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Week 7 Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Nebraska Cornhuskers

There are positives and negatives to having a bye week. On the plus side, when you win going into a bye week, as a player you can go through the motions on the practice field while relishing a few more days rest to recover from lingering or annoying minor injuries. Be assured, Texas has had no such break these past two weeks. If EyesOfTX (and the rest of Longhorn nation) had no break from the mental anguish of the past two losses, then the ‘Horns better not have either. Here’s hoping Texas head coach Mack Brown ripped on both his players and staff behind closed doors for the past 13 days. Two losses? Back-to-back? Think the stuff of “Top Gun” lore: “Two of your snot-nosed jockeys did a fly-by on my tower at over 400 knots. I want some butts! … Dammit, that’s twice!”

Luckily for the ‘Horns, the bye week means they’ve some extra time to try and right the ship. Level their wings. Put their heads on straight. To remember they are football players for one of the most elite college programs in the game. The I-35 bubble in Austin should have a lot of blood, sweat, and even some tears after practice this week. The film room should have cots spread out across the room because players have been spending every waking hour glued to the early-season game tape to find and correct their on-field mistakes.

But, it’s deeper than that. So far this season, the seniors are showing how much they feel entitled. On the field, that’s translating to Maverick’s “crashed and burned on the first one, it wasn’t pretty” lingo. The younger guys can’t buy in to that – there is too much talent and potential among the depth chart. For the ‘Horns, it’s time to step up or turn in their pads because they’ve “lost the edge.” Just because it says “Texas” on the front of your jersey doesn’t mean you deserve to win.

Texas Longhorns v. #5 Nebraska Cornhuskers
2:30 p.m. CT (ABC/ESPN)

Prediction:
Texas 13, Nebraska 45

There is one thing on Nebraska’s mind this week – redemption. December 5, 2009. Just like Texas needed one second back in the upset in Lubbock in 2008, the ‘Huskers want one second back from last year’s Big 12 Championship game. December 5, 2009. There will be no mercy rule, Nebraska is squarely set on putting the wood to Texas on Saturday in Lincoln, the teams’ final Big 12 regular season match-up. December 5, 2009. Make no mistake, this game has been circled on head coach Bo Pelini’s calendar since … December 5, 2009.

Even Nebraska’s marketing department was behind an off-season shot at the Texas game (and later changed) to get Husker fans excited for the upcoming season – called “Red Out Around The World.” Their mantra (and doesn’t this sound kind of familiar): “Come early. Be Loud. Wear Red. (Beat Texas).” They’ve sold out of t-shirts at the bookstore bearing the saying: “All my ex’s live in Texas: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri.” The date “10-16-2010” is plastered all over campus. Don’t become ou fans, Huskers…it’s not a good look for you.

Nebraska’s Keys To The Game:
His name is Taylor Martinez. His name is Taylor Martinez. His name is Taylor Martinez. Seriously, Tyler Durden probably knows this kid by now. The barely-past-puberty Martinez leads Nebraska at QB in 2010, and brings the word “amazing” to an offense that was anything but in 2009. With the same basic role players on offense, the infusion of Martinez has helped transform what was a horrific scoring attack last year to one of the best in all of college football this year. Jake Locker, eat your heart out. As a redshirt freshman, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. might have just moved Martinez past Locker on his draft board.

Everyone knows Pelini is a defensive-minded coach, and since his return to Nebraska, he’s shown his ability to craft a defensive juggernaut – even giving the “Blackshirts” nickname back to this year’s squad. But, Martinez is the knight in shining armor for the ‘Huskers 2010 BCS run, running the zone read to perfection. He’s mobile. He’s fast. REALLY fast. Think Looney Tunes’ roadrunner. Get this: the kid is five games in to the season, and he’s already accumulated 737 yards rushing, on 10.8 yards per carry, for 12 TDs. Those are RB stats, folks. A really, really good RB. Passing? Only three TDs. You get the idea. Let’s hope Martinez doesn’t leave Will Muschamp’s Texas defense looking like Wile E. Coyote.

Unfortunately, Martinez isn’t the only rushing threat. RBs Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead flank Martinez in the backfield, and are more than capable of providing the power running attack as opposed to Martinez’s sideline-to-sideline flair. Is this bringing back UCLA nightmares yet? It should. On the outside, Martinez has the option to throw to several talented and big wide receivers – namely Niles Paul, Mike McNeill and Brandon Kinnie – but quite honestly, he just doesn’t need to. He’s only thrown for 660 yards on the season with three TDs and three INTs. Will they pass? Yes. Do they think they need to? Probably not. Most impressive is that Nebraska’s offense is built around a very inexperienced offensive line, with three new starters in 2010. Maybe Texas’ Mac McWhorter could take some lessons on how to transform on-paper talent to on-field production? The line has given up seven sacks on the season, and with Texas’ stacked defensive line, the Big Red will have their hands full maintaining their gaps and creating running lanes for Martinez, Helu, Jr. and Burkhead.

This year’s “Suh” in Lincoln is none other than Suh’s cohort in the trenches last year, defensive tackle Jared Crick. He has 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks on the season, and with opponents focused on protecting against Crick, the rest of the defensive line has opportunities to shine in opponent’s backfields. Ironically, the line isn’t their strength – the ‘Huskers bring the #1 pass defense in the country. You’d have to utilize your abacus to add up the number of interceptions they have on the year. With Texas’ lack of a running game, expect Pelini to pressure and contain any semblance of a running game with his front four and have his secondary focus on dropping back in to coverage to track down balls a la Willie Mays.

Texas’ Keys To The Game:
Good news. Texas got their butts chewed during the bye week. Bad news. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis is probably sitting up in the press box drawing up a “revised” version of the bubble screen to a different running back or wide receiver. Good news. RB DJ Monroe has used the bye week to “learn the playbook.” OK, maybe not, but he’s getting the call to start in the backfield again this week. Bad news. No matter how well the offense plays on Saturday in Lincoln, Texas won’t win Saturday without a big performance by the defense.

Offensively, this game lies in the hands of the Texas offensive line. Nebraska is prone to giving up rushing yards (well, at least more than they do through the air). If the o-line can give QB Garrett Gilbert time in the pocket, provide running lanes for the speedy Monroe, and the wide receivers can run routes beyond the first down markers, Texas does indeed have a shot. It hasn’t happened yet this season, but they’ve had their poor performances to-date rubbed in their face for too many weeks now. It’s time to change. It’s time to define the offense…on the field…on a Saturday. With freshman WR Mike Davis back in the line-up, Texas can take some shots down the field and change the dynamic of the game with big plays and open up the field for the…gasp…running game.

Defensively, Muschamps’ boys have their hands full with Nebraska’s three-pronged running attack. But, like any good football coach will tell you, even “Coach’s” Hayden Fox, beating a running team is all about playing assignment football. It’s about maintaing your gaps in the trenches, and utilizing your linebackers and secondary to clean up the mess. It’s about not making mistakes. It’s about making sure tackles. It’s beating Martinez to the corner with the right angles. It’s about stripping the ball and winning the turnover battle, and the ‘Huskers have put the ball on the ground 18 this year, so it’s possible. Nebraska will get their yards on the ground, but this defense has shown glimpses of being an elite unit. They’ll need every piece of that talent and pride to win in Lincoln.

Texas will also have to overcome a strong Nebraska kicking game, as the ‘Huskers will use every opportunity to pin Texas deep with punter Alex Henery and make Gilbert and company drive the length of the field, which has been a consistent problem this season. The ‘Horns have to eliminate the mistakes in special teams. Expect to see new kick and punt returners, and with a swift kick in the pants, a different attitude to bring some momentum to the Texas sidelines. It’s going to be chaotic and red in Lincoln, but Texas has a long-shot chance at avoiding a .500 start to the 2010 season and redeeming themselves in the eyes of college football’s elite.

Hook ‘em!

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Texas A&M Football Assistant Coach Resigns

Unfortuantely for the Texas A&M Aggies, recent history suggests that the football team will be decimated by key coaches or assistants leaving or resigning at inopportune times.

Today, that story is true again as Texas A&M wide receivers coach Steve Kragthorpe – who was in his first year back in College Station after being fired as head coach at Louisiville last season – resigned due to family medical issues.

In his stead, head coach Mike Sherman has hired Troy Walters, who was coaching the offense at Division I-AA Indiana State in 2009, but has a successful history as a wide receiver in college and the NFL.

With QB Jerrod Johnson’s “passing efficiency” becoming the hot topic among Collie-owning agricultural experts in the Texas hill country, here’s hoping the Aggie faithful can bet their bucks on Walters coming in and keeping those wide receivers moving in a positive direction leading in to the 2010 season.

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Texas H.S. Basketball Player…NOT!

In an interesting turn of events, a “sophomore” basketball player for Permian (Odessa, TX) High School has been charged with failing to identify himself to a police officer and arrested.

But, the craziness doesn’t end there. Turns out, the player was none other than Guerdwich (GURD-which) Montimere, a 22 year-old U.S. naturalized citizen from Haiti. Wait, what?

Apparently, he arrived at Permian H.S. and told the athletic director, coaches and school that he was Jerry Joseph, a 16 year-old Haitian refugee. But, after leading Permian to the Division 2-5A playoffs and earning “newcomer of the year” accolades, he was busted after Florida coaches recognized him at an amatuer tournament in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Will the real Guerdwich Montimere please stand up?

First of all, this guy looks like the second-coming of Greg Oden, in the sense that there is NO WAY he looks like 16-year-old. Do you remember what you looked like at 16? It wasn’t this.

Is this guy crazy in the head? Was he trying to spark interest from a college to recruit him (perhaps he didn’t get offers the first time around)? Was he looking for a prom date a la Lawrence Taylor? Who does this? And, coming from Florida, who picks Odessa, Texas, as their destination to play high school basketball (again!)? He must be a “Friday Night Lights” fan, although then we’re talking football and the idiot would have picked the wrong sport.

Where do these people come from? And, how ignorant is the athletic department and school in Odessa? Could it be true they were more focused on winning than looking in to this guy’s background?

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Recognition for Big 12 Conference Men’s Basketball

Big 12 Conference LogoAs sports fans, we all know football season is well underway. For Texas Longhorns fans, the excitement continues to build on a 4-0 start and a possible run to the national championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California in January. But the University of Texas and the Big 12 Conference, traditionally known as a football school and conference, has something else to be proud of this fall. Several coaches, players and programs from the conference were given national recognition last week as part of The Sporting News analysis of NCAA basketball over the last decade.

In review, Eyes Of TX will review and provide some perspective on The Sporting News’ Big 12 Conference-relevant selections for their “decade” awards.

Rick Barnes, head coach of the Texas Longhorns men’s basketball coach for the past 10 years, was named the recruiter of the decade.

It shouldn’t be any surprise to Texas fans that Barnes deserves this award. During his tenure, he has recruited and landed some of the best talent in the country year-after-year. He’s brought 10 McDonald’s All-Americans to the 40 Acres, including Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, T.J. Ford, D.J. Augustin, and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, who all now enjoy successful NBA careers. Although most of those marquee players didn’t stay in school for more than two seasons, Barnes has proven his recruiting and coaching prowess during his time in Austin. And, it’s not just the NBA guys – Barnes has had just as many successful college players who never went on to the NBA.

Looking forward, Barnes continues to drive the Longhorns team and program forward with his upcoming recruiting class, ranked #2, #3 or as far down as #6 depending on the recruiting service, typically behind only Kentucky and/or Villanova – both schools that are dominate basketball programs. With the help of his assistant coaches, and a little luck from the John Wooden basketball gods, Barnes brings in four highly-touted players for the 2009-2010 season – shooting guards Avery Bradley (video) and J’Covan Brown (video), and strong forwards Jordan Hamilton (video) and Shawn Williams (“Next Step” video analysis). With the eligibility of former Florida Gators guard transfer Jai Lucas (video), these “four horseman,” combine with an already stacked veteran team lead by Dexter Pittman, Damion James and Dustin Mason.

Despite an injection of youth, the ‘Horns – behind Barnes’ coaching and recruiting genius – should give Kansas a run for their money in the Big 12 Conference, while turning some heads during the NCAA tournament next year.

While no longer in the Big 12 Conference, former Kansas Jayhawks and current North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams was tabbed the coach of the decade.

No surprise, and well deserved. Despite spurning the Jayhawks to take a job for his alma mater in Chapel Hill, Williams has been the model of consistency as a coach over the past decade. His teams – whether at Kansas or North Carolina – have been disciplined, talented, and wildly successful over the years. In 2003, he took Kansas to the national championship game, and in 2005 and 2009, he won national championships at North Carolina. That’s not a bad run. Keep in mind, current Jayhawks head coach Bill Self won the national championship with Kansas in 2008, and it is no secret who recruited the kids on that starting roster to Lawrence.

The Big 12 Conference’s Kansas Jayhawks were named the team of the decade.

Fairly obvious, minus a string of losses to team’s starting with the letter “B” in the NCAA tournament earlier in the decade. Building on the success of former men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, current coach Bill Self didn’t miss a beat. The Jayhawks have dominated the Big 12 basketball landscape throughout the decade – competing occasionally with Texas and Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship – but they are the only team to have consistent success in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, bringing home several conference championships, including the national championship in 2008.

While we’ll still be in the depths of the BCS and conference football schedule in November, both NCAA and Big 12 Conference roundball fans will be waiting patiently to see ESPN analyst Digger Phelps’ highlighter/tie combo, and whether or not Dick Vitale will have a heart attack when he learns Tyler Hansborough has graduated from North Carolina. Who will ESPN’s analysts drool over this year? Eyes Of TX’s guess? A to-be-determined Duke Blue Devils player. That’s sad reality people, really sad.

Contributions to this blog entry include EyesOfTX and BigBopper. More Texas Longhorns, and Big 12 Conference, basketball updates coming from BigBopper later this year on the EyesOfTX blog – stay tuned!

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