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Week 2 Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Wyoming Cowboys

One week is in the books, and by the look of the Longhorns on the sidelines at Reliant Stadium last weekend, they couldn’t be more relieved. Unless they were the oklahoma sooners or the LSU Tigers. Texas wins handily, 34-17, but it’s not without some work to be done heading in to week two. For college football fans everywhere, it was a fun five days of college football to open up the season.

Everyone says that a team improves the most from week one to week two, and ‘Horns fans across the nation who have lambasted the team since Saturday want to see some changes. Let’s be clear, nothing was awful, and Rice was a much improved team from their 2-10 season a year ago. But, the coaches need to get the guys back in front of the tape and fix some issues before an emotionally-charged Wyoming team comes to town.

Here are some quick thoughts on the ‘Horns in week one:

QB Garrett Gilbert looked solid – no mistakes, no sacks, a few missed throws, and some lasers that NFL scouts would get excited about. He finished 14-of-23 for 172 yards, with no TDs and no INTs.

The running game isn’t quite we expected after the pre-season hype. Maybe offensive coordinator Greg Davis needs to reset expectations for Longhorn nation. Starting RB Cody Johnson (15 rushes, 59 yards) looked good early, but apparently sprained an ankle on the second play of the game. Tre Newton (18 carries, 61 yards, 3 TDs) was the most productive in the red zone, and Fozzy Whittaker (9 carries, 51 yards) had the most “excitement” potential.

The offensive line blocked better for the run than they have in the past, but there are improvements to be made on blocking the back side of a running play. They didn’t give up any sacks. Continue to block downhill, boys, and finish those blocks downfield.

The secondary looked solid, but gave up some poor plays for TDs at the end of the half and the game. CB Chykie Brown looked as lost as Michael Oher staring at balloons in “The Blind Side.” Plus, they should have had two more “pick-sixes.” On a positive note, safety/nickel back Kenny Vaccaro looked ridiculous and was all over the field.

The defensive line was spectacular – they controlled the line of scrimmage and made key plays to pressure Rice’s QB all game – whether sacks or poor throws. Someone still needs to step up to fill the DT spot next to Kheeston Randall.

The player of the game was definitely LB Keenan Robinson, who tallied six total tackles, an INT, and a fumble recovery returned for a TD – good enough to be co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.

Alright, enough about last week, let’s focus on head coach Dave Christensen’s Wyoming Cowboys and week two.

Texas Longhorns v. Wyoming Cowboys
6:00 p.m. CT (FSN, Comcast Sports)

Texas 52, Wyoming 17

Wyoming’s Keys To The Game:
Wyoming head coach, formerly of Missouri Tigers offensive coordinator fame, enters his second year in Laramie, and while his Cowboys gave Texas a run for their money for one half of football in 2009, he’ll want to bring his work-in-progress, high-powered spread offense to DKR-Memorial Stadium with an upset on his mind. Let’s face it, he’s had enough of a bashing from the ‘Horns during his days in Columbia.

Wyoming QB Austyn Carta-Samuels

To lead his spread attack, Christensen has entrusted sophomore QB Austyn Carta-Samuels (a.k.a. ACS), who saw some time in last year’s contest replacing their starter, going 7-for-12 for 68 yards. Against a sub-par Southern Utah team in week one, ACS was 26-for-32 for 319 yards, with three TDs and one INT. He’s a solid QB in that he has decent speed, a good arm, and makes good decisions – but, against a stout Texas defensive line, ACS could struggle to find time to get the ball to receivers. Expect to see him roll out to avoid pressure, and complete short passes to keep the offense on the field and producing positive yards in minimal increments.

Their top receiver is the returning David Leonard, who has the size to create plays for himself downfield – he’ll be the focus for ACS in the passing game. Wyoming typically runs an offensive scheme with four wide outs, but none of the other WRs pose a major threat – they’ll do what their asked, but nothing spectacular. The running game is even more anonymous, and given they only ran for 36 yards on 25 carries last week against a D-II team, Christensen won’t work on the team’s running game against the ‘Horns. Rather, those backs will be used for pass protection, or slip screens out of the backfield to keep the Texas linebackers honest.

On defense, they struggle – even though they have some talent on the field. They gave up 24 first downs to Southern Utah last week, including 191 yards rushing and 193 yards passing. The Cowboys defense kept their team in the game just enough to win, 28-20. The expectation is that they’ll focus on stopping Texas’ running game – like everyone else, they know Texas is keying its offense early in the season on rushing yards – and force Gilbert to throw the ball downfield and convert first downs and points.

If the Texas defense performs up-to-snuff, the Cowboys are going to have a hard time in Austin – especially in front of a home-opener crowd that has 70,000 more screaming fans than War Memorial Stadium can hold in Laramie. Rumor has it they’ve been pumping crowd noise in to their practices this week – but, perhaps that shouldn’t be their focus.

Texas’ Keys To The Game:
Keep it simple, but grow the offense. In week one, the ‘Horns looked solid. Nothing spectacular, but they went out and did their business. Head coach Mack Brown chastised the team in his post-game news conference saying they didn’t seem excited. With the youth on this team, it was probably nerves, but it’s the regular season and time to get jacked up. Not in the “get you arrested” kind of way, either.

With week two, Will Muschamp’s defense will see their first Big 12-like offense, and the secondary will be put to the test. Tackling in the open field to prevent yards after the catch will be key, and coverage schemes will be criticized from both sidelines – most importantly for Texas, keep the opposing man in front of you. Time of possession will be key for the Cowboys – they’ll want Gilbert and the Texas offense on the sidelines as much as possible to stay in the game – so the ‘Horns defense needs to force turnovers or push hard for three-and-outs. This week, Vaccaro might very well take a Wyoming receiver’s helmet home with him, if S Christian Scott doesn’t first.

Texas RB Tre Newton

On offense, the ‘Horns need to keep working on the running game – Newton is expected to get the start – and the offensive line needs to finish their blocks to spring the quicker and faster backs, including Whittaker. But, expect to see offensive coordinator Greg Davis open up the playbook with Gilbert this week, and WR Malcolm Williams to have another solid day…the spark was lit last week. If the offense can get on the field consistently and is balanced and successful the ‘Horns should be able to eclipse 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing on the day.

All-in-all, the ‘Horns can’t look past Wyoming at the Texas Tech game…it’ll get here soon enough. Go out and handle business, have fun, continue to create chemistry on both offense and defense, and make some plays on special teams!

Hook ‘em!


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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)

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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Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Texas A&M Aggies

November 26, 2009
7:00 p.m. Central

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.

Pre-game Resources
2009 Texas Longhorns Roster
2009 Texas A&M Roster
University Co-op Gameday Newsletter / Pod casts

Hook ‘em!

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Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Kansas Jayhawks

November 21, 2009
7:00 p.m. Central
ABC (regional)

It has been a week of distractions for both these teams heading in to their late-season match-up, although the situation for Kansas coach Mark Mangino is much more dire. This week, several players – both current and former – have come forward and said Mangino is verbally abusive and had inappropriate physical contact during practices. To that end, Kansas’ athletic director has launched an investigation in to the accusations, and it remains to be seen whether Mangino will remain the Jayhawks coach after the season, only two years removed from being named the AP’s coach of the year.

For Texas, the distraction was different, as kick returner D.J. Monroe – only 20 years old – was arrested for a DWI last Saturday night after the Baylor game. Monroe has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Mack Brown, and might not play again until the bowl game, assuming his legal issues are resolved by that time.

For both teams, the key this week will be focus and preparation, and Texas seems to have the clear advantage in those two categories, if you disregard pure talent and this season’s success – which you can’t. Texas is three games away from playing for the national title, and they need to maintain their composure, play to their level, and help QB Colt McCoy get his 43rd win as the starter – an NCAA record for the winningest QB in history.

Let’s take a look at the details.

This Week
Eyes Of TX’s Prediction
Texas 55, Kansas 17

Kansas Jayhawks (5-5)
Kansas had big expectations this year, despite the loss of two offensive lineman and their stout linebacker core to graduation. With the return of QB Todd Reesing, as well as WRs Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, they had the offensive firepower to compete in the Big 12’s North division. Unfortunately, after a 5-0 start taking them as high as #15 in the rankings, they fell apart, and have lost five straight games in conference play. Now, they’re scratching to simply become bowl eligible.

This will be a homecoming game for senior QB Todd Reesing, who played his high school football right down the road at Lake Travis High School outside Austin. That high school coach should be proud, as he’s produced some big name QB recruits in recent years with Reesing, Gilbert (Texas), and potential Texas recruit Michael Brewer. Reesing has been the heart and soul of the Jayhawks during his tenure as a starter, but this year he has been nagged by injuries and tension with Mangino, who has pulled him during games in favor of his back-up. Reesing’s numbers are still stellar – 2,862 yards passing, 18 TDs, and only eight INTs with a 62 percent completion rate – but he hasn’t looked as comfortable or efficient as year’s past. There are rumors Reesing is still recovering from a nagging injury, and his lack of mobility is a liability, so a trip back home could prove disappointing in his last year in Lawrence.

The wide receiving corps for Kansas is as good as Texas will see all year. Starters Briscoe and Meier (the former QB turned WR) are both legit NFL draftees come April, and they are Reesing’s top targets in the passing game. Briscoe leads the team in receiving, with 994 yards, and TDs with seven. His 6’3” 202-pound frame makes him a big target downfield, and he is Kansas’ deep threat. Meier, on the other hand, is the big possession receiver at 6’3” 221-pounds, and has accounted for 885 yards and six TDs on a team-leading 83 catches. Both players have big play ability, will be the focal point of the KU passing game on Saturday, and will challenge the young but stout Texas defensive backs.

The Jayhawks running game is similar to Texas’ in that they have two backs who are complete opposites. The starter, Jake Sharp, is 5’10” 195-pounds and quick, with good hands out of the backfield (185 yards receiving and three TDs), accounting for 398 yards and three TDs on the ground this season. His complement is freshman Toben Opurum, a 6’2” 235-pound beast who moves the pile similar to Texas’ RB Cody Johnson. Opurum leads the running attack with 543 yards rushing on the season. Both backs offer different looks for opposing defenses, and given field to work with, they can be dangerous weapons to complement the KU passing game.

The Jayhawks’ offensive woes live in the line, where they start two freshman. Potentially the reason for Reesing’s on-going injuries is the inability to keep him upright, as the o-line has given up 24 sacks on the year. But, if the offensive line can open some holes for the running game, and give Reesing time to throw in the pocket – particularly if Kansas picks up on the weakness they saw in Texas’ defense of the bubble screen last week in Waco – then they have a chance to be very productive on the day. Against Texas’ front seven, though, it seems like a long-shot on Senior Day in Austin.

The defense is solid, but not outstanding, and their defensive line headlines that side of the ball. Overall, the defense gives up 351 yards of offense, 241 yards through the air, and an average of 24.9 points per game. They’ve also given up 32 opposing TDs this season, good for ninth-best in the Big 12. The defensive line’s success comes from the ends, namely Jake Laptad and Maxwell Onyegbule. While the defense s a whole has combined for a respectable 26 sacks on the season, Laptad and Onyegbule have accounted for 11.5 of them – so, that is where McCoy will see pressure on Saturday. As noted above, the weakness in the KU defense is the secondary – despite future NFL safety Darrell Stuckey – and they have only hawked seven INTs on the year. While the secondary steps up in the red zone, the defensive line has given up 18 rushing TDs on the season. Expect the secondary to get torched by McCoy and his receiving core on Saturday.

Finally, the special teams for the Jayhawks are mediocre at best. Their kicker, Jacob Brandstetter has a big leg, but has only made 10-of-15 field goals on the year. Their return game is horrid (6.1 yards per punt, and 20 yards per kickoff), and they give up big chunks of yards to opposing kick returners (11.4 yards per punt, and 22 yards per kickoff). Expect some big plays from the Texas return game, even without Monroe.

#3 Texas Longhorns (10-0)
The game plan for Texas needs to be balanced, both offensively and defensively this week. On defense, the ‘Horns need to put pressure on Reesing and make him scramble or make quick decisions. The secondary will have to keep both Briscoe and Meier in front of them and hold their coverage as long as possible to give the defensive line time to get to Reesing. By the same token, the safeties – Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas – will have to keep an eye on the backfield, as Sharp and Opurum both have the potential to make some big plays running or catching screen passes. If the defense plays up to their potential, they could tack up another non-offensive TD – something the Texas fans have come to expect this season. Another solid game from LB/DE Sergio Kindle also wouldn’t hurt his chances to win this year’s Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker, as he was named one of five finalists for the award on Friday (along with the Big 12’s Sean Weatherspoon).

On offense, the ‘Horns should continue to hone their running game as they wind down the season, and last week’s production from Johnson and the return of RB Tre Newton, produced a balanced attack in Waco. Expect Johnson to get the start again, and to once again try to lead a balanced Longhorns attack. Of course, McCoy and Shipley will be keys to the offensive game plan, and both will want to go out on a high note in their last game in DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Expect to see John Chiles or Malcolm Williams join Shipley on kickoff returns this week, with the suspension of Monroe. With the Jayhawks porous kick coverage, anything is possible, including some quick fireworks to change the atmosphere inside the stadium.

Something to keep an eye out for: could this be the week the ‘Horns don the new Nike Pro Combat uniforms? If not, fans will seem them at least once before season’s end. While they sound cool in theory, there are some things in college football you just don’t mess with – one of those is the Longhorns’ classic uniforms. Let’s leave the weekly uni-watch to the folks in Oregon.

Another big win and another step closer to Pasadena are easily possible if the ‘Horns stay focused and keep taking one game at a time. This is the time in the season when any team can lose its edge by looking too far ahead, but this team and the senior leadership seem to have the ‘Horns headed in the right direction. Besides, who doesn’t love Pasadena in January?

Pre-game Resources
2009 Texas Longhorns Roster
2009 Kansas Jayhawks Roster
University Co-op Gameday Newsletter / Pod casts

Hook ‘em!

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Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Central Florida Knights

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.

This Week
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?

Pre-game Resources
2009 Texas Longhorns Roster
2009 Central Florida Knights Roster
University Co-op Gameday Newsletter / Pod casts

Hook ‘em!

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Deep In The Heart of Texas’ DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium

Last weekend, Eyes Of TX had the opportunity to make it back to Austin with contributor BigBopper for the Texas Longhorns / Colorado Buffaloes scruff at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. As always, the gameday atmosphere was hair-raising – albeit cold for Austin in early October – and the stadium continues to put fans like ourselves (and likely opposing teams) in awe week after week.

While the outcome of the game was a Longhorn victory, 38-14, to move the team to 5-0 on the year, there were some highlights and lowlights worth mentioning based on the game experience. From two die-hard Texas fans, here’s the take:

The Atmosphere
If you haven’t been to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin since the various remodels over the last three years, it’s time to make the trek. Capacity is now over 100k, and more than 101,152 fans braved the cold – in their winter jackets and gloves – to take in the CU game.

The North End Zone, named after none other than Austin’s version of a T. Boone Pickens magnate – Mr. Red McCombs – looks fantastic, and adds to the element of crowd noise. On several occasions, the “crowd factor” did cause the Buffs to have several false start penalties – and that’s what it’s all about…creating a home-field advantage.

The Godzillatron continues to be a feat of amazing proportions, although the Dallas Cowboys’ “JerryWorld” in Arlington now takes the cake as the biggest HD TV in Texas. Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. The video introduction for the team during pre-game is spectacular, and the crowd went nuts for any image of former players Vince Young and Ricky Williams. Surprisingly, one ad that played during a timeout – a TV commercial which follows the various roads in downtown Austin and ends on the UT Tower as it is lit all orange, and the voiceover of former Longhorn Walter Cronkite saying “Get your Horns up!” – made the crowd erupt and sent shivers down the spines of all 101k fans. Very cool moment.

Finally, the field turf looks fantastic and fast. Admittedly, Eyes Of TX is a fan of grass – it just seems like that is where the game should be played – but the UT staff did a great job and the players seem to relish it.

Team Performance
All in all, the ‘Horns would have gotten a C+ from a grade school teacher for their performance last Saturday. There were highs and lows, and they came out with the win, but it wasn’t pretty getting there. Is that the testament of a good team – being able to win when they’re not at the top of their game – or a sign of a troubling end to the season? That’s why they play the games. On Saturday, the Texas offense only scored 14 points. That’d be a tie game if not for the defensive effort.

The Texas running game was absolutely horrific against one of the worst run defenses in the entire Big 12 Conference. The ‘Horns – who had the 21st-best rushing offense in the country coming in to the game, believe it or not – were only able to put up a meager 46 yards on the ground. Not only that, but both Vondrell McGee (shoulder) and Tre Newton (mild concussion) were knocked out of the game. Both remain day-to-day for the game this weekend against oklahoma, and Fozzy “Fragile” Whittaker and Cody Johnson are listed as co-starters for the Red River Rivalry game and face a determined and legit ou defensive front seven. While the coaches always say they’re working on the rushing attack, fans have yet to see the results and its becoming an old complaint. Something needs to change: the offensive line needs to get some fire in their bellies to drive off their blocks and control the line of scrimmage, or offensive coordinator Greg Davis needs to stop running the zone read when the defense is in the backfield by the time the RBs get the ball in their hands. Is it a coaching problem or a player problem? Can’t Texas find other ways to get their star running backs in the open field – stretch runs, screen passes, something? The zone read is also effective when the QB takes the ball and runs with it from time-to-time. When was the last time Colt McCoy saw the defensive end crashing down and took off the other way? Colt’s legs – a legitimate threat – have gotten lost on the coach’s box floor.

On the contrary, WR Jordan Shipley looks like he could be a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. It’s been years – in fact, since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 – since any player other than a quarterback or running back has taken home the trophy. Between his stellar hands, on-field speed, and vision in the kick return game – not to mention a bit of Colt’s favoritism to find him on the field – he could end the season by breaking Kwame Cavil’s single-season record for catches (100) by a Texas wide out. His 11 catches for 147 yards on Saturday were fantastic, and that doesn’t even count his punt return for a TD – his second of the year (and he almost had another, if not for a penalty on his blockers). As for the rest of the wide receivers? Were there any others out on the field last Saturday?

On defense, the ‘Horns continued to dominate. Outside of the Buffs opening 66-yard TD drive, Will Muschamp’s soldiers held CU to just 61 yards the rest of the game – 127 yards total, and the turnovers continued to fall the ‘Horns way, as both Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon had INTs, of which Thomas’ was returned 92 yards for TD.

When they special teams, they do mean special. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes that’s bad. Fans saw a bit of both on Saturday – the defense blocked a punt and had a punt return both for TDs, but they also gave up a blocked FG. They lack consistency from game-to-game, and Justin Tucker’s rugby-style punts were absolutely awful, although the wind was a factor – but, one punt went about 3 yards and in to the stands, which is a feat inandofitself at DKR.

The Texas Family
Here’s a suggestion – get tickets to your next Longhorns game on the 50-yard line, east side, about 7 rows up (which is where we enjoyed the game from) and you’ll have the privilege of sitting amongst all of the Texas athletic recruits, just down from Jordan Shipley’s entourage of family and friends, and within earshot of Colt McCoy’s parents and girlfriend.

It was interesting to see the various Texas recruits attending the game – how much they paid attention to the game, what they had to say to family, friends and teammates attending the game with them, and simply to see who was on hand. Pflugerville Hendrickson running back Kenny Williams (known as “K-Weezy” on his letter jacket) was right in front of us and if the size of his calves are any indication of his speed and ability he’ll be a phenom if he ends up in burnt orange; Shipley’s younger brother and standout high school WR Jaxon was just down the row; and, rumor has it stud LB recruit Jordan Hicks from Ohio was in the house too – he’s teetering on offers from just about every college in the country, with Texas and Ohio State near the top of his list.

Most enjoyable, though, had to be relishing in the excitement that Shipley and McCoy’s families had for each of them when they were successful on the field on Saturday. McCoy’s girlfriend just smiled when she saw him on the Godzillatron (probably thinking, “Yep, that’s my boyfriend!”) and she was in to the game as much as any die-hard fan in the stands, and this blogger is happy to report that Colt’s dad is just a superstitious as I am – changing his gameday apparel to help bring some better luck to the team – as he switched hats at halftime. And, when Shipley returned that punt for TD, his DKR section-sized family went absolutely crazy. It was awesome to share in the excitement with them.

All in all, it was a gameday to remember and one that Eyes Of TX and BigBopper will both never forget. For more on our Texas v. Colorado experience, check out some pictures below. Hook ‘em!

Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium; east side, 50-yard line, 7th row.

Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium; east side, 50-yard line, 7th row.

DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium; looking at the North End Zone against Colorado in 2009. Final score, 38-14 'Horns.

DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium; looking at the North End Zone against Colorado in 2009. Final score, 38-14 'Horns.

Eyes Of TX and BigBopper taking in the Texas v. Colorado game in 2009.

Eyes Of TX and BigBopper taking in the Texas v. Colorado game in 2009.

Post-game, outside the east side of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Post-game, outside the east side of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

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