WVU football: Mountaineers welcome resurgent Longhorns
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - College football was already having a laugh at the expense of the University of Texas before the words came out of Mack Brown's mouth.
The Longhorns were 1-2 and Brown's job was in the crosshairs in his 16th season, not necessarily because of the losses, but because of the way the losses arrived. They allowed 550 yards rushing and let BYU snap the ball 99 times, then lost at home by three touchdowns to Ole Miss.
Brown changed defensive coordinators before the Ole Miss game and fans booed the sight of Brown's face when it popped up on the stadium's Godzillatron for a public service announcement. Big 12 play was about to begin and Brown, who was 11-15 inside the conference the past three years, was seemingly out of touch, if not out of his mind.
The solution to the team's problems, he said, was to win the Big 12.
"We are not as far away as it looks like after three weeks," Brown said two days after the loss to the Rebels. "Our goal is to win the Big 12 championship. We've still got a chance to do that."
Somehow, some way, the Longhorns will arrive at Mountaineer Field for Saturday's 7 p.m. game at 6-2 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12. The game against WVU (4-5, 2-4) will be televised by Fox. Texas hasn't lost since Brown's proclamation and the team does indeed control whether it wins its first conference title since 2010.
"It's changed completely," he said. "The team now feels like they have a chance to win the Big 12 championship, which is what the goal has been since January."
It all started under a coincidental circumstance.
Texas has been riddled with inconsistency at quarterback and injuries on offense and defense since the first drive of the 2011 national championship game, when Alabama's Marcell Dareus knocked Colt McCoy out of the game. David Ash became the starting quarterback this season, but couldn't stay healthy.
He suffered a concussion against BYU and missed the Ole Miss game and it just seemed like more of the same when Ash returned to play Kansas State, but couldn't finish the game.
A year before, the Wildcats beat Texas 42-24, prompting linebacker Tre Walker to say at Big 12 media day in July that the Longhorns "laid down" in that game. It was another claim made against the toughness of Texas, one lined up next to bad defense and poor tackling.
"With us, we don't really pay attention to all the other things that come out around us," senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. "We focus on us. We want to improve. Those things are always on us, so nothing else matters. We're an older team with more experience and we know when we have to get better."
This time, Texas stood up and won, 31-21, and allowed only 115 yards rushing and 3.03 per carry. The Wildcats had won five in a row in the series.
"That gave our team a lot of confidence, simply because that team has been a nemesis for us," Brown said. "Kansas State is a very physical football team and we went in there with two losses and beat a good football team we'd had a lot of trouble with. Then we went to Dallas and beat Oklahoma two weeks later and that gave our guys even more confidence."
Brown neglected to mention a game between Kansas State and Oklahoma, that being a 31-30 Thursday night scare at Iowa State.
The Longhorns escaped on a 75-yard touchdown drive that was extended by a pair of pass interference penalties and a dubious call by the officials.
It looked like running back Jonathan Gray fumbled on the goal line and Iowa State recovered, but a review gave Texas the ball. Case McCoy, who's starting in place of the still-affected Ash, sneaked across the goal line with 51 seconds left to play. A day later, the Big 12 said there was no evidence to prove the officials made the wrong call.
Texas was on its way and beat the Sooners, who had won three straight in the series by a combined score of 146-58. Texas ended that streak with a 36-20 victory. Texas then won 30-7 against TCU and 35-13 against Kansas.
In 2012, the Horned Frogs beat Texas and the Longhorns needed a 1-yard touchdown run with 12 seconds to go to beat the Jayhawks.
"This team has a three-year chip on its shoulder," senior safety Adrian Phillips said. "Our seniors haven't had a great year since we've been here and we want to get that right. The past three years, we saw how not to do it. We saw how all the other things we'd do got us 5-8, 8-5 and 9-4. We don't want that as a senior class and we know what we have to do to win every game."
The Texas defense has responded to the early adversity and to the change Brown made on the staff. He fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and replaced him with Greg Robinson, who had the same job before being named the head coach at Syracuse and working as Michigan's defensive coordinator.
The Longhorns have allowed 263, 246 and 306 yards and 20, 7 and 13 points the past three games. They were allowing an average of 464.5 yards and 28.4 points in the first five games.
"What Greg did was he settled the defense down," Kansas Coach Charlie Weis said. "They had been moving all over the place. Even last year when we played them, they were stunting all over the place. He's just settled them down. They already had a formidable front four to start with. Now they're just lining up and playing. They're letting their athletes be athletes rather than moving them all over the place. They don't let them get out of position."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.