DALLAS — Funny how one win changes everyone’s perspective about Texas coach Charlie Strong.
“We make snapshot judgments,” ESPN’s Paul Finebaum said Sunday, “and I made some about him, and I was clearly wrong.”
National pundits turned up the heat on Strong after the Longhorns’ 1-4 start this season. The coaches and players understand this is the trade-off for playing in Austin. “This is what you signed up for,” Strong has said several times.
There was clear relief and elation on Strong’s and the players’ faces after Saturday’s power-packed 24-17 win over Oklahoma, a team that dropped to 19th in the Associated Press Top 25.
And a bunch of people saw it, too. ESPN announced on Sunday the Texas-OU national broadcast was the day’s highest rated college football game on any network, earning a 3.8 share.
“We all had a chip on our shoulder,” defensive end Naashon Hughes said. “We all took it very personal coming into this game. Had to show the world that we can still play Texas defense, Texas ball.”
On Sunday, linebacker Malik Jefferson was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. The freshman had six tackles and two sacks against the Sooners.
Jefferson, a defiantly positive force when he speaks to reporters, said last week’s perceived locker room turmoil was blown out of proportion. Last Monday, younger players were tweeting at each other when it appeared junior safety Dylan Haines had questioned their work effort.
“That was never the situation. No separation,” Jefferson said. “We’ve never been separated at any point. It’s just a little argument because people are frustrated. You bump heads a little bit, so that’s going to happen.”
Does the OU win change what’s possible this season?
“We’ve looking at finishing everybody out,” Jefferson said. “We want to upset people. People doubt us all the time. We’re just going to be quiet, go out and play our game.”
It’s tempting to label the signature win as a program game-changer. But that won’t be clear until the rest of the season plays itself out.
CHARLIE STRONG CROWD SURF pic.twitter.com/3lIUnCRH5S
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 10, 2015
The Longhorns are now 2-4 overall, 1-2 in Big 12 play going into the off week. The back half of the schedule is much more favorable, though.
To become bowl eligible, teams must win six games. UT’s first six opponents are a combined 29-6 (.829 winning percentage). The last six opponents are 17-14 (.548).
Kansas State had TCU on the ropes late Saturday before losing, 52-45. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads is fighting for his job. Kansas is 0-5. West Virginia in Morgantown will be tough. Then comes the Thanksgiving night game against Texas Tech and finally No. 2 Baylor.
Before the second half of the season begins, Strong seemed glad his team is getting a one-week respite.
“So much has been said about them,” he said. “Just mentally, they’re just beat down, so they need a rest.”
Physically, this team needs an off week. Right tackle Kent Perkins (knee) may be ready after two more weeks off. Receiver Daje Johnson went through warmups as part of concussion protocols, so he should return on Oct. 24. It was learned afterward that linemen Sedrick Flowers and Connor Williams are also battling injuries.
Meanwhile, quarterback Jerrod Heard acted like he’s ready for more, much more. The redshirt freshmen, who ran for 115 yards, said the players kept believing things would turn. They’re working too hard, he said, something had to happen.
“We knew that one of these games, it would give in and favor us,” Heard said. “When something like this happens, we’re just going to try to keep that momentum and it’ll favor us every week.”
The OU win was exactly what Strong had in mind when he landed in Austin. From Day 1, he’s preached a ball-control offense with a hard-hitting defense. The quarterback situation never worked out like he wanted last season. Then, he went along with a switch to a spread offense because it best fit the current personnel.
But the team fans saw at the Cotton Bowl is truly what Strong wants Texas to be. D’Onta Foreman led the way with 117 yards as the Horns totaled 313 on the ground. Strong never had a 300-yard rushing game in four years at Louisville. The Cardinals did have 299 rushing yards against Memphis in 2010, though.
A bunch of rushing yards, six sacks and OU’s vaunted ground game managed just 67 yards.
The big win couldn’t have been any more picture-perfect. Now, the Longhorns must wash, rinse and repeat.
“One thing they’re not missing is confidence,” Strong said. “I know for sure Heard has plenty of it, but they’re not missing that at all. They can build on something special here.”
For a larger version of the final game book, click here.