November 7, 2009
11:00 a.m. Central
FSN / Comcast Sports Net
If you keep an eye on Mack Brown’s words of wisdom throughout the year, you know the ‘Horns have already completed two seasons in 2009. Brown has a knack for breaking a 12-game season down in to three segments to help keep the team focused on short-term goals, building momentum until it crescendos in a post-season bowl game. To-date, the Longhorns are undefeated in two of their four-game stretches (to be 8-0), with the previous four games – Colorado, oklahoma, Missouri, and Oklahoma State – being their toughest stretch this season.
It’s true that the reminder of Texas’ schedule doesn’t pose much of threat – even the Big 12 Championship game, should they get that far – but, those can be the most dangerous games of all for a team that thrives on big games year-in and year-out.
This week, the ‘Horns face a fiery Central Florida team who almost knocked off Texas in Orlando in 2007 behind future NFL running back Kevin Smith. While this Knights team poses less of a threat, they shouldn’t be overlooked in Austin this weekend. As Eyes Of TX favorite UT guru Trey McLean says, “a game on the schedule is a game on schedule,” and the team still has to show up to play. There are no “gimme” games, and some of top teams in the BCS have already flirted with season-ending disasters this season. Brown and the ‘Horns need to maintain their focus, use Saturday to gain some “style points” with the BCS voters, and stay healthy.
Let’s get to the game preview for Texas v. Central Florida.
Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 56, Central Florida 10
Central Florida Knights (5-3)
Head coach George O’Leary brings his Knights to Austin for the first time on Saturday, and while his team is 5-3 and vying for position in the middle of Conference USA, they have had some gutsy performances – most recently on Sunday night when they came back from more than 10 points down to Marshall to win at the wire, 21-20.
The strength of the Knights team is not the offense, and in fact, they rank poorly in all offensive categories, other than being from a city with a lot of humidity. They rank 98th in total offense (336 yards/game), including 47th in pass efficiency, in the 70-range for passing (215 yards/game), and in the 80-range for rushing (120 yards/game) and scoring offense (24.1 points/game). Those are signs of 11 players struggling to find their rhythm against Conference USA opponents. Unfortunately, this weekend’s game is not against a Conference USA team.
The offense is led, however, by quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey. Hodges is solid, but not great – throwing for 10 TDs and seven INTs while hitting 57 percent of his passes – and he is capable of moving the team down the field methodically when necessary. Ask Marshall. Harvey is the workhorse in the backfield, and standing at 6’1” 215-pounds, he is capable of moving the pile through the middle the field to get his yards, and he averages 84 yards per game, and has seven TDs on the season. The problem this week will be the near-invisible Knights offensive line – while the UCF fans might point to turnovers or lack of total yardage to lead to points, the truth is that the offensive line probably won’t make the ‘Horns defense break a sweat and that will cause Hodges to make mistakes that will take the Knights out of the game by halftime if not sooner.
The surprise out of Orlando is the UCF defense, which has played inspired football all season and given the offense ample opportunities to stay in games, and/or win them in the end. Where their offense is incompetent on the national scene, their defense ranks in the top 10 in both rush defense (87 yards/game) and sacks (27) – those are impressive stats, although against inferior teams from Conference USA. While Eyes Of TX is certain the Knights rush defense statistics will only improve after playing Texas’ “we’ll-kind-of-try-to-run-until-we-give-up-and-pass-all-over-you” attack, UCF’s sack total does pose some concern for Texas’ offensive line and coach Mac McWhorter.
The defense is led by defensive end Bruce Miller, who has totaled nine sacks on the year and as an undersized lineman, plays more like a linebacker at 6’2” 253-pounds. His colleague up front is NFL-sized Torrell Troup, with two sacks and 26 tackles on the year, will take up all space between the hash marks Shaun Rogers-style with his 6’3” 314-pound frame. If Texas has any chance running the ball on Saturday, it won’t be up the middle the field. The opportunity for Texas on Saturday, assuming they can calm the pass rush from UCF’s defensive line and linebackers, will be to take advantage of the secondary with the plethora of bigger, stronger, faster wide outs roaming the burnt orange side of the DKR-Memorial Stadium sidelines. The Knight’s linebackers, while solid in run support, are ripe for taking advantage of in coverage, and the secondary is giving up 243 yards passing per game (90th nationally). How do they solve their coverage woes? They play Texas and Houston back-to-back weeks. Ouch.
On special teams, it’s a mixed bag. The kicking game for the Knights is an absolute debacle for a Division I school, as UCF’s field goal kicker is only 9-for-16, and their punter averages 36 yards per punt. Where it gets interesting is UCF’s ability to cover those short punts – allowing only 3.4 yards per return – as well as kick-offs, allowing 16.3 yards per return. In addition, they are capable of big plays in the kick return game, averaging 25.4 yards per kickoff with a TD on the season, and 12.5 yards per punt. Expect to see the Knights trying to cause some trouble for Texas on specials, and to keep that field goal kicker on the bench when it comes to red-zone situations. Let’s face it, UCF will need TDs – not FGs – to stay in this one.
#2 Texas Longhorns (8-0)
Simple. The ‘Horns need to play the game, and play it to the level they’re capable of – especially as the #2 team in the land. There are already doubters amongst the BCS voters, and if Alabama wins this weekend they get big momentum, so don’t give those ballot-casters another reason to question why Texas should be in Pasadena, Calif., on Thursday, January 7 at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. Got it?
Texas will likely do what they’ve done all year – keep QB Colt McCoy upright in the pocket, and picking apart the opposing defense with 3-8 yard dink-and-dunk passes. The difference in the passing game this week might be the Texas wide outs ability to break something on Eyes Of TX’s favorite play to hate, the bubble screen. Expect to WR Jordan Shipley to have a career day, especially if he’s matched up on the linebackers, and let’s continue to see the emergence of WR Malcolm Williams who had a nice game in Stillwater last week. The running game should be…well, honestly…non-existent on Saturday for two reasons: 1) Texas doesn’t have a running back or a running game consistent enough to be a threat outside of Cody Johnson rumbling, stumbling, bumbling from the 1-yard line; and, 2) UCF’s rush defense is no joke.
On defense, the ‘Horns front seven must be salivating for Saturday’s match-up. UCF’s Hodges, whose jersey was pretty dirty after the Marshall game, will be sore until 2010 after this game, as there is no way the Knights offensive line can stop Texas’ self-proclaimed “Goon Squad.” With constant pressure on Hodges, and what is expected to be an early deficit, the running game will disappear and the UCF offense will become one dimensional. Oh, why hello Earl Thomas, Blake Gideon, and Curtis Brown – how may we help you? After an epic week against the ‘Pokes, expect a near-repeat performance (it’s scary to think that’s even possible) from the Texas secondary…they are on fire, showing confidence, and have no fear. It will be a self-serve night for the ‘Horns, and Aaron Williams should be back after being injured last week.
Expect some fireworks on special teams – Texas has the athletes to make something big happen…kick or punt return, block? Eyes Of TX expects one of each – who’s up for it this week? Shipley, Marquise Goodwin, D.J. Monroe?