Bad news on the injury front. As was rumored over the weekend, Texas linebacker [tag]Jared Norton[/tag] needs season-ending surgery on his shoulder and is done for the year. Read the official university release below:

After further evaluation of the right shoulder injury that Longhorn senior linebacker Jared Norton sustained in UT’s season-opening victory over ULM, it was determined that he will need to have season ending surgery, Texas Head Athletic Trainer for Football Kenny Boyd said on Monday.

Norton, who registered six tackles against ULM, will apply for a medical redshirt year in hopes of returning for the 2010 season. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder has played in 38 career games, starting nine, and posted 128 tackles, 4.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss.

He started seven of 13 games and had 54 tackles, 2.5 sacks and four TFL last year and played in 12 games, starting one, with 53 tackles, two sacks and four TFL as a sophomore in 2007. As a true freshman in 2006, Norton played in 12 games and registered 15 stops and one TFL.

“It’s disappointing not being out there with my teammates especially with this being my senior year,” Norton said. “I’ve been through this process before, so I know how to deal with it.

“I’m just going to work hard rehabbing and focus on my schoolwork and getting my degree. Hopefully, the rehab will go well and I can come back next year and help lead the team to another
successful season.”

Good luck to Jared in his recovery.

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The Longhorns will be near full strength when they take the field for an early start to Big 12 conference play. Only two players are listed as out on the official injury report for the game Saturday night against [tag]Texas Tech[/tag]. Linebacker [tag]Jared Norton[/tag] is out with a shoulder injury and freshman offensive lineman [tag]Mason Walters[/tag] will miss the game due to a foot injury.

Both players were injured in the season opener and also missed last week’s game against [tag]Wyoming[/tag]. Norton’s shoulder was originally reported as not being serious but he’s now missed two games and his status is one to keep an eye on.

The biggest news may be one name not on the list, tailback [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag] is listed on the depth chart and will finally make his debut against the Red Raiders. Good luck to Fozzy, hopefully he finally stays healthy enough to get his chance.

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Jared Norton reinjured his shoulder against ULM.

Jared Norton reinjured his shoulder against ULM.

Just one week into the season and the Horns’ official injury list is already getting a little long, and there’s a familiar name on it that fans were hoping would be a big contributor this year. Four players didn’t make the trip to [tag]Wyoming[/tag] due to various injuries.

Running back Fozzy Whittaker is out again this week with a knee injury. Also out are offensive guards [tag]Michael Huey[/tag] with a left ankle sprain and true freshman [tag]Mason Walters[/tag] with a foot injury. Linebacker [tag]Jared Norton[/tag] has a right shoulder injury that reportedly isn’t too serious, but it’s bad enough that he’s out for this week’s game.

The offensive line depth is definitely hurting. When the season started the coaches had five starters and [tag]David Snow[/tag] backing them up and now one of the starters is out and another backup is down. [tag]Tray Allen[/tag] was working almost exclusively at defensive tackle last week and this week he’s the number two guy at both left guard and tackle.

Hopefully the line and everyone else can stay healthy this week in possibly snowy Wyoming.

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Vondrell McGee gets the opening week start, is he the answer at running back?

Vondrell McGee gets the opening week start, is he the answer at running back?

So we know what we know about this year’s team (channeling my inner Aflac commercial). Texas has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, experience at every position excluding tight end and Will Muschamp is a deity. We got it.

But what don’t we know? Even with the high expectations, there are some unanswered questions that could grow into concerns as the season moves forward.

1. Will a running back step up?

The same question was raised prior to last season. The question went unanswered all season, and Texas still was one second away from playing for a national title. Heading into the offseason, and into spring practice, the word was Cody Johnson had stepped up and was ready for 20+ carries a game.

That was four months ago. The week of the game, it appears the team is exactly where they were one year ago. Vondrell McGee will get the first look, Fozzy Whittaker is showing flashes of talent when he isn’t hanging out with the training staff and Cody Johnson is great in short yardage but not in shape enough to handle the load.

The loan difference is new comer Chris Whaley. The true freshman was given every opportunity to take the starting spot, but his weight and the adjustment to big time D-1 football is proving tough.

Texas may not have to run the ball to be successful, but Mack Brown sure wants to. If this team can establish a run game in Lubbock who knows what would have happened. McGee has the talent to be the lead back. The question is will Greg Davis stick with him consistently enough for him to prove it. I’m not sure Davis, or Brown, know the answer.

2. Can Texas play without a tight end?

If a team is going to have a string of tough injuries, it might as well all happen at one position. Especially at a position that last year’s group proved they didn’t need for the majority of snaps. But the loss of Blaine Irby, DJ Grant, etc., etc. may give Texas no choice but to play without a tight end.

Despite the success of last season’s offense, the Longhorns need to be able to line up with a tight end in passing and rushing situations. Without the option teams will know what kind of play is coming by the personnel that are on the field. Texas is too good for most teams on its schedule to compete either way, but in the big games the Longhorns need the flexibility. Especially with an offensive line that has proven to be road graders in the run game.

Dan Buckner has stepped up. And Greg Smith is still around to block and deflect balls to the other team. But neither is an all around tight end that can block and stretch the defense. The Longhorns offense works best with a pass catching tight end, so Buckner is the odds on favorite to win the job. But he has never had to block at this level, and it hasn’t been proven he can stay healthy while taking on defensive ends and linebackers on a play to play basis.

Texas will field a good offense either way, but without the threat of a tight end they simply can’t be one of the best two teams in the country.

3. Is the lack of depth at defensive tackle a real concern?

For most teams in the country this would be an easy yes, but in the Big 12 I’m not so sure. And how bad can the depth really be when you’re Texas? Most fans, and coaches, around the country would kill for Lamarr Houston, Ben Alexander and a couple of big time recruits to enter the season at defensive tackle.

Texas has been spoiled at the position over the last decade. It seems like every year Texas has two or three big guys in the middle that are sure fire NFL guys. The difference this year is the fans aren’t aware of the other two yet. Meet Kheeston Randall and Calvin Howell. These two young guys have the talent, and Randall has the years in the program to make a splash. Howell isn’t ready to compete every down, but he can help out in spots. That is four guys right there that can give you snaps, and one of them is an all-conference caliber player in a conference where maybe two teams try to run up the middle on a consistent basis.

If that is the biggest question mark for the defense, Big 12 coaches are in trouble.

4. Are Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho ready?

Roddrick Muckelroy won’t leave the field. Jared Norton is a senior, and will anchor the middle, but what about the other outside linebacker spot? And maybe more importantly, who will play in nickel packages?

The answer to both questions is either Robinson or Acho. It may be both. The two sophomores are battling for the starting spot with Robinson slightly out in front. Robinson is an aggressive player with the athleticism to play the pass as well as anyone in the linebacking unit. That strength may make him the starter because of the types of offenses Texas faces on a consistent basis. Acho is a smart player with the ability to blitz. Sounds like a Muschamp guy to me.

Norton has struggled on passing downs. He has also struggled with injuries this preseason. If one, or both, of these guys step up when the real games begin the Longhorns will be in excellent shape.

5. Can Texas replace the leadership of Brian Orakpo, Quan Cosby and Roy Miller?

Yes, Texas has Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley on offense, but what about defense? Sergio Kindle is the best defensive lineman, but he is admittedly not the public speaking type. Muckelroy leads the linebacking unit, but he does it quietly. And the guys in the secondary are finally comfortable with the layout of the campus.

So who is the guy? Muschamp says Lamarr Houston and Earl Thomas. I think Houston emerges this season as one of the best players in the conference. And I think Thomas plays so well the chatter of leaving early starts, well early. And both of those predictions are based on Muschamp’s perceived leadership out of the two.

It is hard to be a great player without being a great leader. It is not impossible, but I think it is hard. Houston has the ability when he is healthy. Thomas has improved a ton from last year to right now. The talent is there, if the leadership competes with what the Longhorns have on the offensive side of the ball then the comparisons to the 2005 championship team may be fair. If no one steps up, Texas will drop a game they shouldn’t.

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Posted August 29th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football

Brandon Collins is expected to step up and give Colt McCoy plenty of WR options.

Brandon Collins is expected to step up and give Colt McCoy plenty of WR options.

Maybe for the first time since 2005, the University of Texas has a legit shot at a national championship heading into the season. Sure last year was special, but at this time in 2008 the Longhorn fan base was not thinking championship rings.

It is all different one year later. In this two part series we look at the five things we know and the five things we don’t about this year’s team.

1. Colt McCoy is a bad ass.

There is no way around it. If McCoy leads this team to the national championship, and maybe picks up a Heisman trophy along the way, he will go down as the best, and most loved, quarterback in the history of the program.

McCoy has done everything a coach could want from a leader. And all reports have him playing at an elite level after a dedicated summer. Vince Young rallied Texas’ last national championship team with summer 7-on-7, McCoy did the same. Now it is time to prove it on the field. And there is little doubt that will happen as long as Colt stays healthy.

2. McCoy has targets to throw the ball to.

Sure, Quan Cosby is gone, but Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins may be better than the “Big 3” of Roy Williams, Sloan Thomas and BJ Johnson. And we haven’t even mentioned Jordan Shipley.

Kirkendoll is going off this year. He will replace Cosby as the safety valve on third down situations when Shipley is demanding double teams. Williams showed his big play ability against Missouri and Texas Tech last year. The knock on the sophomore is his consistency, but when the lights come on, he has done nothing but impress. He looks the part on the field, and defensive coordinators have to account for his speed on the outside. Cosby was great, but he didn’t demand a safety to play over the top. Williams can force defenses to keep a man deep to protect against the fly pattern. That will open more holes for the running game, and open up more room for Shipley,

3. Texas will pressure the quarterback.

Apparently, Will Muschamp has taken off the gloves. In year two under the feisty defensive coordinator all bets are off. Muschamp has his players flying around the ball and blitzing on every down. Gone is Brian Orakpo, but Sergio Kindle is now a defensive end/linebacker/freak of nature. Add an underrated Sam Acho, a seemingly healthy Eddie Jones and an emerging superstar in true freshman Alex Okafor and talent on the edge is not a problem.

Also, Texas has linebackers and secondary personnel to blitz. Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson and Jared Norton have received rave reviews for the blitzing ability. And last year, we saw the ability of Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams coming off the edge.

4. The secondary has transformed from the biggest question mark in 2008 to the strength of the defense in 2009.

The combination of Thomas, Williams, Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown, Deon Beasley, Blake Gideon and Christian Scott is almost laughable. For the first time in the Mack Brown era, a defensive unit has a chance to be dominating. Sure, Texas has had dominate players, and even dominate units, but with Muschamp leading the way, the Longhorns may field their best defense sine the 1980’s.

Texas has all but abandoned the 4-3 as its base defense. Texas runs the nickel because of the offenses in the Big 12. Thomas’ ability in coverage allows Muschamp to bring in Scott to play safety when Thomas lines up against the slot. The depth at cornerback allows Muschamp to bring in Brown or Beasley to keep Thomas at safety if the defense needs more speed on the field.

Bottom line – this group is nasty, fast and experienced. Muschamp can do whatever he wants with the front seven, I mean six, because he knows he has a safety net in the back. Not good for the rest of the conference.

5. Texas will have the advantage on special teams in virtually every game.

I know, I know, it is just special teams and that isn’t as sexy of a topic as scoring touchdowns or creating snot bubbles. But the third aspect of football should not be overlooked. Where would the program have gone if Dusty Mangum misses the field goal against Michigan in the first Rose Bowl? Do we win a championship the next year? Who knows? Do we beat OU last year if Shipley doesn’t take a kick to the house?

Texas has two reliable field goal kickers, a two legged punter and return guys growing out of their ears. Add to that the most prolific punt block team in the last decade and opponents have no time to relax.

At least one game a year comes down to special teams play. In 2009, that is to Texas’ advantage.

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Posted July 14th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football

Will Keenan Robison blow up at linebacker in 2009?

Will Keenan Robison blow up at linebacker in 2009?

Football has become a 24/7, 365 days a year sport. We talk about football in the fall. We watch the spring games in April. And we even follow recruiting with the fervor of a Saturday night in Baton Rouge.

But the one aspect of college football that is overlooked is the work done in the summer with 7-on-7 workouts. Vince Young and the 2005 Championship team proved that chemistry and timing built in the summer can propel a team to the top. After a near perfect season in 2008 Colt McCoy and the Texas football team are looking to duplicate the blue print of the last team to make it to the Rose Bowl and win.

The similarities of this year’s team to the 2005 squad are alarming and are sure to be talked about like McCoy and Jordan Shipley’s fishing plans.

Not all aspects of the game can be worked on over the summer without pads, but plenty can be accomplished. Even with more answers than questions lingering to enter this season there is room for improvement. And here are five questions that could be answered over the summer?

1. What will be the base offensive formation?

The lack of a viable tight end may force Greg Davis’ hand when it comes to “go to” formations. In the biggest games of the year, and when Texas needed to move the ball, they abandoned the tight end set for a four wide receiver spread. With McCoy’s accuracy and the depth at the receiver position having a tight end on the field may be a detriment to the team.

From a skill stand point there is no question the fourth receiver will be more talented than any healthy tight end on the roster, unless we assume DJ Grant can emerge as a catcher and a blocker in his first year at the position. Frankly, it would be unfair to ask that of Grant so the question becomes – is it more important to disguise your play calls by being multiple on offense with a tight end or is the talent difference so great that putting a tight end on the field is holding the team back?

I don’t know the answer, maybe Davis and McCoy don’t either, but a huge summer by the receivers combined with no progress from the tight ends might equal a wide open spread attack for the majority of the snaps.

2. Can Garrett Gilbert handle being the backup quarterback right away?

Anyone who has seen or followed the career of the incoming freshman from Lake Travis knows that all signs point to a successful career at Texas and beyond. But all the skill, and smarts, in the world don’t necessarily spell success as a true freshman. In a perfect world Gilbert will only see the field in controlled situations. The plan is to bring him along slowly at the end of games that Texas has in the bag.

The problem is Texas cannot be comfortable with Sherrod Harris as the primary backup. The coaches and the players love Harris but he has never shown he could carry the team if needed. And with the junior recovering from surgery Gilbert has the chance to secure the backup spot if he can prove he has what it takes on the field, in his head, and in the huddle.

Like it or not Texas is one freak play away from starting a quarterback with no experience. With Chiles at receiver the only real hope is Gilbert. There is no doubt the pressure and expectations will not be fair or realistic for the prodigy, but he should have never expected them to be. This is Texas; he’ll learn that soon enough.

3. Who will be the running back?

Realistically this could be a question that isn’t answered at all this season. Mack Brown and Major Applewhite have proven they’ll mix backs in and out as much as they deem necessary. And while they’ll do it again this year, one has to think the staff wants a “go to” guy. A lot of the inconsistencies last year can be attributed to the lack of familiarity with the backs and the offensive line. The running game can be about timing as much as anything and UT had none last year.

It is true that the full running game cannot be featured without pads, but Applewhite has shown he values pass protection and ball security over big play ability. Vondrell McGee, maybe the most complete runner in the backfield, learned this lesson the hard way when he was benched for the entire Fiesta Bowl.

McGee may be the best runner, but it is Foswhitt Whittaker that can excel in 7-on-7 drills because of his ability to catch the ball and run in space. If he can stay healthy and prove he is willing to block Whittaker may finally break out this season.

The other option is freshman Chris Whaley. All reports have the physical freak as being impressive. The coaching staff has all but said he’ll get his shot to compete, so if he can pick up the small things this summer he’ll have a huge chance this fall.

4. Who will start as the third linebacker?

Roddrick Muckelroy and Jared Norton have starting jobs locked up in the 4-3 alignment, but with Sergio moving to defensive end one of the outside linebacker spots are open. The two candidates for the position are Keenan Robinson Emmanuel Acho. Both can rush the passer and both can make plays.

The skill that may separate them, and determine who plays more, will likely who can play in pass coverage the best. This is where 7-on-7 comes into play. With the Big 12 becoming football version of the Blue Angels air show finding linebackers that can stop the run and cover the pass is invaluable. In his short time on campus Robinson has shown the ability to play the pass and that’ what puts him at the top of the depth chart at strong side linebacker.

Texas will play with five defensive backs a lot this season, and that means only two linebackers on the field. Norton, who is a prototypical middle linebacker in the 4-3, has struggled in the nickel formation so if Robinson plays well enough he may be alongside Muckelroy when teams are spread out.

5. Is the work ethic there?

For the first time in a long time Texas overachieved last season. It had more to do with expectations, but the Longhorns had a workman like feel that wasn’t the norm in the last decade. Will Muschamp has gotten a lot of credit for the attitude change, but more credit needs to go to the players and especially the leaders on the team. More than talent, UT lost some big time leaders in Quan Cosby, Roy Miller, and Brian Orakpo.

Those guys kept the young guys in check in practice, off the field, and in the locker room. Texas still has established leaders in Colt McCoy and Sergio Kindle and new leaders are stepping up like Earl Thomas. But until the team faces some adversity no one will know if the team has the backbone they showed in games against Oklahoma and Ohio State last year.

The 2005 team established that ethic in the summer with many players pointing out that they had worked too hard in June and July to let anyone beat them. If this year’s team comes out of the summer with the same feeling another special year could be on the horizon.

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Texas will enter the 2009 season with national yitle hopes after a stellar 2008 campaign. In fact, [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] was pointing towards 2009 last offseason as the team he was looking forward to taking to his second title. Even with the anticipated success there are a few question marks on the field.

1. Will the offensive line play get better?

Texas struggled to run the ball late in games all of last year. Mack Brown wants that to change. So much so that all accounts point to the team spending most of the spring figuring out what needs to change. Outsiders point to scheme, but this is the same scheme that allowed [tag]Vince Young[/tag], Selvin Young, and Jamaal Charles to rack up tons of yards in 2005. The difference is Kasey Studdard, Jonathan Scott, and Justin Blalock won’t be in the starting lineup. The big guys up front have been good, but not great, and with most of them now in their third and fourth year in the program there are no more excuses. Texas’ offensive lineman must play stronger at the point of attack for this offense to be as balanced as Brown wants it to be. The Longhorns may not have a true game breaker in the backfield, but they’re good enough to do damage if given the holes. If Texas can get a running game going the offense could be the best ever at Texas. Guys like [tag]Charlie Tanner[/tag], [tag]Michael Huey[/tag], and [tag]Kyle Hix[/tag] need to step up and be as dominant as most think they can be.

2. Who is going to step up at running back?

For most of the spring [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] was running with the first team. Texas is looking to go under center more this year, and Johnson is clearly the best downhill runner on the roster, at least until [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag] reports. Unfortunately, Johnson got hurt and will miss the spring game on Sunday. The door could be no more wide open for the likes of [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag], [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag], [tag]Tre Newton[/tag], and [tag]Jeremy Hills[/tag]. The staff knows what they have in McGee and Whittaker. McGee is explosive and a hard runner, but doesn’t offer the receiving and/or blocking skills position coach Major Applewhite stresses in his players. A lot of people feel like the staff wants Whittaker to be the guy because of his skill set, but the little guy just can’t stay healthy. There hasn’t been a huge buzz around Hills or Newton but an eye opening spring game could set them up for playing time in the fall. The fact is somebody needs to step up because the running game is the only thing holding this offense back.

3. Who will get to the quarterback?

We all know [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] will be on one side, but who will be the other defensive end? Texas feels like Kindle will replace the production provided by soon to be multi-millionaire [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag], but who will replace Kindle’s? Right now it looks like [tag]Sam Acho[/tag] will get the start with [tag]Eddie Jones[/tag] and maybe even freshman [tag]Alex Okafor[/tag] getting looks on pure rushing situations. Defensive coordinator [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] has Acho’s brother Emmanuel working at the buck end position along with starting inside linebacker [tag]Jared Norton[/tag]. More than likely it won’t matter who is on the field, Muschamp won’t allow the defense not to get pressure. How much will Texas show in the spring game is a question that can’t be answered, but with a secondary that returns all but one contributor it is likely that Muschamp will unleash the hounds this year. The question is will he apply pressure because of his personnel like last year, or will he have to do it with scheme.

4. Who’ll play in the nickel formation?

For all intents and purposes the Longhorn defense is a 4-2-5. Texas says their base is a three linebacker set, but with the offenses they face in the Big 12 more times than not five defensive backs on the field. Going into the spring there were grumblings about the perceived battle between returning starter [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag] and the message board deity [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] and who will get the snaps, but it looks like Muschamp has found an answer, and that answer is both. The speed and versatility of [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] has allowed Muschamp to play him in the slot while keeping the brains of Gideon on the field while not sacrificing the athletic gifts of Scott. The cornerback situation appears to have already settled despite what anybody says. Right now [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] and [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] are locked in as the starters with [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag] and [tag]Deon Beasley[/tag] backing up. In the past it has been hard for underclassman to jump over guys with more experience but it looks like the talent of Williams is too much to overlook. The true sophomore to be has a chance to be one of the best defensive backs to come through the 40 acres if what the staff thinks about him is true. The whole formation depends on how Thomas does in the slot. If he can stay there, Texas can have three safeties on the field.

5. Who will step up and lead?

We know who the likely candidates are on offense. [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag], [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], and [tag]Adam Ulatoski[/tag] would figure to take charge on that side of the ball. All three levels of the defense will lose the guy most pegged as their emotional leader. The defensive line lost [tag]Roy Miller[/tag] and Brian Orakpo, the linebackers lost Rashad Bobino, and the defensive backs lost Ryan Palmer. If last year’s team taught us anything it is that leadership or the lack there of can never be overlooked. If you need any other evidence take a look at the Cowboys. From a talent perspective Kindle and [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag] would lead the charge, but both of those guys are quiet and low key by nature. [tag]Lamarr Houston[/tag] has been said to be taking charge in the front seven and Thomas has it locked in the secondary. The team keeping the momentum and mentality of last year will ultimately decide if all the goals are met this season.

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Posted January 4th, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Bowls, Feature, Football

The Longhorns enter this year’s [tag]Fiesta Bowl[/tag] as the favorites. Texas wants to prove a point and make a case for a split National against a team with great name recognition. Many are overlooking [tag]Ohio State[/tag] and the third ranked Longhorns are going to need more than [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag] and [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag] to finish the season with a victory and a likely number two ranking.

[tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag]

The sophomore from Longview has looked quicker and more explosive as the season has worn on. The feeling is that McGee has finally been healthy. With [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag] back in the lineup the onus is not all on McGee to produce in the run game. It has appeared that he does not relish the number one role. That is not necessarily a bad thing, not all backs are made to be work horses. McGee will come into the game and run hard. With Ohio State having to use linebackers in pass coverage expect the Longhorns to use the pass to set up the run. As the game goes on Texas should look to use the run game in similar fashion to their game against [tag]Oklahoma[/tag]. McGee has shown a nose for the endzone and we’ll look to add one Monday night.

[tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag]

Texas will face the best cornerback in the nation when they face the Buckeyes’ Malcolm Jenkins. The Thorpe award winner will likely matchup with [tag]Quan Cosby[/tag] for most of the night and the coaching staff is sure to focus on taking [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag] away. This will force Texas to use another option, and with none being available at tight end, it will have to come from one of the extra receivers. Ohio State is physical in the secondary and out of all of the Longhorn receivers Williams possesses the best skill set to offset any advantage the Buckeye corners may have against [tag]Brandon Collins[/tag] and [tag]James Kirkendoll[/tag]. Williams has shown the ability to get deep; I believe Texas will try to take a shot early in the game.

[tag]Ben Alexander[/tag]

Alexander isn’t going to start, and he may not even play a ton of snaps. But this may be the best chance for Alexander to show his stuff heading into a crucial offseason for his career. The big nose tackle is a prototypical off center one gap tackle. The offenses that Texas faces in the Big 12 limit his effectiveness because of a lack of lateral speed. For the first time maybe all season, Texas is going to face a team that will show a heavy dose of downhill running. Texas’ two other tackles not named [tag]Roy Miller[/tag] are former defensive ends. Will Muschamp will need the size of Alexander on obvious running downs throughout the game. If Alexander can take up blocks and hold his gap it will help the Longhorn linebackers control Ohio State’s ground game.

[tag]Jared Norton[/tag]

Much like Alexander, Norton finds himself a duck out of water when he faces the offenses in the Big 12. Norton excels playing downhill at his middle linebacker position and may in fact be the best NFL prospect of the group. Unfortunately for Norton, in the Big 12 a linebacker needs to play well laterally and in space. Norton to this point has had a hard time in both of those categories. Enter Ohio State and Beanie Wells. This will be a game Norton can thrive in. [tag]Rashad Bobino[/tag] will likely get the start as the senior, but if Ohio State has success running the ball early, and maybe even if they don’t, Norton will become a factor in the game. The junior will be a sure starter next year and we’ve seen how a good bowl game can propel a player into a great offseason.

[tag]Blake Gideon[/tag]

A lot of people think the true freshman from Leander’s job is in jeopardy this offseason. Most still view Gideon as an overachieving two star recruit who is playing because of his brains and intangibles. The talk heading into the spring will depend a lot on how Gideon plays in this game. If he comes out and plays a good game and makes a play or two the talk will quiet, but if he struggles or [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] makes a huge play one of the major offseason hot topics will be the status of Gideon’s job. The word is the only thing holding Scott back is his work on the practice room and in the film room, if the light turns on in year three on campus the super athletic Scott will be in line for many more snaps in 2009. If he isn’t a transfer could be possible.

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Can Aaron Lewis help the defense stop OSU's balanced offense?

Can Aaron Lewis and the Texas defense stop OSU's balanced offense?

Every game comes down to the play of a few guys floating under the radar. Of course Texas needs [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag], [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], and [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag] to step up, but in order for Texas to keep the number one spot a few other guys that may not be “stars” (yet) need to play big. Last week a few of the guys, like [tag]Brandon Collins[/tag] and [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag], were huge for Texas. Who are the five guys the Horns need to step up against [tag]Oklahoma State[/tag]? Here’s what we think.

Fozzy Whittaker

The speedy freshman got back on the playing field for the first time since the [tag]UTEP[/tag] game last week against [tag]Missouri[/tag]. Fozzy wasted little time making an impact by breaking off a darting 20 yard run off the zone play Texas relies on. Coming into the season the coaching staff quietly believed Fozzy would be the featured back of this offense. Instead, [tag]Chris Ogbonnaya[/tag] has taken the job by the horns so to speak while Fozzy healed up injuries to both knees. Ogbonnaya has far exceeded expectations, but the addition of the speed that Fozzy has could give this team the one thing they have been missing—a homerun threat in the backfield. We will know how healthy Fozzy is by how many snaps he is given.

[tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag]

We finally saw the big play ability those around the program have been gushing about when Williams made a leaping catch over the Missouri defense for a touchdown. The catch ended up being his only of the day, but with it Williams may have finally become a big time player for this team. For as good as Shipley and Quan Cosby are, they are not consistent down the field threats that push safeties back. Malcolm Williams is. The deeper opposing safeties have to play, the more room underneath for guys like Shipley, Cosby, and emerging star Brandon Collins. The more game Williams can make an impact in, the bigger the impact of the underneath guys. The staff is hoping the highlight catch last week turns into a confidence booster along the lines of Limas Sweed’s catch in Ohio State.

[tag]Aaron Lewis[/tag]

All the defensive line talk has centered on Brian Orakpo and [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag]. The teams Texas has been facing have been pass heavy which has allowed the speed guys to make names for themselves. For the first time all year the Texas defense will have to face an offense that relies heavily on the run. The defensive tackles are going to be key. Everyone knows about [tag]Roy Miller[/tag], but quietly Aaron Lewis has taken over Lamarr Houston’s spot on the majority of snaps. Lewis has played well when given the opportunity, and a big game from him, Houston, and [tag]Henry Melton[/tag] is crucial for this team. If Oklahoma State’s run game can get their offense into manageable third downs, the Texas defense could get exposed.

[tag]Rashad Bobino[/tag]

The senior has become the forgotten member of this linebacking unit. Late in the game last week, sometimes starter [tag]Jared Norton[/tag] went down with what appeared to be a stinger. Even though all signs point to Norton playing, with the two already splitting time, it would be expected to get a bulk of the playing time against a strong running team this week. Bobino has started a large number of games in his career and has continued to be an emotional leader for this Longhorn defense. Bobino has been through the fire as one of the only Horns to say he was there for the Rose Bowl. Coordinator [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] has been pleased with all the backers play, and this game appears to be the biggest test for a group that could be the best of the [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] era.

[tag]Curtis Brown[/tag]

Two weeks ago fans were wondering if Curtis Brown would ever get to play at defensive back while attending the University. They saw true freshman get more playing time than the sophomore and with an already youth riddled secondary it appeared that the ex-Gilmer star would get passed up. A huge special team’s play against Oklahoma and a solid performance after Chykie Brown left the game against Missouri later and Brown finds himself as major player for this secondary. Every team in the Big 12 likes to spread the field, so more than the two designated starters get significant playing time, especially with Texas relying heavily on the nickel defense. Sources say [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] should be able to start on Saturday, but with an ankle there is always a possibility of the injury resurfacing. If that happens, it appears Curtis Brown is next in line at cornerback.

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Posted October 10th, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football

The Longhorns and Sooners are set to square off Saturday morning at the Texas State Fair. The two teams, both ranked in the top five, look to be evenly matched and both feature Heisman candidate quarterbacks running the show. As is often the case in rivalry games, it could come down to players who aren’t superstars to lead their teams to victory. Read on to see the five Horns you’ll want to watch Saturday in the [tag]Red River Rivalry[/tag].

[tag]Chris Ogbonnaya[/tag]

Chris “O” had a coming out party of sorts last week against Colorado. The senior running back does a little bit of everything. He is Texas’ best blocker and receiver coming out of the backfield and with Foswhitt Whittaker’s status still up in the air Chris may have the most big play ability as well. [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] tends to go with guys he trusts in games like these. The staff trusts few players more than Ogbonnaya. The kid does anything he asked too and that are the type of players who win games like these. Look for Texas to use him out of the backfield when they get him matched up with a linebacker. Anything he provides on the ground will be a bonus Saturday in Dallas.

[tag]Chris Hall[/tag]

The offensive line struggled at times against [tag]Colorado[/tag]. Forcing McCoy to run when he is not ready has been the recipe for success against Texas and up until that game not many people had been criticizing the big guys up front even with the running game being inconsistent because the pass protection had been so good. Hall has played every position on the line and is counted on to make the right reads and calls in regards to protection before the snap. If Texas can handle OU’s pressure allowing McCoy time to sit in the pocket then the Horns have a real chance to do damage. The holes in the running game have been there, it is on the backs to get to the hole, but knowing the backfield lacks that burst these guys need to hold their blocks a fraction longer. UT has been a block away from an explosive play more than once this year, and if they can pop one this weekend it may be what they need to get a win.

[tag]Deon Beasley[/tag]

These are the types of games that prove being called a “starter” is overrated. With the type of no-huddle spread offense OU runs, Texas is going to run a lot of 3-3-5 with [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] playing end or linebacker depending on the situation, and with Beasley coming in to play the fifth defensive back. The junior has as much talent as any corner back on the roster, and the loss of his starting job has had more to do with the impressive play of fellow corner [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] than Beasley playing poor. Oklahoma likes to pick out a few guys and try to exploit them. Beasley, along with the two freshmen safeties, would appear to be the guys. One of the corners needs to create a turnover. Brown and [tag]Ryan Palmer[/tag] have shown their lack of hands. A big play by Beasley early could get the Sooners away from their game plan.

[tag]Jared Norton[/tag]

Norton is taking more and more snaps away from senior [tag]Rashad Bobino[/tag]. And with the opportunity, Norton is responding well to coach Will Muschamp’s aggressive, attacking style of defense. The junior from Rowlett excels when allowed to play down hill and attack the ball. He even showed some coverage skills last week with a nice break up on an out route. Texas would like to use three linebackers throughout the game and feel like they can because of Kindle’s versatility, but don’t be surprised if Kindle comes off the field with Norton and [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag] at linebacker when UT goes with four down lineman. Stopping the running game will be crucial in this game to make OU one dimensional which will allow the guys on the outside to pin their ears back and attack the quarterback. If Norton can be steady in the middle it will allow the defense to unleash a full barrage of blitzes.

[tag]Hunter Lawrence[/tag]

Nobody is sure what [tag]Ryan Bailey[/tag] did to lose his job, but everyone is sure Hunter Lawrence isn’t giving it back. In his first year as the kicker, the ex Boerne star is four for four with a long of 46. The Red River Shootout hasn’t been decided by less than seven points this decade, but I have a feeling this one could be close and close games come down to special teams. The team that misses a field goal or gets a punt blocked or returned for a touchdown is going to lose the game. Big plays have a way of sucking the life out of the crowd and the team at the Cotton Bowl and neither teams that much better than the other where they can overcome it. I’ll take Texas’ special teams because of [tag]Duane Akina[/tag], Lawrence, punter [tag]John Gold[/tag], and kick off specialist [tag]Justin Tucker[/tag]. The Longhorns have the advantage in this area for the first time in a long time, and must take advantage of it to come back to Austin undefeated.

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