Football

Standard of Execution

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

real return.