Week 1 Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Rice Owls

It’s finally time for the start of the 2010 Texas Longhorn football season, and Mack Brown’s team is looking to avenge their disappointing loss in last year’s BCS National Championship. Honestly, it’s time to put it behind us. EyesOfTX will say it, though: if QB Colt McCoy hadn’t gotten hurt in Pasadena, Calif., the ‘Horns would’ve beat Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide going away. That stupid ESPN “College Gameday” commercial would have Brown bragging about his two championship rings getting in the way during Jenga. OK, done with it. For now.

A few quick notes before jumping in to week one. The 2010 off-season held a lot of question marks for this Longhorns team, as several team leaders and experience took their talents to the next level, including QB Colt McCoy (Cleveland), WR Jordan Shipley (Cincinnati), DE Sergio Kindle (Baltimore), LB Rodderick Muckelroy (Cincinnati) and S Earl Thomas (Seattle; watch this video!) to name a few. That left offensive coordinator Greg Davis (EyesOfTX’s favorite coach to hate) and defensive coordinator / future head coach / crazy man Will Muschamp with some big holes to fill. Luckily, Brown’s recruiting prowess year-in and year-out has the ‘Horns filling out the roster nicely this fall. Some of the key positions will be filled with viable young talent that has learned from watching their elders, and they will only improve as the season progresses. Isn’t that cliche and catchy? Thought so. Worked all summer on it.

Key aspects to watch in September and October will be Gilbert’s progression at quarterback (does his name remind anyone else of the movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”), the “007” martini-like offensive line changes, filling the gaps in the defensive line – specifically at defensive tackle, and the using our former-star-QB-turned-running-backs-coach to find the ever-elusive running game. Who’s calling former UT great RB Ricky Williams to push grad school classes?

On a serious note, the ‘Horns are stacked with a mix of experienced talent and young hot shots that will make this season interesting – they could go undefeated, or lose up to three games. How’s that for not being decisive? The team opens the season as the #4 team in the nation according to USA Today, with some select powerhouses – Alabama, Ohio State, and Florida – ahead of them in the race to Glendale, Ariz., and the 2011 National Championship. Watch out for #5 Boise State – if they win on the road against #10 Virginia Tech in week one, and beat #24 Oregon State at home late in the season, have no one stopping them from getting on the national championship ballot come December. Hooray for small schools with blue football turf everywhere!

Texas Longhorns v. Rice Owls
2:30 p.m. CT (ESPN & ESPN HD)

Prediction:
Texas 48, Rice 10

Rice’s Keys To The Game:
The Owls and head coach David Bailiff (of Texas State fame) had a tough year in 2009 (Bailiff’s third season), going 2-10. While they run a spread offense – with no notable wide receivers to speak of – if they have any chance of beating Texas on Saturday, it starts with the running game and Michigan transfer and current RB Sam McGuffie. Name sound familiar? Yes, it’s the McGuffie of YouTube fame – the top RB prospect in the country a few short years ago. Haven’t seen him on film? Take 6 minutes, it’s worth it. EyesOfTX will be here when you get back. [Pause] Told you so. Unfortunately, McGuffie won’t get 100 touches in this game, which means Rice is still up a creek without a paddle, but don’t be surprised if McGuffie makes the fans gasp a time or two at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Rice RB Sam McGuffie

Outside of McGuffie, the Owls don’t even know who their starting quarterback will be. Junior Nick Fanuzzi is the incumbent, a dual-threat QB, but he struggled last year throwing the ball accurately. They could start Miami QB transfer Taylor Cook, a 6’7” 240-pound behemoth with a monster arm but cement for feet. Or, how about true frosh Tyler McHargue, the better of the dual-threat QBs on the roster? It’s like picking lotto numbers out of tumbler – you don’t know what you’re going to get. Surely, Muschamp had fun writing out this week’s defensive schemes.

If the Owls offense is anemic without a running game, then the defense isn’t much better. They were 117th out of 120 teams last year in total defense, and gave up the most points per game – 43 – of any team in the country in 2009. In a 4-2-5 scheme, with four down lineman, two linebackers, and five defensive backs, they’ll play to Texas strength (passing game), but get brutalized by Texas’ punishing ground attack. Like how that was set up?


Texas’ Keys To The Game:
Let’s be clear – Texas can drop way more than 48 points on Rice. But, they won’t. On purpose. Per the commentary the fans have heard all off-season, this game is all about clock control and the to-date-non-existent Texas running game. Stop messing with you, right? Honestly, prepare to be David-ized – “is this real life?” You won’t believe what you see. Rumors have it that Cody Johnson will start at RB for the ‘Horns after dropping virtually no weight, but changing that fat to muscle and becoming a fast as all get-out, extremely conditioned athlete in the off-season. Texas rolls for more than 200 yards rushing on Saturday.

Texas QB Garrett Gilbert

Expect to see “experienced” QB Garrett Gilbert come out firing too, though. Reports have it that he threw only one interception in all of fall ball. Against what is being touted as the best defensive backfield in the country in 2010. Plus, he’s able to make throws that McCoy just couldn’t – I’m referring to downfield, of course. You’ll see more (gasp!) I-formation, with (gasp!) Gilbert under center, and (gasp!) a fullback…er, H-back. Promise. Although the offensive line was juggled around in the off-season, the starters are solid contributors with some experience under their belt. And, they’re finally being asked to fire off the ball in run blocking schemes, so they shouldn’t be a bunch of gigantic pansies blocking for the zone read as in year’s past. They want to go knock someone over. Preferably two.

The wide receiving core is re-tooled as well, but Brown has recruited well at the position, and after 7-on-7 drills this summer it sounds like WR Malcolm Williams found some consistency. He’ll be the scoring threat, with cohorts John Chiles and James Kirkendoll holding down the fort, and the quickness of D.J. Monroe or Marquis Goodwin adding sub-4.4 speed. Expect to see youth get some playing time here – the ‘Horns are deep on talent on the edge.

Defensively, this could be the year that no one forgets. Brown is already saying this could be his best unit ever at Texas. When you had the #1, #3, #4, and #8 defenses in the country in the last few years under Greg Robinson, Gene Chizik, and Will Muschamp, that’s hard to believe. We do know this – the secondary will be lights out…a perfect compliment to the offensive schemes of most Big 12 teams they’ll play. The defensive ends stay the same, with All-American talent and a lot of young studs to add depth. The tackle spot is a question mark, but some guys have stepped up this fall to fill the void. Linebackers will be lethal again this year too, although you’ll see one new name at starter on the weak side – Dravannti Johnson.

Let’s start the season off on the right foot – go get ‘em ‘Horns! Hook ‘em!

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Filed under Big 12, Longhorns, NCAA Football, Owls

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