. Late in the
game, Alabama center Barrett Jones stood up and shoved his
quarterback, A.J. McCarron.
Like so… (gif via SBnation.com)
There were immediate questions from
commentators and critics were about what chemistry problem on the
team could have caused this. Jones dismissed the talk, telling ESPN
after the game: “We’re both perfectionists. He’s an emotional guy,
and we had a snap count difference. I was right … but whatever. It
doesn’t matter. We love each other and gave each other a big hug.
That’s just how we are, if you don’t know us.”
A snap count difference. Think about
that. They’re winning by 28. There’s seven minutes remaining in the
game. They could kneel on every play and still win. Actually they
could punt on every first down and still win their third national
championship in the last four years.
The thought to just relax and soak in
the moment did not occur to either. All that mattered was perfectly
executing the play.
The importance of the quarterback in
modern college football is undeniable from a schematic
standpoint. And from a leadership strandpoint that’s been the case since before leather helmets. But elevation of the position can
become elevation of the person. Jones showed that this is clearly
not an issue for the Crimson Tide.
The aggression did not emerge from a chemistry problem on the Tide roster. Nick Saban has gotten a group 18 to
22-year-olds to buy in, completely, to the idea that every play must
be executed with perfection.
This column is, of course, unrelated to
this week’s rumors that Nick Saban would become the next coach of the
Texas Longhorns. …Ok, it’s kind of related. But this isn’t about
whether or not Saban will be coming to Austin any time soon. Regardless of who is coaching the
Longhorns, this level of execution is the standard that Texas needs if
it is going to return to national prominence. Otherwise it’ll be more
inexplicable conference losses and coaches scratching their heads and
saying, “We’ve just got to be more consistent.”
I’m not recommending that Dom Espinosa
start slapping David Ash around, but consistency begins by making
every play the most important of the game. Texas needs that level
of urgency and it’s been missing the past few years. Getting that back is the first step for a