For Texas, the future is now. Coach Mack Brown frequently
points to 2013 as when the key ingredients will be in place for Texas to return to
college football’s elite. The Longhorns’
spirited 31-27 Alamo Bowl comeback against No. 13 Oregon State should be a
springboard toward greater heights if coaches can iron out a few glaring
A glass half-empty perspective is that this was a
senior-laden triumph: the game’s two MVPs (defensive end Alex Okafor, receiver
Marquise Goodwin) have completed their eligibility, as did safety Kenny Vaccaro
following what was, arguably, his top outing of the year. Yet 17 starters return from Saturday’s game
after twice erasing a double-digit deficit.
The Horns played 16 true freshmen in 2012, tied with TCU as the most in
However, another 8-5 campaign on the heels of a three-game
losing skid would have signaled that the program had fallen and can’t get up
under Brown’s watch. But the Instagram,
following the bowl win, is that Texas football is headed in the right direction
and will likely open the 2013 season on the cusp of Top 10 status.
The program’s biggest challenge has to do with an offensive
line that struggled to run-block all season.
The group generally gave quarterback David Ash ample time in the pocket
Saturday but will keep Texas’ elite running backs bottled-up until it can
consistently pile-drive. Save for
Goodwin’s 64-yard touchdown run off the second-quarter reverse, Texas’ ground
game managed just 53 yards on 30 carries.
The closest Texas came to a sustained running game was when Ash
scrambled seven times for 35 yards.
Credit offensive coordinator Major Applewhite for dialing-up
quarterback draws and for going up-tempo in the second half. It gassed the Beavers and allowed Ash to play
more instinctively. The rub on Ash is that the sophomore is hesitant in
decision-making, and Applewhite has vowed to simplify the passing game this
It was a tale of two halves for Ash, who has yet to receive
Mack Brown’s unqualified endorsement. But the game’s final 30 minutes was HUGE
for the soft-spoken, scripture-quoting signal caller who brought much needed
fire-and-brimstone to a backsliding offense.
His scrambling, 15-yard touchdown toss to Jonathan Gray midway through
the fourth quarter was one of the top two completions of Ash’s career (the
other is his game-saving, fourth-down completion to tight end D.J. Grant at
Oklahoma State in September).
Just as important on Saturday, Ash displayed the kind of fist-pumping,
backslapping, demonstrative presence that we’ve not seen from a Texas quarterback
since Colt McCoy was helped off the field three years ago in the BCS National
Incredibly, the statistically-worst defense in program
history sealed the deal with its Alamo Bowl record 10th sack while
limiting Oregon State to less than 90 yards of total offense in the second
half. The defense also put Texas in
prime real estate by forcing a couple of first-quarter turnovers. It went a long way toward taking some of the
heat off embattled coordinator Manny Diaz.
“It will be very important for us to understand that we, by
no means, have fixed all of our issues and we have not arrived,” said Diaz.
“We’ve talked about this being a step leading into what is a very, very
important offseason for this program. It’s going to feel better coming off this
bowl game, but the fact that we battled and won a very close ballgame doesn’t
change the fact that this football team is going to have to grind to get to
where it wants to go.”
Texas’ young linebackers showed flashes Saturday while Peter
Jinkens’ star is clearly on the rise. The Achilles Heel remains at defensive
tackle. The group has difficulty shedding blocks and remains vulnerable up the
middle against the run and inside screens, but defensive tackle Malcolm Brown
should be a force in 2013 during his second year in the system. Longhorn cornerbacks were inconsistent this
season, but overlooked in Saturday’s win was the masterful day at the office
enjoyed by the UT secondary. Beaver receivers
Brandon Cook and Markus Wheaton entered bowl season averaging nearly 200 yards
per game but were held to just 68 total yards Saturday.
Okafor notched one of his Alamo Bowl-record 4.5 sacks when
he and counterpart Cedric Reed threw quarterback Cody Vaz for a six-yard loss on
third down to set up Ash’s game-winning touchdown toss to Goodwin. But the most
critical defensive series was when it forced a three-and-out following Texas’
ill-fated attempt at a fake punt and OSU looking to build on a 10-point lead
with 12:22 remaining.
It’s difficult to quantify the importance of a bowl win
heading into the off-season, particularly since Texas twice came from behind to
upend its highest ranked opponent in three seasons. Numerically, the ninth win of the season will
only go so far with a program expected to win at least 11 every year. The biggest differences, however, are the
intangibles within a program that clearly has the talent to win now.
Call it mindset. Call it attitude. Call it swag. But Texas’ newest play caller calls it as he
“It’s not about the Xs and Os,” Applewhite said. “It’s about the culture of our program and
demanding more of our guys, more of our coaches, our strength coaches, our
trainers, just getting our guys tougher. That’s where we’re going to improve as
a ball club. You can call any play you want. We’ve got to be uncomfortable
(during the offseason) as coaches, uncomfortable as players because that’s
where you find your largest growth. These next eight or nine months are going
to be vital for us. The good thing is that these young guys – you can preach
that to them all you want – but maybe over the course of their freshmen and
sophomore years, maybe now it’s starting to sink in.”
And, maybe, it will make all the difference as Texas trends
back toward the top.