The immediate effect of a loss like this is to lose all perspective, amply verified all across the Longhorn Nation. Hell, it was a damn stampede, with blue electricity playing off the horns as the thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed each terrible second. Soon the herd split into smaller and smaller groups, mooing their discomfort as if the winds of the storm would carry an answer when there was none, at least in the short term.
Only pain and agony, measured by how much emotion and expectation you invested in this year's edition and how much self-importance you piled on top of that perspective remained. Of course, the perspective fell into the mud immediately and nothing good could be said afterward.
Being a grisly old fart, I've seen a lot of these. Sure, they hurt. If you wanna be a fan and reap the rewards, then there's gonna come a time when it's gonna hurt. At heart, it's your own damn fault, although the first reaction is to blame the coaches, the team, the individual players, and anyone up the line. Of course, being responsible and taking the blame yourself - when you didn't have a damn thing to do with it except pile up your emotion - is not easy for a fanatic. That is what we are, like it or not. Those with less emotional investment and especially those with none bring out the daggers and spill even more of our orange blood.
All is not lost even if it feels that way. I once met an old time sociologist, wise in the ways of people, and he told me the two most important things he learned about people were: one things leads to another and it takes one to know one. It was funny as hell at the time and didn't seem so wise. The longer I've lived, the more truthful it became. Simple things become complex quite suddenly, and the complex of our hopes and dreams can become pretty damn simple in an instant.
Where are we? Take a walk on the dark side...
Saturday one mistake did lead to another. As a team, the Longhorns are a complex of many variables within which are plenty of deviation. Inexperience and youth are dangerous allies and only reliable within a strong construct. In prior years the Horns had enough strong construct to cover most situations. Not all...those are the one that hurt like now.
Team play requires dedication, sacrifice and endurance, which is always a matter of skill, talent, coaching and leadership. The effectiveness of leadership is really a function of how many team members drop their egos, their own self importance, which is a certain blindness to others and to life's situations in general. Not only is self importance an enemy of most individuals and their relative maturity, it is a direct enemy of team structure and play on the field. Selfish play is the extreme while being oblivious to immediate team goals - down and distance, time and circumstance, the winning play in a given situation - and not seeing things for what they are in terms of team needs are the more common artifacts. Most players are like people...they usually learn the hard way, by trial and error. With so much inexperience and so many freshman playing, this was one event that could happen at any time. One old coach told me that a freshman, no matter how talents, would make two big mistakes for every great play he made.
The coaches are the guides and herders in these processes. They, too, can fall victim to all the perspective problems listed above. This society and our particular school doles out self importance in incredibly large chunks, with money and celebrity most only dream about, and levels of responsibility that are awesome in their scope and range. It goes without saying that they, too, can become blind, if not outright oblivious, to certain team needs themselves. So, while players may make the mistakes on the field, coaches can make larger scale mistakes, errors of concept and commission. They just don't see things for what they are. Part of their process is covering their weaknesses on the field but on some days when all those weaknesses get exposed, in totality, it becomes obvious what they thought was...wasn't even close to what was actually happening on the field and with the team. That usually means disaster.
Is this team in trouble? That is, due for more losses, which I understand many feel right now and it is a serious possibility. Is there some relief, some ability to correct the flaws. Mistakes of conception are not easy to pin down and even harder to correct...they take addition work mid-season. You just can't order up a new OL or a running game.
If the coaches claim that it is their fault, there must be some action. Mack Brown said this after the UCLA game but for this to be a true acceptance of responsibility, there has to be a resultant action. Otherwise, it is bullshit and will happen again until the required action is taken, whatever that may be. DKR noted in a recent oral history that (paraphrase) going up the ladder is fun, maintaining is hell. Right now is the hell he is talking about, the crush of expectations, the amplification of losses and the general situation, and the burden of fulfilling even greater expectations. Perhaps Mack will take this as ascending a second ladder, but in a coach's life, this is a tough time. You can't quit - that would undermine everything you have done to this point - and the next step has to be the right one, even if there are few good choices to be made. A good small baby step is better than a big one that is wrong. With OU looming, waiting for the bye week to make greater changes is a serious possibility.
If the Longhorns can develop a running game, anything reliable and moderately successful, many things will fall in place. The shelf is relatively loaded, not the best ever, but not scrubs by any means. It is the conception and the development which is the problem...and this is a long-term problem. How long...many would say since 2006. Sure, Jamaal Charles in '07 and Colt McCoy's running in '08 made it effective enough to win a slew of games. But the running game was like an old fracture that didn't heal well; one cold day it would come back to haunt you. And that it has the last few games starting with A&M in '09 when Colt's 175 yards bailed out the team. But this was never fixed and it is silly to pretend that it might be after the rhetoric of the pre-season and the results as of Saturday.
I wondered if Mack gave DKR a late-night call. I wonder what Major's concept of this offense might be like. I wonder what Mack's first thought was this morning when he awoke. We're all open to wonder at this point. Massive failure will do that and will call into question everything you ever known, although we know in the back of our minds it is never quite that bad at all. But emotion doesn't give in to rationality that easily.
Sunday is the day the coaching staff analyzes and designates the actions to fix Saturday's flaws. This late in the evening means that a lot of water has flown under the bridge. Tomorrow's regular news conference could reveal a few things but whatever the Mack and his staff figures out still must be translated to the players and then to the field. Putting together the psychology of this team comes first, then the actions to solidify that will occupy the week. This will probably be one of the most important weeks of practice for this team since the bowl break in '07, but it is a short span with a major enemy awaiting, so big changes might have to wait until the bye week.
Dallas will be spooky. Can this team be aggressively offensively? OU may be beatable this year, and the Horns must counter their aggression with aggression of their own. The defense can do that...for a while. But the offense must score. Otherwise this team can be ravaged and the rest of the meat stripped from the bones.