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Week 4 Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. UCLA Bruins

Was anyone else stressed out last Saturday? The referees seemed to try to steal the game from the ‘Horns for much of the night, but the defense stepped up in a big way and kept the offense in the game until it was time to catch the plane home. For the ‘Horns, it was the first hurdle in a challenging 4-game stretch that includes the Red Raiders, UCLA Bruins, #8 oklahoma sooners, and #6 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Write in down in the books – Texas moves to 4-3 in the Mack Brown era in Lubbock. And, EyesOfTX’s prediction that Texas Tech QB Taylor Potts would be “injured” at some point in last week’s game comes to fruition.

On to week 4, let’s get to it…

Texas Longhorns v. UCLA Bruins
2:30 p.m. CT (ABC)

Prediction:
Texas 35, UCLA 14

We remember, don’t we Texas fans? It doesn’t matter that both coaches weren’t in their respective coaching positions yet. It doesn’t matter that most of the players in this weekend’s game were 70-pound youngsters the last time these two powerhouses saw each other on the playing field. The score was 66-3. And the ‘Horns weren’t on the winning end of that debacle.

It’s time for redemption. Longhorn fans have waited too long for it, and it’s finally here. It’s time to show UCLA why they’re lucky the ‘Horns didn’t venture West this off-season in the conference realignment. It’s time to jump to 4-0, and get “right” before the showdown in Dallas in October.


UCLA’s Keys To The Game:
In uncharacteristic fashion for a West coast team not named Oregon, this match-up is all about the running game for UCLA. While the Bruins return an experienced QB in Kevin Prince, he won’t be the one to watch on Saturday. After all, in 3 games, Prince has only thrown for 258 yards (or, 86 yards per game), one TD, and – count ‘em – four INTs. Not the stats you want from the field general when trying to run a balanced offense. In fact, even going in to last weekend, Prince’s job was up for grabs – and he won it back. Not sure what that says about head coach Rick Neuheisal and offensive coordinator Norm Chow’s recruiting in SoCal, but I’ll venture a guess – it sucks.

UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin

Instead, all eyes will be on the two guys that will share carries and line-up in Chow’s “pistol” formation – Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones. The pistol is basically the zone read formation that Texas has “enjoyed” for several years, but instead of lining up next to the QB, the RBs line-up behind the QB. This allows the backs to getting a running start before getting to the line of scrimmage and thus hitting the gaps the offensive line creates with a full head of steam. Can you imagine that? Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis can’t. Franklin (291 yards, three TDs) and Jones (101 yards) will be the keys to UCLA controlling the clock, wearing down the interior of the Texas defense, and keeping Texas’ offense off the field while scoring points.

The Bruins defense – at least on paper – doesn’t look that great. But, don’t be fooled. The secondary can more then hold their own, as can their very physical linebackers, but what those position players bring to the table is off-set by a less than stellar defensive line that can’t help their back seven by putting pressure on the QB or stop the running game. The defense ranks near the bottom of Division I schools in stopping the running game, but this early in the season, it’d be easy to argue that their first game of the year against Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas didn’t help pad their run defense stats. That being said, the opposite will likely be true on Saturday, as the ‘Horns offense can’t put any semblance of a running game together through September. If the Bruins defensive line can’t stop the Texas running attack (can we even call it that?), and then force QB Garrett Gilbert to force throws or make bad decisions, it’s going to be a long day for a secondary who actually does a credible job of holding opponents to a mere 155 yards through the air.


Texas’ Keys To The Game:
It’s a flip of the switch for Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp’s boys this week. Whereas last week the ‘Horns ran a nickel package with an extra defensive back on the field to corral all of Tech’s wide receivers, this week is all about loading up the box and stopping the power running game from the boys in baby blue. The Texas LBs and defensive line – namely that rotation of defensive tackles and defensive-ends-turned-defensive-tackles holding down the center of the line of scrimmage – will have their hands full with Franklin and Jones, but they can’t sit back in third-and-long situations either, as they need to force Prince to throw in to Texas’ highly-touted defensive backfield.

On offense, the ‘Horns need to eliminate some errors – namely, stupid penalties, dropped passes, and turnovers. The coaches and fans alike want to see any kind of consistency in the offensive line’s run blocking, more consistency from the wide receivers corps as a whole, and see Gilbert making smart decisions with the football. The Texas offense is still adjusting to a new QB and offensive scheme, and it’s the last week to test things out and open up the game a bit more than they have before the sooners become top of mind. Repetition and mental acuity are key. Forget about fried Oreos and turkey legs at the Texas State Fair, because next week’s match-up won’t matter if the ‘Horns don’t win this week.

Overall, Texas should win this game going away. The ‘Horns might not score 60 points on Saturday – or hell, in any game this season – but the defense will remain an elite unit, giving the offense time to get settled, and every single player on the burnt orange sideline will battle it out for four quarters. With focus and effort at every position, improvements can be made, and victories are had. Even Neuheisal would bank on that.

Hook ‘em!

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Filed under Big 12, Cornhuskers, Longhorns, NCAA Football, Red Raiders, Sooners, Wildcats

Week 3 Game Preview: Texas Longhorns v. Texas Tech Red Raiders

“Grrr. Give me all of your loot! Aarrghh! I’ll sink your ship and bury you on the West Texas plains!” Is that a bit of Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” character, Captain Jack Sparrow? No, it’s… Wait, what’s that? Mike “The Pirate” Leach is no longer the head football coach in Lubbock? Creative blogging FAIL.

Former TTU head coach Mike Leach

[Long pause]

[Cue internal debate consuming EyesOfTX writers on whether it’s worth writing about Texas Tech football from now on…]

[Solution: Shed tear for lack of pre-game comedy and post-game hilarity with Leach; proceed with a quick Mike Leach “roast,” prepare selves for boring ‘ol Tommy “T” in the Big 12!]

Don’t fret. Even though we’ve lost the conductor of the Big 12‘s crazy train, there is still an opportunity to see the man who is as nutty as a PayDay bar. While Leach fully expected he’d be coaching again this season (he’s not) – just not anywhere near Craig James’ son, Adam (and, he’s not) – instead, he’ll be announcing Conference USA football games this fall for CBS Sports. A-maz-ing. In such a good way; honestly, it could be more epic than Obama balancing the budget. One assumes, in this instance, CBS has been setting aside a substantial amount of advertising dollars to pay-off the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) for Leach’s on-air hilarity, vulgarity and general mis-fires. It’s going to happen, if he doesn’t stick he co-anchor or cameraman in a closet first. Who else can’t wait to see this debacle unfold?

Truth be told, even though the mad hatter is no longer in Lubbock, the Red Raiders don’t seem to have lost a step with former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville taking over the reigns.

We’re not big Red Raider fans, so let’s revisit some favorite bone-crushing and hilarious moments:

Now that were amped up, let’s check out this week’s tilt with the Red Raiders.

Texas Longhorns v. Texas Tech Red Raiders
7:00 p.m. CT (ABC)

Prediction:
Texas 28, Texas Tech 24

Texas Tech’s Keys To The Game:
You read that right, Tech fans. It’s a 7:00 p.m. Central time kick-off on Saturday, which gives you about an hour from the time you arise from your liquor-induced, beer-goggle, not-so-good-in-the-morning sleep to get to Jones Stadium for the game. Yep, believe it or not, you too are a key to the game – as is always the case in Lubbock.

Texas Tech's Jones Stadium

In six previous meetings between the ‘Horns and Red Raiders in the desolate West Texas desert, the two teams have split decisions (3-3) – with the ugliest scenario playing out for ‘Horns fans two years ago when Texas lost its undefeated and national championship hopes on the final play of the game as TTU wide receiver Michael Crabtree celebrated his TD and early departure to…hold out against the NFL team who drafted him. Oh, where were we? That’s right, Lubbock’s a tough place to play – the ‘Horns haven’t lost to TTU at home in Austin (6-0) in head coach Mack Brown’s tenure. Yet, with a plethora of young talent on the field for Texas, Tubby’s Red Raiders have a chance to score another major upset under the lights in the sandy plains.

Even though the puerile Leach has departed, the collective knowledge of the spread offense hasn’t, and neither have the Red Raiders’ on-field general(s), as seniors Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield return at QB. While Tuberville will instill some semblance of a running attack in Lubbock (you had to think RB Baron Batch was licking his chops upon his new head coach’s arrival), he isn’t stupid and he’ll work with Leach’s leftovers until he recruits players that fit his mold. So, the basketball-style scoring system isn’t quite gone with the red and black, but it’ll get there in the year’s to come. In the meantime, Potts is still going to throw for a million yards, and receivers will be flying over the field so much so that you’ll be trying to swipe them away like they’re gnats drawn to your TV screen.

Potts is the starter at QB, and we all know no TTU gun slinger starts their season slow, as he was spot-on in week one against SMU (34-for-53, 359 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) with his game a tad more efficient in week two against New Mexico (22-for-34, 293 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). He’s well-versed in the offensive scheme, has good repoire with his receivers, and has the arm to make every single throw in the proverbial book. His downside is mental, more than physical – if he’s under constant pressure in the pocket, or takes a good hit early, his mind just isn’t in the game – many analysts would go so far as to say he “talks himself in to injuries.” We say he’s just a 6’5” pansy who cries when everything doesn’t go his way. That’s a Saturday bonus for Texas, if you’re counting. The offensive line remains a legitimate threat to controlling the line of scrimmage, but no longer will you see four yard splits between each offensive lineman – they’re in a tighter formation, which gives the wide receivers more space off the line of scrimmage in passing formations.

Red Raiders' WR Lyle Leong

The wide receivers are the key the offense’s production, and the team might as well hire octamom-gone-bachelorette human-being manager Kate Gosselin to keep up with the ongoing rotation. In Lubbock, she’d fit right in for more than a few reasons. There are two wide receivers, however, that stand out as top targets for Potts – his high school teammate, Lyle Leong (16 catches, 217 yards, 5 TDs), and Detron Lewis (9 catches, 123 yards, 1 TD). Regardless of the top target, all those receivers have good hands, agility and the ability to find and sit down in zone coverage to give Potts plenty of space to get them the ball and rake in yards after the catch.

The defense will, once again, provide a test for Texas – if anything, Tuberville has brought a renewed sense of passion on the defensive side of the ball. So far this year, Tech has amassed nine sacks – something even Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp would be proud of – and they will be looking to prey on the young Longhorn QB meat. Everything with the Tech defense funnels to the nose tackle and middle linebacker, and they will largely decide the outcome of Texas’ offensive production on the night. Running inside, and looking for the hot route underneath the linebackers will get Texas in a lot of trouble early.

Texas’ Keys To The Game:
It’s time for Texas to show the world they’re the #5 team in the country. They need to show some emotion and decide they want to win this game. This is the upset game of the week across the country, and the Las Vegas spread dropped from Texas by seven points, to Texas by three points – practically overnight – which means a lot of fans think Tech’s got a shot, especially after seeing Texas play these past two weeks. Frankly, the Red Raiders might not be so full of themselves this year.

Texas, first and foremost, needs to have an offensive game plan that can allow QB Garrett Gilbert to settle in early. Emotions will be high, the environment will be threatening. If offensive coordinator Greg Davis is listening, no bubble screens or dinky-dump stuff – we’re not in peewee leagues anymore. Give Gilbert the easy throws early to help him establish a rhythm. Give him a dose of the running game to help keep Tech honest, but push the ball outside where the receivers have a chance to block downfield for the running backs, and you’ll keep Tech’s defensive strengths playing chase from sideline to sideline. Most importantly, the ‘Horns need to put points on the board when they have opportunities, keep their defensive teammates on the sidelines, and if they’re ahead, eat as much clock as possible to keep the Tech offense at bay.

Texas DB Chykie Brown

On defense, it will be as important as ever for the ‘Horns defensive backs to keep the wide receivers in front of them, put pressure on Potts with the front four to create poor throws and mistakes, and make good tackles. Fundamental football, right? Easier said than done, but Muschamp can usually muster a way to the backfield with his schemes, especially with the depth he’s got at defensive end. The defense just needs to help the offense stay in the game and not let things get out of hand. It’ll be a tough task, but then again, so is keeping Japan’s Takeru Kobayashi away from a hot dog eating contest.

In special teams, Texas has a decided advantage with the points team, as Tech’s kicker looked downright awful against SMU in week one. One could’ve wondered if Tuberville had kept the student Leach “drafted” out of the stands to kick for the team two years ago on scholarship. So, a extra point or field goal block is a possibility for the ‘Horns. Field position will also be key, and if Texas finally decides to shy away from the rugby-style kick, P John Gold could go head-to-head with Tech’s Jonathan Locour in a kicker’s dual.

It’s going to be a battle on Saturday, and the Vegas odds are toying with me. Perhaps Kevin Spacey’s behind the curtain pulling strings. Who knows?! But, since EyesOfTX has never picked against Mack Brown and Texas football since this blog’s inaugural post, we’re not starting now. Barely. And, let’s double-down on an incredible blog post that includes football, Mike Leach, two Oscar-worthy actors, Kate Gosselin, hot dog eating contests, pirate verbiage, basketball, Las Vegas, pansies, gnats, and beer googles. Your winnings for reading this far? That PayDay bar sounds about right.

Hook ‘em!

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Filed under Big 12, Conference USA, Longhorns, NCAA Football, Red Raiders