Up-Downs For The Up And Down

Texas has been inconsistent all year, so Mack Brown is teaching them a lesson

Dec. 27, 2007

By Carolyn Braff



Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for CSTV.com.
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In 2007, Texas' only constant was its inconsistency.


After beginning the year as high as No. 2 in some preseason predictions, the Longhorns' non-conference schedule foreshadowed what became the team's season-long experiment in unpredictability. Setting an inquisitive tone with a why-was-that-so-hard 21-13 win over Arkansas State, the team seemed to redeem itself with a 34-point second half in a victory over then-No. 19 TCU. But the following week was another head scratcher as Texas barely escaped disaster in Orlando, squeaking by UCF 35-32.




"It was a different team throughout the year," head coach Mack Brown said. "Some players played great and some others played great at times, and that shows our inconsistency."


That would be putting it mildly. For every abysmal quarter of football the Longhorns put together in the early going, they countered with a brilliant stanza that allowed them to maintain a high national ranking. At least until Kansas State came to town.


Once Texas lost a 41-21 blowout to the Wildcats to open Big 12 play, it was clear that this team was not all it was cracked up to be. The 20-point loss was the worst the Longhorns had endured at home since 1997.


Losing to Kansas State would have been somewhat excusable in the cold, computerized eyes of the BCS had the Longhorns not dropped two more. The first came against Red River rival Oklahoma - a defeat that made Texas 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 1956 - and the second at the hands of just-as-hated Texas A&M in a 38-30 season finale that was not that close.


In between, the Longhorns strung together a five-game winning streak, but by then it was far too little, too late.


With all of the inconsistency swirling around this team, especially following that second-straight loss to A&M, Burnt Orange Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief when the bowl pairings were announced. The Longhorns came out on the winning end of the bowl game lottery, drawing Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl for what is shaping up to be one of the best non-BCS matchups of the bunch.


"We were lucky, because we got a really tough but good draw against Arizona State," Brown said. "They are a BCS team, they were co-champions in the Pac-10 and were in the national championship mix at one time."


While Texas is thanking its lucky lone stars for this matchup, Arizona State has free reign to complain. After all, the Sun Devils lost only twice this season (which is more than Rose Bowl-bound Illinois can say), one to Oregon when the Ducks had Dennis Dixon running the ship and the other to USC in November, when the Trojans had their game back on track.


Facing such a formidable opponent, the Longhorns have plenty of work to do, and no one knows that better than Brown. For a team that has been so up-and-down, Brown instituted a new program of accountability that centers on - what else? - up-downs.


"We've gone back to things we call `N.O.S.' That stands for, `Not Our Standard,'" Brown explained. "If you have a not-our-standard play or action on our football team, then the entire team does up-downs before practice."


Anything that does not meet the Longhorns' expectations can qualify as a N.O.S., from wrong technique to a fumble or a lack of effort.


"If one guy messes up, it costs the entire team, so it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the other guys on the team," Brown said.


The N.O.S. is not a new concept for Brown. While watching game film on a weekly basis, the 10th-year head coach routinely keeps track of the number of times the team does not play up to the Texas standard and then calls for extra running accordingly. But this year, for bowl preparation, he brought the idea onto the practice field.


"That's been huge for our team in terms of accountability," defensive tackle Derek Lokey said. "If a guy messes up four or five times, he's got to get out in front of his whole defense and tell the guys he loafed the day before and the whole team has to do up-downs for him. It's not fun and it's a struggle during practice, but it's good for our team."


On the fun factor, safety Marcus Griffin would beg to differ.


"I've kind of enjoyed having the N.O.S.'s during practice," Griffin said. "For the first few days we had to do a lot of up-downs and there were a lot of N.O.S's, but over the past few days, you can see that the N.O.S.'s have been running down."


Running being the operative word. Brown has his entire team running at full speed every day, as he informed the Longhorns that not a single position on the Holiday Bowl starting lineup would be set in advance. Every player must earn his position all over again.


"Every day we have been moving people up and down," Brown said, with no pun intended. "And we've told them that we are taking this very seriously. When you play two-deep across the board all the time, somebody might think they are going to get their 30 plays, and if you're not careful, that lets them relax. Right now, nobody is guaranteed anything, so they have picked it up again."


Texas' night-and-day inconsistency this year makes the up-down drill an eerily perfect punishment, and no one understands that more than 21-touchdown, 18-interception quarterback Colt McCoy.


"When you talk about ups and downs, that's how our season has been for this team all year long," McCoy said. "We haven't played as consistent in the first three quarters, and then we come out and play outstanding in the fourth quarter. We've got to figure out what has made us do that and why we haven't played as well as we should've been."


According to McCoy, mandatory up-downs may be just what the Longhorns need to find some consistency as they bid 2007 adieu.


"Things have changed and everything is happening for the better for us right now," McCoy said.


The Longhorns have one more opportunity to prove that, for the first time all season, they can keep at least one thing consistent.