This is not how Texas imagined its season would go.
Not hardly. But imagine the burn that the seniors are feeling right now.
Three years ago today, 19th ranked Texas lost to 10th ranked Oklahoma and fell to No. 23 in the rankings, in large part because of a loss to Kansas State the previous week. Wide-eyed freshmen such as Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Kyle Hix and James Kirkendoll hardly understood what was happening around them. But this core class of 2011 went on to win 34 of their next 37 games before running into the brick wall they’ve hit now.
“Our morale is definitely hurting right now,” Kirkendoll said.
“Hurting” isn’t heavy enough for what the Longhorns are feeling in this bye week. The loss to UCLA was eye opening and devastating to the season. But as they had done for the past few seasons, the players banded together to play with heart and passion in a bounce-back game this past Saturday.
With the talent Texas consistently has, playing with motivation is usually enough for victory. But the Sooners gave the Longhorns every chance of winning the Red River Rivalry seemingly just for the joy of ripping out their hearts in the end.
There was one iconic play that will forever symbolize the season these seniors are doomed to have. With time running out and finally playing with passion, seniors Jones, Acho and Jared Norton chased down a Landry Jones fumble late in the game. Norton desperately tried to get the ball to salvage the game — and the season — but ultimately came inches short.
“I actually thought we were going to pick it up and run it in for a touchdown,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown, ever the optimist. “And then it just kind of sat there and sat there and, like the rest of the day, rolled out of bounds.”
The truth is, these seniors haven’t faced much adversity in their years at Texas. Dominance has spoiled them and their fans to expect someone else — whether it was Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley or Hunter Lawrence — to come through in the end. But while those players were always finding ways to win, this team is being increasingly characterized by how it finds ways to lose.
Still, the seniors are looking forward to the rest of the season.
“I have to stay a leader and try to find a way to win,” Jones said. “Something that we don’t do here at Texas is lose. We have to go back and find a way to change these losses into victories.”
Honestly, this disastrous season might not be their faults at all. The 2005 national championship season had a ripple effect that sent a surge of five-star recruits with a knack for winning to Texas. Vince Young’s heroics showed them Texas’ winning traditions and they committed to the burnt orange. That class of recruits went all the way to the national championship last season, but now that they’re gone, we’re seeing the recruiting product of the 2006 season when the Longhorns went 10-3.
The best thing Texas can do at this point is salvage the season for the sake of the 2014 roster. But at this rate, Arkansas and BYU look pretty daunting on that schedule.
“We have to go back for these two weeks and grind it out,” Jones said. “Work hard as a team, stay up, stay motivated and keep this heart and drive that we had today. We can go back out and win. We can change things around.”