Mack Brown is just as bothered by the unpredictability of his Longhorns as anyone who follows them.
Mack Brown is anxious to see how his team plays after its great performance against Texas Tech.
A drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma was followed by an offensive explosion against Baylor. Then the Longhorns escaped a near disaster against Kansas, which was surprisingly followed by the team's most complete performance of the year against Texas Tech last weekend.
Nobody knows which Texas team will take the field against Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday morning. Not even its head coach.
“It's a team that wants to do well and is trying to grow up,” Mack said. “This will be a huge week for us to see if we continue to grow.”
It's easy to get up for a game in Lubbock. When the crowd is against you, your backs are against the wall and nobody picks you to win it's easy to circle the wagons.
Last weekend the Longhorns appeared to take a huge step forward in terms of maturity. Now, at a time of day when they haven't played well, and against an opponent that doesn't generate near as much buzz as some of the other teams on the yearly slate, the ability to get up for this game will be a real sign of whether or not Texas has really matured.
The time of day, location, conditions – none of it should matter. It doesn't to good teams, the kinds of teams that will show up and battle no matter when or where. It doesn't matter to the kind of team Texas wants to be.
“It's time for us to grow up,” Mack said. “If you're playing in a parking lot you should still win.”
Mack has had these years before.
The 2003 season that ended with Holiday Bowl loss to Washington State was one where the Longhorns had performances throughout the season that didn't jibe once you put them side by side, like beating Big 12 champion Kansas State and getting blown out by Oklahoma. Mack's often said 2007 was a season where he didn't know from week to week which team would show up.
Those frustrating seasons set up runs to BCS games over the two seasons that followed, with each run ending in a trip to the BCS title game. That's where Texas is planning on being in the near future, but before we get way ahead of ourselves the Longhorns need to figure out the best way to keep moving in that direction without stumbling.
The best approach for Texas would be what Mason Walters suggested this week – a one-week season mentality. Texas doesn't need to think about what bowl game it'll play in or what it's record will look like at the end of the season, but rather what it needs to do in order to continue to become a better football team with each passing week.
“This is a huge week for us to see if we can maintain the intensity needed within the conference and the toughness we showed on Saturday,” Mack said.
It'll be a challenge because the last time Texas came back from a road win that was supposed to turn around a season, it was in 2010 after it beat Nebraska. The opponent that day was Iowa State, and the Longhorns failed to show up for that11 a.m. kickoff.
That loss was – aside from any blowout loss to Oklahoma – the lowest point in the Mack Brown era. Considering the way this season has gone and that the Longhorns are in a position for a strong finish with a 7-2 mark entering this game, a loss would be a huge blow to the program.
It wouldn't keep the Longhorns from being bowl eligible, but it would be that caliber of a loss.
Texas needs to build momentum for a 2013 season where expectations will once again be high, but excuses of any variety will not be tolerated. A strong finish to this season would not only build positive momentum for the team, it'll also help with recruiting as the lifeblood of the program is in need of a shot in the arm.
Iowa State isn't a game Texas can sleep on, and for a program that's trying to trend upward a loss to the Cyclones would be the kind of crash and burn the Longhorns can't afford.
“You know they'll be ready to play,” Mack said. “The question is, will we be ready to play? The time has come where we need to be ready to play.”
Aside from numbers, or the need to respect Iowa State's toughness and how well-coached the Cyclones will be on Saturday, the game should be easy to get up for because of what Longhorn fans everywhere are going through.
The passing of Darrell Royal this week is the kind of event that had to be mentally taxing on Mack Brown. Even as recently as his Monday press conference, Mack was talking about advice Royal had given him in the past or using “Royalisms” to describe his current players.
Mack has said Royal was like a father to him. That's the magnitude of a loss the face of the program is going through, and the least the players could do is be prepared to play the kind of game that would make Royal proud and give Mack a reason to feel good about where the program is headed.
Mack and the program have been here before. The aforementioned 2010 win over Nebraska came on the heels of the beginning of Cleve Bryant's exodus from the program and the passing of Mack's brother-in-law.
That Texas team, which Mack noted again this week was overrun by selfishness and personal agendas, picked up their head coach and gave a memorable performance. That's the same kind of effort Texas needs to come out with on Saturday.
It would be the best way to honor Royal, to show Mack they're ready to grow up, and to show everyone the Texas Tech win wasn't a fluke and is something this program can use as a springboard to get to where it wants to be.
Things like death and personal strife can make a person grow up. At a time when the program is hurting, this team needs to show that it's ready to grow up and start moving forward.
“We're headed in the right direction. Saturday was a big step for us to win on the road, now everybody's asking about it,” Mack said. “We had a long visit with the team Sunday. [We asked] what's next? Are you going to play like you did against Iowa State in 2010, or have we made progress?
“This is a progress weekend. This weekend is a big question mark for us.”