After two steps forward, now a step back. TCU came ready to play. They stepped out onto the field confident in their ability to beat Texas. Texas did not and lost 20-13. TCU did not beat Texas, the Longhorns beat themselves.
Three interceptions, two of them at the goal line as Texas was driving, will kill a game. The interceptions didn't just kill drives, they took all of the wind out of the team and more importantly out of the fans. The stadium was quiet, not because fans were full of turkey and dressing, but because of the turkey they saw on the field.
David Ash reverted to the Oklahoma Ash rather than the Iowa State Ash. In addition to his two deadly interceptions — which showed poor decision-making by throwing into coverage and poor ball skills — he also fumbled. Not a "ball got knocked out of his hands" fumble, no, he just dropped the ball.
Frankly TCU played like they wanted this more. They were physical and aggressive from the start. Texas appeared to play tentatively, allowing TCU to dictate the tempo and intensity of the game.
Texas didn't play as though they wanted to win, they played as though they just didn't want to lose. There's a big difference in an athlete's approach when he is asked to play carefully versus playing fearlessly. Texas plays carefully, and gets run over. TCU plays fearlessly and wins.
So how do you explain this Jekyl and Hyde Texas Longhorn football team? Are they the team that whipped Texas Tech and Iowa State or are they the team that seemed listless and unprepared against Oklahoma and TCU? We know they are not good enough to beat anyone if they don't play their best football, and we know they are not as bad as Oklahoma made them look, right?
Mack Brown explained it this way in a short, somber post-game press conference. "We can sit here and talk about it, four turnovers to one, you're going to get beat most of the time. In fact, it's about 100 percent certain... It's pretty simple. It's not complicated when you get that many turnovers."
But it is more complicated than that Mack. This team lacks any sort of personality. The Longhorns lack that season defining moment.
Are the 2012 Texas Longhorns a power running team, dominating the line of scrimmage or are they a deep passing, end-around speed team? Is the Longhorn defense an aggressive, physical, sack-happy, stuff-the-run defense or are they a "trick" you into making a mistake and a turnover defense?
Sure, a championship team can and probably should be good at doing all of those of things, but how do you describe what Texas is best at? They're not "best" at anything right now. In face Mack Brown acknowledged as much Thursday night.
"You've got to coach yourself to death every weekend. You go out there and coach whatever shows up. Hope that both sides play great. When they don't, you go adjust it. And that's what we tried to do tonight."
Wait — you coach "whatever shows up"?
Mack, this is Texas — the team with the best players, the best organization, the finest facilities and the highest paid coaches. Texas gets what it wants, all of the time. And still you're not sure what will "show up" on the field?
Texas should be dictating the game, especially at home, on Thanksgiving, against a less talented team, anything less is failure.
So where do you look for answers? Texas in theory has the better players. They are the Texas Longhorns after all, a recruiting juggernaut. Texas gets the pick of the litter every year.
So when the better players don't execute on the field, who's fault is it? Is it a lack of motivation, maybe an over-estimation of skill, or is is a lack of skill-building in practice?
All of those answers point toward the coaches. Perhaps the recruiting is not as good as it needs to be, perhaps the coaches are not getting the players properly prepared to play. Perhaps the players lack the killer instinct it takes to play a violent game or, scary thought, perhaps it's all of those.
Once again, the Longhorns find themselves playing for pride not for championships. The conference championship is now out of the picture, a BCS bowl was probably never in the picture. The Cotton Bowl may still be in play if the Horns can beat Kansas State next weekend in Manhattan. That's a tall order, but otherwise Texas will be back to a "San" bowl in San Diego (Holiday) or San Antonio (Alamo).
Whatever happens on the field between now and January 1st an evaluation needs to begin now:
- Texas needs a quarterback. Ash and McCoy, God love'em, are outstanding second-string quarterbacks right now. Maybe co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite see something lesser fans like us don't, if so, it's time for one of them to reveal it. If not, then Texas should perhaps start all over again next year with a freshman or go looking at the junior college level.
- Mack Brown needs to evaluate himself and his staff. The team needs an injection of energy and attitude. Maybe this group has it. If so, we need to see it.
This season is no longer about how good the Big 12 is. It is about how good Texas wants to be.