Coach's Corner

In search of the deadly Longhorn virus.

The malevolent virus first appeared on Oct. 2, though this is apparent only with the benefit of clear, unambiguous hindsight. On that day, Texas quarterback Major Applewhite was tossed to and fro -- like a rag doll locked in the jaws of a rabid, methamphetamine-stoked pit bull -- by Kansas State in a decisive 35-17 thrashing at DK Royal Stadium. As is the custom with a virus, this one was cunning. After wreaking total and painful havoc upon the body of Bevo, it, as suddenly as it appeared, went away. A five-week span of fine, robust health followed. The team went on a 5-0 burst in which their high-powered offense scored points almost at will. The point totals looked like this: 38, 24, 44, 34, 58. Included in the middle of this run was a victory over Nebraska. Since Texas won, the fact that their poised and precise QB was again beaten with a hickory stick was lost in the elation of the moment. During the five-week interlude, the virus slipped so far into remission that a notorious cynic (and oftimes critic) who goes by the nom de plume of The Coach noted, "Texas is as good as any team in the country."

The virus reappeared in mid-November, initially disguised as a stomach flu afflicting Mr. Applewhite, which forced the outstanding sophomore to miss the annual war with Texas A&M. His replacement, a highly touted young fellow, was greeted rudely by the enraged Aggies. They, like the Cornhuskers and Wildcats before, played a savage, most intimate game of rip-out-the-QB's-spleen. Though there were many, many doctors in attendance, the identification of the virus (though florid symptoms bloomed all over the twitching body) remained elusive.

It was on the first day of a fresh millennium that the virus was finally isolated and identified, setting up a classic good news/bad news conundrum. The good news was we finally found out what was ailing old Bevo. The bad news was, alas, Bevo is dead and we're sorry for your loss.

How can this be, an outsider might wonder? In a time so enlightened as today's, how could something so obvious slip past so many experts? Indeed. As an attending physician I can only offer lame, unsatisfactory excuses. K-State was a fluke. Every team's entitled to a bad game, aren't they? It happens. A&M was a lose-lose situation for the Longhorns. They'd already clinched the South Division title, the bonfire incident, Applewhite was sick, and a freshman had to start. Lots of reasons for that one. Then the coup de grâce: Arkansas 27, Texas 6.

Again, two dazed Texas quarterbacks were nearly killed by a heretofore docile pack of Razorbacks. The eight sacks only told part of the story. Applewhite and Simms, when not being officially sacked, became better acquainted with the old sod of the Cotton Bowl than the head agronomist himself, so often were their faces planted into the turf. The crafty virus again tried to hide from view behind the controversy of two starters being suspended. But to quote an old favorite band, "I won't get fooled again."

An old military axiom says the center must be strong or the army will crumble. So it is with athletic teams. Baseball teams build with a strong middle: catcher, shortstop, second base, center field. Basketball and hockey teams start with a center. For a football team, it begins with a usually anonymous offensive line. If you have any doubts about what you witnessed in Dallas, look only to the fate of battered Ricky Williams in New Orleans. The K-State Wildcats exposed a deficient, badly overrated Texas offensive line. It was a line good enough against the likes of Texas Tech, but unable to resist at all the attacks of a top-flight defense.

Mack Brown said the total disintegration of the once-potent Texas attack is a team effort -- linemen, running backs, ends, and quarterback -- but I don't buy it. These four losses weren't about the running back missing the odd blitz pickup. If anything, the frightening jailbreaks hounding UT QBs might cause a blocking back the existential quandary of agonizing over too many fast-moving choices.

GP's such as I are ill-suited to identify the precise Texas problem. Offensive linemen all look alike to us. But the specialists on the UT coaching staff had better get out the microscope and stamp this thing out before it catches. The local populace has a notorious, well-documented history of hysterical panic when faced with spiritless football losses. Coaches have been crushed in the stampede.

Parting Shots: What's awry here? The college football -- not basketball -- National Championship is being contested by teams representing the Big East and the ACC, homes to football powers such as Wake Forest, Duke, Connecticut, Virginia, NC State, North Carolina, Georgetown, Pitt, and Rutgers. All that's wrong with the BCS is apparent right here. No doubt Fla. State and Virginia Tech are good football teams, maybe even the best. But there's no doubt here that these teams would not have gone undefeated playing in a decent football conference, even the Pac10. If fans must lay down to a computer, at least let it tell the whole tale. Not factoring in strength of conference is ridiculous, like saying a law degree from Harvard and one from Little Cayman Tech are the same thing.

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