Longhorns stay in national title hunt despite offense

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas began the season expecting to score touchdowns at will.

So far, the Longhorns haven't lived up to the hype.

Seventh-ranked Texas (6-1, 2-1 Big 12) stills clings to national championship hopes after a stellar defensive effort in last week's tough road win at Kansas State.

But the dark cloud hanging over Austin is an offense ranked a dismal 84th in the nation going into Saturday's home game against No. 17 Iowa State (6-2, 3-1).

The Longhorns have struggled lately against good defenses. The offense has just six TDs and three field goals in the last three weeks.

At 354 yards of offense per game, only Baylor and Kansas rank below Texas in the Big 12.

That's a long way from the Texas offenses in recent years and a big drop-off from the best effort this season, a 567-yard, 52-point outburst against North Carolina in the second game.

"It really hasn't been that bad," said offensive lineman Robbie Doane, who points out Texas is still in the top 10. "There's no reason to panic."

Too late.

Local radio sports talk shows have been bombarded with complaints of conservative play calling. An Internet site dedicated to getting offensive coordinator Greg Davis fired boasts more than 25,000 hits in the last two weeks.

All of which sets coach Mack Brown's teeth to grinding.

"When you don't score 50 points you're getting 'conservative,"' said Brown, who said he's not going to fire Davis and disputes that he's gone conservative in his fifth season in Austin.

"What we've learned here is we pay no attention to the news reports or the fans," Brown said.

But the fans see what's happening to their team and the offensive turnaround at rival Texas A&M.

Aggies coach R.C. Slocum replaced his offensive coordinator after a bad start and rank second in the Big 12 in passing at 264.4 yards per game.

Meanwhile, the vaunted Longhorns' passing attack ranks seventh in the league at 218.4 yards per game.

There are several causes for what ails Texas.

For starters, the Longhorns played two of the best defenses in the country the last two weeks against Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Second, injuries have plagued the wide receivers. And with the receivers hobbled, Texas has forced the run behind tailback Cedric Benson. But even Benson isn't showing the same form as last season, when he became the first Texas freshman to rush for 1,000 yards.

"We're trying to hang on and get better on offense and not lose games while we're doing it," Brown said.

Simms, who passed for a touchdown against Kansas State and set up the game-winning field goal with a long completion to B.J. Johnson, said he wouldn't mind passing more.

"I would love for us to drop back and throw it down field a lot," Simms said. "If we have to throw it every down, we can throw it every down."

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