Longhorns improving incrementally

AUSTIN, Texas -- When the game was over and half a hundred points were hung on Texas by Baylor, the Longhorns' progress could be measured only by Stride Rite.

"We're sure not where we need to be," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "But we're taking baby steps here."

So much for the long strides to success promised at the start of the season. Not that this was a national championship season for Texas by any means. But as Brown publicly put it in the preseason, this was at least a team that had the talent to win every game it was in. And that, he said, was not the case with the previous two seasons.

Still, just like the previous two seasons, Texas was out of "the mix," as Brown has put it, before it even began. By the time the first BCS standings were released the past three seasons, Texas already has had blemishes on the ledger and been resigned to the role of scanning two-thirds of the way through the Top 25 before discovering its place. And that has been a giant step backward for a program that finished 2009 at No. 2 in the BCS standings.

But the coaches appear to realize now they took a big misstep in even setting up this season as one in which Texas would measure itself against other programs. The Longhorns just aren't there yet. It's hard to be there when Oklahoma, Kansas State and so many others are taking Roger Bannister strides to Texas' "baby steps."

Now, before starting to hope that maybe this is all is some sort of modern play on an Aesop fable, stop. Slow and steady does not win the race in college football. Slow and steady can get someone fired.

At this time, that does not sound like the fate of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

"Manny and [secondary coach Duane Akina] were considered two of the best coaches in the country last year, and they didn't get dumb," Brown said. "So they are two really good coaches, and we have just got some things we need to get fixed."

Brown doesn't appear to be in a fix either. Two years ago, the coach was told by Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and president Bill Powers he would have the time and money he needed to turn things around. The clock has not yet struck midnight.

Actually, there is still hope Brown might yet be able to turn back the clock.

In all likelihood, the pulling of Father Time's hands will start against Kansas. The Jayhawks, because of their ineptness on both sides of the ball, could provide a springboard into the final four games. Not a false sense of security, like last season. Back then, there were still so many offensive issues, not even a 43-0 win could whitewash them away.

But this season the offense clearly is better, at least against those teams that do not possess top-caliber FBS talent. And, if the coaches are to be believed, the defense, despite its turnstile nature, is -- whew, tough to swallow this -- improving.

"What's starting to happen, instead of making two or three plays that make me excited and then 10 or 12 that kind of make you scratch your head, more and more plays are getting you excited and less and less that get you frustrated as a coach." Diaz said. "But that is the maturation of these guys as college football players."

Kansas affords another opportunity for those players to grow up, as well as another opportunity for Diaz to grow right along with them. That, in turn, could provide confidence and trust for a unit sorely lacking both. Both are what will be needed in the week that follows, as Texas could play another Top 25 team on the road in Texas Tech.

It's those Top 25 teams that have stepped all over Texas. The Longhorns have lost nine in a row to ranked teams by an average of 17 points. That's more stepping in it than baby steps.

But the game at Tech is still more than a week away, so for now, the focus around Texas will remain baby steps. Better that than taking any more giant leaps of faith.