The question involved raised expectations for the Texas Longhorns, owners of a three-game winning streak and a share of first place in the Big 12 football standings.
But quarterback Case McCoy stopped it for no gain at Monday’s news conference.
“I heard we were picked to lose,” McCoy said, referring to Saturday’s contest at TCU.
McCoy is right. The Longhorns (4-2, 3-0 Big 12), fresh off a 16-point pounding of previously undefeated Oklahoma, opened as 3-point underdogs to a TCU team with a losing record and an offense in disarray. By Monday afternoon, the line still favored the Horned Frogs (3-4, 1-3) by 1.5 points for the teams’ first meeting in Fort Worth since the 1994 season.
The Longhorns rejoiced at the perceived slap from Las Vegas oddsmakers, citing it as fuel for their emotional fire.
“People are always doubting us,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “It motivates me a lot. We were the underdog against OU. We’ll be the underdog against TCU. That’s even better. We just need to go out with the same energy. If we do, it should be a good one.”
For these Longhorns, who have spent the past month answering questions about September defensive struggles and the job status of embattled coach Mack Brown, excessive praise is rare. It makes some of them uncomfortable. But kudos had been flowing for more than a week following the team’s 36-20 victory over No. 15 Oklahoma as a two-touchdown underdog.
What the Longhorns needed, said safety Adrian Phillips, was a reason to climb back into their hard-shell comfort zone, to recapture the us-against-the-world mindset that has allowed Texas to turn its season in a positive direction after a dismal 1-2 start. Being reminded that they are still considered a half-step behind the Horned Frogs, a team that handed them a 20-13 setback last season in Austin, provided the emotional spark they were seeking.
“We do need that,” Phillips said. “We’ve been in this position for so long that I really don’t even care if they pick us to lose every game for the rest of the season. That just shows … people don’t respect us yet. That’s why we have to go out and earn our respect. People are always going to talk and criticize you. We needed that criticism. It jump-started us.”
The last time the Longhorns felt this motivated by criticism, Texas rolled up a 445-263 edge in total yards, produced two 100-yard rushers and scored touchdowns on a punt return and a fumble return in its victory over Oklahoma. Yet oddsmakers do not project that to carry over against TCU, a team that has turned the ball over nine times in its past two games and has averaged just 16 points per game against Big 12 opponents.
Why the lack of respect, coming off the big win over OU?
“Probably because I’m the quarterback, right?” McCoy said with a wink. “I love it. I’ve been an underdog all my life. No one thinks I’m any good but my team. So I play with a chip on my shoulder. That’s part of me and I don’t think that’ll ever change.”
McCoy, the replacement for injured starter David Ash (concussion symptoms), is 6-4 as Texas’ starting quarterback in his career. He will face a TCU defense capable of forcing him into mistakes. The Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 in sacks (24) and forced turnovers (19). Despite an inconsistent offense, TCU is 3-0 at home this season and favored to make it 4-0 in front of a sellout crowd Saturday (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
Such words are music to the ears of Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, who leads the team in tackles (42) and tackles for losses (8).
“I love being underrated,” Reed said.
Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, in turn, relishes the opportunity for payback against another Big 12 team that took down Texas last season. The Longhorns are 2-0 in similar situations, with victories over Kansas State and Oklahoma.
“That definitely fuels our fire. It was on Thanksgiving, at our house,” Jeffcoat said, reflecting on last year’s loss to TCU. “We’re all excited for this game. We’re all ticked off.”
The bottom line, said Diggs, is that one upset over Oklahoma is not enough to satisfy the naysayers. Or the Longhorns.
“You never want to be satisfied with one win,” Diggs said. “You want to continue to win them all. We’ve got a chance to do that. We’ve just got to continue to stay focused.”
Regardless of whether or not the Longhorns are favored.