Texas last began a season 1-2 in 1998. It was Mack Brown's first season in Austin, a year in which, much like this one, the Longhorns got drubbed in consecutive contests before conference play even started.
That herd, which featured eventual Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, ended up winning its next six games and eight of their last nine overall. If the 2013 Longhorns can replicate that '98 finish, it would be a miracle on cattle steroids.
The problem is that this year's 1-2 variety has yet to clash with its fiercest competition, which happens this weekend, when the Longhorns open Big 12 play at home against visiting Kansas State (2-1). But the burnt orange is reeling: Quarterback David Ash remains doubtful with a concussion; sophomore receiver/running back Daje Johnson's ankle issue has him for at least another week; right guard Mason Walters (knee) and right tackle Josh Cochran (shoulder) are questionable for Saturday as well.
The rash of injuries on offense and plague of gross underachievement on defense whisk UT into play against the defending conference champions, who also happen to own a five-game winning streak against Texas. Head coach Bill Snyder's Wildcats incurred substantial departures from 2012's 11-win, Fiesta Bowl-playing team that beat UT 42-24 last December in Oz. Heisman Trophy candidate Collin Klein is gone at quarterback, while their defense returns only two starters and no longer boasts linebacker and 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Arthur Brown.
Nonetheless, Kansas State has plenty to pull from against a sickly Texas defense that ranks 115th out of 124 teams nationwide. The entire starting offensive line that safeguarded Klein returns – bummer for a Texas front that's only registered two sacks this season – as does go-to running back John Hubert, who's averaging 4.3 yards a carry.
Snyder plucked starting signal-caller Jake Waters from the junior college ranks during the off-season and looks likely to reserve Saturday snaps for fleet-of-foot backup Daniel Sams. The coach's penchant for traditional, smashmouth football will strike at the heart of UT's frailty and bleed the ground game dry. Can defensive coordinator Greg Robinson arrange his parts well enough to withstand the forthcoming blows? Or is this defense, which has surrendered more than 800 yards rushing these past two weeks, truly irreparable?
Mack Brown's Longhorn life might be at stake already. Robinson needs to flex his two Super Bowl rings and innovate, and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite needs to find a way to cut Case McCoy and Johnathan Gray loose. The creatures of habit need to experiment. It's time to get weird – or else.
Copyright © 2013 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.