Bill Little commentary: The next last play
Sept. 3, 2010
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
HOUSTON - It is, after all, the beginning of the end and the start of the beginning. Mack Brown made it clear to his Texas Longhorn football team in their final meeting in Austin on Thursday - for the seniors, this is the first game of their last year. For the significant number of freshmen who will play against Rice on Saturday, it is the beginning of the beginning--the only time in their life they will play their "first" college game.
It all made sense as Brown addressed his team in its final meeting before traveling to Houston to open the 2010 season in Reliant Stadium against Rice on Saturday afternoon. In the renewal of a series that began almost 100 years ago, the game carries interest and expectations, hopes and dreams.
The last season for Texas' seniors is significant - this is a group which has lost only two games over their last two seasons. The month-long practice that has led to this moment has emphasized expectations and underscored anticipation. Frozen in time is the final play--at least the final significant one--for the Texas offense nine months ago in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
It is as if Garrett Gilbert has been a television DVD placed on hold, waiting for someone to free him from that moment when his arm is about to start forward with just over 3:40 remaining in the BCS National Championship game. You know the rest of the story--how a blind-side hit knocked the ball free, just as he was about to throw it away to buy time for more shots at the Alabama defense, which had been stunned by the Longhorns' comeback to pull to within a 24-21 deficit and an absolutely legitimate chance to win the Longhorns' second BCS Championship in five seasons.
Now, he finally gets to move from the frozen frame into the reality of a new year, a new team, and his own shot at stardom.
Whatever happens from here on in the 2010 season, one thing is certain - it will move quickly. The defense Mack Brown has said has the potential to be one of the best in his tenure will feature speed and talent. The offense that Gilbert will pilot offers new excitement in its own right. Promised to this point is a blend of power running that will complement the skills of Gilbert and his talented receivers. A big, talented line is expected to lead the way.
The kicking game will feature two strong legs in Justin Tucker as the kicker and John Gold as the punter. The return game, with D. J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin on kickoffs and Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown on punts, promises speed, and more speed.
Is there a repetition here?
The Longhorns theme of "Every Play, Every Day," underscores the work ethic Brown and his players are asking from the team. But perhaps even more telling is the on-going message from Will Muschamp and his defensive staff after every snap in fall training. Whether the play has been good or bad, they have reminded players over and over again , "play the next play."
It isn't intended, but it fits--the message captures appropriately the Longhorns' need to look forward, not back. That is why there isn't a rewind of that moment in Pasadena. It is, as I said, on hold, ready for someone to push the "advance" button. To move to the next scene, or rather, the next play.
That is why a national TV audience and a sellout crowd of over 70,000 in Reliant Stadium will tune in on Saturday. There is no question that David Bailiff, the Rice coach, will have his team ready to play. He is an excellent coach, and a good man.
Brown's teams are 11-1 in his 12 season openers at Texas, but Saturday's game is couched in a reminder of the one that got away, when the Longhorns lost the season opener in 1999 to North Carolina State in a game that was decided when NC State blocked three UT punts and returned them all for touchdowns. Despite a 3-1 edge in offensive yardage, Texas lost the game and Brown will never forget it.
Season openers are driven by uncertainty and surprises, but they are also driven by attitude and talent. As Brown reminded his team Thursday, motivation is a matter of personal responsibility.
This Texas team will likely play more freshmen in significant roles in a season opener than any in Brown's tenure. Brown expects his freshmen to play, and play well. It was his good friend Darrell Royal who once opined that "if a dog will bite you, it will bite you as a pup."
One of Royal's favorite sayings also dealt with the intangible that drives the hopes of Brown and his staff about the young players who will enter college football for the first time on Saturday.
Quoting Plato, Royal said the ancient philosopher once said that there are four kinds of people:
"Those who know, but don't know that they know; those who don't know, and don't know that they don't know; those who don't know, and know that they don't know..."
And finally, those who "know, and know that they know."
There is no substitute for confidence, when you have the talent to prove it.
What will happen Saturday?
That is where expectations and hopes intersect with an oval ball, and the dreams of the 2010 version of the Boys of Fall.