Eddie Jones

The Longhorns don’t play with passion. Senior defensive end Eddie Jones can hook his horns and sing “Texas Fight” after losing to Iowa State and his fellow end Sam Acho can pump his fist after making a tackle, but as a whole, the team does not play with a passion or a purpose.

And head coach Mack Brown knows it. He could feel it in August.

“I worry about this team,” Brown said. “On the first Wednesday scrimmage we had this year, I said that we didn’t see the emotion from players.”

Because the Longhorns have had nine consecutive 10-win seasons, they assumed this year wouldn’t be any different. But things aren’t looking so rosy right now and the players are learning that just because they wear a longhorn on their helmets doesn’t mean wins are guaranteed. This season, entitlement won’t get them anywhere. It’s going to take more dedication and energy than ever before.

As the old saying goes, “You play how you practice,” and junior receiver Malcolm Williams admitted that the energy levels have been lower than usual at practice all year.

“It’s been there at times, but it’s been more sketchy,” Williams said. “Some days it’s there, others it’s not and in the past, it’s always been there. We always found a way to bring it. Even at 6 a.m. practices we found a way.”

The enthusiasm was there in the past because of leadership. Players like Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo and Colt McCoy never would have stood for indifference. In fact, those players were ready to call out their teammates if need be.

Brown recalled the 2008 Fiesta Bowl when Texas was about to play Ohio State. He was worried his team didn’t have an edge in pre-game, but then he heard a lot of commotion coming from the locker room.

“I heard all this ruckus and I turned to [strength and conditioning coach Jeff Madden] and I say, ‘Jeff, something’s happening in there, go see what’s going on. It sounds like a fight,’” Brown said. “So he goes in and walks back out with a smile on his face and he says, ‘Uh, no coach, it’s Roy [Miller]. He’s just getting everyone ready to play.’ He was throwing trash cans and screaming.”

This team may not be the type to throw trash cans, but a few players discussed what they are going to do this week to change the overall attitude.

“Now is the time where it’s not a time to be comfortable,” he said. “Everybody has to get out of their comfort zone whether that’s in their leadership styles or in their style of play. You have to be uncomfortable in order to grow.”

Williams said that he is going to lead by example.

“It’s not just about being vocal anymore, it’s my actions, too,” Williams said. “Every time I step out on the field, I try to go to work and work my hardest.”

Senior receiver John Chiles is going let the rest of the team know they still have a lot to play for.

“We have to keep playing each and every game like we are going to win the national championship,” he said. “We have to keep on playing, keep on going, keep on working hard and gel as a team.”

This is not how Texas imagined its season would go.

Not hardly. But imagine the burn that the seniors are feeling right now.

Three years ago today, 19th ranked Texas lost to 10th ranked Oklahoma and fell to No. 23 in the rankings, in large part because of a loss to Kansas State the previous week. Wide-eyed freshmen such as Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Kyle Hix and James Kirkendoll hardly understood what was happening around them. But this core class of 2011 went on to win 34 of their next 37 games before running into the brick wall they’ve hit now.

“Our morale is definitely hurting right now,” Kirkendoll said.

“Hurting” isn’t heavy enough for what the Longhorns are feeling in this bye week. The loss to UCLA was eye opening and devastating to the season. But as they had done for the past few seasons, the players banded together to play with heart and passion in a bounce-back game this past Saturday.
With the talent Texas consistently has, playing with motivation is usually enough for victory. But the Sooners gave the Longhorns every chance of winning the Red River Rivalry seemingly just for the joy of ripping out their hearts in the end.

There was one iconic play that will forever symbolize the season these seniors are doomed to have. With time running out and finally playing with passion, seniors Jones, Acho and Jared Norton chased down a Landry Jones fumble late in the game. Norton desperately tried to get the ball to salvage the game — and the season — but ultimately came inches short.

“I actually thought we were going to pick it up and run it in for a touchdown,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown, ever the optimist. “And then it just kind of sat there and sat there and, like the rest of the day, rolled out of bounds.”

The truth is, these seniors haven’t faced much adversity in their years at Texas. Dominance has spoiled them and their fans to expect someone else — whether it was Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley or Hunter Lawrence — to come through in the end. But while those players were always finding ways to win, this team is being increasingly characterized by how it finds ways to lose.

Still, the seniors are looking forward to the rest of the season.

“I have to stay a leader and try to find a way to win,” Jones said. “Something that we don’t do here at Texas is lose. We have to go back and find a way to change these losses into victories.”

Honestly, this disastrous season might not be their faults at all. The 2005 national championship season had a ripple effect that sent a surge of five-star recruits with a knack for winning to Texas. Vince Young’s heroics showed them Texas’ winning traditions and they committed to the burnt orange. That class of recruits went all the way to the national championship last season, but now that they’re gone, we’re seeing the recruiting product of the 2006 season when the Longhorns went 10-3.

The best thing Texas can do at this point is salvage the season for the sake of the 2014 roster. But at this rate, Arkansas and BYU look pretty daunting on that schedule.

“We have to go back for these two weeks and grind it out,” Jones said. “Work hard as a team, stay up, stay motivated and keep this heart and drive that we had today. We can go back out and win. We can change things around.”

This is not how Texas imagined its season would go.

Not hardly. But imagine the burn that the seniors are feeling right now.

Three years ago today, 19th ranked Texas lost to 10th ranked Oklahoma and fell to No. 23 in the rankings, in large part because of a loss to Kansas State the previous week. Wide-eyed freshmen such as Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Kyle Hix and James Kirkendoll hardly understood what was happening around them. But this core class of 2011 went on to win 34 of their next 37 games before running into the brick wall they’ve hit now.

“Our morale is definitely hurting right now,” Kirkendoll said.

“Hurting” isn’t heavy enough for what the Longhorns are feeling in this bye week. The loss to UCLA was eye opening and devastating to the season. But as they had done for the past few seasons, the players banded together to play with heart and passion in a bounce-back game this past Saturday.
With the talent Texas consistently has, playing with motivation is usually enough for victory. But the Sooners gave the Longhorns every chance of winning the Red River Rivalry seemingly just for the joy of ripping out their hearts in the end.

There was one iconic play that will forever symbolize the season these seniors are doomed to have. With time running out and finally playing with passion, seniors Jones, Acho and Jared Norton chased down a Landry Jones fumble late in the game. Norton desperately tried to get the ball to salvage the game — and the season — but ultimately came inches short.

“I actually thought we were going to pick it up and run it in for a touchdown,” said Texas head coach Mack Brown, ever the optimist. “And then it just kind of sat there and sat there and, like the rest of the day, rolled out of bounds.”

The truth is, these seniors haven’t faced much adversity in their years at Texas. Dominance has spoiled them and their fans to expect someone else — whether it was Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley or Hunter Lawrence — to come through in the end. But while those players were always finding ways to win, this team is being increasingly characterized by how it finds ways to lose.

Still, the seniors are looking forward to the rest of the season.

“I have to stay a leader and try to find a way to win,” Jones said. “Something that we don’t do here at Texas is lose. We have to go back and find a way to change these losses into victories.”

Honestly, this disastrous season might not be their faults at all. The 2005 national championship season had a ripple effect that sent a surge of five-star recruits with a knack for winning to Texas. Vince Young’s heroics showed them Texas’ winning traditions and they committed to the burnt orange. That class of recruits went all the way to the national championship last season, but now that they’re gone, we’re seeing the recruiting product of the 2006 season when the Longhorns went 10-3.

The best thing Texas can do at this point is salvage the season for the sake of the 2014 roster. But at this rate, Arkansas and BYU look pretty daunting on that schedule.

“We have to go back for these two weeks and grind it out,” Jones said. “Work hard as a team, stay up, stay motivated and keep this heart and drive that we had today. We can go back out and win. We can change things around.”