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A Cool Night in Mississippi


Texas last played Mississippi 46 years ago, and they have never played them in Oxford. The last three times the Horns faced the Rebels were in bowl games, the Bluebonnet Bowl, the Cotton Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, all during the early years of Darrell Royal. Prior to that, the teams met in two pre-Southwest Conference games, 1912 and 1914, and once in 1925, all of which Texas won at home.

For many of us this is the real beginning of the season, not to demean New Mexico and Wyoming. The coaches seemed to have treated those contests as preseason games, with the emphasis on what the Horns needed to work on and getting as many players as possible onto the field. We can expect a much more detailed and serious game plan for both sides of the ball against Mississippi. Exactly how that unwinds will be interesting.

Texas is constructing a complex, long-term, modifiable machine, one with many moving parts on the both sides of the ball, although I think the offense is more complex in the overall. What will be of interest to me will be how they serve to modify to each other over time. This offense will be around for a while no matter whether Brian Harsin stays or goes at some point in the future.

Bless their hearts, Mississippi should see the first serious model. The following off week will be used to fine tune it for the seven-game stretch that really determines what the Horns are this year. I doubt if we've seen over 30% of this offense revealed much less run to perfection. Last year and this we've merely had glimpses as the team reeled from the quarterbacking, running back and offensive line situations last year. Once these are stabilized, even if not at anywhere near peak experience and efficiency, the Horns should begin to progress at a higher rate over the last nine games.

I do think there is a strong vision of the future at work here by Mack Brown, Harsin, Major Applewhite and Manny Diaz, but such transitions are not for the faint of heart or the impatient of mind. Building the foundation is a multi-stage process that precedes the finish work to complete and polish the project.

I attended the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1966, which was the last time Texas faced the Rebels. That was down in Houston on a cool humid December day. Texas won 19-0 with a strong defensive performance that held Mississippi to 208 total yards, but the Longhorn offense was a mess. The Horns committed seven turnovers, four interceptions and three fumbles...but Mississippi also had four INTs, three snared by Les Derrick, and a fumble. Twelve total turnovers made it a forgettable game and, frankly, my date looked great so I may have been a little distracted.

Texas had played well in their '66 opener, a 10-6 loss at home to #9 Southern Cal. In the third game of that 7-4 season versus Indiana, a flagrant late hit seriously injured quarterback Bill Bradley's knee. From that point inexperienced Andy White took over and Texas lost to OU (9-18), Arkansas (7-12) and SMU (12-13) but won the last three to earn the bowl bid. The Longhorn s didn't lose by much but they didn't win by much either...everyone gritted their teeth and groaned a lot. Bradley came back during the season but was limited by his knee. The 1966 season was the middle one of the three-year doldrums under DKR that preceded the Wishbone years and, indeed, were the cause of the historic change (2010-11 will be remembered in similar terms).

Royal faced Mississippi three times...the first was in his first season at Texas, 1957. The team was 6-4-1 but finished the season strong by defeating the fourth ranked Aggies under Bear Bryant with Heisman winner-to-be John David Crow at Kyle Field, 9-7. The Horns SWC mark of 4-1-1 earned a #11 ranking and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. Mississippi was ranked #7 and just beat the hell out of Texas, 39-7. Royal would get even in 1961 in a match-up of top five teams in the Cotton Bowl. Texas was ranked #3 (and had been knocked out of #1 by TCU's 6-0 win) while Mississippi was #5. In a tough, mean game in the cold of January 1, Texas triumphed 12-7.

Texas had whacked Mississippi in the earlier three meetings: 1912 (53-14), 1914 (66-7) and 1925 (25-0).

The overall record is 5-1 Texas. If the machine runs pretty well and the defense plays smart, the Horns should extend that record and let the Rebs drink in peace.