College Sports

Big 12 Insider: Texas’ senior leaders trying to save season on the brink

With their football season at a crossroads, Texas’ veteran players are calling out the “dogs” in their locker room. They’re urging them to stand up Saturday and take a bite out of No. 11 Oklahoma.

If they can’t, the Longhorns (2-3, 1-1 Big 12) won’t have much to howl about in the second half of their season.

Problem is, Texas’ veterans are not sure they have enough teammates who meet that description (think: junkyard dogs who refuse to back down from anything) heading into Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup in the Cotton Bowl.

“If you had dogs, if you had that mentality, you’d go out and expect to win and you’d be prepared,” said cornerback Quandre Diggs, a senior who declared the “dog” factor lacking in the Longhorns’ locker room. “But I don’t think we’ve got all guys who expect to go out and win. It upsets me. Everyone doesn’t have that ‘dog’ in them. I think some guys just need to figure out what they’re playing for and who they’re playing for.”

Two fellow seniors, linebacker Jordan Hicks and running back Malcolm Brown, echoed Diggs’ sentiments during this week’s preparations for the Sooners (4-1, 1-1), who will head to Dallas as 14-point favorites. Brown, in fact, raised the issue before last week’s 28-7 loss to Baylor.

In a speech to the team, he recalled a locker room vibe where players felt invincible during his high school days at Cibolo Steele. Since arriving at Texas, Brown said: “I told the team, I honestly didn’t think we have that kind of confidence.”

Hicks, a fifth-year senior who has missed the last two Red River Rivalry matchups because of season-ending September injuries, agrees. He said he plans to make the most of his final trip down the Cotton Bowl tunnel but questioned if all Longhorns will join him in that quest.

“There’s people who lack that confidence to know that we’re going to go out there and do it,” Hicks said. “Some people are expecting, ‘Oh, something’s going to go wrong.’ We’re just waiting for it instead of going out there with the mindset like, ‘We’re going to completely demolish this team.’ I can’t accept that.”

Clearly, the Longhorns’ senior leaders are hoping their challenges light a motivational fire under teammates who have struggled. It is unclear what, if anything, they plan to do behind closed doors to back up their talk.

But this much is certain: passion infusions require much more than mere gum-flapping. Back when the Longhorns last used this game as a midseason springboard to national prominence, the 2008 and 2009 teams drew on the inspiration of players like defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive end Brian Orakpo and quarterback Colt McCoy.

Miller often rearranged locker-room items, including industrial-sized trash cans, to emphasize his points. Before a 2008 matchup against a Florida Atlantic team that publicly questioned the Longhorns’ toughness, a chiseled Miller met the Owls at midfield — wearing only a sleeveless T-shirt and football pants — and chided them as they began warmups. Texas won 52-10.

During the 2008 season, former Texas coach Mack Brown acknowledged McCoy provided frequent motivational messages. But he said players were more concerned about letting down Miller and Orakpo because both promised physical reprisals if teammates fell short.

Were they serious? No one knows because teammates found ways to meet their defensive leaders’ high standards.

Does that sort of behind-the-scenes leadership still work? It can if the right player delivers the message.

Earlier this season, first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong chastised his team leaders because no one took action when he filled the locker room before a loss to Brigham Young with reminders of how badly the Cougars defeated the Longhorns in their 2013 matchup in Provo, Utah. Strong made it clear, after a 41-7 loss, that he welcomes take-charge action behind closed doors in his locker room.

Are the Longhorns listening? This week’s tirades made it clear Texas’ seniors are willing to talk the talk.

“I’m doing the best I can to get those guys going,” Diggs said. “If you have that ‘dog’ in you, you’re going to want to be the best player. You’re out here playing a man’s game. If you’re doing that, you’ve got to have some of that in you. When I don’t see it, it disappoints me.”

The question, at this point, is whether Texas’ talkers can spur more fellow “dogs” to action against the Sooners before their Big 12 title hopes get buried like a bone in the Cotton Bowl.