Horns show signs of camaraderie, trust

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Longhorn players congratulate each other after beating BYU. Head coach Mack Brown said the Texas players are beginning to work much better as a team.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Mack Brown admitted it himself: Texas would not have won a game last season like the one it won this past weekend.

What was the difference? What changed?

“The fact that they were pulling for each other won it,” Brown said. “Tonight, it would have been very easy for the defense to get frustrated with the offense in the first half and they didn’t at all.”

Ever since Texas beat BYU, players have recalled instances of members of the offense encouraging members of the defense and vice versa. Brown recalled examples of friction between the offense and defense a year ago. The Longhorns’ team chemistry has visibly improved since then, and that was evident when they took down the Cougars. There’s no way Texas could have triumphed in a contest where they fell behind by 13 points just before a quarterback change if it wasn’t different.

“When it was 16-10, I just went in the huddle and said, ‘If y’all get the lead, we’re not going to give it back,’” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “We got the lead and the rest was history.”

A big reason why players such as Acho can be so confident is that the change in quarterback has paid off so far. Sophomore Case McCoy will make his first start against UCLA after leading Texas to a thrilling victory over BYU. After his performance in that game and the way his teammates have described him this week, it’s clear that McCoy, like older brother Colt before him, has won them over.

“I walked in the huddle and they said, ‘Let’s go. Call the play. We’re behind you the whole time,’” McCoy said.

When UCLA rolled into Austin last season, Texas trailed 13-3 after the first half, the exact same score of the Longhorns’ contest against the Cougars at halftime. But instead of mounting a comeback, Texas’ last two quarters were even worse than its first two, as the Longhorns were outscored 21-9 in the second half. With BYU, it was a whole different story.

“We didn’t realize how hard it is to win,” said senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall. “That’s something that last season made us, as a unit, appreciate winning a whole lot more. That’s why we put in the work. The fun is in winning.”

Texas is a different team now. Thanks in large part to an outstanding freshman class, as well as several savvy veterans, the Longhorns are a more talented bunch. More importantly, however, they trust each other more. Brown said there was occasional friction between the offense and defense, last year but the atmosphere in the locker room has changed drastically this season.

“There’s a lot of team togetherness,” said sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks. “It’s a really good feeling to know the offense has your back or the defense has your back when you’re not playing as well as you want to.”

Texas’ showing against BYU proved to everyone that they can win the tough, nail-biting, hotly contested game, something they were not able to do well in 2010. This year’s version of the Longhorns can fall behind without dropping their shoulders and throwing in the towel, although avoiding an early hole has been a point of emphasis this week in practice. Should Texas find itself trailing, however, they won’t need to look too far back for a reminder that they can erase whatever deficit they face.

“Everybody kept everybody motivated, and I think that was the beauty of the BYU game,” Randall said. “It brought us together because the defense needed the offense and the offense needed the defense and we went in there and played as a unit. When we let them score, the offense was right there. They had our back and vice versa.”

UCLA took advantage of Texas’ inability to bounce back from adversity, but with the Longhorns playing as well together as they are, the Bruins will have to look for other ways to knock off the Longhorns.