It’s been less than a month since it began, thankfully for most, and yet the hemorrhaging from the University of Texas football program continues. In the short time since the Longhorns ended their disastrous 5-7 season, head coach Mack Brown has gone from an in-control-of-the-program CEO to looking like Scotty Smalls trying to make friends and play backyard baseball in The Sandlot. In other words, he’s got some work to do…and fast.
Up until last week, the Longhorns had seen four coaches depart since November – offensive coordinator Greg Davis, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and defensive line coach Mike Tolleson. But, to put a wrapper on 2010, wide receiver coach Bobby Kennedy expectedly resigned on Dec. 30 to make a lateral move to be the University of Colorado’s wide receiver coach. Make that five.
Throughout a tumultuous December, Longhorn fans across the country spread coaching hire rumors as fast as they could drink a bottle of Salt Lick BBQ sauce. They threw around more names than Santa Claus could rattle off reindeer names. And yet the New Year passed with nothing from the halls Belmont. What exactly was Mack Brown doing over there? Had we been naughty and not nice?
On Monday and Tuesday this week, fans began to get some answers – albeit not quite the names or coordinator-level titles fans were expecting. The first presser of 2011 brought us Darrell Wyatt as the new wide receiver coach and co-recruiting coordinator, and you can watch Wyatt’s introductory press conference here. Wyatt is a Texas-born Kansas State alumnus who is a get-to-the-point coach with credible Big 12 Conference experience and has been both a wide receiver coach, offensive coordinator, not to mention recruiting extraordinaire. The problem might be, he’s a gypsy of sorts – making his rounds year-after-year – to different schools around the country, including Kansas (most recently), Baylor, oklahoma, and Oklahoma State…and those are just his Big 12 Conference stops. In fact, he’s coached at 14 different universities in his 21 years of coaching. That said, Wyatt can downright get kids to come play for him and turn them in to top-tier talent – see also Adrian Peterson (oklahoma), Mark Clayton (oklahoma), Rashaun Woods (Oklahoma State), and Mike Thomas (Arizona). He’s recruited from Texas for most of his coaching tenure, including the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, Houston and East Texas, and Central Texas. It’s an exciting addition, and ‘Horns fans can be assured that Wyatt will turn out as much talent to the next level as former offensive coordinator Greg Davis ruined. Another positive for Wyatt – his youth and energy. Brown’s talked about it, and now it’s coming to fruition – a much-needed addition to the retirement home-bound staff that had been residing in Austin the past few seasons.
In addition to Wyatt, Mack Brown also announced Bo Davis, who has served as a Nick Saban disciple at LSU, the Miami Dolphins, and Alabama, is joining the Texas Longhorns staff, making a lateral move to become the ‘Horns defensive line coach. During his tenure with the Crimson Tide, Davis has had a top-10 defense year-in and year-out in one of the toughest conferences in the country, and he has had several defensive lineman become all-conference or all-American players. Prior to joining the ranks of Saban’s various staffs across the southeast, Davis spent several years coaching at Galena Park North Shore High School in Texas, including coaching former Longhorn DE Cory Redding, and has relationships with high schools across the state. Given his background as an LSU alumnus and assistant, Davis also brings inroads to the top high schools in Louisiana.
The question now becomes whether Brown is making random hires that he hopes work well together under his tutelage. It seems odd, to this writer anyway, to hire position coaches when the coordinator positions are still up in the air. At least, publically still up in the air. Maybe Brown’s got his CEO house in order, has lined up more than we know behind the scenes, and has everything but signatures on the dotted line. Maybe he’s building a staff based on input from those to-be-named resources.
Rumors are circulating that leading candidates for the offensive and defensive coordinator positions are also in Austin interviewing this week. While many expected Teryl Austin (Florida), Everett Withers (North Carolina), or even former Longhorn Jerry Gray (Seattle Seahawks), to be leading defensive coordinator candidates, it appears as though Brown is after another young, energetic SEC coach instead – none other than Mississippi State’s Manny Diaz. Diaz would be an interesting hire, but to look at what he’s done with a middle-of-the-road SEC team only means he could flourish with the talent in Texas. On the offensive side of the ball, many have considered Boise State or Wisconsin’s coaching gurus to be the focus of the search, and that seems to be more or less true, as the Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is supposedly the top target. But, don’t rule out the Broncos’ OC, although it sounds like he wants some of his boys (namely, his offensive line coach) to come along for the ride if he signs a contract to come to Austin.
Only time will tell, but as the college bowl season wraps up and the recruiting window opens up again leading in to Signing Day in early February, it’s due time to name some coaching talent and get them in Austin and on the road solidifying what is and could still be the #1 recruiting class in 2011.
What at first appeared to be a blessing in disguise for Texas this off-season is quickly becoming a nightmare for Texas football head coach Mack Brown and the athletic department. Following his first losing and worst season in Texas history (5-7), pressure was on Brown to replace key coaching positions on his staff where deficiencies were observed. That meant a swift “adios” to long-time offensive coordinator Greg Davis, as well as line coaches Mac McWhorter and Mike Tolleson.
Holy, Davy Crockett with a raccoon hat. Next, we’re going to find out the Confederacy won the Civil War, the French army is something to be reckoned with, and there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Brown’s got some big holes to fill, and just when he thought things were lining up perfectly for him to retire in the not-to-distant future. The two lead coordinator positions, plus the two line coaches – and maybe a wide receiver coach to boot – leads to a very, very busy off-season. Anyone else think 2011’s becoming a re-building year…again?!
Hey, Greg Robinson…tired of working for Rich Rodriguez and getting your door knocked on by the NCAA every other day? Hey Gene Chizik, when you’re done coaching you’re Heisman Trophy quarterback in the national championship game this year, would you be interested in coming back to coach the defense in Austin? Hey, Major Applewhite, aren’t you glad you’re sticking around…opportunities are becoming more and more available for you, my man.
It’s evident, even more so with this latest departure – EyesOfTX is quickly seeing a very, very young coaching staff taking over the helm in Austin in the next 3-5 years.
It’s about time. No one ever wants to see wholesale changes in a coaching staff, especially one that has been together as long as Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns staff. But, after the first losing season for Texas football since Brown’s arrival in 1997, it is time for some change.
Early reports indictate that several coaches have either resigned, or at a minimum told their players that they won’t be returning next season. The key departure (good or bad depending on your alliances) is offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has been with Brown for all 13 years at Texas, not to mention his tenture at North Carolina and Tulane before coming to Austin.
In addition, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter, defensive line coach Mike Tolleson, have confirmed they are resigning, and wide receiver coach Bobby Kennedy is rumored to also be leaving the staff (although that has not yet been confirmed). That leaves a lot of holes to fill on the coaching staff, but they were all areas where the Longhorns have struggled the past 2-3 years. You can find more on the departures here, and it appears as though Mack Brown will not try to fill the positions until after the bowl season concludes. The resignations will also not be effective until August 31, 2011, when each of the coach’s contracts expire, although they could leave sooner if they are hired away by other teams.
Who are the likely candidates to fill some of those roles, you ask? Let’s pontificate, based on some rumors circulating Longhorn nation. Keep in mind, current defensive coordinator and future Texas Longhorns head coach Will Muschamp will also have some pull in hiring the new coaches, so he might help Brown and the staff dig in to SEC coaching talent as well. No doubt, with some top coaches departing, the ‘Horns will have some money to spend in the off-season to get top-notch talent.
– Dana Holgorsen (Oklahoma State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach): Lead the nation’s #1 offensive juggernaut in 2010, and made a former Major League Baseball pitching prospect one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. It could be tough to grab Holgorsen, though, as he’s an in-conference coach, and Cowboys alum and millionaire Boone Pickens has plenty of money to donate to keep a winning staff together in Stillwater.
– Bob Bostad(Wisconsin running game/offensive line coach): When you think of the Badger’s offense, the first thing that comes to mind is a stout running game that is based on the success of an offensive line that can run block with the best in the counry year-in and year-out. The downside is Bostad hasn’t called the plays and would have to learn on the fly or defer to another member of the current Texas offensive staff (see also: Major Applewhite). Would be a solid hire as an offensive line coach, but that might not be the type of “promotion” or long-term growth opportunity that is attractive to a successful assistant coach.
– Major Applewhite (Texas running backs coach): A natural progression for Applewhite, and more the likely one of the reasons he took a demotion from previous roles to come to Texas in the first place – to be Greg Davis’ replacement. As a former quarterback, he can help groom future talent, and he’s also called the offensive plays for Rice and Alabama (under none other than Nick Saban) in previous stints. He’s young – yet experienced, more than capable, repsected by the players, has name recognition and in-roads to Texas-state talent, and it is a guarantee that he wants the job.
– Mark Helfrich (Oregon offensive coordinator): As much as EyesOfTX despises all things Ducks, this might be a great hire. Helfrich has only called the plays for the “Zeroes” for two years, but their offense has been prolific during that time – and he’s got the Ducks playing in the national championship game the year after his starting quarterback transferred and his best running back went off to The League. Not bad. This one comes down to how much Nike, er…Phil Knight, er…the university is willing to pay to keep him around.
– Bryan Harsin (Boise State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach): This would be an interesting hire, but might be difficult given Harsin’s a Broncos graduate. It’s hard to get talent out of Boise, as head coach Chris Petersen has a well-oiled machine under his helm. The question remains whether Boise State talent can climb up the rungs and be successful at the next level – see also: former head coach Dan Hawkins, who floundered in his attempt to translate his success in Boise to Boulder and the Universityof Colorado.
– Stacy Searels (Georgia line coach): There is some history with Searels and Will Muchamp, and the SEC connection might help draw him to the Lone Star State. While Searels has seen success at Georgia in previous years, the past several years have been struggles for the Bulldogs. Is that what Brown and Muschamp want to bring to town?
We’ll see how things pan out, but expect some big changes in the next month or two.
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)
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.
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:
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?