Can Texas stop TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin? Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford just laughs.
“Can we stop this guy? You can’t stop this guy. He’s that good,” Bedford said. “He’s grown up so much, it’s not funny.”
There’s not much to laugh about these days in Austin. A stomach-turning missed extra point against California didn’t seem all that bad compared to what happened last week. Dubious officiating and a botched punt led to a three-point loss against Oklahoma State.
It’s sure been hard to digest, even for UT quarterback Jerrod Heard, who didn’t feel quite right against the Cowboys. “My stomach was jacked up,” he said.
Now comes fourth-ranked TCU (4-0, 1-0 in the Big 12). The Horned Frogs must be living right considering how they won last week in Lubbock. A tipped pass in the end zone landed in Aaron Green’s arms in a 55-52 barn-burner over Texas Tech.
One team that can’t catch a break meets an injury-ravaged bunch that finally got one. TCU’s defense has been hammered with injuries, yet Boykin remains a Heisman contender with 14 touchdown passes in four games.
It’s understandable if Texas fans feel queasy.
“We’re going to have to play above our heads to beat this team,” UT coach Charlie Strong said. His team has been the underdog in four of five games this season. TCU is favored to by more than two touchdowns.
The Longhorns (1-3, 0-1) could have easily spent the week worrying about Boykin or standout receiver Josh Doctson, who averages 148.2 receiving yards per game. Those two make a terrific combo. Doctson will get plenty of chances against UT’s freshmen cornerback trio of Kris Boyd, Holton Hill and Davante Davis.
UT players spent more time talking about themselves than the opponent, though.
On Sunday, team leaders organized a players-only meeting that lasted an hour. During that time, multiple players talked about what needs to happen.
Does this team want to give up after two difficult losses? Or, with eight games remaining, do the Longhorns want to stand up and fight? Does the team want to blame bad luck and officiating or do players want to improve their blocking and tackling?
“(Center) Taylor Doyle said it perfect. This is the turning point,” receiver Marcus Johnson said. “Will we stop working hard? Feed into all the things that are going on, make excuses and just drop? We can’t let that happen.”
Then on Monday, offensive guard Sed Flowers called out backup tackle Marcus Hutchins, who replaced the injured Kent Perkins. When Hutchins came in against Oklahoma State, he got beat twice in a three-play span and looked awful.
There have been mixed signals all week whether Perkins will play against the Frogs. His availability is unknown; Strong said Perkins was “day-to-day.”
“I could say he should be ready, but he wasn’t,” Flowers said of Hutchins.
It was a rare out-of-character moment for a UT player with reporters. The athletes, regardless of sport, are usually coached not to say newsworthy things or they simply hold back, fearing unknown repercussions.
“As long as our kids are constructive, I think it’s OK for a kid to speak up,” UT play-caller Jay Norvell said. “We really need more of that, to be honest with you. We need more ownership. We need more guys that are wiling to stand up for what they believe in.
“I think that will show on the field as well,” Norvell said. “That type of conviction shows confidence.”
Flowers’ comments pull the curtain back on the thinking inside the locker room. It’s not a dysfunctional room with questionable characters. Strong spent all last season cleaning those guys out. This is a group of men tired of losing.
Strong said the veterans must be leaders. But he also concedes the reality of Texas’ situation. “The vets haven’t won,” he said. “A lot of times, when you haven’t won, it’s like do you know how to win?”
Look at the depth chart. The Horns have freshmen and sophomores all over the board. This group doesn’t have a dozen guys with championship pedigrees who can lead the way. They’re going to have to learn on their own.
Saturday’s matchup is favorable. TCU has lost six defensive starters to various injuries. Coach Gary Patterson will be sending out linebackers who weigh less than 200 pounds. UT running backs Johnathan Gray and D’Onta Foreman should find room.
“I did hear about that. But I’m little myself, so I can’t really talk,” Heard said. “The heart can weigh more than pounds.”
Does UT’s young defense have the heart to lock down Boykin and Doctson?
Strong spoke this week about why the young corners are giving receivers so much space, leaving inside slant routes wide open. Confident players know their talent and can inch closer to the line of scrimmage. “Guys have to trust their ability,” he said.
The Longhorns have to trust each other, not only against the Frogs but all season long. They believe victory is close.
“We can still turn it around,” Johnson said. “It’s not too late to be great.”