Texas can't stop Ole Miss rushing attack in loss
SEP 14, 2013 11:03p ET
This time, the Rebels celebrated on their opponent's home field, with Ole Miss claiming a 44-23 win in Austin.
"Of course we were the most talented team, but we are not playing Texas football: aggressive, full-speed and fighting," said senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley. "We have to get back to having the kind of Texas attitude that past teams have had. They were the more physical team against every team that they played."
Whaley could have been referring to last year's Ole Miss game, when Texas came out and asserted its will physically over the Rebels. But Texas finds itself in a very different spot than the Longhorns were in just 12 months ago.
Under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, the defense showed flashes, but ultimately faltered, while an offense without starting quarterback David Ash -- who didn't attend the game as a precaution after suffering head and shoulder injuries last week -- moved the ball at times, but not when it mattered most.
"Obviously, everyone is disappointed," said wide receiver Jaxon Shipley. "This is a game where we really needed to bounce back and get a win here. Like always, there's not much we can do but go look a the film. We've just got to see what we need to correct, and we've got to fix that."
"We're all bought in," assured linebacker Jordan Hicks. "No change. It's still a player-run team. We're trying to get this thing back right."
Surely, no one expected Robinson's defense to "get back right" overnight. What can a coordinator accomplish in a week, when several of the flaws that manifested against BYU were fundamental issues like filling the right gap and taking the correct pursuit angles? But the crowd of 101,474, the third-largest ever to catch a game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, still sat silent when the visiting Rebels rolled down the field for an early 14-point lead.
It wasn't so much the points as the as the way they came. Ole Miss took just 16 plays to travel 132 yards. And a huge chunk of those yards came via the same highway -- the read option -- that BYU exploited in rushing for 550 yards in a 40-21 victory over the Longhorns last Saturday.
"Really, they were running the same play over and over again," Hicks said. "It's pretty disappointing."
Less than 24 hours after that game, Manny Diaz was out as defensive coordinator. In stepped Robinson, who ran the Texas defense in 2004, and who was readily available thanks to his position as a football analyst in the Longhorns' player personnel department.
"We're just trying to make the transition, learn as fast as possible," Hicks said. "One thing we harped on today or this week was mainly our effort. We had to get to the ball and rally."
Coordinators typically meet with the media on Mondays, but Robinson was spared the duty because he needed every possible minute to try and rubber cement together the Texas defense -- an 11-man Humpty Dumpty project of sorts. Eight of the last 13 opponents the Longhorns have faced set a career-high for rushing yards.
And after Ole Miss's rapid start, Texas held the Rebels out of the end zone for the remainder of the first half, allowing just 75 yards after the opening two drives.
"There's good talent here," Robinson said Saturday, post-game. "There is good talent.
"In '04, we were a young team except for D.J. [ Derrick Johnson] and a couple of other guys," Robinson said. "But really, the longer we played, the better we got. I think this group has got some of that in them, too. I think the more we keep playing, the better we're going to get."
The offense, meanwhile, found some early success behind the running of Johnathan Gray and an efficient first half from backup Case McCoy. But when Ole Miss adjusted and took away some of the easy looks, Texas struggled to adjust.
The Longhorns were 3-of-7 on third downs in the first half, and finished that half with 220 total yards and 23 points. In the second stanza? Texas had 100 total yards, and went just 1-of-8 on third downs. Perhaps most importantly, the 'Horns put up a goose egg in the score column.
"I thought we were able to run the ball in the first half," said Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. "In the second half, we weren't as effective."
The two-half yin-yang served as a stark contrast in a game that featured several wild swings. After Ole Miss's 14-point outburst, Texas scored 23 straight and looked ready to take a two-score lead into the halftime break. But safety Adrian Phillips was hit with a targeting penalty. While the targeting call was overturned -- every targeting call comes complete with an ejection, and immediately goes to the booth -- the 15-yard penalty stuck, as per the rule. Two plays later, Ole Miss kicker Andrew Ritter booted a 52-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
"I thought the three points for them, if you give up points right before the half, it's a killer," Brown said. "You've got to go back and take your momentum back in the second half. That is an age-old rule in sports and in football, and we didn't do either. We let them have the momentum going in. We didn't take the momentum going out in the second half, and we never got it back."
While Texas was shut out in the second half, Ole Miss thrived. The Rebels had back-to-back drives of 80-or-more yards, then closed off a big third quarter when Jeff Scott -- who rushed for a career-high 164 yards on 19 carries -- returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. Ole Miss then concluding the scoring with an eight-yard Jaylen Walton touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
While the improvement was notable -- Texas allowed 449 yards against an offense that, statistically, is better than the BYU one that shredded the Longhorns a week ago -- the Rebels still rushed for 272 yards at 6.0 yards per carry.
"I don't think [Robinson] can be really effective in the first three days, which is what he had tonight," Brown said. "But next week, I think we'll start seeing more progress. They obviously played better tonight than they did last week."
Ole Miss moved to 3-0 for the first time since 1989, while Texas fell to 1-2 for the first time since Brown's first year as Longhorn boss, 1998. Those 'Horns rebounded to win eight games, and the same fate could be ahead of the 2013 squad. The Big 12 hasn't exactly looked like a juggernaut conference in the first three weeks.
But unlike in 1998, when Brown's eight-win season was seen as a sign of progress after he took over for fired coach John Makovic, eight wins would actually be one win fewer than the Longhorns had a year ago. And considering that Texas returned 19 starters from that nine-win team, expectations were sky-high in Austin, with Texas players, and even Diaz, stating that the 'Horns' goal was to win the Big 12 championship.
Diaz, of course, is gone. But that Big 12 goal remains, as the Longhorns have yet to play a conference game.
"We win the Big 12 championship, we'll be excited, and that's all we've got left," Brown said. "Our guys will go back to work. They've been around here before. They understand outside stuff and they understand what's important, and they'll work hard this week."
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