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The trifecta of Texas Longhorns incompetence

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Multiple factors are resulting in an inability to execute and finish games.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

For the Texas Longhorns and head coach Charlie Strong, the battle to change the losing culture in Austin is still clearly an ongoing process.

Where do the Horns stand after five games and a 2-3 record?

Let's call it a work in progress in three areas that contribute to winning games -- confidence/winning attitude, toughness, and execution.

Lack of confidence/winning attitude

In high school at Cibolo Steele, senior running back Malcolm Brown didn't lose many games. Seven, in fact, over his last three seasons. In 2011, Brown and his Steele team defeated current Oklahoma State quarterback JW Walsh and Denton Guyer in the state championship game.

Suffice is to say that those groups under Mike Jinks had a winning attitude. It's not something that Brown sees with the current Texas team.

"I told them as of right now, I did not feel like we were there yet," Brown said. "High school football doesn't really compare a whole, whole lot to college football. I said I really felt that in high school, we never went into a game thinking we were going to lose. I can't even tell you any game we went in and I wasn't like, 'we're about to smash this team.' I told the team last week or two weeks ago I don't feel like that (about this) team, and that was something we needed to get is that type of confidence."

Based on what Strong said about his team on Monday, that confidence still isn't there for this group.

"This is a team right now that's lacking confidence," Strong said. "It's lacking confidence where you go and finish the game. It's confidence to believe. As I said on Saturday, we've got to learn how to win."

Lack of toughness/competitive fire

Having confidence essentially amounts to pregame preparation. Once the games start, it's about toughness and the desire to compete with the person on the other side of the ball.

And perhaps no player better represents the toughness that it takes to win than senior cornerback Quandre Diggs, who saw it growing up with older Texas teams and even with some players who have suited up in the burnt orange and white in recent years.

In fact, when Diggs talks about players he looked up to when he was younger, he often talks about former safety Kenny Vaccaro, a guy Diggs said was always watching film when he was discussing the lack of extra effort in the film room after the most recent BYU debacle.

Diggs recounted the tale of how he and Kenny Vaccaro would often get told to slow up in practice because they were hitting too hard.

But Diggs doesn't see the same

"It upsets me," Diggs said. "You're out here playing a man's game. If you're playing a man's game, you've got to have some type of it (dog) in you. When I don't see it, it kind of disappoints me. I'm just going out and trying to do the best I can to get those guys going. I'm the type if you're a man, you're going to go out and try to beat the other man. That's really what it is."

Having that mentality is about being proactive, about taking over the game with the confidence instilled by preparation. Instead, senior linebacker Jordan Hicks believes the team is taking a passive approach, expecting bad things to happen.

Unsurprising, those bad things are following.

"Some people are expecting, 'Oh, something's going to go wrong, and we're just waiting for it,'" Hicks said. "(That's) instead of going out with the mindset like, 'We're going to completely demolish this team.'"

Lack of execution

All of those issues are helping to contribute to the lack of in-game execution for Texas, which wasn't good enough to win the close game against UCLA and wasn't good enough to win a game against Baylor that ultimately wasn't nearly as close as it could have been.

For the first time in the short career of sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes as a starter, he was one of the primary culprits in the loss, throwing behind open receivers, flat-out missing open receivers, and admitting on Monday that he was nervous after being called out by play caller Shawn Watson after the game on that account.

One of those missed open receivers came on the game's first play.

"The first play of the game we had [Geoff] Swaim wide open down the pipe. The safety ran to the outside, and we ran a read play and [Swoopes] didn't pull it. If he pulls it and he just throws it to Swaim, it's a touchdown and we're off and running."

Modern triple option plays like this seam read play are exactly what the Texas offense needs to put defenders in conflict and create big plays. Part of the appeal is that it makes the decision relatively easy for the quarterback -- he only has to pay attention to that defender.

Nervousness, though, causes everything to speed up, making even simple reads difficult.

Players without confidence and a competitive fire have trouble executing, down to the players with the responsibility of watching the punter on the return unit.

"They run a fake punt because guys who are supposed to go and make sure the ball is punted, they stood on the line of scrimmage and allowed their blockers to come and block us and just wall us off," Strong said of the game-changing play. "Punter runs and goes to get the first down, but it's all about the little things."

As Diggs would say, those players didn't have the dog in them and didn't execute as a result.

The positives

During fall camp, Strong wasn't afraid to challenge his senior leadership to step up. While that may have been the type of tactic that was specific to that part of the season and Strong would be less likely to challenge his senior leaders during the season, he's at least seeing effort there in that regard.

"Yeah, I think some of the players are going the right way," Strong said. "You always put it on the seniors because they've been around here. I look at [Jordan] Hicks, and Hicks is trying to be a leader. Little Malcolm [Brown] at running back is doing a good job. [Steve] Edmond in the middle, [Quandre] Diggs, so you have those guys who are stepping up when they see it happen, and they're becoming more vocal and they're expressing in their mind what needs to be said."

Based on the way that the new Texas head coach has conducted himself in press conference, he still deserves the benefit of the doubt with such statements. For instance, when discussing the play of senior linebacker Steve Edmond, Strong said that he wants Edmond to be more vocal.

The bigger frustration is how this team is continually leaving plays on the field, just lacking some attention to detail or some element of execution that would put the play over the top.

Of course, that's the difference between winning teams and losing teams, but how close the Horns are getting with so many contributing does give senior leader Malcolm Brown some hope moving forward.

"I'm always confident in this team," he said. "I know the type of players that we have and just looking back on film, I mean, we're always just kind of one person away from making a big play or one thing away from making a big play, if we can get those little details corrected, we can have some big plays on the offensive side of the ball. So that's something that definitely does give me hope."