Texas defensive tackle Chris Whaley didn't mince words after Texas's 44-23 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday.
"Of course we were the most talented team, but we are not playing Texas football: aggressive, full-speed and fighting," Whaley said. "We have to get back to having the kind of Texas attitude that past teams have had. They were the more physical team against every team that they played."
The frustrating part about the Longhorns' loss to a team that Texas blew out 66-31 a year ago is the fact that Texas — just one week after getting blown out of the water — showed flashes of being the team that Whaley envisions.
After Ole Miss ramped up to a lightning quick 14-0 start, Texas actually scored the next 23 points, and appeared to be headed into the halftime break up two scores. There were positive signs all around — backup quarterback Case McCoy was a safe 11-for-13 for 104 yards and a touchdown, Johnathan Gray rushed for 82 yards on 14 carries and another score, while the defense held Ole Miss to just 75 yards in the 23:26 after those first two Rebel touchdown drives.
Then, just before halftime, safety Adrian Phillips was tagged with a controversial targeting call. When a player is hit with a targeting decision, he is automatically ejected from the game. The review of the play goes straight up to the booth, with officials looking to see whether the offending player did, in fact, target the defenseless receiver. Here's where the rule gets tricky — if the officials decide that no targeting occurred, the player may reenter the game. His ejection can be overturned. But the penalty itself cannot, so the 15 yards are still assessed.
The officials determined that Phillips didn't target, and he stayed in the game. But the 15-yard penalty stayed on the books and gave Ole Miss the ball at the Texas 35. One incomplete pass later and kicker Andrew Ritter booted through a 52-yard field goal as time expired to cut the Texas lead to one score.
"I thought the three points for them, if you give up points right before the half, it's a killer," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "You've got to go back and take your momentum back in the second half. That is an age-old rule in sports and in football, and we didn't do either. We let them have the momentum going in. We didn't take the momentum going out in the second half, and we never got it back."
Indeed, Texas never responded. The Longhorns put up 100 second-half yards and zero second-half points, while Ole Miss used a 21-point third quarter to jump out to its own multi-score lead.
In the fourth quarter, Texas twice started drives in Ole Miss territory — first, thanks to a 51-yard kickoff return by Kendall Sanders and later, thanks to a punt down to the 1 by Anthony Fera and an ensuing quick stop. But the first drive resulted in a quick three-and-out, while the second resulted in a first down and the ball at the Rebel 36. But on second-and-10, running back Malcolm Brown rushed forward to block a pass-rusher and knocked the ball out of McCoy's hands. Ole Miss recovered and drove down for a quick insurance score. The Rebels traveled 59 yards in just four plays, all on the ground.
"Really, they were running the same play over and over again," said linebacker Jordan Hicks. "It's pretty disappointing."
Overall, Ole Miss had 449 yards yards against Texas, working under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, including 272 rushing yards while averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Jeff Scott led the way with a career-high 164 rushing yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. Scott also added a 73-yard punt return touchdown just before the end of the third quarter.
"I don't think [Robinson] can be really effective in the first three days, which is what he had tonight," Brown said. "But next week, I think we'll start seeing more progress. They obviously played better tonight than they did last week."
Robinson, for the most part, was positive afterward.
"There's good talent here," Robinson said. "There is good talent.
"In '04, we were a young game except for D.J. [Derrick Johnson] and a couple of other guys," Robinson said. "But really, the longer we played, the better we got. I think this group has got some of that in them too. I think the more we keep playing, the better we're going to get."
The offense, meanwhile, was hampered by the absence of starting quarterback David Ash — who didn't even attend the game, on advice from doctors — explosive weapon Daje Johnson and two starting offensive linemen after injuries to both Mason Walters and Josh Cochran early, though guard Sedrick Flowers was excellent, especially in the first half, in replacing Walters. Kennedy Estelle drew the regular duty at right tackle when Cochran left.
The Longhorns were 3-of-7 on third downs in the first half, and finished the first half with 220 total yards and 23 points. Texas sputtered in the second half, failing to reach the scoreboard and going just 1-for-8 on third downs as McCoy, so efficient early on, had a 13-for-26 second half where he threw for 92 yards. After his hot start, Gray had five carries for nine yards.
"I thought we were able to run the ball in the first half," said Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. "In the second half, we weren't as effective."
Texas had the third-largest crowd ever to see a Longhorn game, at 101,474, on hand to watch the Longhorns fall to 1-2 for the first time since Mack Brown's inaugural year as Texas coach. Ole Miss jumped to 3-0 for the first time since 1989.
Still, the team has yet to play a conference game, which means that the team's goal of taking home the Big 12 championship is still attainable, even if it appears somewhat unlikely.
"We win the Big 12 championship, we'll be excited, and that's all we've got left," Brown said. "Our guys will go back to work. They've been around here before. They understand outside stuff and they understand what's important, and they'll work hard this week."
Ole Miss — Jeff Scott 5 run (Andrew Ritter kick), 12:22 1Q
Ole Miss — Donte Moncrief 18 pass from Bo Wallace (Ritter kick), 8:26 1Q
TEXAS — Mike Davis 13 pass from Case McCoy (Anthony Fera kick), 3:50 1Q
TEXAS — Fera 28 FG, 13:12 2Q
TEXAS — Johnathan Gray 8 run (Fera kick), 8:27 2Q
TEXAS — Fera 30 FG, 6:08 2Q
TEXAS — Fera 47 FG, 0:39 2Q
Ole Miss — Ritter 52 FG, 0:00 2Q
Ole Miss — Wallace 15 run (Ritter kick), 7:49 3Q
Ole Miss — Evan Engram 17 pass from Wallace (Ritter kick), 1:45 3Q
Ole Miss — Scott 73 punt return (kick blocked), 0:09 3Q
Ole Miss — Jaylen Walton 8 run (Ritter kick), 8:42 4Q