Column: With signature win, Strong makes his presence felt

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Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

When Charlie Strong upset West Virginia at the helm of Louisville in 2011, his players hoisted him up and sent him crowd surfing in the locker room to celebrate the win.

It was one of his first signature victories with the Cardinals, whom he would lead to two ten-win seasons and a couple bowl victories, including a Sugar Bowl win, in four seasons.

Three years later, in his first season at Texas, he faced West Virginia again — this time in a burnt orange mock turtleneck — and was faced with the challenge of beating a top-25 team, something the Longhorns hadn’t done at home since 2008. 

After knocking off the Mountaineers again, it was déjà vu for Strong, who was hoisted up in the Texas locker room and sent crowd surfing once again.

The celebration was a sign that Strong had claimed his first signature win at Texas and is starting to turn around a program that has been mediocre over the past four seasons.

“For us to go out and get a win like that where we’re at and what we’re trying to develop and really get our program started here, it’s a very gratifying win,” said Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense. 

Watson came with Strong from Louisville, where, over the course of three years, he helped form a team that went from 4-8 the year before they arrived to 12-1. Ten games into the 2014 season, it is easy to see that the Longhorns are starting to buy into what Strong is selling and that the change he made at Louisville is starting to be made here in Austin. 

Strong’s players have long claimed to have witnessed an attitude change since he arrived at Texas, but, on the field, that change hasn’t been so visible. 

Through the first two-thirds of the season, the Longhorns failed to produce a complete game in all three phases, and consistent
mistakes cost the team an opportunity to turn a couple close losses into victories.

But, as the season progressed, the team did also. 

On Saturday, it was easy to see the fire and passion Strong has created. 

Although the offense struggled in the second half, it did enough early on to give the Longhorns a lead they would not relinquish.

And on the defensive side of the ball, where Strong is at his best, the Longhorns had one of their best performances of the season. 

Even with time running out and the victory having been sealed, Texas produced a goal-line stand to prevent the Mountaineers from closing the gap, showing the desire of a changed Longhorn team.

While the victory was just the Longhorns’ fifth of the season and the first time that they have claimed two consecutive wins this year, it marked a significant leap for Texas. 

It proved that Strong is starting to impact the culture and attitude around the Longhorn program and that his players are starting to buy into his winning formula.