Posted May 6th, 2009 by BT
Filed under: Feature, Football

Do the Longhorns need Vondrell McGee and the rest of the running backs to step up?

Do the Longhorns need Vondrell McGee and the rest of the running backs to step up?

Not that I’m breaking any news when I say this, but it bears repeating: this could be a special year for our Longhorns. A majority of our starters return, our coaching staff is arguably the strongest in Mack’s tenure and they have an understandably large chip on their shoulders after getting rooked out of the National Championship last year to a team they beat. Coming out of the spring game, here is #1 concern I’ve heard/read from Horn fans: what about the running game? Who’s the go-to running back? WHAT ABOUT THE RUN GAME??!?!??!

To that I say… play it cool Superman, play it cool.

Look I know that a run game is important, but is it vital? Ehhhh… not sure. The run game last year was subpar (by Texas standards) and it would be nice to be able to just run, run, run on anyone we damn well please because, in all honesty, nothing emasculates your opponent more than just cramming the ball down their collective throat. I get it, what I don’t get is the panic-stricken nature that us fans are treating this.

Conventional wisdom says you need to be able to run the ball to win championships; however, conventional wisdom also said that a team couldn’t win a National Title either running the spread (until we did) or if your leading rusher was a quarterback (again, until we did). The point is, teams that obey “conventional wisdom” rarely make history.

Looking at it, what makes our offense more imposing; forcing one of our unproven tight ends out on the field and lining up out of the I, or getting [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag], [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag], [tag]Brandon Collins[/tag], and [tag]James Kirkendoll[/tag] out on the field at the same time? In my view, that’s the difference between asking someone which they would rather juggle, water balloons or grenades. A mistake with one leaves you mildly inconvenienced, while the other leaves you totally destroyed.

Let’s be honest, it’s not like any of the guys in the backfield are [tag]Jamaal Charles[/tag] quality; they each have their strengths and weaknesses, and none of them are a complete back. On the other hand, our receiving core is the deepest and most talented group of the [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] era. Jordan Shipley is nails, Brandon Collins is smooth route runner and great after the catch, Kirkendoll seems to be scratching the surface and the ceiling for Malcolm Williams seems to be Limas Sweed at worst! Not trying to be dramatic, but this set of receivers is a gift, we should use them as much as we can.

Most importantly, we have (by the numbers) the most accurate quarterback in the history of college football back for his senior year. Is our offense better served forcing the ball to our stable of good not nearly great running backs, or letting the most precise passer we’ve ever had in burnt orange throw darts to our studs out wide?? Our run game last year worked this way: run a little in the first half to keep the defense honest, but most of the damage was done with quick passes to the wideouts, which not only gained us yards but also served to sap the strength out of the opposing defenses legs. In the second half, the creases became bigger and the holes came more frequently (see the [tag]Oklahoma[/tag] game for a perfect illustration).

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Aaron Williams was great on defense and electric with the ball in his hands. (Photo: MB-TF)

Aaron Williams was great on defense and electric with the ball in his hands. (Photo: MB-TF)

The Texas Longhorns gave us the first real look at what next year’s team is going to look like on Sunday for the Spring Game. Of course these games need to be taken with a grain of salt because both sides bring vanilla game plans. [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] didn’t play very much, but the defense dominated for most of the scrimmage. Here are five things we learned from the game.

1. The secondary has grown up.

A few months removed from being the perceived weak link of the defense the Longhorn secondary dominated the offense the whole game. The defense played predominately out of the 4-2-5 and showed very little blitzes but they made plays. Last year the group had troubles creating turnovers but the safeties intercepted two passes, the first by [tag]Nolan Brewster[/tag] against the second team offense. The second interception was the play of day, a pick six by [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] off of [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag]. Thomas was far and away the best player on the field on Sunday. The sophomore was everywhere, he showed off his coverage ability, he was a sure tackler, and show off his speed by running down a kick returner. Texas has four safeties that could start and all of them have at least three years of eligibility left. The corners looked good too. [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] and [tag]Chykie Brown[/tag] have an opportunity to leave campus as the best duo Texas has had at cornerback. Add [tag]Curtis Brown[/tag] and [tag]Deon Beasley[/tag] and this group is deep and athletic. [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] couldn’t blitz as much as he might have liked last year because of the inexperience in the secondary, but the training wheels will come off this season. And it may just be scary good.

2. The tight end position is on life support.

It is true that this program has been spoiled at the tight end position in recent memory. It didn’t look like that was going to change with the emergence of [tag]Blaine Irby[/tag]. A horrific injury to Irby, a few injuries to the back ups, and a few misses in recruiting later and we’re left with the current situation. [tag]Ian Harris[/tag] bobbled a ball to cause the first interception of the game and [tag]Greg Smith[/tag] almost did the same later on. Right now it looks like Texas may have to use the four or five receiver set as their base offense this year when they really want to move the ball. Mack Brown is hesitant to abandon the run, but having a tight end on the field is becoming a liability. Irby is nowhere close to be being back, and there is no guarantee he will ever be the same if or when does get back. Maybe if [tag]DJ Grant[/tag] gets healthy or one of the two incoming freshman come in ready to contribute the position has a chance. But as we stand right now Greg Davis really needs to think about using the offense he used in the second half against Oklahoma for the majority of the snaps. Luckily Texas has the receivers to play that set with no problem. In fact keeping one of them on the sideline in favor of the current tight end on the roster is a form of football dyslexia.

3. [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] needs to be in shape

Both [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] and [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag] found the endzone on Sunday, and each showed a few flashes of their potential with the ball in their hands. But Texas averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry. Before his hamstring injury in the second half of the spring coaches and insiders had been raving about Johnson’s progress both running the ball and dedicating himself to being in shape. The knock on Johnson has always been his weight, but right now the coaching staff has decided to worry more about his body fat. Johnson is going to be counted on as the every down back if he can prove he can handle it. Right now Whittaker offers the team the skills needed in a third down back as long as he can prove he’ll block blitzing linebackers. Where that leads McGee is anybody’s guess, but with a good summer and fall practice it couldn’t be a total shock to see him get the opening day start. The variable in the whole situation is incoming freshman [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag]. The big back from Madisonville just participated in the 100M at the Texas Relays and by all accounts the young man is an athletic specimen. The staff was so high on him as a running back, many experts project him to outgrow the position that they chose not to recruit another one. If he reports in shape and ready to take the punishment he will be given every opportunity to win the job. If all else fails the Texas offense may look like something from Lubbock. Is that a bad thing? I can’t decide.

4. Colt McCoy will have plenty of targets.

Texas’ leading returning receiver, and Colt McCoy’s roommate and fishing buddy if you haven’t heard, [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag] didn’t participate in spring practices to recover from injury the Longhorns fielded maybe the best trio of receivers ever at Texas. None of the wide outs are on the level of Roy Williams, but collectively this group may be better than the BJ Johnson and Sloan Thomas group. They weren’t as highly recruited but [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag], [tag]Brandon Collins[/tag], and [tag]James Kirkendoll[/tag] all bring something different to the field and they work great in this offense. The quarterbacks struggled with the wind, and the secondary had seen all the patterns every day in practice, but it was obvious how much big play potential will be on the field at all times. Kirkendoll showed off his speed on a reverse, Collins works the middle beautifully and led the team in yards, and Williams can get deep whenever he wants. McCoy’s bugaboo has been the deep ball and twice he nearly missed huge plays on the outside deep down the field with Williams. One was completed but the ball was too far outside to be kept in bounds and the other was thrown a little too far in front of the streaking Williams. The sophomore just looks the part out there in his number 9 uniform. Williams, fellow receiver [tag]Dan Buckner[/tag], and Aaron Williams just jump out at you from a pure athletic stand point when you look at their physique. Watching this group work has to put a smile on the Longhorn nation’s faces because they will be on campus for a few more years. That’s not even taking into account Buckner, [tag]John Chiles[/tag], and the red-shirt freshman on campus. With the questions at tight end and in the running game the receiver becomes the most important position besides quarterback for this offense.

5. Texas football is in good hands.

Mack Brown has been the best thing that has happened to this program, and maybe to the University as a whole from an athletic standpoint, than anybody since Darrell K. Royal. With as good as Brown has been, head coach to be Will Muschamp has injected an energy into this program that needed a little jumpstart following the departure of Vince Young and the rest of the 2002 recruiting class. With one hire, and Brown deserves credit for making it and then realizing he couldn’t lose his personal energizer bunny on Red Bull, the stigma of Texas being soft or unmotivated was erased for the present future. Just a few years ago these Spring Jamborees were offensive exhibitions. Remember when the opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown every year? That won’t happen anymore. Muschamp has made everything competitive. He has given the defense pride, and more importantly, thanks to Brown he has given them stability. A stability that the offense has had the luxury of since Brown and Greg Davis arrived on campus. For the first time in a decade the defense is going to have a steady hand leading the way. With Muschamp the hand might not be steady, it may be pumping up and down, but I’ll take it.

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Posted April 3rd, 2009 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football, Spring Football

Receiver Malcolm Williams may be the most important offensive player in 2009. (MB-TF.com)

Receiver Malcolm Williams may be the most important offensive player in 2009. (MB-TF.com)

The spring game comes around Sunday just in time to help with detoxing off of football season. After Sunday football junkies only have the draft and Mel Kiper’s hair to look forward to. We all know the familiar faces: [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag], [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag], [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag], etc. But what about the guys who didn’t play as much last year but will be counted on in 2009? Here is a list of guys you need to watch in the spring game.

  1. [tag]Christian Scott[/tag] – The Longhorn defense played the majority of the snaps last year with five defensive backs on the field. Last year, Will Muschamp used two safeties and three cornerbacks in the nickel defense. This year Muschamp is trying to use Earl Thomas’ cover skills to get three safeties on the field in the 4-2-5. Having three safeties on the field will help in run support and with blitzes. Most feel Scott is just too good to not have on the field, but if mental mistakes and inconsistency rear their ugly head Muschamp will have no choice but to bring a Curtis Brown or Deon Beasley off the bench. I think it is safe to assume Thomas can handle the slot, so it will be up to Scott to make the formation work.
  2. [tag]Ben Alexander[/tag] – The defensive line was hit hard in departures this offseason. Guys like Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, and Aaron Lewis are working out for pro scouts. The only guy up front with significant experience on the defensive line is Lamarr Houston. Alexander is entering his senior season and he knows it is his time to shine. If not now, when? By all accounts the big guy has lost some weight and added some quickness. The coaches had moved Houston, a former defensive end, to the nose tackle position to start the spring, but with the emergence of Alexander, who is a more natural one technique, Houston can move back to his more familiar three technique.
  3. [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] – Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’m holding out hope McGee lives up to the hype he had coming in. People forget McGee had a great freshman year as the short yardage and goal line guy. He showed great explosion in the Tech game that year when he was in for a hobbled Jamaal Charles. Flash forward to now and the Longview native is entering his junior year after not even getting a snap in the bowl game. This spring is huge for McGee. Cody Johnson had been emerging as the starter before he went down with a hamstring injury and Foswhitt Whittaker is injured again. That leaves McGee and two second year guys who haven’t been counted on yet. McGee was hurt at the beginning of the season, but he had begun to emerge before the Fiesta Bowl fiasco. If he can get his burst back, he may get his job back.
  4. [tag]Sam Acho[/tag] – Quietly Acho has cemented himself as the starter at the strong end position this spring. The junior has a nose for the ball and has shown he can get to the quarterback as well. Eddie Jones may get a look on that side when he recovers from his injury, but he’ll likely play at the quick end when Kindle is playing outside linebacker. Acho is a smart and hard working player who wasn’t overly hyped coming into the program, but has made plays ever since he showed up. The concern with Acho is at the point of attack. Texas received great play from Henry Melton at the power end last year, and Acho going to have to step up to prevent any drop off.
  5. [tag]Keenan Robinson[/tag] – I love me some Keenan Robinson. His skill set is perfect for Muschamp’s defense and the type of offenses used in the Big 12. Robinson can play all three downs as an outside linebacker in the 4-3 and as a middle guy in Texas’4-2-5. With his speed the sophomore would appear to be a great blitzer as well. Kindle will play some outside linebacker so in certain formations Robinson will likely be on the bench, but he is setting himself up to be an impact player for this defense. We will begin to see how he is used Sunday.
  6. [tag]Malcolm Williams[/tag] – The only thing missing in Texas’ aerial attack last year was the deep threat. Quarterback Colt McCoy’s strength is the intermediate passes and for the most part that is where Texas will concentrate, but a guy like Williams has to be given at least two opportunities a game to make a big play down the field whether he is covered or not. The sophomore has proven he can beat people deep, just look at the offense when Williams replaced Quan Cosby in the Texas Tech game. Greg Davis dialed up one fly pattern for Williams in the Fiesta Bowl and he beat Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins. Colt McCoy didn’t get the ball out there, but hopefully it had to do with not having the timing McCoy has with Jordan Shipley or Cosby. With an offseason without Cosby or Shipley Williams and McCoy should be on the verge of building a great report. Williams can get deep on anybody and a few shots down the field in the spring game would be a good sign.
  7. [tag]Ahmard Howard[/tag] – Someone needs to step up at tight end, and Howard needs to be that guy. Blaine Irby most likely needs another offseason to get ready and DJ Grant hurt his ankle. That leaves Ian Harris who has a history of stingers, Greg Smith who is a converted offensive lineman, and Howard. Neither Smith nor Howard is going to strike fear in defenses as a receiver but Howard at least gives Greg Davis that option. With Smith on the field last year Texas declare they were running the ball or using max protection. Howard will allow Texas to be more flexible. With the talent at the wide receiver position Texas will go to a four or five wide if no one will step up. Mack Brown wants to focus on running the ball, but he may have to abandon it all together if no one steps up at tight end.
  8. [tag]Britt Mitchell[/tag] – Starting right tackle Kyle Hix is missing the second half of spring to get healthy. In his place Mitchell has been impressive. Tray Allen has been Texas’ third tackle, but he is being cross trained at guard this spring. That leaves Mitchell in line to be the third tackle and the possible starter at right tackle when Adam Ulatoski leaves (Hix will likely move to the left side). Mitchell has been playing with the ones and will do so on Sunday. He faces some of the best past rushers in the nation every day in practice and has held his own. The junior has flown under the radar in terms of hype, but if he can have a solid spring game he’ll set himself up to contribute next year to a possible national championship team.
  9. [tag]Alex Okafor[/tag] – Mack Brown hasn’t always been eager to give true freshman real playing time, but nobody can stop talking about the talent of the Pflugerville native. The guy is tearing up practice at a time he should be worrying about Prom. His first step is probably faster than everyone on the roster not named Sergio Kindle. A defense can never have too many pass rushers, especially in the Big 12. It is unlikely Okafor will redshirt so expect a good number of snaps if he keeps this up.
  10. [tag]Aaron Williams[/tag] – Chykie Brown is a near lock to man one corner back position. The other spot will be manned by Aaron Williams, Deon Beasley, or Curtis Brown. Right now it looks like Williams is in line to be the starter. He is the youngest of the group, but the sophomore probably has the most physical upside. The former McNeil star is also a solid tackler and a smart football player. If the Earl Thomas in the slot experiment doesn’t work, Williams will likely move to the slot. That would leave Beasley or Brown to battle it out for the other corner spot. My money is on Curtis Brown in that one. Where Aaron Williams plays seems to be more of an appropriate question than if Aaron Williams plays so watch out for him on the slot or on the edge. A secondary of Thomas, Blake Gideon, Scott, Chykie Brown, and Williams would be mighty salty to say the least.
  11. [tag]Antwan Cobb[/tag] – The fullback position has been practically erased from Davis’ offense in the last few years. And while some see it as scheme it really has to do with not having any bodies for the position. People are quick to forget what Ahmad Hall did for this offense in 2005. Many of the Longhorns running woes can be attributed to not having a dependable lead blocker at full back. Cobb’s strength is probably catching the ball out of the back field, but when he is healthy he is more than a capable and willing lead blocker. Texas has said they want to take more snaps under center, and with a fullback who can catch out of the backfield on the field Texas would have options they haven’t had in a few years. It will be telling how many snaps Cobb gets in the spring game.
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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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Lots of [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] news this week that we’re just now catching up on. When the Horns were coming back to practice earlier this week from Spring Break word was out that he was working hard and impressing the coaches and had risen to the top of the running back depth chart. His performance on the field also had the Texas coaches worrying less about his weight:

Johnson’s personal battle of the bulge has dogged him throughout his college career. But [Mack] Brown is learning to gauge other factors than merely the scales when looking at the 5-foot-11, 255-pound Johnson and his productivity and value for the Longhorns.

“We’ve quit trying to get Cody to lose weight, we’re working with body fat and we think that’s the key to it,” Brown said. “He looks like he’s in good shape. He came back in good shape after the break. We feel like that he’s doing a really good job.”

But then on Wednesday Johnson tweaked his hamstring and threw the whole thing back in the air. The injury isn’t too serious but he will miss the next two weeks of practice including the spring scrimmage on April 5th. This will open things up for [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] and Fozzy Whittaker to get more practice reps and impress the coaching staff, and also possibly may make it even less likely that incoming true freshman [tag]Chris Whaley[/tag] will redshirt.

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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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Posted November 26th, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football

Obviously this year’s Texas vs. Texas A&M football game has more on the line than just bragging rights. The Longhorns enter the game at number two in the BCS, but hold such a slight lead in the standings that many worry that an [tag]Oklahoma[/tag] win over [tag]Oklahoma State[/tag] will propel the Sooners into the Big 12 Championship game and with that into the National Title game.

On top of all the BCS hoopla, Texas also wants to erase the memory of the Aggies ruining their last two seasons. The Aggies are awful, but they were for the last two years so the focus for [tag]Mack Brown[/tag] and his staff has been to keep their players focused on the task at hand. There are some aspects of this puzzle that the football team can control and some that they can’t. The Longhorns must focus all their energy on what they can control.

For this week’s preview we look at what the Longhorns must do to sway a few voters back their way.

  1. Beat the Hell out of A&M. The fans yell it, the team must do it. Even if the BCS wasn’t in the picture the recent history of this game should give these players enough motivation to put it on the Aggies. There is no doubt Texas has had the better team the last two years, but there is also little doubt who wanted the game more. A&M have been more physical than the Longhorns over that stretch and in football the team that hits the other in the mouth first usually has the upper hand. Keep in mind that while players like [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag] have beaten the Sooners twice in their career, they have not beaten A&M. Texas needs to do it big this week.
  2. Don’t let up. Mack Brown is a nice guy. Too nice at times. Coaches like Bob Stoops and Mike Leach make no bones about putting up big points even when the game is well out of reach. And while common sense would suggest that the voters would understand that a win is a win style points do count. There is no doubt that Oklahoma will put a as many points as they can if given the opportunity on Saturday night in Stillwater and Texas must do the same on Thanksgiving night. Texas needs to let their players play the whole game and put up over 60 points. All the voters know that Texas beat OU head to head, but many have given the nod to the Sooners in the polls because they feel Oklahoma has been more dominant in the last few games. Texas needs to put up a huge score on Thursday because the vote on Sunday will likely come down to who looks better this week.
  3. Run the ball. Oklahoma is being viewed as the better team because people feel they have more ways to beat you. Last week against Texas Tech the Sooners did something Texas couldn’t do. They controlled the line of scrimmage and moved the ball on the ground at will. Voters, especially the coaches, want to see balance. Texas has not had balance this year unless the running comes from McCoy. With [tag]Foswhitt Whittaker[/tag] back in the mix and the emergence of a health [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag], the Longhorn running game has improved over the last few weeks. The Longhorns need to be able to run the ball when the other team, the announcers, and everybody watching knows they are about to run it. The Longhorns have struggled with that this year, but voting is a what have you done for me lately job and if Texas can come out and dominate it will erase a lot of the concerns people have had about the UT offense all season long.
  4. Shutout. It might be a little much to ask for a shutout, but this team needs something close to that to impress the voters. I think most people consider Texas’ and OU’s offense on par with each other. Oklahoma gets the advantage in most people’s mind because of a perceived opinion that the Sooner defense is better than Texas’. A score of 42-6 would help Texas more than say a score of 65-24. Texas needs to be dominant in every aspect of the game, but a complete whipping of the Aggies on defense would impress the voters tremendously. All eyes will be on Texas this weekend and [tag]Will Muschamp[/tag] needs to prove why he is being selected as the next head coach at Texas.
  5. Remind the voters 45 – 35. This is going to be on the fans. Mack Brown and his staff have rightfully put all the week’s energy on beating A&M. It will be up to the fans on Thursday night to get the word out that what happens on the field should matter the most. It can be done with chants of “45 – 35” and with the signs that the Longhorn nation is looking to print out and distribute to all the people in attendance. When the cameras go into the stands in between plays or coming back from commercials the viewers at home need to be bombarded with evidence of the victory at The Fair Grounds.

Even with all this done it might not be enough to stay in front of Oklahoma, but at least UT would have done everything they could to get there. If the Big 12 Championship is OU vs. [tag]Missouri[/tag] it will be a match up of two teams Texas beat by double digits on the year. The Longhorns have over achieved for much of the year and deserve to catch a break. Hopefully they will this weekend. No matter what happens just remember: Go Baylor Bears.

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Posted November 13th, 2008 by Mike
Filed under: Feature, Football

Texas enters their last road game of the year with a beat up football team. The weather is supposed to be bad with wind and cold weather in the forecast and a number of Longhorn players are banged up. As always players such as Colt McCoy and Roddrick Muckelroy will need to play well for Texas to keep their conference and national championship hopes alive, but some guys under the radar will have to step up to come away with the win.

[tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag]

With the emergence of Chris Ogbonnaya and the comeback of a healthy Foswhitt Whittaker, the sophomore has become a forgotten man in the Longhorn backfield. Ogbonnaya is still suffering through an ankle injury while Whittaker doesn’t have the body to carry an entire games worth of runs. Because of this McGee has found himself still getting carries after a slow start to the season. In fairness to McGee he was banged up as well early in the year but appears to be back close to 100%. Quietly McGee has played extremely well in the last few weeks. On the road, especially in windy and cold conditions, good teams need to be able to get some plays out of the running game. Whittaker will be the main guy, but if McGee can come in and keep the chains moving the Longhorns may be able to wear out an undersized Kansas defense. McGee performs best when he is coming off the bench and with Whittaker and maybe Ogbonnaya in front of him this week McGee is right where he needs to be.

[tag]David Snow[/tag]

Last week many were wondering if the true freshman from Gilmer was beginning to push the older guys at the guard position for some serious playing time. The coaching staff loves Snow’s mean streak and competitive nature. This week starting center Chris Hall went down in practice with a leg injury and with the dismissal of Buck Burnette for racist comments on the internet Snow finds himself the starting center for the first time in his career. Snow should get a challenge in his first start because it is on the road and opposing teams have been found of blitzing Colt McCoy. Snow has played mostly guard on the season, but Mack Brown says he still practices snaps before every practice. Certainly Snow has concentrated more on center for the past week and a half after the dismissal of Burnette. Having the quarterback in the shotgun for the majority of the game should help the young center, but if Texas looks lost in blitz pickup we’ll know the freshman is taking his lumps.

[tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag]

Of course everyone looks for Kindle every game. He has become a dominant force on the Texas defense, and may have done enough over the season to become a hot target in this year’s NFL draft. This week don’t necessarily just watch Kindle’s play, watch where the junior lines up. Kindle is listed as a linebacker, but as the season progresses he has been lined up more and more at defensive end. For the first part of the season he only did this on obvious passing downs, but with Brian Orakpo missing last week’s game Kindle lined up at defensive end almost exclusively. Kindle excels when playing downhill and coming off the edge. He has struggled in space on pass coverage, so Will Muschamp has turned Kindle into Texas’ version of Lawrence Taylor. Orakpo is expected to be back, but it is unlikely he will be at full strength. Look to see the ratio of snaps at defensive end to linebacker for Kindle this week.

[tag]Earl Thomas[/tag]

The red-shirt freshman safety played his best game of his young college career last week against Baylor, a week after being one of the two players that gave up Michael Crabtree’s winning touchdown in Lubbock. It was huge for Thomas to bounce back and he did, showing the mental toughness that Muschamp has been glowing about since spring practice. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the young Texas secondary faces another tough test in the passing game. The young safeties have had their struggles on the season but they have played extremely well for the most part. The best evidence for that was the long pass play the Texas defense gave up on the first play Thomas was out with a minor injury. Ben Wells came in to replace Thomas and got beat deep for the only long passing play Baylor was able to muster against the Longhorns. Thomas was able to come back into the game and continued to play well. He may have been the best player on the field for UT’s defense last week and that kind of play will be huge again for Texas to avoid an upset in Lawrence.

[tag]Ryan Bailey[/tag]/[tag]Hunter Lawrence[/tag]

Most fans are hoping this game doesn’t come down to a field goal. Not because they don’t have confidence in the Texas kicking game, but because they feel UT should be able to win big against a struggling Kansas team. The last time Texas went to Lawrence they barely came out with a victory, so a close game is not out of the question. After being the place kicker last year Ryan Bailey lost his job in fall camp to Hunter Lawrence. The change had come without much fanfare because Lawrence was perfect on the season. That changed last week when Lawrence missed both of his field goals. In the end the misses did not matter, but when Texas lined up for their third field goat attempt Ryan Bailey trotted out for the try. Bailey made the kick and the questions about who would be the kicker going forward began before the referees even raised their arms. Bailey didn’t appear to do anything to loss his job, and he has proven he can make big kicks as he did in Nebraska. The coaches said Lawrence didn’t kick the last field goal because he was “sore”. We will know on the first field goal attempt if this was just lip service or not.

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Posted November 8th, 2008 by Brian
Filed under: Feature, Football, Live

Follow along below with our live thoughts and analysis during today’s Texas Longhorns game versus [tag]Baylor[/tag] on FSN. Participate in the discussion by following 40acressports on Twitter or by refreshing and commenting on this post.

Texas vs. Baylor tweets

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Posted October 14th, 2008 by Matt
Filed under: Feature, Football

OU Sucks!

OU Sucks!

Wow, what a game. I must say that after [tag]Oklahoma[/tag] scored so quickly on their first two possessions, I thought we were going to get run out of the Cotton Bowl. Thankfully Jordan Shipley stepped up and Colt McCoy was able to keep the team calm. After that our defense made some big plays and Colt seemed to have full control of the game.

My favorite play of the game was easily the Quan Cosby block where he laid out #11. And my least favorite had to be the horrible penalty call when we supposedly “ran into” the punter. That punter has been watching too much soccer because that was some serious flopping.

So now Texas is 6-0 and #1 in the nation. No more relaxing, the target is on our backs. But enough of that, let’s see how each position fared against OU:

Quarterback – Overall Grade: A-

Even though [tag]Colt McCoy[/tag]’s stats don’t really show he had a great game, I felt his leadership and calmness was the key to victory against OU. Colt finished with 28/35 passing, 277 yards, and 1 touchdown. The most important stat Colt put up Saturday was zero turnovers. Colt simply didn’t make any mistakes. Colt definitely put himself into the thick of the Heisman race with this victory, and I think it is about time. Sam Bradford may have had better numbers, but I would take Colt any day.

John Chiles actually got some early playing time, probably trying to catch OU off-guard, but it was to no avail. Chiles did absolutely nothing and continues to disappoint.

Running Backs – Overall Grade: A-

[tag]Chris Ogbonnaya[/tag] got the start again Saturday, and I think he proved why. He ended up with 127 yards on only 15 carries, including a long 62 yard run which sealed the game for Texas. And even though [tag]Cody Johnson[/tag] only got 3 carries, he made the most of them scoring touchdowns on each one. He has proved he is a great goal line runner, and he and Ogbonnaya are proving to be a lethal 1-2 punch. In our most important game of the year so far, [tag]Vondrell McGee[/tag] ended up with only 1 carry for -2 yards. I think it is safe to say the coaches know who to give the ball to now.

Wide Receivers – Overall Grade: A

I didn’t think Texas could win this game with only 2 receivers, but the combo of [tag]Jordan Shipley[/tag] and [tag]Quan Cosby[/tag] was just too much for the Oklahoma secondary. Shipley seemed like he was open on every play and made some key first downs. He finished with 11 catches, 112 yards, and 1 touchdown. Cosby was all over the place too adding 9 catches and 122 yards. Cosby may be a little undersized, but he probably has some of the best hands in the Big 12 and always seems to make big plays. The rest of the receivers combined for 4 catches and 16 yards.

Defense – Overall Grade: B+

Even though I think the defense played great, I do have to dock them for allowing 5 passing touchdowns. The greatest part of the defense on Saturday is that I actually noticed our safeties, and in a good way. [tag]Blake Gideon[/tag] seemed to always be around for the tackle, and [tag]Earl Thomas[/tag] ended up with two interceptions. Both young safeties seem to be coming around and I can’t wait to see how much more they can improve before Missouri. And [tag]Roddrick Muckelroy[/tag] was simply ridiculous. He led the team with 16 tackles, 13 of them solo. Didn’t you notice every time OU ran the ball they seemed to go nowhere? Yeah, that was “Muck”. [tag]Sergio Kindle[/tag] showed again that he is scary athletic. Kindle flies around the field with reckless abandon, and the combo off him and [tag]Brian Orakpo[/tag] coming off the edges is just too much for most teams to handle.

Special Teams – Overall Grade: A

The A mainly comes from Jordan Shipley’s 96 yards kickoff return in the 2nd quarter. Texas was down 14-3 at that point and it looked like it could be a blow-out. I think that play single handedly kept Texas in the game and was the spark to get the team going. [tag]Hunter Lawrence[/tag] added 3 field goals and looks like he is a kicker that we can rely on in tough situations.

Overall Grade: A-

How can you not be pleased after that game. Even after the referees giving OU a free touchdown, Texas still prevailed. Now Texas faces the pressure of being #1, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier. They only have #11 Missouri, #8 Oklahoma State, @#7 Texas Tech, and @#16 Kansas. And did you realize the Big 12 Conference South Division has 4 teams in the top 8? That has to be a first.

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