Points to ponder in the lead up to today's Alamo Bowl kickoff.
After the unfortunate news broke early Friday morning of an alleged sexual assault by two Longhorn football players (not publicly named or charged) combined with the suspension from the team of Case McCoy and Jordan Hicks for violation of team rules (it doesn't take a leap of faith to assume they are potential suspects in the complaint), it's time to turn the dial and get back to discussing the bowl game against Oregon State.
But first allow me a comment or two on the event. Whether or not the accusations of unlawful misconduct are true, we live in a country where the justice system is the ultimate arbiter. Let that side of it play out. What is fair game, in my humble opinion, is discussion of bone headed decisions by what is for all intent and purposes are two players who were perceived as upstanding, goody-goody types that on the surface would more than likely be the last to be suspected of this type behavior. So how does this happen? Is this symptomatic of a program gone amuck? Did the program somehow fail these kids or is it just another in a long line of such stories we've seen over time where the odds catch up? Or am I over thinking this contextually and the randomness of the story is just that..random?
The whole sordid business is unfortunate for all parties, but MOST ESPECIALLY for the victim if in fact the complaint holds true.
There are too numerous questions surrounding this episode to delve into here and I'm not suggesting we open it up to conversation again. But it does make for a head scratcher and you certainly don't want the event to taint the excitement and enthusiasm of a bowl game played between what seems to be two fairly competitive units.
So on to football.
It's not even close to rocket science thinking that a glaring hole recently for Longhorn's lack of success against top teams is directly attributed to physical development. Combined with a preponderance of youth and inexperience, this additive makes for a very sour concoction.
Major Applewhite gave us a glimpse of his views on the matter during his press conference the other day when asked about Oregon State's defense after watching film.
You know, you're going to see some of the same coverages, the same blitzes throughout a 13 game season and it's not going to be anything new to you, but what usually flashes on tape is the tempo which they play with, the passion which they play with, and that's something that jumps off from a coach, because a scheme is a scheme but how you do what you do is more important, and I think that's the biggest compliment to Coach Banker and those guys.
Notice I emphasized passion in his comment. There is no question the Longhorns are passionate about their craft. They act enthusiastic, appear very loose in pregame, and show significant excitement during play.
Coach Applewhite has continually praised the work of his coaching colleagues Searels and Wyatt in their approach to coaching with physicality first. It shows in the year-over-year incremental improvement in their respective squads. It is obvious to this observer that the coaches have the skills to develop the players to teach the techniques that create the confidence which in turn allows the physical play to surface.
At some point it is up to the players.
During a press availability this week, senior All-American safety Kenny Vaccaro was asked by Jeff Howe ($) what it will take for Texas to get back to playing at a championship level.
There needs to be more win, win, win rather than, 'Ok, let's try hard'. I'm sick of people saying they tried hard or they never gave up. That's not what wins on the field. People are dominating people on the field and that's how you win.
Cohesiveness seems to be a running theme in describing a key attribute to success on the field. The guys must work seamlessly together. Maybe that is an opportunity for the coaching staff to exploit as they tweak their development process during the offseason. But it takes a bunch of guys willing to sacrifice, stick together at all costs, and walk with an "us against the world" mentality.
What is instructive of both viewpoints is that for Texas to climb back into the big picture, getting stronger, meaner, and playing with an edge has got to be priority one.
I like the stories behind the stories, especially the ones that offer real meaning and point to motivations. Mack Brown is often criticized (yes, believe it or not) for coaching up his players beyond football tactics and teaching them to become good men...husbands, fathers, leaders in their respective communities. I think all coaches have that responsibility first and foremost, as do all teachers. Some do more than others, certainly.
Mike Riley's Oregon State program is a lot like Mack Brown's Texas program in that respect so it is not surprising in the least to hear Riley shower glowing remarks about the Longhorn coach now in his 15th season.
Try as they might, big-time college football coaches try ceaselessly to downplay the "big business" side of the game and talk about the soft attributes: Family, tradition, philanthropy, charity, and character.
Mike Riley and Mack Brown, long-time tenured coaches at their respective institutions, are the epitome of this coaching category. Each respectfully follows long time tradition of humility, deference, and platitudes when describing foes. Both have been at this business a long time, albeit different paths. Riley with his NFL, CFL, WFL experience has a more diverse background in coaching levels than Brown who, as we are well familiar with his resume, slogged through the college football rank and file.
But both coaches fundamentally understand the delicate balance between developing fine young men, ready to tackle the world, and fine young college football players, ready to tackle their mothers. Pursuit of this toxic elixir has been the goal of coaches at all levels of this endeavor since the beginning.
Very few have been able to strike that balance.
It is apparent to this writer that longevity in the business requires these two things to mesh. The politicizing activities (boosters, media, fans) and the winning activities must mesh.
But the big difference between the two programs falls squarely at the feet of expectations. You don't become a football factory only trailing Michigan in all-time wins and not have them. And at Texas, the expectations run through the roof. Justifiably? Certainly. But when comparing where these two programs are headed, it is easy to see how an OSU program is perceived to be riding a much steeper curve north than Texas if for no other reason than the program's respective exposure.
But good on OSU who like, say, a Kansas State doesn't get that much in the way of blue chip talent yet finds a way to develop the players into a singular, unifying, unit.
Maybe Texas coaches can study up on the process of these programs during the offseason in how they get this done.
Neil Lomax was an All-American quarterback at Portland State and played following June Jones, who both set school passing records and Lomax furthering those records holding some 90 NCAA records. Both played under the tutelage of Mouse Davis who is tagged as the father of the Run and Shoot offense (predecessor to the current Spread scheme). This of course was a few years after Mike Riley led Corvallis High School to back-to-back state championship appearances. All three hailed from Oregon.
Neil has three sons, two who became quarterbacks like him. The oldest, Nick, earned a scholarship to Boise State but was ultimately passed on the depth chart by freshman quarterback Kellen Moore during fall camp in 2008. The quarterback decision was made by none other than Bryan Harsin.
Neil's middle son, Jack, was a Gatorade POY for the state of Oregon in 2008. Coincidentally this is the same year Garrett Gilbert was a Gatorade POY for the state of Texas and National Gatorade POY. Both were highly recruited players. It was surprising when Coach Riley landed the touted in-state quarterback but no less exciting was this get as the jubilation in Austin when Gilbert signed his LOI with the Longhorns.
Naturally big things were expected from both players. Gilbert became the backup to Colt McCoy and..yada yada...now plays quarterback for June Jones at SMU. Similarly, Lomax did not pan out and was passed by Oregon State quarterbacks Mannion and Vaz and wound up leaving the Beavers last summer.
Just goes to show you the world is often smaller than we give it credit for.
Starting safety Ryan Murphy, "We play through him and we play with him, and we know he's up there watching down on us."
It's one thing to play with heart and emotion. It's quite another when you are playing for the memory of a fallen teammate.
Last December, in a pick-up basketball game with roommate, high school teammate, and now starting sophomore safety Ryan Murphy, Beaver redshirt freshman defensive tackle Fred Thompson collapsed and was not revived. To say that Thompson was big hearted proved true in his medical condition when an autopsy revealed he suffered from an enlarged heart condition (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) which put too much stress on the muscle.
The Oregon State equipment staff setup a memorial locker for Thompson in the Alamo Bowl home team locker room. "We bring him everywhere we go", said first team Pac12 cornerback Jordan Poyner. His sentiments represent the feelings of all Beaver teammates, "He's always in our hearts everywhere we play, and we play for him and we play through him."
With their 3-9 season over, the Oregon State Beaver football team responded by dedicating their play and 2012 season to Thompson. Their tribute is on each helmet (Thompson's jersey number 92) and continues on the field as Murphy makes sure players do not forget the memory of his best friend and their teammate yelling Brick Squad after each defensive huddle breakdown.
Oregon State is playing for a missing teammate. That is some pretty strong motivation.
OSU enters the game today with significant statistical advantages on paper. Why it is easy to point to these differences, what is almost always challenging in comparing top 25 teams are their paths. Did they play the same level of competition each and every week? That is an ambiguous question to answer and as we move closer to a playoff/bowl game hybrid system, the question will become increasingly more ambiguous.
With that said, the keys to today's affair will be the battle of possession: time, turnovers, and field position.
OSU's statistics on TOP and number of offensive plays run show they are more methodical in their scheme than the up-tempo teams Texas has faced in the Big 12. Can Texas force their hand? To do so the Longhorns themselves will have to play out of the comfort zone, taking more risks by passing the ball to intermediate zones against a highly talented defensive backfield. Will this create more opportunity for turnovers? Maybe.
The game, as they mostly always are, will come down to who wants it more. Texas playing for big picture reputation moving into 2013 in what amounts to a home game and Oregon State playing to get to double digit wins for only the 3rd time in school history with Brick Squad on their helmet.
Three and half hours on the field sounds about right in determining who will come out on top.
Hook 'em and Texas Fight!