Tre Walker

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

This offseason Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker took a shot at the Longhorns. He stepped out and labeled one of the country’s most successful programs soft.

“They kind of laid down a little bit,” Walker said. “That’s nothing to say about their character. That’s just what they do.”

Seven games into the season, it’s hard to give much credence to his opinion. The Longhorns are a physically and mentally tough unit.  It’s a drastic change, an alteration that began in the trenches with the offensive line.

“We were tired of hearing everyone talk down on us,” senior left tackle Donald Hawkins said. “When you get tired of people talking you step up.”

The Longhorns haven’t been known for a physical running style since Ricky Williams roamed the Texas backfield in 1998, winning the school’s second Heisman trophy. But this team and coaching staff envisioned a change.

Three years ago Mack Brown set out to alter the offensive mindset at Texas. Instead of the fast-paced spread offense the team ran under Colt McCoy, Brown sought to employ a physical, run-heavy attack that would wear down quicker Big 12 defenses. It was a sound strategy. Almost every team in the Big 12 had shifted to the nickel as its base defense in an attempt to counteract the four and five-wide sets offenses frequently utilized.

But the shift in styles wasn’t effective for Texas. A young, small group of Longhorns offensive linemen weren’t capable of consistently dominating opposing defensive lines. They’d be fine pass blocking, but when the time came to charge ahead and create the gap needed for a one-yard gain, the unit often fell short.

Fast forward three years and the offensive line looks quite different. Three seniors – four when right tackle Josh Cochran is healthy – one junior and a sophomore have combined for one of the best seasons by a Texas offensive line in the last decade.

“Those guys are playing at a very, very high level,” head coach Mack Brown said. “They’ve taken a lot of criticism over the last couple years. This is who we’ve wanted to be for the last three years.”

Before Kansas sacked Case McCoy in the third quarter last weekend, Texas had not allowed a sack in its previous 11 quarters. That’s an attitude stat. It’s takes a strong sense of pride to keep a quarterback’s jersey clean for so long, and the Longhorns have displayed that.

McCoy is appreciative of the effort, but now knows he’ll have to keep feeding them.

“They’re playing unreal,” McCoy said. “I guess I gotta keep feeding them.  It’s getting expensive, but if that’s what I’ve got to do, I’ll do it.”

The extra meal or two a week benefits the group, but the increased focus on the rushing attack has been the greatest augment to their performance.  The linemen know Texas is committed to run the ball, and it’s up to them to make sure the effort is successful. Thus far, it has been. The Longhorns have cleared the 200-yard barrier on the ground in each of their last three games.

“We want to run the ball down people’s throats,” junior center Dominic Espinosa said. “It’s the mindset and that’s what we are going to do.”

If the offensive line continues to do that, no one will call the Longhorns soft anytime soon.

Tre Walker said over the offseason that Texas "laid down" during its loss to Kansas State last year. Walker has since apologized for his comments but the Longhorns haven't done much to prove him wrong since he made them.

Photo Credit: Alexandra Dolan | Daily Texan Staff

When asked if he thought there is a Big 12 team out there that can run the table in conference play, Chris Whaley hesitated.

Hesitated like so many of his fellow Longhorns defenders have done on the field this year. Hesitated like his teammates on the other side of the ball when trying to run the ball in the second half of last weeks’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss. Hesitated unlike his head coach when, after that defeat, he adamantly claimed the season salvageable if Texas wins the Big 12.

Mack Brown has beaten the we-can-win-the-Big-12 talking to point into the ground like BYU and Ole Miss have beaten his Longhorns into the ground the past two weekends.

Yet when thrown a softball question about if a team in the conference can beat the other nine Big 12 squads this year, Whaley hesitated.

“I don’t know,” Whaley said eight seconds after the question was asked. “There’s a lot of good teams in the Big 12.”

Instead of immediately responding by saying Texas can win its next nine games, even if nobody but him believes it, Whaley took eight seconds to claim he wasn’t sure.

Unsure like when the undisciplined and underachieving Longhorns defense faces the zone read that Kansas State is sure to run this week. 

When asked about Texas’ effort in last year’s loss to Kansas State – who visits Austin this week – Wildcats linebacker Tre Walker did not hesitate, saying the Longhorns “laid down.”

“Texas sometimes lets their name get them in a pickle,” Walker told me at Big 12 Media Days. “We don’t have the players [Texas does] but, at the end of the day, we fight.”

Fight – that’s not something the Longhorns have done much of on defense the last couple weeks. Texas has done nothing to refute Walker’s comments, which he has since apologized for but nonetheless remain true. A quarterback less than a year removed from ACL surgery ran for 259 yards and three touchdowns against Texas two Saturdays ago.

“He’s not here with us every day,” senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said of Walker, who, like Hicks, missed Kansas State’s Big 12 title-clinching win over Texas last year with a knee injury. “He doesn’t know. Anybody who’s not around us has their own opinion and that’s his opinion. We’re not worried about him.”

The Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in that 40-21 defeat, cutting that number in half the following week as they surrendered 272 rushing yards in a 44-23 loss to
Ole Miss.

If that’s what they’re calling progress, the Longhorns have no chance at winning the Big 12 this year.

That doesn’t mean they won’t have a chance to beat Kansas State this week. Texas is favored to beat the Wildcats on Saturday night. Keep in mind that the Longhorns were also favored to beat BYU and Ole Miss. But Kansas State, who has won five straight against Texas, is working out the kinks of a two-quarterback system and did drop its season opener to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State.

“Kansas State has our number,” Hicks admitted.

Hicks and the rest of the Texas defense are going to have to play a whole lot better than they have the last two weeks if they want to prove Walker wrong. If they don’t do it this week, they never will.

Texas will look to knock off Kansas State for the first time since 2003 this weekend. The Longhorns are 0-5 during that stretch with a total point differential of -70. A win over the Wildcats would bring Texas back to .500 on the season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Texas players took great offense when Kansas State's senior linebacker Tre Walker said laying down in games is “just what [the Longhorns] do” at Big 12 Media Day in July.

“It’s basically a slap in the face,” senior safety Adrian Phillips said. “You don’t want to hear that. You want to be known for being physical, fighting throughout the whole game, getting wins. When you have a player talking like that, it’s a slap in the face. Our team took it personally.”

The Longhorns have the opportunity to prove Walker wrong this Saturday when they host Kansas State for their Big 12 opener. More importantly, though, they are eager to snap a dubious streak against the Wildcats that’s plagued them for the past decade.

Texas enters Saturday with a five-game losing streak against Kansas State, dating back to 2006. These losses include a 42-24 drubbing in last year’s regular season finale, allowing the Wildcats to clinch a share of the 2012 Big 12 title. 

“It’s time to break that hold that Kansas State has on us,” Phillips said. “They have had it on us for the last few years. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you why. We have to get a win this Saturday.”

While many players stress the importance of ending the streak, co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite looks at Saturday’s matchup as just the next game on the schedule. Applewhite realizes that many of the contributors from earlier in the decade no longer play, and he believes past games have no bearing on this one.

“All those games carry their own identity,” Applewhite said. “They all were played a certain way with certain players. [Kansas State head coach Bill] Snyder isn’t telling them the 1999 game matters. He’s talking about 2013.”

That said, it is difficult to ignore the Wildcats’ stranglehold over Texas in recent history. Since Mack Brown took over as head coach in 1998, the Longhorns are just 2-7 against Kansas State while posting a .788 winning percentage against all other opponents.

“Some teams seem to match up better than others,” Brown said. “They get the confidence that whatever happens we’re going to win the game. We got to flip that switch this weekend.”

Senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is ready to put those struggles behind him, and he expects his team to be prepared and determined to defeat the Wildcats and pick up its first conference win.

“It’s all in the past,” Jeffcoat. “It’s all about this year, all about what we’re going to do this year. We’ll have to see what they do on film, where we can capitalize on things they do, what kind of technique we have to play with, how we can beat them.”

Between Walker’s comments in the summer and the lingering losing streak, there is no shortage of motivators for the Longhorns to win this week. Following a 1-2 start to the season, the Texas players know that no storyline is more important than picking up a win.

“We’ve been waiting on this game since [Big 12] Media Day,” Phillips said. “The game is more amped up now. For us being in the place that we’re in, the defense knows the game is going to be on us. We’re just ready for Saturday.” 

Players voice opinion on O'Bannon lawsuit against NCAA

DALLAS – Count Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker among those strongly in support of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, which challenges whether EA should be allowed to use college athletes’ likenesses in video games without compensating them.

The NCAA ended its contract with EA, possibly marking the end of the popular NCAA Football franchise. NCAA Football 13 sold nearly 2 million copies last year.

“What goes around comes around and I’m so happy someone decided to sue the NCAA,” Walker said. “They think just because they give us a full ride scholarship that we should be thankful for them taking money from us that we earn every day. Without us, the NCAA wouldn’t have a job.”

“We play in the game that causes revenue,” Walker continued. “The NCAA makes millions and millions of dollars for that. We go to bowl games. The players don’t get paid for that. The school gets paid for that. They think just because we get new suits and new cleats and all that stuff that we should be satisfied but it’s blood, sweat and tears – we go back to our hometowns and college towns and work our behinds off to play 12 games a season.”

When playing NCAA Football 14, there is a “QB #14” on Texas’ roster that most would perceive to be Longhorns quarterback David Ash. “LB #50” on Kansas State’s roster is seemingly meant to be Walker.

“It’s not about disrespecting anybody but it’s about telling the truth,” Walker said. “They can’t sit there and say nobody knows it’s us. What if we got in trouble or something and we got nothing but the jersey and the number, then, in the court of law, and try to say that’s not you. At the end of it, you can’t sit there and use that against us and say they’re not making money off us when they really are.”

Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney plays for the rival Jayhawks but agrees with Walker. The O’Bannon lawsuit is seeking class action status and, if it does, it could dramatically affect the economic landscape in college athletics.

“They’re using us,” Heeney said. “The NFL gets paid for being on there so we should be the same… We basically have a full-time job being a student-athlete. It’s 40 hours a week working out, lifting, everything. We don’t really have the luxury of other stduents getting a job and maintaining that job… You’re getting paid to do this. This is the prime of your career. Why can’t I get paid for being in the prime of mine?”

Others, like TCU safety Sam Carter, could care less about the legislation facing the NCAA regarding likenesses in video games. Although Carter does admit to boosting up the rating of TCU’s “S #17” to 99 overall, the game’s highest rating, when he plays NCAA Football 14.

“I’m 99 in my heart,” Carter joked. “I don’t really have anything to say about [the lawsuit] because it’s not affecting me in any way. I’m excited that I’m getting to play the sport and I’m enjoying every bit of it. They’ve been doing it for years so I’m not going to be the one trying to change that.”

Walker, when asked about a $2,000 stipend for student-athletes, an initiative supported by some administrators and coaches, including Texas head coach Mack Brown, was more outspoken. 

“I would love to see that,” Walker said. “I think it’s nothing but fair. If you think about how much money we get paid to live where we live, some of our rents is $600 a month. When you take a $740 check plus rent, even with a $500 rent, after utilities, you have nothing to show for it. No money. Without some of these food plans with the school, we’d have nothing. We’d be starving. That’s terrible. I’m tired of it.”