AUSTIN — Texas cruelly teased all its fans.
One week after the worst defensive performance in school history triggered the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the Longhorns fell into an immediate hole against No. 25 Mississippi.
Despite the slow start, Texas appeared to correct its defensive flaws and backup quarterback Case McCoy led the Longhorns to 23 unanswered points to take a lead into halftime. But after the break, the Longhorns’ same old issues reappeared and the Rebels capitalized with a dominating third quarter en route to a lopsided 44-23 victory.
“For some reason, we didn’t play consistently well in the second half, and we’ve got to go back and figure out why,” Texas head coach Mack Brown said. “We were just inept on offense in the second half.”
For Texas, it was the second consecutive disappointing defeat after surrendering 550 rushing yards to BYU in a 40-21 road loss last week, and it marks the first 1-2 start for Texas since Brown’s debut season in 1998.
The worst part for the Texas faithful, who booed when Brown appeared on the jumbotron in the first quarter and began exiting en masse with nine minutes remaining in the game, was the fact the Longhorns spent the entire second quarter looking like a team prepared to move on from its checkered past.
Instead, Texas fell flat, especially on defense under Greg Robinson, who took over for Diaz.
“I don’t think (Robinson) can be really effective in the first three days, which is what he had tonight,” Brown said. “But next week, I think we’ll start seeing more progress.”
After the Rebels needed just eight plays before Jeff Scott capped off a 75-yard drive with a 5-yard scoring run on the game’s first dirve, the Longhorns produced negative yards on their initial possession. Then, Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace put together another quick scoring drive, completing an 18-yard pass to Donte Moncrief for a 14-0 advantage with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter.
With David Ash sidelined due to lingering head and shoulder injuries from the loss at BYU, senior Case McCoy showed signs of consistency, finding Mike Davis for a 13-yard touchdown late in the opening quarter. McCoy was 6-for-6 passing in the first quarter and finished the half 11-of-13 for 104 yards.
McCoy also engineered four second-quarter scoring drives with kicker Anthony Fera connecting on field goals of 28, 30 and 47 yards, and Johnathan Gray scoring on an 8-yard run.
But the Rebels (3-0) grabbed a little momentum by kicking a 52-yard field goal as time expired, and it carried over into the second half, where Ole Miss outscored the Longhorns 27-0, including a 21-point third quarter. The Longhorns posted a meager 48 yards in the third quarter while giving up 161 to the Rebels.
McCoy, who was the Longhorns saving grace in the first half along with Gray, finished with a mediocre showing, completing 24 of 36 passes for 196 yards, while Gray had 91 rushing yards on 10 carries after an 82-yard first half.
“(McCoy’s first half was) pretty good stuff,” Brown said. “But that’s what we wanted him to do in the second half.”
At times, the Longhorns crumbled in each phase of the game.
Following a fluke fumble by Wallace, who lost grip of the ball as he attempted a pass in the second quarter, Texas took over inside the Rebels red zone. A pass interference penalty on Ole Miss gave the Longhorns first-and-goal at the Rebels’ 2-yard line. Back-to-back false starts and a tackle for a loss, however, forced Texas to settle for a field goal.
Then, Ole Miss marched all over the Longhorns after halftime, ripping momentum away with a pair of demoralizing 80-yard touchdown drives.The nail in the coffin came with nine seconds remaining in the third quarter as Jeff Scott took a Texas punt 73 yards for a touchdown, giving the Rebels a 37-23 lead.
“We’ve got to have guys continue to make plays when things aren’t going well,” Brown said. “When we lose our momentum, we’re having trouble getting it back. Somebody has to step up and make those plays.”