The season started slowly, bottoming out in frustrating losses to UCLA and OU. We regrouped and rallied to produce one of the most impressive road wins in the Mack Brown era. Now what?
Looking at the big picture, it's not inconceivable that Oklahoma loses two games down the stretch, which of course would open the door for Texas to win the Big 12 South should they win out. Insofar as it's possible: yes, we simply need to keep winning, but also yes, we need to be prepared to capitalize should the opportunity present itself.
It would be a mistake simply to play to hang around and hope for something to happen to us. While it's possible that striving for more could, for one reason or another, lead to a loss, more likely it leads to us getting better, which is far more important. For starters, should Oklahoma lose no more games, or just one more game, it's the right approach to building for our future, and moreover, even if Oklahoma were to lose two games it would put us in the best position to do something with the opportunity.
Put another way, this Texas team may have turned a corner last Saturday in Lincoln, but it would be a mistake to cash out our winnings, rather than make a play with them. Whether the potential payoff arises this year or next, the calculus is the same.
To the extent that one agrees, what, then, does that mean heading forward?
1. Build on the rushing success versus Nebraska. First and foremost, I'm looking for Texas to build on the spark they found in Lincoln in the rushing game, and that doesn't mean simply toting the ball on the ground 35 times because we can do so and still win. I want us to take that insight and build an idea, because as beneficial as were our adjustments made for the Nebraska game, we're still without an offensive identity, we still have a lot that can and must be developed, and we still aren't multiple in a way that strikes fear into the opposing defense.
In other words, we need to do more than attempt to be a rushing team -- we need to attempt to use the rushing game to our advantage, be it in the way we attack a defense on the ground, or the explosive plays we enjoy building on top of it. I want to see something systematic, and I want to see us committed to maximizing opportunities in a way that belies an aggressive, opportunistic approach.
2. Let Gilbert be a winner. Part of what made our approach in Lincoln so successful was the way it centered on Gilbert as a linchpin and orchestrator. Long term, I don't know that what we saw against Nebraska is who we "should be" as an offense, but what we do want revolves around Gilbert being comfortable and in charge. I'm fine with us taking small steps forward to get there, so long as that's the goal. We not only need to put him in positions to make plays, but need him to feel okay with making mistakes. Rather than try to dictate through conservative play a half step forward at a time, I want to see us let Gilbert start to take two steps forward, one back.
3. Buy in to execution. As a team, we clearly bought in to the idea of crisp, focused execution as a key to winning in Lincoln, but the temptation will be to take those gains for granted going forward. It's a delicate balance, but it will be important that this team sees the execution as a necessary precursor to the fun, liberating excellence that follows. We've seen what happens when we lose focus and over-eagerly try to be excellent. At the college level, channeling excellence through execution -- without neutering the team's aggressiveness and playmaking ability -- is an enormous challenge, but that is the central task at hand.
4. Maintain the urgency. Building on everything that's already been said, Mack Brown has to resist the temptation to consider this Mission Accomplished. Positions should remain open for competition, failure should be punished, and progress both sought and embraced. The goal now should not be to "get through" the remaining schedule, but rather to springboard off Saturday's win to something better. That urgency clearly manifested itself in how we prepared for Nebraska, but it should be no less present in the preparations this week and beyond. We still lost to UCLA, at home. We're still a two-loss team. We're still a program beyond the point of being satisfied with 10 wins when it's not a stepping stone to something bigger and better.
If all the above is a little bit abstract, well... welcome to Texas football under Mack Brown. He's unrivaled in the machine that he's built, and he needn't ask for us to appreciate it. We do, and we will, and insofar as that's the goal, he has been and will be celebrated for those achievements.
What we're talking about is something more. Something grander. Trophies, instead of wins.
Push it, Mack Brown. We love you, damnit. Push it.
We'll understand if you fall short. But go for it. Not only for us, but for you. You've earned it.
Go for it.