Keenan Robinson

Keeping Score: Things We Learned: Injuries deprive Horns of chance to beat Missouri

Texas can win without some of its playmakers, not without all of them

Texas beat Texas Tech handily without its leading rusher and receiver but could not beat Missouri without Malcolm Brown, Joe Bergeron and Jaxon Shipley seeing the field. Linebacker Keenan Robinson hurt his thumb in the first quarter and did not return, but the loss of Fozzy Whittaker may have hurt the most. With Whittaker nursing a knee injury suffered on the first drive of the game, the Longhorns were down to fourth-string running back Jeremy Hills and could muster only 76 rushing yards after averaging 440 in the last two games.

“[Fozzy Whittaker’s] our leader,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Injuries can’t be an excuse, even though they piled up more than I think I’ve ever seen at one position.”

Quarterback situation still unstable

With David Ash taking over as the full-time starter three contests ago, the Texas quarterback position began to stabilize. But after six straight scoreless possessions, Case McCoy took over in the third quarter, getting his first meaningful playing time in more than a month.

Ash went 13-of-29 for 158 yards, completing two long third-down passes on the Longhorns’ opening drive, the only one that produced points. The freshman was also sacked twice on third down, threw an interception near the end of the first half, and missed Marquise Goodwin on what would have been a sure touchdown pass in the first half. Meanwhile, Texas went three and out on McCoy’s first two drives with Justin Tucker missing a 53-yard field goal at the end of McCoy’s third.

“The quarterbacks showed leadership as they always do,” said junior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. “We just couldn’t get the ball moving like we wanted to. We have to go back to the drawing board and get it going for Kansas State.”

Longhorns’ defense one of the best in the country

Missouri came into this game averaging almost 35 points per game but was held to a season-low 17 points Saturday. Even without Robinson and a productive offense for the majority of the day, the Longhorns defense kept them in the game. Texas held its ground when the Tigers blocked a punt and recovered the ball at the Longhorns’ 1-yard line, holding Missouri to a 19-yard field goal. Texas blocked a punt of its own, resulting in a safety, while holding quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey, who suffered a season-ending injury in the third quarter, to a combined 238 yards, close to 200 below their combined season average.

“The defense played well enough to win,” Brown said. “They kept fighting and competing throughout the game – blocked a punt and let us stay in the ballgame. But offensively we could never get the game started.”

Keenan Robinson, 1, was the first Longhorn selected in the NFL Draft this weekend. The linebacker was a fourth round pick of the Washington Redskins. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Although it took a little while and some patience, three Longhorns were selected in the NFL Draft on Saturday — the final day of the draft.

Keenan Robinson, a linebacker, was the first to hear his name called. Robinson was picked by Washington in the fourth round, 119th overall.

Robinson will be reunited with former Longhorn and two-time Pro Bowl pick Brian Orakpo who plays outside linebacker for the Redskins. The two played together when Robinson was a freshman.

He played inside linebacker as a senior and will look to make an impact in the Redskins’ 3-4 scheme. Linebackers are one of the Redskins’ strengths, so Robinson likely won’t be starting anytime soon.

“Keenan came in tall and thin and left about 240 pounds,” said UT head coach Mack Brown. “So he has improved his strength, his flexibility and therefore his range in his ability to make the big hit more than any player that I can remember.”

A few hours later, in the sixth round, the Cleveland Browns picked linebacker Emmanuel Acho. He was the 204th player chosen overall.

Acho could back up Browns returning starters Chris Gocong and Kaluka Maiava. Acho was an All-Big 12 senior and posted 131 tackles his final year as a Longhorn.

Even though Kheeston Randall was expected to be the first Longhorn drafted, he had to wait his turn and was chosen in the seventh round by the Miami Dolphins (215th overall).

“Kheeston Randall made more improvement last year than maybe any player we’ve seen at defensive tackle,” Brown said. “He became a force on the inside and he and our two linebackers are really going to be hard to replace.”

This year’s draft had the fewest Texas players selected since 2005 — when only three were chosen. It is also only the second time since 1990 that no Texas players were chosen in the first three rounds.

Several Longhorns joined NFL teams after the Draft ended.

Kicker Justin Tucker signed as a free agent with Baltimore, safety Blake Gideon signed with the Arizona Cardinals, safety Christian Scott signed with the Tennesse Titans and offensive lineman David Snow inked a deal with the Buffalo Bills.

Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson were not drafted and are now free agents.

With no Longhorns chosen in the first three rounds, this draft wasn’t the norm for Texas. But the last two seasons haven’t been either.

Printed on Monday, April 30, 2012 as: Linebackers selected late in NFL Draft

Safety Christian Scott runs drills during Texas' annual pro day on Tuesday. Scott, along with 13 other Texas athletes, performed in front of 50 scouts, head coaches and general managers. Scott had an impressive workout and, if drafted, could be a sixth or seventh round pick.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Fourteen Texas athletes showed what they have been working toward for the past four years at Texas’ pro day on Tuesday.

For Emmanuel Acho, Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson, the day was to improve their stock for the NFL Draft on April 26. They, along with injured running back Fozzy Whittaker, attended the NFL combine in February.

But this pro day was also vital for players who weren’t invited to the combine, especially safety Blake Gideon, tackle Tray Allen, safety Christian Scott, running back Cody Johnson, center David Snow and kicker Justin Tucker. John Chiles also came back to Austin for pro day. A former New Orleans Saint, he came back to show scouts his potential.

Pro day was especially important for Robinson. Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and linebackers coach Bob Babich came to Austin to see his workouts. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was also in attendance. Robinson performed better at pro day than in the combine and said he jumped an inch higher in the vertical jump and five inches farther in the broad jump.

Robinson isn’t sure what round he will be drafted in, but feels he deserves to be wherever he will be picked. He hopes that teams will see him as a big player with the ability to move well in space.

“For me, I think I am right where I need to be,” Robinson said. “I did what I did on the field and this offseason. So now we sit back and wait and hope that I get a good situation and a good team.”

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho partially tore his quad while running the 40-yard dash at the combine three weeks ago. Trainers told him it would take three to six weeks for him to recover.

“I told them I’ve got three weeks,” Acho said.

Acho, like Robinson, hopes that scouts will appreciate his versatility. Although Acho would be excited to be a part of any team, he would love to go to the Cardinals and join his brother, Sam. Acho was impressive in his position drills despite not being 100 percent. Sam was in attendance along with other Longhorn alumni like Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams and David Thomas. Men’s basketball guard J’Covan Brown even came to watch fellow Texas athletes while they participated in position drills.

Blake Gideon, although he is not expected to be picked in the draft, had a strong performance. He said he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 and 4.56 seconds. Although he was hoping to finish better, he was happy with his overall performance and said it was a huge weight off his shoulders now that pro day is over.

“We train for two-and-a-half months for one day so it was good to see guys come out here and compete,” Gideon said. “That’s all it is, you come out here and you compete against numbers you already put up and you’re competing against each other.”

Fozzy Whittaker was very limited in his workouts due to his injury. But he increased his reps from 20 to 23.

“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Gideon said. “He was only limited to one thing and he still improved that.”

Although Whittaker’s injury has hurt his chances of being drafted, he never lost hope of being drafted. He is ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation and plans to be 100 percent by late summer.

“I’ve always kept the faith,” Whittaker said. “I’ve always had it in my mind that whatever my mind tells me to do, that’s what I can do.”

He hopes to impress scouts as a running back, kick returner and punt returner.

“However I can touch the field is how I’m selling myself,” Whittaker said.

Although most of the hopefuls on the field on Tuesday will never walk onto the field as NFL players, their time at Texas is coming to an end. At the end of last season, Texas led the NFL with 40 active players. Come April 29, these Longhorns will learn their fate.

Linebacker Keenan Robinson (#1) in the 2011 Holiday Bowl (Daily Texan file photo from December 28, 2011).

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Keenan Robinson is an aggressive linebacker who can hit hard. He finished this season with 96 tackles, eight of them for a loss, two interceptions and two sacks. A three-year starter at inside linebacker, Robinson redshirted his freshman year and played in 51 games for the Longhorns while making 39 starts.

When the Longhorns struggled in 2010, he became the leader of the defense and led the team with 113 tackles. No other member of the team had more than 90 that season.

He is likely a fourth or fifth round prospect and thrives in a 4-3 defense.

At the combine, Robinson had the sixth-highest amount of reps in the bench press out of 29 linebackers with 27. In addition, he performed well in the vertical jump with a distance of 35.5 inches. His jump was tied with fellow Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho and West Virginia’s Najee Goode for 11th amongst linebackers.

At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Robinson is quick off the snap and is impressive when chasing down ball-carriers. But, according to his player profile from the Combine, “He struggles when rushing the passer and looks stunned when an offensive lineman gets his hands on him.”

Robinson has the athletic ability to do well in the NFL, but his speed will not help him nearly as much when he plays professionally. NFL teams will look for him to play smarter.

The Eagles and Panthers are potential prospects for Robinson.

After the combine, Robinson tweeted, “Came to the combine...accomplished just about all I wanted to accomplish...now its back to Cali to train for Pro Day... #NoQuestion.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Robinson's athleticism helping his draft stock, combine performance

Jackson Jeffcoat (44) and Emmanuel Acho (18) makes a tackle against Texas Tech. Jeffcoat, a sophomore, wants to send the seniors off right this season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

This senior class has been through a lot. In their first year as Longhorns, the team finished the season ranked third in the country and went 12-1. As sophomores, they went all the way to the national championship game. As juniors, there was a big change and they didn’t even qualify for a bowl game. Now this season, the seniors are leading the team through another rough patch.

With so much experience with ups and downs, underclassmen have come to respect and admire the class of 2011.

“They’ve definitely been mentors for us throughout this whole season, and you know, to play for them on senior night, it’s an honor for me,” said sophomore cornerback Carrington Byndom. “And I’ll go out there and give it all that I have for them and for the team. Definitely having those guys back there is an honor.”

With such a young team, leadership is vital. The team has been through a lot in the past couple of years and many young players admire specific upperclassmen who helped them transition to college football.

Junior safety Kenny Vaccarro said he credits senior safety Blake Gideon for getting him where he is today.

“He has been through a lot here,” Vaccarro said. “Obviously, as far as the mental side of the game goes, it’s hard to come in and learn these systems. He helps the defense glue together and puts us all in the right positions.”

Jackson Jeffcoat, who has been playing well all season, said he wants to send the seniors off on a high note — especially fellow defensive end Kheeston Randall.

“Kheeston is a great guy, and he is like a big brother to me,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s always fun having him around. He was with us last year as a junior and unfortunately we didn’t get to send our seniors off the way we wanted to.”

Sophomore offensive lineman Mason Walters said seniors David Snow and Tray Allen helped him, especially when he first arrived on campus. Walters said the team will fight as hard as they can on Saturday.

“Coming in, both those guys, they were already kind of established older guys when I was new on campus, and they’ve both helped me out in places on the field and off the field,” Walters said.

Senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have both been playing well this season and leading the defense to the best team in the Big 12 in total defense. Acho has the fourth-highest amount of tackles in the conference and was named game captain for the BYU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Missouri games this season. Robinson was named team captain for the games against Texas Tech, BYU, UCLA and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Robinson injured his thumb in last week’s game against Missouri. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks said he has a huge amount of respect for them.

“They’re both great leaders,” Hicks said. “I’ve learned almost everything I know here about this defense from them and Coach Diaz. So they’ve taught me a lot.”

Acho said this senior class has been through a lot and that they have grown together.

“I love this senior class,” Acho said. “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through the ups. We’ve been through the downs. I like where we are, and I like the friendships that have formed.”

Gideon agrees that the team has been through a lot of highs and lows in their four years at Texas.

Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker said the team was embarrassed by last season. He, along with the other seniors, took it upon themselves to make sure this season was different.

“The senior leaders of this team were going to make sure that we didn’t let that happen again, and we were going to find a way, brick-by-brick, build a new foundation to build up this team so that we’re stronger than ever,” Whittaker said.

Head coach Mack Brown had a lot to say about the senior leaders. He had kind words for many specific seniors. He noted Blake Gideon has started every game at Texas, Christian Scott’s athletic and academic performance, Whittaker’s unselfishness, Cody Johnson’s willingness to move to fullback, Tray Allen and Blaine Irby’s recoveries from injuries and Justin Tucker’s consistent impressive performances.

It’s pretty clear that this is a senior class with a lot of character and a willingness to lead a young team.

“This is a great senior class that’s given us a lot of joy, and that’s why I want the fans to give them their proper greeting when they come into the stadium on Saturday night for the game,” Brown said.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

It doesn’t take long to figure out who Fozzy Whittaker’s favorite super hero is.

The red, white and blue shield that hangs above his bed gives it away. It’s Captain America.

Whittaker started collecting the Marvel character’s memorabilia when he arrived at Texas in 2007; the same time he began embracing the super hero’s mentality.

“It kind of just took over, Whittaker said. “I used to play one of the video games and I always played with Captain America because growing up that’s who I liked, but I never really embraced it.

“I did a little research on him and read who he was. The type of patriotism he shows, the kind of character he is. He’s somebody that I wanted to embody.”

Whittaker’s taken all that Captain America stands for to heart and emerged as the Longhorns’ team leader this season.

The senior tailback leads UT with seven touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving and two on special teams) and is No. 1 in the nation in kick return average (46.5 yards). The do-it-all running back has taken the Texas offense upon his shoulders in his final year as a Longhorn.

“He really has been Captain America,” said senior tight end Blaine Irby. “He’s been unbelievable this season. He’s a great leader and I definitely see that Captain America [mentality] kind of following him.

“It’s great because you think of Fozzy, and you just think of a running back. And then this year you see him returning kicks in the two biggest games we’ve had and you see him in the quarterback spot playing the wildcat. Fozzy can do it all.”

It’s hard to imagine where UT would be without him.

“He’s saving the team in some aspects with his play in the kickoff game and on offense,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “He’s definitely shown up big all season for us.”

Like any great super hero, Whittaker has a budding sidekick. He’s taken freshman tailback Malcolm Brown under
his wing.

“He’s a real great mentor,” said Brown, who leads the team with 516 rushing yards. “One of the coolest guys I’ve met in my life.”

Brown said Whittaker’s willingness to share his wisdom and advice caught him off-guard. After all, the rookie wasn’t expecting the veteran to take too kindly to the Longhorns’ newest stud in the backfield.

But Captain America is not selfish, so neither is Fozzy. Actually, the Houston native is about as welcoming as it gets.

“He’s one of the funniest guys on the team,” Brown said. “You can’t really be around him and not laugh. Even when you’re having some problems, go hang with Fozzy for a little bit and he’ll cheer you up real quick.”

Whittaker, though, didn’t always consider Captain America his favorite super hero.

“I always liked The Flash just because people said I was fast,” he said. “As I got older, I faded away from The Flash and gravitated towards Captain America.”

Now, his memorabilia assortment is too large for him to put a number on. Whittaker’s collection includes: puzzles, tee shirts, pins, action figures, posters, the iconic shield and, of course, his signature Captain America backpack.

Even his twitter handle, @CaptnAmerica2, pays homage to the super hero.

“I always see him wearing the hat and the shirts and he has the backpack on him everywhere,” Brown said. “I’ve seen him bring his shield before. That’s pretty cool, pretty funny.”

But Whittaker’s success this season has a lot to do with staying healthy. The oft-injured back has missed 10 games over the last three years, mainly with knee issues, but is now in the best shape of his career.

Major Applewhite, Whittaker’s position coach, said the senior’s experience with injuries have actually helped Whittaker remain healthy this season.

“Being around the program a long time, he understands how to take care of his body better,” Applewhite said. “He’s learned the ropes. In terms of, ‘Okay, I can get this treatment now. I can go do this with flexibility. I can go do this in the weight room.’”

That knowledge stems from the strong relationship Whittaker forged with Bennie Wylie, the strength and conditioning coach. The two worked tirelessly in the offseason to get Whittaker into prime shape.

“I think he’s faster,” Applewhite said. “Probably a step faster.”

Yes, Captain America would be proud.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Texas obviously did many things did wrong against Oklahoma. But maybe the Longhorns’ first mistake was made before the game even started when the team did a walkthrough at the Cotton Bowl the Friday before the game.

“We thought so many young players had never been the Cotton Bowl that we should walk through and let them see it,” said head coach Mack Brown. “It’s probably something we’ll never
do again.

Texas lost five of their last seven games after falling to Oklahoma last season. One of those two wins was a 20-13 triumph in Lincoln, Neb., over No. 5 Nebraska the contest immediately following the Red River Rivalry, but it didn’t keep the Longhorns from going down a slippery slope. This year’s Texas team seemed on the right track toward redeeming itself from last season’s 5-7 debacle but took a step backward at the Cotton Bowl last Saturday. Now, the Longhorns need to bounce back.

“The loss Saturday doesn’t discourage me at all,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “I feel like we’re still the same team we’ve been all season. We played four great games before this.”

Oklahoma State, who has played five great games so far this year, travels to Austin this weekend. The Cowboys, led by 28-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden, have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. After giving up more than 300 yards and three touchdowns to Oklahoma’s Landry Jones in the first half last weekend, Texas is faced with the tough task of slowing down the nation’s second-most productive offense, led by a gunslinger seven weeks older than Super Bowl winner Aaron Rodgers.

“We made OU one-dimensional but we didn’t make them pay because we didn’t stop the pass and get off the field on third down,” Robinson said.

Robinson is a senior but is playing on a young team with freshmen contributing at virtually every position. Many of the Longhorns’ underclassmen either weren’t in a Texas uniform or didn’t play much when Texas collapsed last season. So while Robinson’s solution of limiting Weeden’s short throws is viable, fellow senior, running back Fozzy Whittaker, offered another one Monday, saying “senior leadership” is the most important thing the Longhorns must have moving forward. Robinson agreed.

“I have to make sure that, as a senior leader and someone that’s supposed to lead by example, I do the little things right,” Robinson said. “I have to make sure I play at the highest level because everyone is going to follow after me. If they see me take a play off, they’re going to think it’s ok to take a play off.”
Many of Texas’ youngsters are playing on two of the most important spots on the field — behind center and in the secondary. Those crucial positions also require a short memory, which will come in handy after a game like the one David Ash, Case McCoy and the Longhorns secondary had against Oklahoma.

“It’s not all on the quarterbacks, it’s not all on any one position,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “The first thing you go back and look at is the turnovers. That’s the number one thing we focus on.”

One adjustment Texas will be looking to make against Oklahoma State is getting their two fastest players the ball more often. Junior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin did not catch any passes against the Sooners while D.J. Monroe had 53 all-purpose yards on just five touches.

“We’ve got to get it in [Marquise’s] hands more,” Brown said. “And we’re really impressed with what D.J. [Monroe’s] done. For the first time, in my estimation, he is playing really,
really well. ”

After last year’s Red River Rivalry, Texas’ season began to snowball, despite the big win over Nebraska. But there are many things about this year’s squad that will keep recent history from itself. This season’s Longhorns are younger and more talented but still have upperclassmen with a fresh memory of the program’s first losing season since 1997 and a heightened sense of urgency to prevent a similar letdown.

“Everyone responds to difficult days differently,” Brown said. “Last year, I got depressed. I’m not going to do that this year. They’re going to take my lead and be positive.” 

Cornerback Carrington Byndom tries to pull down an Oklahoma receiver. The secondary will take on another Heisman-caliber quarterback this week.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Defensive backs have short memories. That will come in handy this week.

The Longhorns don’t have any time to sulk over last week’s implosion against Oklahoma. Not with the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation coming to town on Saturday.

Texas entered the OU game with the country’s seventh-best pass defense. They left the Cotton Bowl ranked No. 55. If Oklahoma and Landry Jones were good, Oklahoma State and Brandon Weeden
are better.

“They’re throwing it as good as anyone in the country,” said head coach Mack Brown. “This offense might be better than the one we just played. This one’s the real deal.”

For the second-straight week, the Longhorns will face a top-five passing offense manned by a top flight signal-caller.

“We’re playing two Heisman candidates back to back here at quarterback,” Brown said.

The young Longhorns cornerbacks underwent a trial by fire last week against Jones and his talented group of Sooners receivers. And it won’t get any easier this week against Weeden and elite wide out Justin Blackmon. Still, sophomore starter Carrington Byndom says the secondary is up to the challenge.

“We’re ready to show that last week was just our fault in the back end and we’re going to step it up and bring our game to another level,” Byndum said. “We pride ourselves on being good in the back end. We’re just going back to basics and we’re going to play our game.”

Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says it takes more than just a good defensive backfield to have success against the pass. It takes 11 players, from the front seven to the deep safety.

If the Longhorns want to slow down the Cowboys aerial attack, they must limit the running game first.

“Then we can squarely focus on hammering the pass, hammering the quarterback, making him unsure of his reads,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “We need to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable and that way we can force turnovers, force interceptions, force him to hold the ball. And maybe somebody can come up from behind him and slap the ball out and get a fumble.”

But to do that, Texas must find a way to pressure Weeden. It’s been a struggle this season for the Longhorns to get sacks and disrupt the quarterback’s timing.

Texas has just six sacks through five games. An inconsistent pass rush has hindered the sack totals. The onus isn’t squarely on the defensive line or front seven, though.

“When we get a great rush going, we have to have great coverage in the back end,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “And when we have great coverage in the back end, that allows us to get a great rush going. It’s a total collective effort.”

The Longhorns struggled in coverage against the Sooners, partly because of poor communication. The speed of the game also factored in. The Cowboys call plays at a blistering pace, meaning the defensive backs must be clear on their assignments against a no-huddle look.

If Texas has breakdowns in pass coverage like it did against Oklahoma, they will pay a similar price in this game.

“If you do things 85-percent right against a quarterback like this, it is punished,” Diaz said.

Blackmon and the rest of the Cowboys receivers are going to get their catches. The Longhorns understand this. Oklahoma State throws for over 431 yards per game, so the yards will come. Texas just needs to limit the explosive plays that swing momentum and put points on the board.

The Longhorns will have to tackle better than they did a week ago, though, in order to reduce OSU’s game-breakers. Blackmon is the type who can take a swing pass for six points from anywhere on the field.

“We need to tackle well once they do catch the ball,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “You can’t let a team like that get extra yardage. You can’t let them catch and run. That’s always going to be a stress for us.”

Few teams face prolific offenses like these on consecutive weeks. But the Longhorns aren’t complaining.

They’ve moved on. The last game was a forgettable one for the secondary. And they’re pretty good at wiping the slate clean.

They’ll have a shot at redemption Saturday and another chance to prove their worth against a record-setting offense.

“It’s another challenge for us and one we’re looking forward to,” Byndum said.  

Keenan Robinson and Kenny Vaccaro bring down a Rice ballcarrier in Texas’ season opener. Robinson and Vaccaro are two of the defense’s most experienced players and will try to help Texas take down an Iowa State team that beat the Longhorns 28-21 last season.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

It’s time for Texas to get back to business.

The Longhorns took advantage of their bye week, getting a few days off to recover and prepare for the start of Big 12 Conference play, which begins on Saturday at Iowa State.

Most players spent time with their families during the bye, with senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho flying to Philadelphia to attend a wedding. Acho, though, watched game film of Iowa State (3-0) during his flights.

He understands what’s at stake for the Longhorns (3-0) this time around after losing to the Cyclones, 28-21, a season ago in Austin. Texas got caught looking past Iowa State then, but the Longhorns say they’ve learned from it.

“Some of the problems we had last year was overlooking opponents and after a year like last you know not to take anybody for granted,” Acho said. “We know we can’t make that mistake again.”

The loss certainly caught the Longhorns off guard. After all, they were coming off an upset over Nebraska on the road. But just when it looked like Texas might turn things around, the Cyclones had other ideas.

And it didn’t help that the Longhorns came out with little energy to start the game.

“It was kind of a daze, you really didn’t know what was going on and then at the end of the game you looked up and it was 28-21,” Acho said.

For fellow senior linebacker Keenan Robinson, the game is a homecoming of sorts. His mother attended Iowa State, and he was born two hours away from the campus.

Robinson, though, expects a different intensity from his team this time, one that was clearly lacking against the Cyclones in 2010, when the Longhorns found themselves in a 28-6 hole early in the fourth quarter.

“Last year it seemed like everyone was playing lackadaisical,” Robinson said. “We weren’t focused. We didn’t compete on every aspect of the game. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders at all. So this Saturday, we need to make sure that every aspect of the game is on point so that we don’t have any regrets when the game is over.”

The Longhorns have come a long way since last season’s loss to Iowa State. The coaching staff has been overhauled, as well as the schemes and the players executing them.

Still, head coach Mack Brown doesn’t hesitate to call that game the worst performance he’s seen during his 13 seasons at Texas.

“I think it was the lowest point,” Brown said. “I couldn’t believe that we would not play with more emotion or passion than we did against Iowa State. I thought the score was not as bad as the game.”

Yes, Texas is off to its fifth consecutive 3-0 start, but senior safety Blake Gideon knows that doesn’t guarantee further success. Texas began the 2010 season with an unblemished record after three games ­­— then lost seven of its final nine.

“Those three games can’t help us any more,” Gideon said. “It’s our job to prepare with everything we have for Iowa State this week, and that’s all that matters until next week.”

While Texas did not play its best ball against the Cyclones last time out, the Longhorns still own a 7-1 record against them. Texas has also fared well following a bye week under Brown, posting a 16-4 record in those games.

The Longhorns avenged their 2010 loss to UCLA with a 49-20 win over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl in their last game. On Saturday, they will attempt to do the same against Iowa State.

Printed on September 27, 2011 as: Texas getting ready for Iowa State

Shortly after Texas wrapped up its 5-7 campaign last season, Mack Brown opted for a new approach for this year. It emphasized a fresh start, laying a new foundation for the program — one that would be built “brick by brick.”

The Longhorns’ linebackers would be a good place to start.

The trio of terrific defenders — Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Jordan Hicks — is the strength of the defense, possibly the team. Robinson and Acho are seniors who combined for 200 tackles last season while Hicks is one of the best young linebackers in the nation. As a unit, the linebackers will be one of the biggest reasons Texas bounces back from last year’s abysmal showing.

“It’s like you get to write the story all over again,” Acho said. “It’s no longer about last year’s team, the championship team from two years ago, it’s now about this team. You get to write your own story. You have the pen, you have the paper, now it’s how you want to write it.”

Part of the brick-by-brick process for Brown meant cleaning house and revamping his coaching staff. The 14th-year Texas head coach hired new offensive and defensive coordinators, also bringing in new offensive line, defensive tackles, wide receivers and strength coaches. Brown even introduced himself to his team by saying, “My name is Mack Brown and this is my first season at Texas.”

“We’re starting over,” Robinson said. “I just felt like we should not dwell on the past and dwell on what happened last year so we want to start new and that’s why we have that new slogan ‘brick by brick.’ We’re laying a foundation.”

Some of the team’s members, especially at linebacker, don’t require an introduction. Robinson led the Longhorns with 113 tackles a year ago, good enough to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors. Perhaps the senior linebacker’s most remarkable accomplishments in the offseason as Robinson, who benched 405 pounds last year, maxed out at 450.

“He’s been playing at a very high level,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “I do think Keenan was a guy that had always been there but had kind of been riding the bus in the middle, not necessarily in the front with his hand on the steering wheel or foot on the gas. At some point in spring ball, he began to realize the power.”

Acho, also a senior, made the most of his first year as a starter, making 87 tackles, 12 of them for loss. Like Robinson, Acho provides great leadership to the young Longhorns on defense. Acho should know a little about playing a leadership role seeing as how his brother Sam, a rookie playing for the Arizona Cardinals, played it last year.

“The senior linebackers [Emmanuel Acho] and Keenan [Robinson] have both taken it upon themselves to lead this defense,” Hicks said. “We have all grabbed onto them and they have been leading us through the summer and through all of camp.”

For Hicks, this is his first year as a starter. He came all the way from West Chester, Ohio, to be a Longhorn. Now that Hicks, who was widely considered to be the top linebacker coming out of high school two years ago, is at the top of the depth chart, he’s prepared to make the lengthy trip pay off.

Playing for Diaz also likely goes a long way toward ensuring players coming to Texas was the right choice. The former Mississippi State defensive coordinator is relatively new to the program as he replaces current Florida head coach Will Muschamp. Diaz is giving his players a great deal of freedom, along with sending more corners and safeties to the line of scrimmage and dropping more defensive linemen and linebackers into coverage.

“It’s not freelancing but really controlled,” Hicks said. “It looks like a lot of moving and a lot of freelancing, but when you understand the scheme and you’re out there and you know your job.”

The Longhorns have one of the finest defensive lines in the country. Senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall is a mismatch for everyone while Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are two of the most athletic pass-rushers in the country. The secondary is solid despite having only three players who have started a game.

But the linebackers that play between those two units are the glue that holds the defense together. All three starters could end up in the NFL and even with sophomore Demarco Cobbs’ recent injury, they’re still deep. The linebackers will be a wall in the middle of the Texas defense, a wall like the one the Longhorns are trying to build brick by brick this season.