Prior to the season, if you had asked many Texas Longhorn fans somewhat familiar with the program what their predictions would be of the team's record in the first six games, they would have predicted that the Horns would start 2-4 or 3-3, as evidenced here.
This was BEFORE the injuries to David Ash and Dominic Espinosa and the continued/permanent absence of others. As those injuries and suspensions piled up, most of the more optimistic 3-3 folks changed their predictions to 2-4 (I was one of them).
And here we sit, 2-4. We should all collectively pat ourselves on the back for being right, huh? Except that a lot of us are enormously frustrated that we're 2-4 for the first time in almost sixty years.
I'm sure most people have had the experience of entering a semester knowing that it's going to be a hard semester. We mentally prepare ourselves: "This is going to be tough. I need to gut it out. I know that just because things get hard it won't mean that I'm doomed."
And then, in the middle of the semester, when we're up yet again studying for an exam on precious little sleep, we feel like throwing our laptop and books out a window. All the predictive correctness in the world doesn't make the experience less crappy. Nonetheless, the fact that it isn't a surprise should be a healthy reminder that things aren't going wacky on you, and it should frame your reactions on your situation.
That's basically where we are now. Our record is not a surprise, especially taken into account the fact that we went through the "worst-case" scenario of losing Ash permanently. Still, every loss has been hard to swallow. In many ways, it actually makes it worse that the games against UCLA, Baylor, and OU were all very winnable, and self-destructing mistakes took those opportunities away.
Seriously, we've seen a 99+ yard drive not end up in a score (I don't think I've ever seen that before), multiple blown timeouts due to not being ready, goal-line snaps that smack the quarterback in the face, momentum-killing and big play-erasing penalties, blocked field goals returned for touchdowns, etc. All that was encapsulated in losing to our rival despite dominating virtually every facet of the box score.
I was at the fair watching the game, and an OU fan next to me said to his fellow OU fans at the end of the 3rd quarter, "Texas should be up by like 30 points now; we're lucky to be winning." All I could do was sigh. I told myself before the game, "We're probably going to lose, so I'm going to just calmly watch for improvement." Towards the end of the game, I was peeved and mulled over every lost opportunity.
So it goes.
I get it. It's not fun to lose, no matter how expected it is. However, let's try to take a step back and remember how we entered the season. Many of us said, "We're going to start rough, but as long as I can see general improvement over the season and we finish strong, I'll be fine with it." Well, let's look at what's improved over the first six games:
Offensive Line: I was hoping that, with Espinosa, Estelle, and Harrison, our OL would turn into a team strength like last season. Well... you know what happened there. The line was a disaster against BYU and UCLA, but has turned in solid efforts the past two weeks. I wouldn't call them a team strength and there's a long way to go, but if you can't see obvious improvement by Wickline's boys, I don't know what to tell you.
Quarterback: Tyrone Swoopes went from being better than we expected against BYU and UCLA to looking like, well, an unprepared first year starter against Kansas and Baylor. Then he bounced back with a solid performance, minus the pick-6, against Oklahoma, looking much more decisive and comfortable.
Guess what: He's a young and raw QB, and he'll probably have another one of those crappy games again. But over the long haul, there is reason to be optimistic. His deep ball looked better, he got north and south quicker on his runs, and he didn't bail too early from the pocket.
Runningbacks: The fanbase has sometimes criticized Brown and Gray for not being true five-star running backs, and they may have a point. That said, both of them have been far more aggressive running the ball and have sought out contact, running through people in the past two games. Plus, Brown's been blocking pretty well from the backfield.
Defense in general: They've always been the better unit, but unlike agaist BYU, they haven't broken too early. They largely shut down one of the top offenses in the country (which posted 61 points on Patteron's D) and absolutely annihilated OU's offense for the majority of the game. The loss of Tank Johnson hurts, but the D-line has still been game for the most part. The secondary is also tackling a lot better than last season.
There are other players and areas we could point to. This improvement and effort we're seeing has inspired some pride among fans, and it's honestly a lot easier cheering for this team than that 2010 team that eventually threw up its hands and gave up.
This pretty much confirms what we already knew: This is a flawed roster with some pretty good talent. With time and development, it can be a team that other teams, no matter how highly they are ranked, want no part of on a given Saturday. I'm willing to bet that TCU would gladly trade places with UCLA and play Texas in September rather than in November.
So we have pride, disappointment, frustration, and glimpses of optimism all mixed in. The emotional conflict was expected. It'll continue throughout the season, like it or not. This is just a reminder to remember our reasoning before the season even started and ask ourselves if the team is making the necessary strides we want to see.
There is much to criticize: timeout management and that atrocious special teams, to name just a couple. In no way am I saying that the coaches can't be held to account. Still, they should be held to account according to the broader context of what we knew about this team.
And we knew that this team would start slow and possibly finish strong to a 6-6 to 8-4 record. We're right on schedule. The remaining six teams should be on notice. And so should us fans, because it'd be sad for us to just focus on our record when there's a chance that we can see a good team develop before our very eyes.