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Tremble time at Texas

Oklahoma has won the past four meetings heading into Saturday's latest showdown.

BOB HARIG
Published October 7, 2004

They started each of the past four seasons as national title contenders, and ended ranked among the elite. Their fans are some of the most rabid in the country, their facilities second to none, their recruiting base the stuff of dreams. All is in place for college football glory.

Except, the Texas Longhorns can't seem to get past this week on the schedule.

There awaits Oklahoma again, longtime rival and recent nemesis.

The Longhorns (4-0), ranked fifth heading into Saturday's annual Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, have lost four straight to the second-ranked Sooners (4-0) by an average of 31 points. Last year, it was an embarrassing 65-13 drubbing that again left the Longhorns scratching their heads and coach Mack Brown searching for answers.

Most observers agree that the two storied programs are not that different. This border battle is played out in recruiting, and Texas gets its share of quality talent. Victories have been numerous. Except when it comes to Oklahoma.

"People like to say we're mentally out of it before we even step on the field," defensive tackle Rod Wright said. "We run away from it. We want to deny it. We'd like to believe that we weren't. But as I think about it, we were ... These last couple of games we've been battling ourselves. We've been helping them beat us."

Much of the heat has fallen on Brown, who for all his success, all his recruiting prowess and impressive turnaround jobs at programs such as North Carolina and Texas, never has won a conference championship.

Brown made the Tar Heels an Atlantic Coast Conference contender and put together a 69-46-1 record in 10 years after starting with consecutive 1-10 seasons. But he could never beat Florida State.

At Texas, Brown defeated the Sooners in his first two seasons, including Bob Stoops' first year at OU. But since then, Stoops, the former Florida defensive coordinator, has had his way with Brown. The Sooners won the 2000 national title and contended for it last year. Texas, because it has been unable to win this key Big 12 South matchup, has been left to commiserate.

Brown, to his credit, makes no excuses.

"I'm responsible for the last four years, not the players. It's on me," said Brown, who is 63-18 at Texas. "I'm the constant. I need to do a better job with our team. ... That's what's been disappointing. I've done a poor job preparing for this game. Bob has done a better job."

Brown, whose last victory over OU was 38-28 in 1999, is a former Oklahoma assistant. For the third time in four years, both teams enter the game undefeated and ranked in the top five.

This is the 99th meeting in the series that began in 1900, but Texas has not lost five in a row to Oklahoma since 1971 to 1975.

Any number of theories have been presented as reasons for the slide, among them that Brown is a weak game coach who doesn't adjust well. Another is that his teams have not been physical enough.

This year, Brown shook up his defensive staff, bringing in former Arizona and Hawaii coach Dick Tomey and Greg Robinson, who was the Kansas City Chiefs' former defensive coordinator.

"They bring in great experience," Brown said. "You can't get a better resume. They brought me some great practice thoughts, team building, toughness. We've done a better job in our offseason program. We're a tougher football team, and this team has played more consistently. We expect to do well."

But what if things start off poorly? Texas has not reacted well when it gets behind.

"People say they defeat us with their swagger before the game, and some of that is true," Wright said. "Once they get up and we face some adversity the previous losses come back and start beating us again."

"We've gotten better as far as responding to adversity, that's how you judge a good team," senior linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "When something bad happens, you bounce back. You have to have a short memory. You have to go to the next play. I'm a senior and I'm probably better at forgetting. You have a full game to play."

One area where the Longhorns must do better is against OU quarterback Jason White. In his games against Texas, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes (67-of-96) with nine touchdowns and 859 yards, and OU has allowed only two sacks for 14 yards in losses.

Last year, White went 17-of-21 for 290 yards and threw to nine receivers.

Only one player on the Texas roster, tight end Bo Scaife, was around for the last win over Oklahoma. Scaife is a sixth-year senior who has missed two seasons with knee injuries. He was a freshman in '99.

"We've got to win and I think we're in a good position to do it," Scaife said. "There's just something about this team I see that's different. It's more blue collar. Hopefully everyone will see that Saturday."

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