TCU freshman receiver KaVontae Turpin outruns the entire Texas defense for one of his three touchdowns Saturday.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
The standard for Texas football has deteriorated so significantly that coaches, players and fans were happily pumping sunshine over a pair of close losses — or moral victories, a phrase other programs that once measured themselves against the Longhorns might use.
Moral victories at once-mighty Texas, the wealthiest athletic program in the country? The one-time domineering leader of the Big 12 Conference? The program with its own television network?
In a 45-44 home loss to unranked Cal two weeks ago, Texas’ valiant comeback effort — thwarted by a flubbed extra-point attempt in the final minute — was viewed as progress. After all, Texas at long last had found its playmaking quarterback in redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, whose school record-breaking performance elicited a congratulatory text from Vince Young.
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Last week, Charlie Strong’s team endured a second gut-punch, this time to then-No. 24 Oklahoma State. The defeat was pinned not so much on a late-game muffed snap or an offensive line that seemed made of tissue paper, but rather a band of flag-happy renegade referees, without which the ‘Horns probably would have won. Instead of being 1-3, Texas could oh-so-easily be 3-1.
Sunshine pumping was becoming a cottage industry at Texas.
Not anymore. Not after Saturday’s 50-7 beatdown vs. No. 4 TCU. The Frogs had half their defense in the injury ward and were still missing one of their star receivers, but they still managed to thrash these lowly Longhorns.
Not after another insane series of special-teams misery minutes into the game — a sailing punt snap for a safety, a knuckle-ball kickoff out of bounds and a 22-yard punt — that led to 16 TCU points and a 30-0 Horned Frogs lead after one quarter.
Not after the Texas defense — Strong’s specialty — looked clueless. Not after the recently praised offense stuck its head in the sand against Gary Patterson’s resilient defense.
Not even the great hope of watching Texas’ freshmen grow on the job could honestly be viewed with much long-term optimism — not after watching TCU’s youngsters excel. True freshman receiver KaVontae Turpin shredded the Texas defense for four touchdowns, including two beauties in the first-half stomping.
This one is on the coaching. Strong and his staff had their team sleepwalking into the 11 a.m. (Central) start at a packed Amon G. Carter Stadium on a beautiful fall day.
A few weeks ago, a debate raged over who is really at fault for Texas’ now 7-11 record under Strong — 1-4 this season, the program’s worst start since 1956 — and 5-6 in the Big 12.
Is it Mack Brown, said to have left the cupboard bare, but who still won 25 games his final three seasons? Or is it Strong, who has not only failed to flip the switch, but hasn’t shown even a spark of consistency?
Brown has emphatically denied any culpability for Texas’ plight. He said if he is to blame, then former Texas coach John Mackovic would have to get the credit for Brown’s 1998 debut season. Brown inherited a 4-7 team and turned it into a 9-3 Cotton Bowl-winning club with the help of a running back named Ricky Williams. It’s not Brown’s fault that Strong’s team has no identity a season-and-a-half in.
Strong became the first Texas coach since Dana Bible in 1937 to finish his first season below .500. Texas ended 6-7 after consecutive blowouts against TCU on Thanksgiving and then vs. a mediocre Arkansas team in the Texas Bowl.
After Saturday’s second embarrassment in five games (you haven’t forgotten Notre Dame, have you?), the Longhorns are staring at 1-5 if they can’t beat No. 15 Oklahoma in Dallas next Saturday. Since 1990, Texas has finished below .500 four times.
Interestingly, Strong recently received words of support from interim athletic director Mike Perrin. And this week, according to Orangebloods.com, billionaire donor Red McCombs — who initially was ridiculed for suggesting Strong would make a better coordinator than a head coach at Texas — reached out to the coach via email to show his support after that moral victory against Oklahoma State.
Had Texas not scored a touchdown with 5:14 left against a finally fallible Frogs defense, TCU would have handed Texas its worst shutout loss since Oklahoma beat the ‘Horns 50-0 — in 1908. The Horned Frogs were gunning for their biggest defeat of Texas since a 46-0 blanking in the 1950s.
They’ll be quite satisfied with 50-7 and 48-10 romps in their past two meetings against the Longhorns, who no longer rule the Big 12 or secure the state’s top talent.
For Strong and Texas, there’s no more pumping sunshine.