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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Texas football in unfamiliar territory

In this Oct. 10, 2015, Texas head coach Charlie Strong talks with his team during warm-ups before an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Dallas.

In this Oct. 10, 2015, Texas head coach Charlie Strong talks with his team during warm-ups before an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Dallas.

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It’s a tough time for Texas football, which enters Saturday’s 7 p.m. home game against winless Kansas at 3-5 overall, 2-3 in Big 12 play and with a very un-Texas-like 39-33 record since the 2010 season that followed UT’s loss in the 2009 BCS national championship game.

To say the natives are getting restless would be an understatement, and second-year UT coach Charlie Strong, who is just 9-12 thus far at Texas, has been at the center of the storm.

This week, on the heels of a 24-0 loss at Iowa State last weekend — an embarrassing defeat that followed back-to-back impressive wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State — Strong and the Longhorns have been asked some tough questions about the state of the program. While 39 wins in what Kansas fans know as the post-Mark Mangino era might sound like a dream to those in Lawrence — the Jayhawks are just 12-56 since 2010 — it’s been more of a nightmare in Austin, and frustrations are starting to mount both inside and outside the program.

Freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, who hails from Mesquite, Texas, was asked this week if he thought the luster of the Longhorns’ brand was starting to wear off.

“Not at all,” said Jefferson, the No. 1-ranked LB in the 2015 class who chose UT over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, LSU and several other heavy hitters. “Like I said, it takes time, and that’s what it’s going to come down to, people who really want to buy in are going to buy in.”

Strong certainly is one of those guys. After a successful run at Louisville landed him the job at Texas, Strong has struggled to inject his culture and philosophy into the program that operated for 16 years under Mack Brown.

Built on defense, hard work, running the football and toughness, the Longhorns showed none of Strong’s staples in the first five weeks of the season but looked like the poster child for all of those traits in their upset of OU and dominant win over K-State.

Just as quickly as that showed up, however, it was gone. Asked if a team losing its identity that quickly after finding it was an indication that this UT team was mentally soft, Strong objected.

“I don’t think they’re soft at all,” he said. “You know, you have a group that (has) some toughness to them because that’s what this program will always be built on, just mental and physical toughness, and they have that.”

The players may but the fans might not. Especially with Texas basketball ushering in the exciting Shaka Smart era, it’s possible that, for the first time in a long, long time, fans of UT athletics will look to hoops to help them forget about their team’s struggles on the gridiron.

“I hope they don’t,” Strong said when asked if he thought the fans might check out. “Because at the end of the day, the players need their support, and they need them there to cheer them on. When the fans look at the number of losses, a lot of times it’s just human nature, you feel like, ‘I’ve got something else to do, why do I go watch them play.’ But we’ve still got games to be played and our fans have been unbelievable, and I feel like they will continue to support us and be there for us.”

Jefferson agreed and said the whole thing could be put back on track this weekend with a strong showing against the Jayhawks, who have not defeated Texas in the Big 12 era.

“The fans are going to show up,” Jefferson said. “Everybody is going to be supporting us. A lot of people are really upset. I’m sorry I don’t have an answer for you, but we’re just going to keep playing Texas football and try to get this team turned around.”

Comments

Don Everett 2 years, 1 month ago

Go to austin. Show all the hard work you have put in and give everything you have. That's all Jayhawk fans can ask for and expect. I believe in this team each and every week. That's why I drive 10 hours to every home game to support you with my season tickets. Keep working hard and it will pay off.

Brett McCabe 2 years, 1 month ago

Unless your name is Jim Harbaugh, it usually takes three years to truly change the culture of a program. By that time, the freshman class you inherited has spent 3 years with you and only one with the guy who recruited them. Even then, there tends to be some holdouts, but they are outnumbered by the guys you recruited.

There is ample room in this league for a Stanford-style tough team. Snyder started adopting this approach with the rise of Klein at QB. Strong could own this position in the league because he can get better players. I anticipate Texas will make a big jump next year if the Texas' alumni stay out of the way.

Jay Scott 2 years, 1 month ago

"Snyder started adopting this approach with the rise of Klein at QB"

Brett. Snyder has been at KSU for decades and had retired once before Klein came along. His culture, playing style and game management didn't change or begin with Klein. You couldn't have offered a more idiotic comparison.

Seriously. There must be some subject that you do understand. Knitting? Crossword? Interpretive dance? Baking? Metallurgy? After yesterday's absurd comments on Diallo and recruiting, and this...sports isn't it.

Brett McCabe 2 years, 1 month ago

Three things:

First, I'm actually good at all the things you list, though interpretive dance is my favorite.

Second, how's Maine?

Third, Chad May 93/94 statistics: 687 attempts, 5253 yards (then a record, passed by Michael Bishop). Collin Klein 11/12 statistics 553 attempts, 4410 yards. Klein's rushing? 511 attempts for 2.031 yards. Crazy rushing yards for a QB.

Facts stink, I know.

Anyone who has paid attention to Big 8/12 football knows that Snyder has been very flexible in his approach to offense, and anyone who watched Klein play for Snyder saw an even bigger focus on ball-control and toughness.

All coaches have offensive and defensive DNA's, but great coaches like Snyder are able to scan the landscape and create revised versions of their approaches that work with the times and with the athletes they have available.

Jay Scott 2 years, 1 month ago

Most of what you said made no sense. Maine? What was that? I had really hoped for your sake that you would take a hint and gain some self awareness. Please. Was Klein the first running QB ever at KSU? No. Josh Freeman ran the ball a few times.... The discussion wasn't about Snyder's DNA but the deficiencies in your own. For your own sake, stop expressing your every thought in public...

Dale Rogers 2 years, 1 month ago

I've been able, so far, to watch every KU football game this season even though I'm on the West Coast. All have been on one Cox station or another except one, which was on ESPN3. I'm hoping tomorrow's game will be on ESPN3 because Cox out here does not carry the Longhorn Network. Or else it's in a premium option I don't have.

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