Texas’ basketball team has been in a serious slump lately, losing six of their last 10 games after a 17-0 start. The latest polls have the Longhorns dropping to #21 nationally, and the conference schedule has taken its toll. Now, starting point guard Dogus Balbay, who started 22 games for the ‘Horns this season, joins Varez Ward on the bench with an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Balbay tore the ACL in his left knee early in the first half in Saturday’s win at Texas Tech. Balbay is, by far, the team’s best on-ball defender, yet his ability to lead the offense has hampered the ‘Horns throughout the season. So, while the injury leaves Texas thin at the point guard position, perhaps his injury isn’t such a bad thing for Texas’ long-term success in 2009-2010.
While no one wants to see injuries decimate a legitimate NCAA tourney team, Balbay wasn’t a threat on the offensive end of the court. Time and time again, Balbay would penetrate the lane, only to dribble around in circles and come back out to the top of the key without dishing the ball, putting up a shot, or drawing a foul. While he was Texas’ leading assist man when he was on the court (3.9 apg), his inconsistency to produce points (3.8 ppg) in Barnes’ ball-screen offense was offensive in itself.
It’s been no secret that with Balbay and senior Justin Mason starting at the guard position, Texas has been playing 3-on-5 in most of their games. Until mid-season, that worked for the ‘Horns, as Damion James, Avery Bradley, or Dexter Pittman would step up to lead the team to victory. Now, Barnes will be forced to start J’Covan Brown or transfer Jai Lucas at the point, with help from Mason and perhaps Bradley shifting over to run the offense when either of them needs a blow.
What does this mean for the rest of the season? Well, Texas does lose a great defender, but it also forces Barnes to insert a player in to the line-up who is more aggressive when it comes to putting the ball up and potentially scoring points. While Mason is a good defender in his own right, if Brown, Lucas and Jordan Hamilton can continue to improve on the defensive end, and make better shot selection on the offensive end, Texas has more potential to create opportunities and score points to help get and maintain a lead, and then close games out.
Balbay’s only a junior, so he’ll be back, and Eyes Of TX wishes him a speedy recovery. But, the focus for this team is here and now, and the time has come for Brown and Lucas to show that they are willing and capable of putting in the effort and control to lead this team deep in to the NCAA tournament come March.
It’s been hard holding out on posting this for a while now because one never wants to jinx an undefeated Texas athletic season, but Eyes Of TX just can’t contain the excitement any longer. After #1 Kansas lost to a depleted #10 Tennessee squad on Sunday, the ‘Horns are now #1 in the country for the first time in school history and off to the best start in almost 80 years at 16-0. Not a bad pre-season analysis, if you ask around.
After the Texas football team ended their season with a disappointing, yet exciting, loss against Alabama in the BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, the student body has been given a shot of basketball adrenaline with seniors Damion James and Dexter Pittman, and freshman phenom Avery Bradley leading the way toward a second Final Four since 1947. What’s that you say, “Texas is a basketball school now?” Well, Pittman put it best in a recent Sports Illustrated article, “No. This is Colt McCoy’s school. He’s just letting us borrow it.”
Pittman’s modesty doesn’t give the ‘Horns enough kudos for becoming the #1 team in the nation, so let’s explore how Texas battled its way to the top:
Texas is winning every statistical battle with opponents.Most importantly, the ‘Horns are scoring an average of 23.9 points more than their opponents each game (even with their dismal 63 percent shooting at the free throw line this year). The ‘Horns also out-rebound other teams by almost 10 rebounds a game. Finally, the Burnt Orange defense has held opponents to 37 percent shooting from the field.
Winning against a tough schedule. As Eyes of TX stated before the season started, Texas scheduled some of the hardest teams in the nation in 2009-2010. Low and behold, head coach Rick Barnes’ nutty strategy has worked thus far with convincing victories over two top 10 teams, North Carolina and Michigan State, and strong programs like Iowa, USC and Pittsburgh. Texas’ stamina will continue to be challenged as the Big 12 schedule brings teams like #3 Kansas, #13 Kansas State, #22 Baylor twice and Texas A&M twice (first game is this Saturday at 3 p.m. PT on ESPNU). With this remaining schedule, one can’t help but be nervous about how long this undefeated season will last.
Deep bench and game stamina.After watching battles against USC, Iowa, North Carolina and Michigan State, every game the ‘Horns win comes down to one factor: outlasting opponents. With nine players with more than 150 minutes played this season, and four players averaging double digits in scoring, Texas proves its deep bench tires out opponents and is one of the main reasons the Horns remain undefeated.
With Kentucky’s freshman stud John Wall continuing to amaze basketball fans across the country, and the ultimate potential of the Wildcats that everyone keeps talking about, Texas has to keep its momentum going into a tough conference schedule to solidify its #1 ranking. However, with Avery Bradley coming into his own by averaging 26.5 points in his first two Big 12 games against Colorado and Iowa State, and Damion James continuing to add to his 45 career double-doubles, Eyes of TX is pretty confident about the ‘Horns staying in the top spot through January (well, maybe for another week at least).
On the downside, they’ll have to do without freshman Shawn Williams, who after an ankle injury against Texas State early in the season, will undergo surgery and will likely apply for a medical redshirt this season.
Thanks to BigBopper for his thoughts on why Texas is (and will continue to be) the #1 basketball team in the land.
In early August, before the beginning of the 2009 season, the Texas Longhorn faithful couldn’t contain their excitement and anticipation for an undefeated season and a potential trip to the BCS National Championship at the famed Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.
After all, even the casual observer would note 2008 Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback Colt McCoy was back, as was a stout defense that returned a plethora of young players who continued to improve each day. Yes, the running game continued to have question marks, but then again, every team has questions coming out of spring drills and in to fall two-a-days…it was all fixable, right? Fear not, ‘Horns fans, the day of reckoning has come – a day to redeem a one-second loss to Texas Tech in 2008, and to rejoice and enjoy the spotlight of playing for the Longhorns second national championship in five years.
Let’s breakdown what should be one of the best bowl games of 2009-2010 – the national championship between #1 Alabama and #2 Texas.
This Week Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 24, Alabama 20
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) After suffering for years in the SEC and under a revolving door of coaches, always with the “potential” to compete for the conference title, the Crimson Tide have finally found their niche and achieved their goal of being in the hunt for the national championship. With head coach Nick Saban corralling his troops, ‘Bama’s defense has shot to the top of the national rankings and the offense is playing well enough to beat fellow SEC run-heavy conference foes. They bring six All-Americans between both sides of the ball to Pasadena, and yes, they have this year’s Heisman Trophy winner in sophomore running back Mark Ingram. How on earth can they lose?
Ironically, Bama’s games are managed by a fellow Texan in junior Greg McElroy, who has grown out of his Southlake Carroll HS size to be a legitimate 6’3” 200-pound gun slinger for the Tide. I saw managed, because that’s typically what he does – controlling the clock, handing the ball off to the stable of ‘Bama running back, and making timely throws when asked to do so. On the year, he’s completing 60 percent of his passes for just over 2,200 yards, 16 TDs and only four INTs. the focus of ‘Bama’s offense is obviously their running game, but McElroy is more than capable of delivering accurate passes to his underrated wide receiver targets. For those who watched the SEC Championship game against Florida, you saw exactly how McElroy picked apart the man-to-man coverage that a pretty darn good secondary presented the Tide offense all day long. In our opinion, with Texas focused on stopping Ingram and ‘Bama’s running attack, McElroy might have to win this game with his arm – and, it remains to be seen whether or not he’s capable of doing that consistently.
Criss-crossing the field for the offense, McElroy has several targets who are largely underrated on the national landscape. The headliner is sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones, who at 6’4” 210-pounds, has accounted for 545 yards and four TDs (13.6 yards per catch) and has excellent speed and even better hands. He will, by far, be the best WR the ‘Horns will face this season, and he must be accounted for on every play. The benefit of a Jones double-team is none other than Marquise Maze, a 5’10” 179-pound sophomore who is an absolute bullet getting downfield. Maze, who has catches totaling 423 yards and two TDs, is the true deep threat and ‘Bama’s fastest player. While Alabama will run some three- and four-wide receiver sets, their next passing threat is also one of their best run blockers in senior tight end Colin Peek. Peek is big – weighing in at 6’6” and 225 pounds – and is capable of holding his own when ‘Bama runs downfield, and also releasing off chip blocks to be a key outlet for McElroy. With 274 yards receiving and two scores, Peek can make yards after the catch (and after contact) as he’s averaging over 11 yards per reception, and can be trouble for smaller defensive backs and linebackers.
Now, the meat of the Alabama offense – the running game and the boys up front creating the holes. The running game is led by Ingram – the Heisman crier, if you remember – as the sophomore tallied 1,429 yards rushing and 12 TDs (a 6.5 yards per carry average). While he is slightly undersized at 5’10” 215-pounds, he is capable of using his numerous skills to find success running between the tackles or getting to the sidelines and turning the corner. He’s also the team’s second-leading receiver, having caught 28 balls for another 246 yards and three TDs. While Ingram is the workhorse who gets the most recognition, his back-ups are equally qualified to give opposing defenses fits. Trent Richardson, who most often spells Ingram, is a true freshman that is a little bit bigger and faster. That in and of itself is a scary thought, and he might already be better than Ingram. Richardson has accounted for six scores on the year, and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Finally, senior Roy Upchurch will anchor the running back corps as a likely third down back that is capable of picking up the blitz and giving McElroy more time to throw on obvious passing downs. The real work, though – and the biggest reason for Ingram and Richardson’s current and future success – is done by the Alabama offensive line. These big boys, led by first-team All-American senior guard Mike Johnson, have made life easy for the running game, paving the way for more than 2,555 yards team rushing and more than 5,000 yards of offense in 2009. While their offensive line is sized well enough to compete with opposing defensive tackles on the outside, the question remark remains their ability to pass protect. They’ve given up 14 sacks on the season, but they haven’t seen a pass rush like Texas’ so far this season, and when it’s not your bread and butter…well…
On defense, Alabama is all they are cracked up to be. If the Texas defense is good, Alabama’s is great – and defense is Saban’s specialty. Given Texas’ own coach-in-waiting defensive coordinator Will Muschamp learned from the best, expect to see some similar wrinkles on the defensive side of the ball. The Tide are ranked #2 nationally in total defense, giving up only 241 yards per game (77 yards rushing for #2 nationally behind Texas; 163 yards passing for #7 nationally), while they are #1 in scoring defense (11 points per game), and getting almost three turnovers per game. In other words, they don’t have a weakness.
The defensive line is stout, they typically run a 3-3-5 base defense, and although they don’t have a lot of sacks from the front three, they plug holes and create opportunities for the linebackers to clean up the mess. Their interior is held down by nose guard Terrence Cody who is an absolute beast at 6’5” 365-pounds and creates double- and triple-team needs by opposing offensive lines. Cody tallied 65 tackles on the season, and six of those were for a loss – not great stat lines, but he creates enough of a distraction for his teammates to make plays. You’ve probably heard about Cody based on his two blocked field goals in the Tennessee game, which allowed ‘Bama to sneak out with a win and maintain their national championship hopes. The teammates on the line who support Cody are defensive ends Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington, both are 6’5” and nearly 290 pounds each, and both are stout on rush defense and decent pass rushers. The sack master of the line is the smaller Marcell Dareus, who has accounted for 6.5 sacks on the season. All told, the defensive line doesn’t create the stats you would expect, but they do their jobs well.
The linebackers and secondary are the guys who create pressure on opposing offenses and lead the team in tackles. All-American linebacker Rolando McClain – who has been sick with a “stomach virus” this week – is the team’s leading tackler with 101 on the season, and has had 12.5 tackles for a loss including four sacks, two INTs, eight passes defended, a forced fumble and 14 quarterback pressures. If you printed out his stat line, your printer would run out of ink – he’s that good. From his middle linebacker position, he’s able to hit the gaps and make tackles in the backfield, but he’s also solid from sideline to sideline. The other linebackers do their jobs well, and although they aren’t Mr. Clean like McClain, they have accounted for 90 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
The secondary is the best Texas will face all season, and is led by All-American Javier Arenas. Arenas has three INTs, seven passes defended with four more break-ups, his second on the team with five sacks, has 66 tackles and tied for the team-lead in 12.5 tackles for a loss. On the other side of the field, Kareem Jackson has 12 passes defended, and combined with the safeties Eryk Anders, Mark Barron, and Justin Woodall are all big and physical. When ‘Bama plays zone defense, Barron is the ballhawk of the bunch, with seven INTs, and the secondary as a whole plays physical defense and can use it’s size and quickness to makes plays while the ball is in the air.
#2 Texas Longhorns (13-0) So, what’s it going to take for the ‘Horns to win? First and foremost, the offensive line has to play better than in the Big 12 Championship when they gave up nine sacks to the Cornhuskers. Every unit has a bad day, and with a month to prepare, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter will have his big boys drooling with the opportunity to redeem themselves against one of the best defenses in the country.
Second, Muschamp’s defense has to be prepared to stop the run. You can expect ‘Bama to come out firing the same way they did against Florida – leading with the passing game to get the Texas secondary to back off the line of scrimmage and then finishing the game with Ingram running wild. Can they do it? It remains to be seen – Muschamp is a master of making in-game adjustments to address problem areas, and that could help the ‘Horns on Thursday night.
On offense, McCoy needs to use his legs and be smart with dumping the ball off on screens and using shovel passes to try to alleviate the ‘Bama pass rush. Texas doesn’t win if McCoy can’t use his legs to stretch plays out and give him a chance to find his receivers on broken plays. The ‘Horns have the playmakers at wide receiver to take advantage of the Tide’s secondary, but McCoy needs time to find them. While Texas doesn’t need the running game to have huge stats, they need to use the running game to make ‘Bama think twice about their pass rush. Anything special from the running backs is an added bonus, and one that will help keep the Alabama defense honest.
The real difference in this game could be special teams, and Texas has a slight advantage in kick and punt returns, so long as they can contain Arenas when Texas does have to punt. While I wouldn’t expect Saban to have any trick plays in the kicking game – especially considering they are a defensive-focused and ball-control team – if Boise State is any example, you might see some fireworks to try to keep drives alive.
Texas-focused Media Coverage of the BCS National Championship
One of Eyes Of TX’s favorite media outlets (unless they’re talking about USC), ESPN, has been posting various Texas and Alabama pre-game coverage all week. Some of our favorite Texas-focused reads this week below:
Just days after the conference championships were decided, the Heisman Trophy committee has announced the finalists for this year’s award. This is the first time since 2004, when USC’s Matt Leinart won the award, that five players have been invited to New York City for the ceremony. The award will be given in a ceremony in NYC on Saturday, December 12, and will be broadcast live at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Right now, based on media coverage of the conference championship games and ensuing BCS bowl game announcements, it would appear as though Alabama RB Mark Ingram would be the leading candidate for the award following his stellar performance against Florida on Saturday. He is followed closely by Stanford RB Toby Gerhart, as well as Texas QB Colt McCoy, who all but blew his chances in front of a national television audience as he attempted to lock up the award Saturday night. To round out the five finalists, Florida QB Tim Tebow and Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh will give chase and should be long-shots to win this year’s award.
Let’s review some highlights from each of these finalists’ seasons:
Alabama’s Mark Ingram 249 carries for 1,542 yards rushing (6.2 yards per carry) and 15 TDs; 30 catches for 322 yards and 3 TDs
Stanford’s Toby Gerhert 311 carries for 1,736 yards and 26 TDs; 10 catches for 149 yards and 0 TDs
Texas’ Colt McCoy 3,512 yards passing and 27 TDs (12 INTs), good for a 70.5% completion rate; 128 carries for 348 yards rushing and 3 TDs; winningest college QB of all time
This one game says enough about McCoy to summarize the season…
Florida’s Tim Tebow 2,413 yards passing for 18 TDs (5 INTs), good for 65.2% completion rate; 203 carries for 859 yards rushing and 13 TDs
By far, the Big 12 Championship game against #3 Texas was Suh’s highlight reel for 2009 – 12 total tackles (10 solo) and 4 sacks.
Honestly, so long as former ou RB Billy Sims isn’t on stage yelling “boomer! sooner!” as he did in 2008 when ou QB Sam Bradford won the award, the college football nation should be content with the voter’s decision. As for Eyes Of TX, let’s take a look at the predictions:
It’s Thanksgiving week, which is also Rivalry Week. We’ll be light on commentary this week, because most of these games speak for themselves. Many of these rivalries are sullied this year with dominant teams facing off against their historic opponents in rebuilding years. However, for those teams with nothing else to play for, these match-ups will be their “championship” because it would bring a team – like Auburn or Texas A&M – no greater pleasure than to spoil the BCS title hopes of their nemeses. So, don’t be surprised to emotional play lead to some surprising upsets this weekend.
Thursday 8:00 PM ET #3 Texas 49 v. Texas A&M 39
This was…unusually close. Despite the loss, the Aggies might have played their best game of the year – at least offensively. QB Jerrod Johnson looked fantastic, and will continue to be a threat to Texas in the next couple of years. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will be irate after the way the defense played Thursday night, but my guess is that emotion and momentum kept the Aggies in the game much longer than expected because the ‘Horns offense clicked most of the game. If you’re running behind on Eyes Of TX content, the in-depth game preview can be found here. There is no asterisk as division champs this year, as Texas has plowed their way to the Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska on December 5th.
Friday 11:00 AM ET Rutgers at Louisville, ESPN2
Exciting! Not. But, football season’s almost over….let’s feast while we still can.
12:00 PM ET Illinois at #5 Cincinnati, ABC
One final test for the Bearcats. Rumor has it former starting QB Pike will make the start this week. Eyes Of TX says, “why mess with a good thing?” Hope that doesn’t backfire for Cincinnati, but an upset sure would make the BCS happy.
2:30 PM ET #2 Alabama at Auburn, CBS
Can ‘Bama overcome their biggest rival to give themselves a shot at #1 Florida, the SEC championship and the national championship? We’ll see how Auburn gets up for this game after a killer start, but a late season let-down. If head coach Gene Chizik pulls off the upset, sadly, he will be enshrined as the best coach ever at Auburn.
3:30 PM ET Nebraska at Colorado, ABC
Nebraska has clinched the Big 12’s North division and will face #3 Texas on December 5th for the Big 12 conference title. This will be the last opportunity to see what Bo Pelini’s squad has to offer, in particular his offense, and while most thought it will be Colorado’s last chance to help head coach Dan Hawkins keep is job, the university confirmed that he would be coaching in Boulder again next season. The NCAA might as well give CU the “death penalty” because they’ve definitely rolled over this year.
7:00 PM ET #9 Pittsburgh at West Virginia, ESPN2
Does anyone else think Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt has a funny mustache?
10:00 PM ET Nevada at #6 Boise State, ESPN2
Close out the night with this late game. Boise State could be shut out of the BCS this year despite being #6 and undefeated. It’s too bad their weak schedule didn’t allow us to see just how good they can be, and perhaps Oregon helped them look better than they actually are… With #5 Cincinnati and #4 TCU as mid-major schools ahead of them in the BCS, it will be a disappointment for the home of the blue turf.
Saturday 12:00 PM ET Both of these games are intriguing for the in-state bragging rights implications. Neither matchup is particularly compelling but in the context of Rivalry Week, they’re definitely worth watching.
#18 Clemson at South Carolina, ESPN
The ‘ol Ball Coach tries to make a stand in Columbia against a ranked opponent. Win or lose, they could keep Clemson RB C.J. Spiller from winning some post-season awards if they can hold him to a sub-par performance.
North Carolina at North Carolina State, ESPN2
If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound? In the shadows of the Appalachian mountains, its basketball season folks.
12:21 PM ET #25 Mississippi at Mississippi State, check local listings
If you can find this, see the same reasons as above. If anything, Texas fans can relish in the fact that when the pressure was on to deliver a big year for Ole Miss, former Longhorn back-up quarterback Jevan Snead fell flat in 2009.
12:30 PM ET #12 Oklahoma State at oklahoma, Comcast Sports Net
Another one that will be hard to find, unfortunately, because it’s always nice to watch ou struggle. With this year’s ‘Pokes team rolling to a potential BCS at-large bid, it’s hard to imagine them dropping this one, even though they’re away from home.
3:30 PM ET Florida State at #1 Florida, CBS
Florida’s won the last 21 games of this series, if memory serves. For Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden, the good thing is he’s old enough to forget each game. Florida wins big, and sets up the ultimate SEC Championship match-up of #1 v. #2 Alabama for the right to play in the national championship.
#14 Virginia Tech at Virginia, ESPN
Virginia is an absolute debacle this year. Expect the Hokies to roll the ‘Roos at home.
#17 Miami at South Florida, ABC
This might actually be interesting, as South Florida started out the year strong, as did Miami. We’ll see what the ACC has to offer up the bowl committees besides a surprising Georgia Tech. Can Miami step up?
(Also in this slot on ABC is Arizona at Arizona State, and Missouri at Kansas.)
5:00 PM ET #21 Utah at #19 BYU, CBS College Sports
A great in-state matchup between two of the best non-BCS conference teams.
7:00 PM ET Arkansas at #15 LSU, ESPN
LSU has found out they weren’t quite as good as they thought, in part due to horrible coaching by Les Miles last week. Arkansas has been inconsistent, but could pull off the upset. Unfortunately, Death Valley isn’t an easy place to play, especially the week after an LSU loss.
8:00 PM ET Georgia at #7 Georgia Tech, ABC
Who would have thought the best team in Georgia would be out of Atlanta? Georgia Tech’s triple-option has proven surprisingly successful this year. Go Yellowjackets!
Notre Dame at Stanford, ABC
What could be head coach Charlie Weis’ last game at Notre Dame will be shown in most of the country. Meanwhile, Stanford will try to stamp their ticket with another win against a big-time program.
Thanks again to LilPete for his 2009 season viewing guides.
Will anyone be up late tonight? Perhaps around midnight? Will you hear the echos from Kyle Field in College Station? Possibly, because the Aggies’ faithful will jam in to the stadium to rouse the demons of the season and hope to bring them upon the ‘Horns on Thanksgiving Day. This is a trap game for the Longhorns, and they need to be prepared for A&M’s best in this final regular-season game. One more game, ‘Horns, and then you prepare for the final step to the national championship.
Since the Aggies have been preparing for this game since they became a university, let’s get to the details.
This Week Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 42, Texas A&M 20
Texas A&M Aggies (6-5) It’s been an up-and-down year for the Aggies, but when you consider where they came from last year, it’s as if they’ve reached the pinnacle of football lore. Unfortunately, despite their turn-around in 2009, the team is still horribly inconsistent, but they have some talent to keep them excited from Thanksgiving this year to August next year.
The offense starts with quarterback Jerrod Johnson, who at 6’5” and 243-pound is a presence in the pocket. Although he has the athleticism to be an all-around quarterback running and throwing the ball, Johnson is primarily a pocket passer. He has accounted for 2,874 yards and 24 TDs on the year, and despite a 59 percent completion rate, he’s only thrown five INTs this season. He actually doesn’t run much through designed rushing schemes, averaging only 32 yards a game, but his long strides do make him a threat when the pocket collapses and he tucks the ball to run. Generally, though, Johnson will use his legs to create time in the pocket or rolling out to find his wide receivers, and that is the concern for Texas on Thursday night.
The receiving corps is led by some familiar names. Wide receivers Ryan Tannehill, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu are all reliable targets downfield, and even though the Aggies try to focus on the running game, these guys are their best on-field athletes when they have the ball in their hands. Fuller is the possession receiver, and despite a broken leg which sidelined him for four games this year, he is back and productive in the Aggies offensive scheme. Nwachukwu is the deep threat and can lull defenses to sleep until he breaks out for a big play, and the freshman has accounted for 19 yards per reception and six TDs, both team highs. Surprisingly, the most productive wide out is also the back-up quarterback in Tannehill. He has come off the bench to lead the team with 40 receptions on the year, and catches everything thrown his direction. This group will dictate A&M’s success on the offensive side of the ball — can they get open against a stout Texas secondary? Can they break off their routes, come back to the quarterback, and create opportunities when Johnson is under pressure in the pocket? Can they get yards after the catch? If Texas’ tackling in the Kansas game is any indication, don’t think they won’t try.
The running game, as usual with A&M teams of old, is what they rely upon to help get their offense in rhythm. The two-pronged attack is led by Cyrus Gray and freshman Christine Michael. Gray is the faster of the two backs, and leads the team with 741 yards on the year. He also has good hands out of the backfield, and using him on screen passes and toss plays could make the Longhorns back-off their pass rush early. Michael, on the other hand, is the “between the tackles” back, and he has eight TDs this season. He will be a stud in the years to come in College Station, and it will be interesting to see how many reps he gets on Thursday, as he’s not as consistent as Gray. Comparisons to Texas’ Cody Johnson wouldn’t be uncommon, as Michael has great feet for a bigger back, and they use him a lot in goal line situations.
The offensive line could be the biggest deficit the Aggies have to overcome this week. The line doesn’t have any headliners, and they have played inconsistently over the course of the season. While they’ve given up 24 sacks on the season (good for 73rd nationally), if they can protect Johnson in the pocket and create running lanes for Gray and Michael, they have a chance to show the highlight-reel offensive playbook fans have seen at times over the course of the season. Too bad Eyes Of TX doesn’t see that happening against the Texas front seven.
The Aggies’ defense is also a liability, especially against the offensive game plan Texas will bring to the table. They are led by stud defensive end/linebacker Von Miller, who will surely play in the NFL. Miller is a great pass rusher, and Texas will have to scheme against him to make sure quarterback Colt McCoy has time to throw in the pocket. Miller has tallied 15.5 sacks on the season, and that is good enough to lead the nation. Because of Miller, or opposing team’s need to double-team him, the Aggies are averaging three sacks a game which ranks 11th nationally. Outside of Miller, however, the defense is remarkably unremarkable. The “Wrecking Crew” days are gone in College Station, as the Aggies give up an average of 31.2 points per game, and more than 416 yards per game to opposing offenses. Broken down, that looks like 157 yards per game rushing and 259 yards per game passing. Oh, and they’ve given up a league-worst 43 TDs. Yikes. The defense is going to have to get pressure on McCoy, keep the Texas receivers in front of them, and make sure tackles to have a chance to upset the ‘Horns at home and make their season.
Special teams for head coach Mike Sherman’s squad is neither a strength or a liability, as their kicker has hit 11-of-16 field goals on the year. Their kick return and coverages are both average, although running back Gray back returning kicks has the potential for trouble, especially the way the ‘Horns covered in the kick game against Kansas.
#3 Texas Longhorns (11-0) If you’re a Texas fan, you have mixed feelings about this game. On paper, the Aggies shouldn’t get in the way of Texas’ run for a chance to make the national championship game. Then again, it’s the Aggies, and they hate nothing more than “t.u.” and would love to knock the ‘Horns from their 2009 pedestal. In College Station, with the 12th Man on their side, anything is possible. But, the ‘Horns are 24-1 since they lost to the Aggies in 2007, and that streak shouldn’t be in jeopardy on Thursday.
Overall, the ‘Horns need to protect McCoy. Miller and the Aggies defense will come after the quarterback all day, trying to force him to make bad throws and trying to hit him hard and often (knowing them, even after the whistle blows). The offensive line has to protect McCoy and give him time to throw downfield. The deep ball against Kansas was a welcome sign in the Texas offense, and this secondary provides another opportunity for offensive coordinator Greg Davis to take advantage of the Aggies as well. This week, the running back-by-committee continues, as Tre Newton will get the start and Johnson will get his fair share of carries as well. Both backs will need to pick up the blitz, or be the check-down receiver for McCoy if he’s seeing pressure. A combined 100- to 120-yard game from the backs would be acceptable.
On defense, the ‘Horns just need to play smart and tackle. Don’t think defensive coordinator Will Muschamp hasn’t been all over his guys for their “poor” performance against the Jayhawks. The secondary will get a solid test from Johnson’s arm and the plethora of talented receivers A&M will bring to the table, and they will need to hold their coverage as Johnson scrambles to buy himself time. The defensive line will need to provide the push up front to make Johnson hurry his throws, and the linebackers will need to remain clean to pick-up the running game, take down Johnson on scrambles, and watch the running backs on screen passes out of the backfield.
Overall, this is the biggest week of the football season for the Aggies. If they won one game year-in and year-out, this would be it. They will be jacked up, ready to play, and will have a huge crowd on hand swaying and “cheering” them to victory. Unfortunately, there won’t be much kissing your girlfriend in the stands at Kyle Field, and Texas will make this a feast. On Thanksgiving, thanks go to the Aggies for pushing the ‘Horns to 12-0 on the season.
Could a national championship be found among the waves of wheat along the Lawrence horizon? Oh, pity the poor Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, right? Few other programs can begin a season with their fans thinking anything less than a “Final Four” appearance will be a disappointment. It would be easy to let expectations get in the way of the unmatched fun of a college basketball season. And this year, the Jayhawks potential is frighteningly high, so prepare yourselves Rock Chalk nation, because this year will be no different for head coach Bill Self and his team on the hardwood inside Allen Fieldhouse.
Coming off a rebuilding year where Kansas was a couple of shots and breaks away from advancing to the NCAA tournament’s “Elite Eight,” the Jayhawks are ranked #1 through week 2 of the season, are loaded with talent in 2009, and ready for action. In addition to having whom some would name the nation’s best coach (to be explained below), the Jayhawks have pre-season All-Americans in point guard Sherron Collins and center Cole Aldrich, not to mention a one-and-done shooting guard named after a saint (Xavier Henry), a set of twins who add up to a really good player (Markieff and Marcus Morris), plus a supporting cast that will effectively be running the show in Lawrence in a year or two. What does that get you? You guessed it, high expectations. Unfortunately, with that, comes an inordinate amount of scrutiny. Here it goes:
Collins reports paunchy; cramps against Memphis.
This happens every year. It’s no biggie, but it would still be nice to see him a little more committed to the team by simply laying off the junk food and staying out of Gates, Zarda’s, and Arthur Bryants.
Kansas athletic director Lou Perkins had to chew some butts after the basketball and football teams got frisky.
This had the potential to be a big distraction, but the KU football team doesn’t have much to talk about these days, so fans can probably consider it a dead issue.
Chemistry isn’t easy.
Collins and Aldrich have it in spades, but Xavier is a question mark. Henry’s prepared to work on offense and defense, but is he ready to do what it takes when it comes to putting the team’s success first in a big game? The answer is probably. No matter what, as with any freshman phenom in their first year at a big name program, this has the potential to set the team back a few games.
The guiding light is Self.
This statement, along with the perspective that Self is the best basketball coach in the country, is arrogant. Despite his success, few Big 12 or nationwide readers would trade their beloved coach for Self’s services. For Texas fans, perhaps you’re blinded by your burnt orange vision. That’s a sad perspective for all those believers, actually. Take a step back, compare resumes, recruiting, total wins, game management and pure “X’s and O’s” savvy, and Self is and will remain the best coach in college basketball.
With a “Phog” of questions hanging around the Fieldhouse, Self has done a good job preparing for a deep run in March with several non-conference tests. The early season match-up with unranked Memphis was a test, and the Jayhawks barely passed. The team travels to Los Angeles in early December to play Pac-10 foe UCLA, and while it is a road test, the Jayhawks should be able to handle the Bruins in an off-year for Ben Howland’s squad. After that, the Jayhawks play host to California, Michigan and Tennessee, three teams currently ranked in the top 25. All of these are great tests, and (as much as any fan would hate to admit it) hopefully KU will lose one, just to keep ’em hungry.
As for the Big 12 Conference schedule, the biggest challenges will come by way of #17 oklahoma and at #3 Texas. Sure, other conference games could include drama, and Kansas may simply forget to show up against teams like Iowa State (forward Craig Brackins is a beast; don’t forget about this kid), but those two South division foes offer the biggest threat on the Jayhawks conference slate – let’s take a look.
Kansas Jayhawks v. oklahoma sooners
In this author’s opinion, the KU/ou game should be a dandy. oklahoma sophomore guard Willie Warren and Collins went at it last year, trading deep three’s and consistently lighting each up other throughout the second half. In the end, Collins and KU won the battle, but you better believe this is a big game for Warren’s ego – not to mention the fact that he’s on the pre-season Naismath Award watch list and has something to prove.
Kansas Jayhawks v. Texas Longhorns
And that brings us to the Texas game, probably the biggest game of the regular season for both teams – and it’s saved for March, as always, when the conference’s regular-season title will be on the line. As any good Jayhawk would say, “forget the Longhorns.” Chew on that, ‘Horns fans, while KU reads the paper.
Here’s to the beginning of what should be an outstanding season of college basketball season, especially in Lawrence. Rock Chalk.
Thanks to Pay Heeder for contributing his Kansas basketball preview for EyesOfTX. Personally, EyesOfTX hopes he’s wrong about Texas, although that could mean the end of a friendship.