AUSTIN, Texas — Texas coach Charlie Strong took over his defense to get things fixed and save the season.
He designed new coverages. He tried different ways to get pressure on the opposing quarterback. None of it worked.
Strong’s gamble on himself failed and the Longhorns have lost three straight, including an 0-2 start in the Big 12. Strong is facing open speculation that he’ll be out of a job after the season if he doesn’t pull off a miracle run to the end of the season.
So now what?
With seven games left and a home game Saturday night against Iowa State (1-5, 0-3) Strong pleaded Monday for fans to not give up on his players.
“We’ve been away for a month. We have seven games left. This is their football team,” Strong said. “You need support. You can’t be fair-weather fans. We’re not going to give up hope. We are going to continue to play hard, we will continue to fight …. I see what we have and know the direction its going.”
Strong, who is 13-17 in this third season, has no choice but to be the public optimist when everything about Texas is trending down.
Even his efforts to shake up his defense fell painfully flat. The Longhorns (2-3, 0-2) surrendered nearly 700 yards in a 45-40 loss to Oklahoma with three touchdown plays of 47 yards or longer. Texas defensive backs were still getting beat on deep balls or missing tackles.
Everything seems to work in practice, only to collapse at game time, Strong said.
“Everything is about fundamentals and technique. I told the guys it’s a simple game we make some complicated. We go out there and practice and knock every one of them down. We can’t complete one in practice,” he said. “You can’t have mental lapses in big games.”
Senior safety Dylan Haines said Strong used last week’s practices to create some new coverage schemes and calls for rushing the passer. Haines did have Texas’ first two interceptions of the season but Texas rarely pressured Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who wasn’t sacked until late in the fourth quarter.
Texas also got pushed around up front as Sooners running back Samaje Perine ran for 214 yards.
“Some guys kind of just get out there and bright lights kind of hit them and they lose focus,” Haines said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys playing out there and that’s going to happen. But for some of older guys, we’ve got to get that fixed. This can’t be a continuing issue or those guys aren’t going to be playing anymore.”
Texas hasn’t won a game or played at home since a Sept. 10 win over UTEP. That came on the heels of a thrilling double-overtime win over then-No. 10 Notre Dame that had college football thinking that Strong had Texas surging back among the nation’s elite.
That Notre Dame win, Strong said Monday, now “feels like three years ago.”
Strong was asked by reporters how he’s handling the pressure to win among fading hopes.
“I’m fine. As a competitor, you want more things to happen for you and it’s not happening,” Strong said. “All you can do is continue to coach, continue grind it out. Eventually it’s going to happen. It’s going to turn.”