AUSTIN, Texas — When BYU humiliated then-No. 15 Texas last September in Provo 40-21, it wasn’t only that the Cougars won the game — it was how they won.
BYU ran for a school-record 550 yards, the most rushing yards ever given up by a Longhorn team. It was one of the lowest points in Texas’ illustrious 122-year history. It was an abysmal performance that didn’t sit well deep in the heart of Texas.
The next day, then-coach Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. By the end of the season, Brown resigned after a remarkable 16-year career in Austin that featured a national championship in 2006.
Yes, BYU’s blowout win on a blustery night in Provo unwittingly played a role in Brown’s departure and Texas’ reboot, which included the hiring of head coach Charlie Strong last January.
The Cougars wounded a proud Longhorn program dripping with tradition.
And, no, Texas hasn’t forgotten that.
“As a pride factor, that ought to be something you have circled on your calendar — if you’re a man,” senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said last summer about the upcoming rematch with BYU. “We got beat down that day. Y’all want me to keep it real? We got beat down. Those guys played a better game, and they beat our tail.”
The Longhorns are seeking redemption, and a little revenge, when they host BYU Saturday (5:30 p.m., MDT, Fox Sports 1).
Strong — regarded in college football circles as a defensive guru — has reportedly watched film of that game against the Cougars numerous times, and it has served as an impetus to instill toughness into his program. He has famously expressed his desire to “put the ‘T’ back in Texas.”
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill ran past, and through, Longhorn defenders, to the tune of 259 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
“That’s all we hear about is BYU,” senior defensive end Cedric Reed said. “We’ve got BYU marked on our calendars.”
The Longhorns are eager to bury those bitter memories by winning Saturday. Texas players are tired of being reminded about the BYU game from the coaching staff.
“We heard about it a lot. We still hear about it,” said Diggs. “That's just how these guys are. They are going to continue to rub it in our face and that's what they want to do. Going to get us ready to go, and I think we'll hear about it a lot this week from you guys especially, and that's just the way it is. Until we go out and prove anything different, then you guys are going to continue to bring it up. But I can't wait until you see us (on Saturday).”
BYU defensive lineman Remington Peck said Texas might have been overlooking the Cougars last year. After all, BYU struggled in its season-opening loss at Virginia.
This time, Peck said, the Cougars should have Texas’ respect.
“If we don’t, I don’t know why we wouldn’t. I believe it’s going to be a different game this year, a different team. They came in last year a little cocky, feeling like it was going to be an easy game. It’s not going to be like that this year. We’re going to have to prepare the best we can.”
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is downplaying the revenge angle.
“That will be the story all week, of what happened last year,” he said. “But, man, I don’t think from a coach’s perspective that will impact the outcome of the game at all. Ultimately, we still have to get prepared to play a football game.”
Texas is looking to Strong to carry the program back to national prominence. In four years at his previous school, Louisville, Strong led the Cardinals to a 37-15 record, including two Big East championships. Prior to Louisville, Strong served as defensive coordinator at South Carolina and Florida. He helped the Gators win a pair of national titles not too long ago.
Strong said earlier this year that this Texas team is not a national championship contender this year. But expectations at Texas are always sky-high and there’s big-time pressure to win. Now.
Since arriving in Austin, a number of players have left the program or have been suspended as part of Strong’s rebuilding process. The team announced Wednesday that two offensive tackles, Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle, will miss the BYU game due to a suspension.
Texas would love nothing more than to exorcize the demons from that BYU game as it begins a new era under Strong.
“I wouldn't necessarily say we circled (this game) but we definitely have been waiting for this one,” said wide receiver John Harris. “It was a hard-fought loss for us last year. We went out there and we didn't perform the way we wanted to perform. So we are really looking forward to this one and we know we can't wait for the guys to get here this weekend. I wouldn't say it was necessarily revenge. We just want to go back out there and redeem ourselves from that game. That wasn't us and that's not who we are now.”
Cornerback Duke Thomas said last year’s loss “definitely leaves a sour taste in my mouth knowing how that game went. I definitely understand how it looks to everybody else, but I feel like everyone on the team knows what we have got to do and understands that we have got to step it up and take care of our jobs and stop the quarterback. We don't want to have that happen again.”