AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Longhorns are in crisis.
The defense is in shambles, coach Mack Brown is facing rampant speculation that his job is on the line and a season that started with the promise of a rebirth of Longhorns football is teetering on the brink of collapse just two games into the season.
And here come the No. 25 Ole Miss Rebels (2-0), ranked for the first time in four years and eager to shove the Longhorns (1-1) off the cliff Saturday night.
Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz within hours after an embarrassing loss at BYU last week and hired Greg Robinson, who was the Longhorns defensive coordinator in 2004 before failed stints as the head coach at Syracuse and defensive coordinator at Michigan.
Brown needs Robinson to fix his defense in a hurry. But by midweek he tried to lower expectations as Robinson had only a few days to prepare for Mississippi. Brown noted the Longhorns’ Big 12 schedule doesn’t start until the next game.
“We’re not going to have a magic wand to get everything fixed Saturday night,” Brown said. “That would be foolish for me to sit here and say that.”
Brown, who is in his 16th season, got a show of support from athletic director DeLoss Dodds, who told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday that “Mack is fine … I told Mack, `It’s a long season. There’s lots of time to do good things.'”
Brown responded: “I don’t have knee-jerk bosses, so they get it.”
Mississippi comes to Austin brimming with confidence after a fast start, but coach Hugh Freeze dismissed the idea that Texas’ week of crisis means the Longhorns will be an easy knockout.
“I expect them to be very emotional in front of their home crowd and they’ll raise their game,” Freeze said. “I expect to see them as the best that they can be.”
Here’s five things to watch when the Rebels and Longhorns meet Saturday night:
1. TEXAS DEFENSE: There’s no Diaz to kick around anymore. Texas’ season will live or die with whatever Robinson can rebuild out of a unit in disarray. BYU dominated Texas at the line of scrimmage and Ole Miss will likely try to exploit the same weakness in the run game. The Rebels have been effective using the read option with quarterback Bo Wallace and running back Jeff Scott. The Longhorns let BYU quarterback Taysom Hill run for 259 yards last week.
2. TEXAS QUARTERBACK: Starter David Ash suffered head and throwing shoulder injuries in the fourth quarter against BYU, and Brown said a decision whether to play him could come as late as Saturday. If Ash can’t play, the start goes to Case McCoy, who can inspire his teammates in the huddle but has a history of turnover problems. McCoy was suspended for last season’s Alamo Bowl and went on a 10-week mission to Peru that took him away from summer workouts. He’s also a senior with a six career starts under his belt.
3. OLE MISS SECONDARY: The Rebels have a very young, inexperienced secondary. The group is talented but mistake prone, and took a big loss when senior cornerback Charles Sawyer was suspended for the game after a drunken-driving arrest last weekend. Texas has quality receivers and a top deep threat in senior Mike Davis, who caught two touchdowns against BYU covering 57 and 23 yards.
4. THE HOME CROWD: An early-season non-conference game has turned into what feels like a referendum on Brown among many Longhorns fans. An expected crown of about 100,000 could turn hostile if the Rebels jump out to an early lead. There were boos heard in the first half of a 56-7 blowout of New Mexico State when Texas struggled early. The Longhorns are just 11-9 at home since 2010, including 0-6 against ranked opponents.
5. MACK BROWN: The coach who won a national title in 2005 and had the team play for another in 2009 made a desperate move by firing Diaz. Television cameras caught him in heated discussions with Diaz last week during the BYU game and Brown’s communication with Robinson Saturday night will be scrutinized. If the Texas defense struggles early, Brown may feel the need to get more engaged in the defensive play-calling.