Mack Brown, like all Texas coaches before him, has learned about the power of the OU rivalry the hard way. It's one thing to understand the force of rivalry on an intellectual level. It's still another to experience the maelstrom of emotions in the Cotton Bowl, emerge with a loss, and find a once supportive fan base out for your blood. A long series prone to inexplicable streaks, improbable upsets, and soul-crushing losses has been cruel to men on both sides of the Red River, but Mack Brown is the only successful, tenured coach in Texas history that has both clear job security and a losing record to the Sooners.
He has weathered the Texas head coach career killer.
He's 6-8 against OU. 5-8 against Bob Stoops. And though Longhorn fans have largely accepted that this is a program in rebuild, Mack Brown could really use a win in Dallas on Saturday to stay the final nails in the coffin of his OU legacy.
Let's look at the patterns of this series under Brown.
Early Success (Brown 2-0 against OU)
1998 Texas - 34, Oklahoma - 3
1999 Texas - 38, Oklahoma - 28
Brown coached his first game against OU while Bob Stoops was still coordinating the Gator defense for 'Ol BallCoach. Brown was eased into the rivalry in his first season against John "Black Santa" Blake. Blake was dirty, a bad game day coach, bad news in every job he ever had anywhere, but he did amass some random talent in Norman. Even though he had no idea what to do with it.
That game was hardly a sure thing - both teams entered with two losses. Texas had been destroyed by Kansas State and UCLA and lost starting QB Richard Walton, replaced by an unknown freckled 14 year old named Major Applewhite. The Sooners lost two games by a combined total of three points to Cal and Colorado.
The Longhorn rolled. Ricky Williams ran for 139 yards (and had another long run called back), Major Applewhite hit Wane McGarity for a 97 yard touchdown on his way to a great passing day, and a Longhorn defense that couldn't defend the pass shut down a Sooner offense led by the ignoble Sooner QBing triumvirate of Brandon Daniels, Eric Moore, and Patrick Fletcher.
In 1999, Bob Stoops took over, put in a spread passing offense with a JUCO QB named Josh Heupel, changed the position of two-thirds of the Sooner roster (in the process, discovering a few future All-Americans), brought in discipline, and altered Sooner culture. The early minutes of the 1999 game reflected that. It was 17-0, Sooners, with 4:18 left in the 1st quarter. The better Longhorn team recovered, tied the game by half, and then pulled away in the second half behind 204 yards rushing from Hodges Mitchell and an effective, if ugly, passing game featuring receivers Kwame Cavil, Ryan Nunez, and Montrell Flowers.
The Sooners had found an offense, but they still couldn't stop the Texas offense. Longhorns fans began to wonder if Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Nebraska would be our new measuring stick.
Bob Stoops and the Sooners had other plans...
The Dark Ages (Brown 0-5 against OU)
2000 Oklahoma - 63, Texas - 14
2001 Oklahoma - 14, Texas - 3
2002 Oklahoma - 35, Texas - 24
2003 Oklahoma - 65, Texas - 13
2004 Oklahoma - 12, Texas - 0
In 2000, the score was 42-7 at halftime, 56-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter. OU scored touchdowns in every first half possession. Contrary to popular belief, Stoops ran clock for the entire 4th quarter. It could have been worse.
Everything that was wrong at Texas was laid bare in this game during this half-decade of misery. And watching these contests was agonizing on every conceivable level. Mack Brown was terrified, meddlesome, and undermined the confidence of the team. Greg Davis was a laughingstock, rolling out game plans and post-game press conferences that were a direct attack on any knowledgeable fan's intellect. The Longhorn defense alternated between superlative and putrid, but between 2000-2003 defensive coordinator Carl Reese was mainly the latter.
The most frustrating aspect of this half-decade is that these were largely good Texas teams. The Longhorns were 52-7 over the five year span against teams not named Oklahoma (.881 winning percentage). Yet Texas lost these five games - against comparable talent (and only twice did OU clearly have the better team in my estimation) - by an average margin of 27 points. Those Oklahoma losses cost Texas a chance at a national championship game, conference championships, some Texas assistants their jobs, and earned Mack Brown a dark mark on his legacy.
Each game was different, but all of them rhymed. Greg Davis and Mack Brown brought ridiculous, risk-averse offensive game plans to Dallas under the notion that creating constant 3rd down and 12 with two man routes, slip screens, and a comical zone blocking scheme, would limit turnovers. Texas averaged 3.8 turnovers a game in that span, with no game having less than 3. The Greg Davis offense averaged 10.8 points per game in the series over this time and many of those points came in junk time. His survival as OC was a Shackletonian feat. Oklahoma scored many memorable defensive touchdowns on fumble recoveries and pick 6s, a number of notable Texas skill players were shut out for their careers, and Texas managed -7 yards rushing in 2000.
A 2004 offense featuring Vince Young, Cedric Benson, Bo Scaife and a quality OL was goose egged. In a game that OU led 6-0 in the 4th quarter.
Defensively, there were bright spots in 2 of the 5 years. Texas dominated the Sooner offense in 2001 (young Jason White and Nate Hybl) and killed the Sooner passing game in 2004 playing a very effective bend-but-don't-break under DC Greg Robinson, but the Texas offense managed a combined field goal in those two games. In the other three games, the Texas defense was awful. No answers for OU's tempo, crossing routes, zone read series, or much of anything else.
In 2002, Texas actually led at halftime, 14-11, but Oklahoma outscored Texas 21-7 in the 4th quarter and ended up nearly doubling up the Texas yardage output. Texas should have been blown out again, but avoided it mostly through Sooner miscues.
In 2003, the Sooners passing game went 20 of 24 for 363 yards (Mark Clayton is still running free somewhere) and they led 37-13 at half despite the electricity provided by a freshman Vincent Paul Young.
This was a dark, dark time in the series and any Texas fan who felt confident going into any Texas-OU game after 2000 was delusional. And no matter what Brown accomplished at Texas - and he's accomplished a hell of a lot - no Texas fan can ever look at his legacy without a reckoning of that era. Badly out-coached would be a kind description.
Light Overcomes Darkness (Brown 4-1 against OU)
2005 Texas - 45, Oklahoma - 12
2006 Texas - 28, Oklahoma - 10
2007 Oklahoma - 28, Texas - 21
2008 Texas - 45, Oklahoma - 35
2009 Texas - 16, Oklahoma - 13
Texas changed its fortunes in the series behind a dominating 2005 Texas team featuring the greatest dual threat QB in college football history (at least up to that point) and a roster loaded with NFL talent. The 2005 game was never competitive and Texas rolled to an easy victory, cleansing five long years of misery and bile from the Longhorn palate. Mack Brown's only really decisive victory over the Sooners.
Oklahoma helped Texas turn the worm the next year by imploding with the Big Red Auto scandals. While the Sooners outplayed Texas statistically, the Longhorn DBs, led by Aaron Ross, dominated OU physically, clamped down on Adrian Peterson, and turned QB Paul Thompson over with key interceptions. And a young QB named Colt McCoy came into his own.
Texas was now 2-0 after an 0-5 series slide.
The 2007 game was a coin flip between two roughly equivalent, flawed teams with OU coming out on top. 2008 was much the same in terms of talent parity, though this time both teams were outstanding, and Texas triumphed in one of the greatest games in series history.
2009 featured OU's defense finally catching up to the new Texas offense from 2008 (this was a common theme that year for all Texas opponents, it foreshadowed 2010's decline) but a fantastic Longhorn defense carried the game against a fairly mediocre Sooner football team.
The first thread worth noting: Texas experienced success by fundamentally altering the structure of its offense, mostly by outsourcing the decision-making to the QB position and putting the game on their shoulders, most notably in 2005 and 2008. Two 45 point outputs - clear outliers in the history of the series for Texas on offense - were not coincidental to Longhorn offensive changes and huge trust placed in the offensive players. Interestingly, as Texas game plans grew more aggressive, Longhorn turnovers markedly declined. Not a coincidence.
Second, Texas was now consistently defending the Sooner offense as spread principles were promulgated throughout college football and we had defensive coordinators whose default answer to any adversity was not the blitz. Texas allowed less than 20 points per game to OU over this stretch. Even when the Texas defense struggled, they weren't getting blown off of the field.
Texas finished a five year series run at 4-1 and though the Longhorns didn't dominate OU in that stretch and could only translate it into one conference title, it was clear that the series had dramatically changed.
Back To Where We Started, Role Reversed (Brown 0-2 against OU)
2010 Oklahoma - 28, Texas - 20
2011 Oklahoma - 55, Texas - 17
Texas and Oklahoma is not just a struggle between two teams, but a struggle for two programs with themselves. While OU was rocked by scandal in 2006, Texas was teeming with its own internal termites of self-satisfaction. At some level, Oklahoma is, and will always be, a dirty program waiting to get out. Texas, at least under most of our regimes, has shown an amazing capacity for smug complacency.
Those chickens came home to roost for Texas in 2010 and 2011 even while OU is far from setting the world on fire. And now the Longhorns are rebuilding as surely as if Mack Brown had never taken over in 1998.
In 2010, Texas played well defensively, but also showed a knack for self-sabotage on key downs. The game was closer than it should have been, with Texas scoring 10 points late to make it interesting, but it was clear which program was in a better place.
In 2011, Texas brought a true freshman QB, an incompetent OL, and pack of freshman skill players struggling to line up correctly and without any ability to audible, against an OU defense that smelled blood. Defensively, Texas couldn't hold up, and OU cruised to an easy 55-17 win.
We should have lost both games. Just as OU should have lost both of their games in 1998 and 1999.
So does 2012, like 2000, serve as the marker for a new epoch? Or is this just another game?
What Does It Mean?
A few thoughts:
- In a series famous for improbable upsets, we've only upset Oklahoma once in 14 years under Mack Brown. And that 2008 "upset" was in name only. Those were evenly matched teams. We've never seen a Texas team play well over its head in this game - at least long enough to get the win. We've only performed at expectation. And often well below it
- When Texas doesn't have any offense in this game, it can't win. The only exception to that was in 2009
- I'm not a touchy-feely analyst. I spend a lot of time mocking that approach to analyzing football or the world. Most of it is superstition and retrospectively constructed narrative. That all written, I am firmly convinced that Oklahoma has consistently had a superior mental and psychological approach to this game and that it affects outcomes. I can't prove it, but I know it
- We spent a good portion of this series getting out coached. When we coach better or coach even to Oklahoma, we win 70% of the games
If Texas wins this Saturday, what does it mean? Both in our season and with respect to Brown's legacy? Does he need to pull to .500 in this series to take away some tarnish? If we lose, what does it mean? Just another series result, no more interesting or explicable than our dominance over Nebraska or our struggles against Kansas State?
What does this game mean to you? To Mack Brown? To this 2012 team?