Texas v. Florida Atlantic

Hello, Longhorn fans!

It has been just over eight months since the Texas Longhorns took the football field, and I can tell you that I can’t WAIT for the Horns to take the field on Saturday at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin in front of the largest crowd in Texas football history (with the north end zone addition, the stadium now holds more than 91,000 fans) against the Florida Atlantic Owls. Texas starts off the season ranked #10 in the polls, along with four other Big 12 schools ranked in the top 15 overall (OU, Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Tech).

Now to the details…(I’ll apologize for the length, but it’s the first game, and I’ll try to get you acquainted with the 2008 team early). Texas has had a great off-season, and I want to highlight two key points right off the bat: 1) Mack Brown went out and hired the best defensive coordinator in the business in Auburn’s Will Muschamp (more on him later); and, 2) the team went through spring and fall drills with very few injuries. On the downside, Texas is a very, very young team this year, and we’ve got a tough conference schedule, but the talent on this team is capable of competing with every team we play this year.

The 2008 Schedule
Saturday, August 30 v. Florida Atlantic (4:00p PT; PPV)
Saturday, September 6 v. UTEP (7:15p PT; ESPN2)
Saturday, September 13 v. Arkansas (12:30p PT; ABC)
Saturday, September 20 v. Rice (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, September 27 – BYE
Saturday, October 4 v. Colorado (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, October 11 v. oklahoma (9:00a PT; ABC)
Saturday, October 18 v. Missouri (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, October 25 v. Oklahoma State (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, November 1 v. Texas Tech (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, November 8 v. Baylor (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, November 15 v. Kansas (TBA; TBA)
Saturday, November 22 – BYE
Thursday, November 27 v. Texas A&M (5:00p PT; ESPN)

The 2008 Details
The offense looks strong this year, with junior QB Colt McCoy returning to lead the charge. He has looked good in the off-season, and with a healthy offensive line, he should have more time to throw and return to his freshman year form.

The offensive line, which was pieced together last year through numerous injuries, is deep with several, very talented young guys cross-trained at all positions. While young, they should control the line of scrimmage, give Colt more time to throw, and provide more holes for the RBs to run. At RB, look for a running back by committee, including Vondrell McGee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Fozzy Whitaker. All are talented in their own way, albeit young with the exception of Ogbonnaya, and worth noting Whitaker took a shot to the knee in practice which limited him toward the end of fall drills. Expect to see all three play as they are quick, hard-hitting, and have good hands out of the backfield. At WR, the Horns have proven talent in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, but expect to see true freshman Dan Buckner play early and often as the deep threat. For TE, it will be by committee between Peter Ullman, Blaine Irby and Greg Smith, each of which can block for the running game or stretch the field similar to the David Thomas of old. You’ll note that I haven’t yet mentioned QB John Chiles, and that’s because he falls in to several categories – believe it or not, offensive coordinator Greg Davis is mixing it up and has developed certain formations that have Chiles at QB, RB and WR…all with McCoy still in the game. It should be interesting to see how his athletic talent is showcased, similar to Ramonce Taylor from a few years ago. Chiles’ talent is just too good to keep off the field, it should be fun to watch. The offense will be potent, and the strength of this 2008 team, but expect a few growing pains with some new guys in the starting line-up.

As I mentioned before, Mack Brown brought in Will Muschamp to coach the defense, and he was nothing short of spectacular in his stint at Auburn. He’s a young, but proven, coach and he has an aggressive, attacking style to which we haven’t seen in a few years in Austin. He runs a base 4-2-5 scheme, which means you’ll primarily see four down lineman, two linebackers, and five defensive backs – but his mantra is putting fast, athletic guys on the field who can make plays no matter if they veterans or freshman.

The only downside to the defense this year will be their youth in the secondary, especially with some of our opponents this year who throw the ball a lot, but we should see more pressure from the defensive front than we’ve seen in recent memory to help them out. The defensive line will be anchored by DT Roy Miller who is a giant on the inside and a pre-season All-American pick. On the ends, you’ll see familiar names in Brian Orakpo and Aaron Lewis, with some young blood in the wings in Sam Acho. At LB, plan to see a rotation of Roddrick Muckelroy, Rashad Bobino, and Sergio Kindle. Everyone’s been waiting for Kindle to really step in to his own since coming out of high school a few years ago, and anyone who’s seen this kid hit people knows that he’s scary enough on the field that I look for him under my bed every night before I go to sleep. The LB core should be extremely talented and fast this year, covering sideline to sideline in a flash and making huge hits. The secondary has a lot of youth, but they are all talented – look for Ryan Palmer and Deon Beasley on the corners, with freshman Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas at safety. Chykie Brown or Christian Scott will likely be the fifth DB in the scheme. While young, all of them can hit and tackle in the open field, and will grow with every game they play.

Special Teams
The special teams will also be by committee, likely with a different kicker for kick-offs, field goals and punts. Ryan Bailey, from Nebraska game fame, returns as the team’s FG kicker – he was the Big 12’s most accurate kicker last year. Kick-offs should feature true freshman Justin Tucker (from Austin Westlake), and I saw him kick last year as a senior in high school, and he has a cannon of a leg for a young guy. And, at punter we’ll likely see the return of Trevor Gerland, although he’s seeing some pretty good competition from Tucker there too. Coach Duane Akina also returns to coaching the special teams, and I think that will benefit the team, as Texas’ special teams play was the worst in Mack Brown’s tenure last year. You can be assured that the best players, regardless of starting roles, will be on the field.

This Week
Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 28, FAU 17

Florida Atlantic Owls
We’ll start out by paraphrasing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger’s comments about this game: “Texas is talented, but they’re not tough,” among many other degrading comments about this year’s Horns. Two days later, he denied ever saying a word. I guarantee you this – his quote has been plastered all over the locker room in Austin, and his FAU Owls are in for an in-the-trenches brawl come Saturday. I can’t wait.

FAU is talented, though…they won the New Orleans Bowl last year, and return a lot of starters on both sides of the ball. They have a potent offense led by QB Rusty Smith, who threw for 3,688 yards and 32 TDs last season. He’s not mobile, but given time (which his veteran OL will do), he can pick defenses apart. This will be a real test for the Texas secondary early in the season. Smith’s main target downfield will be Cortez Gent, who is tall and lean, but had over 1,000 yards receiving and nine TDs last year. Look for their TE’s to get involved as well, as they are small and more like WRs, which creates a mismatch for most LBs. Their running game is mediocre, but features a trio of talented backs, each with decent rushing totals last year. On defense, FAU stars LB Frantz Joseph who is a master at holding down his territory on the field, and their secondary is anchored by two small, but NFL-worthy CBs in Corey Small and Tavious Polo. But like Texas, they will start two true freshman at the safeties – I smell opportunity, especially the more they sneak up to support their weak DL on Texas’ running game.

Texas should be able to man-handle this team over the course of four quarters, but look for FAU to mix it up, utilize quick passes to avoid the pass rush, and highlight their RB trio out of the backfield to keep Texas off-balance while attacking the young Horns secondary. The Horns are three TD favorites in this game, but I think FAU comes in with some fire and keeps it close for three quarters. I just can’t trust Vegas odds after last year’s Arkansas State near-miss.

Other UTexas News
Finally, I want to congratulate all of the current and former Texas Olympic stars who brought home 14 total medals from Beijing, including 10 gold medals. Athletes include: Aaron Peirsol (swimming), Cat Osterman (softball), Garrett Weber-Gale (swimming), Ricky Berens (swimming), Sanya Richards (track), Brendan Hansen (swimming), and Ian Crocker (swimming). These totals don’t include Longhorn coaches who helped train those athletes, including Eddie Reese (swimming), Bubba Thornton (track), and Gail Goestenkors (basketball). To put things in to perspective, Texas ranked 8th in total medals won at the Beijing Olympics. In total, Texas athletes have brought home 116 medals, including 67 gold, 31 silver and 18 bronze, in Olympic history.

Hook ‘em!


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