UT tougher this year -- and it shows

Head coach Mack Brown says the Longhorns are more physical this season than in previous years. Cal Sport Media via AP Images

AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown walked off the field not caring about the score.

Sure the win mattered. But what mattered more, at that moment and for years to come, was how the game wasn't won.

"I'll never forget the Colorado game in '09," Brown said. "There were about three third down and 4s or less, and we threw it every time, and I think we didn't make any of the four.

"I wanted to throw up leaving the field," he said. "We'd won the game 38 to 12 (38-14) or something, and I was sick. I didn't like who we were and where we were headed."

Texas had been headed in that direction for some time. Even as Brown watched his team reach and excel in BCS games, he knew the opponent had a quality his teams lacked.

"All of a sudden there's three BCS games, two Rose Bowl games and a Fiesta Bowl -- three BCS games at the end where I thought the other team was more physical than we were," Brown said. "So unless we could outscore people, we weren't going to win, and we were putting a tremendous amount of pressure on two of the best quarterbacks to ever play college football to win every game."

But the wins and the play of Vince Young and Colt McCoy masked the problem. It wasn't until 2009 with McCoy in his final year that the coach started to comprehend the foundation of his program had fissures. Texas no longer had the talent to finesse its way through the conference. And, just as alarming, it didn't have the toughness to lean on in the hard times either.

So the Longhorns got passed by the likes of Oklahoma State, beaten by Iowa State and humbled by Missouri. For two years, what Brown saw back in 2009 played out before his eyes. Texas was simply not tough enough.

Mack Brown walked off the field Saturday night not really caring about the final score. Again, the win mattered and 66 points could have been turned into more. But what mattered more, at the moment and for the season to come, was the way Texas won the game.

"We had a phenomenal 101 knock-down blocks overall by the offense," Brown said of the 66-31 win over Ole Miss. "They were downfield knocking people down."

The toughness was back. Texas, long reliant on and over the past two years maligned for its passing, discovered that it had fortitude in the run game.

"I sat in here for two years and told you I wanted to be more physical," Brown said. "You looked at me like, 'This guy is crazy.'"

What was crazy was that Texas didn't have the talent or the will to be physical. That changed, not only with a change in the coaching staff, specifically the hiring of offensive line Stacy Searels, but also with a change in recruiting. For two straight years Texas brought in the No. 1 back in the state. Add to that a less-heralded but thicker and stronger Joe Bergeron and Texas has a trio of backs all trying to run harder than the other.

In fact, in three games and 95 carries, not one of the backs has been tackled behind the line of scrimmage. On the flip side, they have a combined 14 rushes for 10 yards or more.

As a team, Texas has only had eight negative plays on offense. And the Longhorns are averaging 258 rushing yards per game, which, in a bow to the balance Brown wanted, is three more yards than the passing offense.

"I know we're headed in the right direction," the Texas coach said. "I'm not anointing us as a team that is going to win all the games. I do think last year we didn't have a chance to win all the games. The year before we were poor. Now, nobody's going to say absolutely that we don't have a chance."

Texas has a chance because now, after watching the program crumble for the past two years, a stronger foundation has been built. Add to that an attitude of toughness and there is a belief that the program can now not only contend in every game but dictate what it wants to do from the line of scrimmage in many of those games.

"We've got hope. We've got more confidence," Brown said. "Our fan base has got more confidence.

"We know that we've got the right coaches in place," Brown said. "I feel like we've got some really good players in place. We're headed at a good place for us. We're about to get back to where we need to be."

Only this time Brown believes there won't be any cracks in the foundation.