If the Texas defensive linemen could erase one memory from their college football experiences, it would be their time in the locker room in Provo, Utah, last fall.
“It was terrible and bewildering,” senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We went into the game feeling ready, and it got handed to us.”
Last season, in embarrassing fashion, the Longhorns lost to an unranked BYU team as then-sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill trampled them for 259 yards and three touchdowns, gathering a program-record 550 rushing yards.
“That’s the most embarrassed I’ve ever been in my life,” senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “[The film] was embarrassing then, and it’s embarrassing now. But it’s a new year, day, team and coaches.”
Much has changed since the Longhorns faced BYU. After then-head coach Mack Brown thought the defensive line needed new guidance, he replaced defensive coordinator Manny Diaz with Greg Robinson, who won the 2005 Rose Bowl with Texas. Vance Bedford has sinced replaced Robinson as defensive coordinator.
“He came in and tried to simplify things, with the terminology and the schemes,” Hicks said. “Now, we need to make sure that every player understands the game plan, is on the same page and is working toward the same goals to execute his job.”
Hicks believes creating that solid game plan is the key to reversing Texas’ luck against BYU. He said Texas’ downfall in the 2013 matchup was missed assignments that caused the team lost leverage. Now, the team stresses the need for accountability and gap integrity on the field, which it achieved in last week’s 38-7 victory against North Texas.
After allowing just 94 yards of total offense against the Mean Green last Saturday and picking four balls, Texas experienced something that it never even considered in Provo — it had fun.
“We don’t care what other people do or what the media says — we’re just going to do what we do and go out and have fun,” Diggs said. “You could see last week we had fun, getting the sideline going and the crowd going. It’s a big week for us, and we want people in the stands to get the game sold out.”
Although Diggs said the stadium energy factored into the enjoyment of last week’s game, the team’s desire to have fun dates back to weeks earlier. Strong and Bedford emphasize enjoying the game throughout practices and camps, introducing inter-team competitions and prizes to up players’ motivation. The defensive teams compete for the weekly “takeaway belt,” a bragging right the linebackers won first, but every squad has won at least once now.
“If you emphasize stuff in practice and camp, it’ll carry over to the games,” Hicks said. “The habits become reality.”
Coming into the locker room Saturday, the Longhorns won’t dwell on the Provo postgame experience from last year. They’re ready to put the loss behind them and show fans the new defensive prowess. If the nerves start up, or memories of last year’s locker room scene do begin to surface, the players just need to look at the walls of their home locker room. A series of signs were posted up on the walls before the season opener, all reading the same word — “FUN.”