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)
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.
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.