After a disappointing end to the regular season that saw Texas lose three of its last four games, the Longhorns need as much practice time as they can get.
With an invitation to play California in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 28, a young Texas team will get 15 additional practices to continue rebuilding a program that was at the top of the college football world two years ago.
Texas is 12-12 since the 2009 season, when UT lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game. The Longhorns are still developing new offensive and defensive schemes this year, so an extra three weeks with first-year coordinators Manny Diaz and Bryan Harsin will benefit Texas in the long run.
“It’s another two and a half weeks of practice opportunities and a chance, for us as coaches, to continue the investment in the future of our football team and our program,” said Diaz, who joined the defensive staff in January. “Every one of those practice days is invaluable. We know that we will see the results down the line.”
The Longhorns missed out on a chance to get better during the bowl season in 2010, a 5-7 mark left them ineligible for post-season play. The lack of extra reps on the practice field stunted the team’s growth, leaving UT scrambling to prepare for 2011.
“Football is a hard sport to get better at unless you are playing football,” Diaz said. “We have 15 days in the spring, and then we don’t really see them again until August. You can do conditioning drills and things like that, but you can only play football during the season.”
Now, the Longhorns have a chance to continue their “brick-by-brick” rebuilding plan as they prepare for a trip to the West Coast to play Cal. And for a team with two thirds of its players with less than two seasons of experience, bowl preparation is a valuable tool. For the true freshmen and redshirts who haven’t seen much action, the extra snaps can be the difference between a productive upcoming season or a mediocre one.
“It really is a great opportunity for them to catch the eye of the coaches and get their foot in the door before spring ball starts,” said tight end Blaine Irby, a senior who also played in the Holiday Bowl in 2007. “I remember when I was younger, feeling like it was a great opportunity to showcase how you play football and your talents. It is a great way for our younger guys to really improve on their technique and to improve on the little things.”
Texas, though, won’t get back on the field until final exams end.
“We need time to reset,” said freshman cornerback Quandre Diggs. “But once practices get going, all the guys are going to be upbeat and ready to go.”
Once they resume practice, the Longhorns will spend the first week of bowl preparation working to correct the mistakes that plagued them over second half of the season: offensive confusion, turnovers, blown coverages, missed assignments. Before the Longhorns can turn their attention to the Golden Bears, they need to get back to basics.
Still, the extended season can give Texas a push not only this year, but also in the future — if UT can start another 12-year streak of bowl games.
“If I am in this program for four or five years as a player, then I have had four more months of practice over the course of my career to improve,” said Diaz, who will coach in his 11th bowl. “So that when I leave here, I have had almost an entire other season of practice to get better as a football player. That is vital for us.”