THE MAN who runs Texas's defense knew he was supposed to find a silver lining in the team's 12--0 loss to Oklahoma last Saturday. But sitting on a folding chair outside the Cotton Bowl, with rain drizzling around him, co--defensive coordinator Greg Robinson let his frustration spill over into tears. "It ticks me off to know that we had 'em in our sights at 6--0 but just didn't make the plays," said Robinson, a 30-year NFL and college coaching veteran who turned 53 that day. "I feel so very, very bad for these guys."
As Robinson shed his tears, his players showed little emotion after Texas's fifth straight failure in the Red River rivalry and the Longhorns' first shutout in 282 games. "We play [OU] every year, and someone's got to fall," senior linebacker Derrick Johnson said dully. " Oklahoma had a better game plan than we did and made plays at the right moments. That's the way it is."
Texas had taken steps to reverse its fortunes in its annual meeting with the Sooners. After reviewing last October's 65--13 debacle in Dallas, Longhorns coach Mack Brown concluded, reasonably, that his team had to get tougher. He gave powerful tailback Cedric Benson a bigger role in the offense and brought in Robinson, who'd been the Kansas City Chiefs' defensive coordinator, and former Arizona coach Dick Tomey to hone Texas's tackling and make the Longhorns more tenacious on D. The newfound toughness was apparent in the team's first four games as Texas ranked among the NCAA's top 10 in scoring defense (11.8 points per game) and fumble recoveries (seven). "We've built a good foundation," said Robinson last week. "I believe we've progressed."
Problem is, so had second-ranked Oklahoma, which had outscored opponents by an average of 26 points going into Saturday's game. Through three quarters the Longhorns held OU's potent attack to two field goals, which might have meant something had the Sooners not denied Texas a single snap in the red zone. While Oklahoma's defense limited sophomore quarterback Vince Young to just 86 yards on 8 for 23 passing and held Benson to less than 100 yards for the first time this season, Sooners true freshman Adrian Peterson ground up Robinson's defense for 225 rushing yards.
Shortly after Oklahoma's Kejuan Jones made a six-yard charge with 8:07 left for the day's only touchdown, a few particularly burnt-out of the burnt-orange faithful were headed for the exits. A pair of Longhorns-leaning paramedics behind the end zone debated whether Brown would put his house up for sale this year or next. "This is the game we wait for all year," said Drew Augustine, one of the medics, "and you can't help but feel like a loser."
A growing number of Texas fans think the Longhorns' next tweak should be to replace their coach--even though Brown has an .800 conference winning percentage over seven seasons. It would be one thing, they say, if Oklahoma were Brown's only problem. But as the performance of Peterson, a Palestine, Texas, product, made clear, the longtime recruiting guru has lost his lock on talent within his own state, which does not bode well for Red River vindication this decade.
Brown, whose team dropped to ninth in the nation, has repeatedly said that he'll take all the blame for the Longhorns' inability to beat Oklahoma, but he hasn't lost the support of the man who hired him. "This game doesn't change [the fact that] Mack Brown is the best thing that has happened at Texas," athletic director DeLoss Dodds said last Thursday. "I like the kids, and I like the coaches. It's a feel-good sort of program."
On most fall Saturdays, especially those spent amid the rolling hills of Austin rather than in downtown Dallas, that's true. But not on the Saturday that has come to count more than all the rest of them combined. -- Kelley King