The lights were on early last Friday morning at the Texas defensive coaches’ offices
There was no chance for any of Will Muschamp's group to sneak away to any "Black Friday” sales. The Texas defensive coaches were working long and hard trying to rebuild some schemes heading into the Big 12 championship game after a struggling performance against Texas A&M.
Maybe it was the short work week. Or it might have been too many demands placed on his team. But whatever the reason, the Longhorns’ defense had its first clunker of the season in a closer-than-expected 49-39 victory over the Aggies.
Among the painful reminders were the most rushing yards, total yards and points allowed this season by the Longhorns. It was a game where defensive players felt like the offense bailed them out to continue their 12-0 season.
“We’re going to self-evaluate what we did,” Muschamp said. “But obviously, whatever we did wasn’t right.”
Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson befuddled the Longhorns with 439 total yards, including 97 yards rushing. That total was more than what nine teams had produced against the Longhorns this season.
“We had some missed communication, assignments, alignments, 13 missed tackles ... critical errors on third down," Muschamp said. "It makes for a long night. And it all falls on my shoulders.”
Those struggles are coming as the Longhorns prepare for their biggest game of the season. Nebraska looms, and with it , the Longhorns' first chance to play in the BCS title game since the 2006 Rose Bowl.
But in order to get there, the defense will have to show marked improvement this week against the Cornhuskers.
Texas coach Mack Brown doesn’t expect any hangover after last week’s struggles. In fact, he said the defense's struggling performance in College Station might be a benefit against the Cornhuskers.
“They will play their tails off," Brown said. "They were mad and embarrassed. They are very prideful kids. They were not happy, which I like. They were happy we won, but they know it was not good.”
That realization has the Texas defense excited about its chance at redemption.
“We’re excited to get back out there and have another chance to play football,” Texas defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. “All of us can’t wait.”
Defensive end Sam Acho was even more direct.
“We know we made some mistakes, but we know we can improve on our performance,” Acho said. “We’ve moved on.”
The Longhorns might be receiving some benefits because they are playing Nebraska. The Cornhuskers don’t feature a dual-threat quarterback like Johnson or the Aggies’ squadron of speedy playmakers.
Instead, the Cornhuskers rank a pedestrian 11th in the Big 12 in total offense and have pulled back on some of their play-calling strategy during a recent five-game winning streak after Zac Lee reclaimed the starting quarterback position.
The Cornhuskers’ ground-based attack should play well into Texas' defensive strength, which remains the nation’s stingiest against the run, allowing only 61.8 yards per game.
“We’re anxious about the challenge about how they will play us,” Texas safety Earl Thomas said. “It will test how physical we are. Our defense is all about effort. I think we’ll be OK.”
Houston is particularly looking forward to that direct, physical challenge after last week.
“There is no linger,” Houston said. “A&M is a top-10 offense and no one gives them credit. We had some mental breakdowns we’re going to fix. And we’ll get ready for Saturday.”
Brown also thinks the struggles against the Aggies were a one-game aberration, and nothing like how his team will play in the Big 12 championship game.
"The lack of performance will get our attention for this week,” Brown said. “We probably tried to do too much last week. But we’ll go back and be who we are this week.”
The media interviews Lamarr Houston about the Big 12 title game.