In a season of unusual and historical occurrences, perhaps the fact that the Longhorns will be underdogs in their own stadium against the Aggies on Thursday shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Just don't expect Mack Brown to relish it.
Asked if he liked the role, Brown responded with a flat, "No." For the Texas coach, head of a program with the financial resources to match any other in the country, being the underdog means underachieving. Not matching the standard at a school accustomed to victories, victories, and more victories since his arrival.
Talk of momentum and confidence surround every football team every season, but more so in this season where Brown has had few tactical or strategic answers. Okay, about zero, really, so what else does he have to talk about besides intangibles? To say the season has been a roller-coaster ride would presuppose many more heights than Texas has reached this season -- only one, really, the victory in Lincoln. More like a a descent into the abyss interrupted at only one point.
The 2010 version of Texas football started out over-confident by Brown's own assessment, believing that teams would cower before the reigning national runners-up. That things would be easy. The loss to UCLA, at home, should have dispelled any of those notions.
Yet, there were the Longhorns early in the morning against a flat-out terrible Iowa State team, playing with no emotion, expecting a victory, but never fighting for it when the circumstances turned in favor of the visiting team. Fragile and arrogant. Quite the combination.
Not only does Texas find itself in a unique position as an underdog against the Aggies for the first time in years, they find themselves in the odd position of playing a favored team with their confidence high. Unlike Iowa State, the other peak in those intangibles of confidence and momentum, Texas knows this will be tough. If there isn't desperation for the seniors to play well and win this game, well, in all likelihood it will be the end of the season and the end of their careers. This is it, the final stand for players like Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Curtis Brown, James Kirkendoll, and John Chiles. Without a win, there are no tomorrows.
If one thing is clear, it's that this team badly needs a strong start to the game. Not only to preserve and sustain that clearly fragile confidence and to bring to bear whatever impact the home fans can muster, but to avoid the victim mentality that has plagued the team this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. To avoid the feeling of "It's happening again."
In the games against Iowa State and Kansas State, Greg Davis decided to abandon the running game early against terrible run defenses in an effort to catch up quickly. The result? The worst performances of Garrett Gilbert's career -- pressing, making poor decisions, throwing interceptions. Given a lead, some ability to pass off of play-action, and the absence of the pressure to make big plays on every play, Gilbert has generally been good enough this season. Not great, but good enough to win if the other two units avoid meltdowns. See the Nebraska game.
In many ways, it's the classic path to victory for an underdog -- things go well early and the team gains confidence, a budding belief that victory is possible, while the favored team tightens, pressing. Mack Brown may not like the role, but that's what it's come to for this team. Texas football 2010, ladies and gentleman -- where the mighty Longhorns seek to gain bowl eligibility and extend the season against the favored Aggies. The good news, Texas fans, at least you've had some time to adjust to the world being upside-down.