Longhorns struggle to regain confidence following loss to Cowboys

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Sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager pursues the football in a loss to the Cowboys on Oct. 1, 2016. The defense surrendered more than 40 points for the third time this season.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Breckyn Hager stormed off the field at Boone Pickens Stadium a little early Saturday afternoon. 

The sophomore linebacker was halfway to the Longhorns’ locker room before the Showband of the Southwest started playing “The Eyes of Texas.”

Oklahoma State’s 49-31 trouncing over Texas in Stillwater almost brought tears to Hager’s eyes when he talked to the media after the game. He said the Longhorns’ defense was “unacceptable” against the Cowboys.

“I feel like I’m letting everyone down,” Hager said. “As a team we’re just underachieving. That’s not right. I’m not a loser. I don’t want to be a loser.”

Hager said his decision to leave the field early wasn’t a conscious choice but an emotional one. He apologized for the act Monday and said his father scolded him for the behavior.

Others lagged behind Hager on their way off the turf. Head coach Charlie Strong trudged inside the visitor’s locker room behind almost all of his players. His defense allowed Oklahoma State to pile up 555 yards of total offense. He spoke with a less assertive, but far more optimistic, tone after the onslaught.

“It’s all about confidence,” Strong said. “It’s still kids playing with confidence. And you can get that back. You [just need to] get a win.”

But Strong didn’t boast the same confidence he voiced just a month ago when Texas topped then-No. 10 Notre Dame in week one. And though Hager looks forward to the team’s matchup with No. 20 Oklahoma this weekend, he said the team still needs to work on regaining its confidence. 

“It’s very frustrating,” Hager said. “But it has to do with the whole defense. We can’t be frustrated. We’re one heartbeat out there. We have to be, you know … You can’t point fingers out there.”

Hager’s frustration stems from the Longhorn defense’s inability to come up with plays on third downs. Oklahoma State moved the chains on seven of its 15 third-down opportunities, leading Hager to rant about that conversion rate.

“We watched clips of last year’s game on how we didn’t get them out on third down,” Hager said. “[Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford] went over that with us specifically, and we did not stop them on third down.”

Big plays on third down and a tackling ineptitude led to Bedford’s demotion. Strong will take control over Texas defense — including play-calling duties — while Bedford focuses on the secondary.

But sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said the team’s problems are deeper than coaching or execution on the field. He took an opposing stance to Strong’s regarding the team’s confidence level.

“One of the problems we’re facing is that we’re not believing in what we do,” Jefferson said. “I’m not saying we don’t believe in each other as a team. We go out there and have a lack of confidence when we play games.”

Strong responded to Jefferson’s comment at his weekly press conference Monday. He said the players have to have trust in one another in order to turn their season around.

Strong said he holds firm on the notion that this season isn’t over and the Longhorns still have time to correct their woes. He said the team can make a statement — for the second straight year — against the No. 20 Sooners on Saturday.

“Where you don’t lose them is that it’s still eight games left, guys, and we can still make a lot of noise,” Strong said. “I’ve said to them all the time: We are just as talented as anybody in this conference, now let’s go play.”