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September 15, 2009

Gideon, Thomas and Brown are now battle tested

No one will reveal what the jokes are, but Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas are able to give each other a hard time about Texas Tech's final offensive plays against the Longhorns last year.

"It was last year," Gideon said Tuesday night after practice. "We're not going to forget it as competitors. But at the same time, we need to move on and have moved on, so we can joke about it."

NOW LOOKING BACK

No one was laughing about Gideon's dropped interception on Tech's last series or Thomas' poor angle on a touchdown pass from Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree that proved to be the most memorable play of the 2008 season.

Thomas said Tuesday night he thought he heard a whistle on the play, signifying Crabtree was out of bounds, so he let up on the play. Thomas and the coaching staff now believe the whistle may have been blown by a fan in the stands at AT&T Jones Stadium.

Instead of having over-the-top support on a double team against Crabtree, along with CB Curtis Brown, Crabtree wiggled free and scored.

"That was last year," Thomas said. "It's a whole other year, so we'll see. I think we'll match up good against them because we're good, too."

BENT BUT NOT BROKEN

Thomas, Gideon and Curtis Brown could have crawled into a shell and allowed that experience to break them.

Instead, they will all be starters on Saturday with Brown moving ahead of Chykie Brown at right cornerback on this week's depth chart.

The secondary was considered a weakness last season. This season, it's a strength of a unit that has seen its starters give up one touchdown drive (a 75-yard TD pass by ULM).

Two field goals surrendered by UT came after turnovers by the offense or special teams inside the UT 15. And 10 points were given up late in the fourth quarter against ULM by second- and third-teamers.

OLDER AND WISER

"All through last season, we had growing pains," Thomas said. "That one just cost us a little bit more than others. But it taught us to finish plays. It wasn't just me growing up, but the whole secondary has grown up a lot as you can see from us playing lights out the last two games. Everybody grew up, and it's paying off."

Gideon may have been singled out more than any of those who had a chance to make a game-changing play. He said Tuesday he was devastated the day after the game.

"I was pretty hard on myself for about one day," Gideon said. "And then all of my teammates told me that wasn't going to happen. They told me it would be selfish for me to be hard on myself. I didn't let it affect me beyond that point.

"That was the main thing to me - that I was going to be OK if my team was going to be OK. People could write what they wanted and say what they wanted but what mattered to me is what the guys I went to war with thought about it. They were OK about it, so I was OK about it."

GROWING FROM ADVERSITY

Will Muschamp was asked if the experience Gideon, Thomas and Brown went through at Tech has somehow been a positive for character-building.

"I would never wish that to happen to a kid," Muschamp said. "They're competitive kids. They bounce back. Through adverse situations, you bounce back and get stronger. And those kids have done that. They're competitive.

"Blake worked on some things in the off-season. It set him back a little bit to go through shoulder surgery. But he's gotten stronger and done a great job schematically with what we're doing."

Muschamp, however, takes the blame for what happened at the end of the Tech game.

"We had him doubled," Muschamp said. "We just have to do a good job of coaching to get those kids in the right spot."

Muschamp likes the progress he's seen from the secondary in two games this season.

"They can handle more and you know they can perform under the lights," Muschamp said. "So we're more experienced and ahead of where we were last year. There's obvious positives. We liked our athleticsm the whole time. But you improve on Saturdays. That's when you become a better player.

"I think you learn from any win or loss, any tough situation or adverse situation. We've got competitive kids."
Gideon was asked how last year's Tech game affected him.

"That threw us into the fire," Gideon said. "We were forced to grow up and we felt like we've done that. That's really about it. There wasn't any easing into it. We were forced to grow up quick."

I asked Gideon how he has grown from the experience?

"I think me as a player, I've grown because everyone else has grown around me," Gideon said. "We're all able to trust each other, so we know where each other is going to be and we trust everybody got the call and knows their responsibility. That's a huge part of playing good defensive football."

Gideon flashed that ability to laugh at himself when he was asked if he's tired of being asked about "the play" from the Tech game?

"What play was that?" Gideon smiled. "I mean, I guess you guys need something to write about. I don't take it for more than it was - as a play that should have been made. I've moved on."

The next question was if Gideon could "exorcise the demons Saturday?"

"We need to be ready for this game," Gideon said. "Last year is last year. I don't know. There's no revenge factor in it. It's about getting a win, and that's something we couldn't do last year, and that held us from our ultimate goal in the end."

Gideon said if there is a positive that came out of last year's Tech game, it's the togetherness of the defense.

"We didn't win the game, so everyone, with how close we were and how mature we were, no one was going to run from responsibility," Gideon said. "So the best way for us to deal with it was to move on. As much as other people pointed fingers, we knew it was something we couldn't do."

Mack Brown said there were "10 plays" from last year's Tech game that cost Texas, adding that anyone who blames the loss on Gideon or the missed tackle of Crabtree by Curtis Brown and Earl Thomas is missing the point.

On Gideon specifically, Brown said, "I wish people would talk about his entire body of work. He was disappointed, but he's going to get that play back one day."
Could that day be Saturday?


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