Official Husker Locker Blog
2010 May 05
SPRING OPPONENT REPORT: Texas
Team: Texas (13-1 in 2009, beat Nebraska 13-12 in the Big 12 title game)
Coach: Mack Brown (214-101-1 overall, 128-27 at Texas)
Plays Nebraska: Oct. 16, 2010
Spring Game: April 4
Summary: Give Mack Brown this much credit: The Texas head coach appears to understand that the Longhorns just experienced a fairly unprecedented six straight seasons of superlative quarterback play from Vince Young and Colt McCoy, and although sophomore Garrett Gilbert could be the best NFL prospect of them all, he’s not a natural runner. So UT made a commitment, a few months after losing in the BCS National Championship game, to running the ball more.
“Last year, I didn’t think we ran the ball well at all, and I thought we got worse as the year went on instead of better at running it,” Brown said after the Orange-White Spring Game. “We’re in a transition phase. Colt was so good we kept coming back out of it and go throw it every time. We can throw it every time with Garrett, but we want to go back and be more balanced.”
Texas inserted a fullback into some of its formations and stuck Gilbert underneath the center more often. In the Orange/White Spring Game, Texas ran the ball 43 times for a ho-hum 158 yards. Not much. But a start.
Understand this is more than Mack Brown talking about the offense. The head-coach-in-waiting, Will Muschamp, prefers a more traditional look to help win the biggest games. Not unlike Bo Pelini did at Nebraska, Muschamp wants to shorten games and impose a physical dominance along the lines.
“We may be a different team,” Brown said. “We’ll run the ball more. We’re going to have to kick it differently and play defense more. This may be a different team. It may not be a team that runs out there and runs up and down the field and scores as quickly as we have.”
Defensively, expect more of the same from Texas. A sound defense against the run. Aggressive blitzing. Man-to-man coverage on the islands. Muschamp is not only a premier defensive coordinator, but he’s created, in short shrift, an effective developmental pipeline, too. He’s pushing to recruit nationally, searching for the best players - not simply the in-state players most willing to commit the second UT offers.
Ironically, after so many years of excellence, it’s Brown and Greg Davis’ offense that must face some of its dubious recruiting strategies and potentially deficient schemes in a new, defensive-minded Big 12. Gilbert was indeed excellent in the spring game - 10 of 13 for 165 yards and three touchdowns - but his receiving corps, now minus Jordan Shipley, is talented but inconsistent. The offensive line remains a weakness (inasmuch as UT has a weakness) while the team’s best running back is probably a redshirt freshman who’s 20 pounds overweight. UT has to find a new kicker, too, to replace Hunter Lawrence.
At first blush, Texas looks a lot like the 2006 and 2007 UT squads that had to fight and scratch for everything, minus McCoy and Jamaal Charles, plus Muschamp’s defense. To suggest the Longhorns are frontrunners for the Big 12 South - much less the league as a whole - is wildly premature.
Progress so far: Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has reincorporated some pro-style sets that take advantage of playaction and Gilbert’s accurate, strong throwing arm. Gilbert appears to be everything UT hoped he would be out of Austin Lake Travis High School: Smart, humble, a leader. But he isn’t mobile, and if he gets hurt, there is no reliable backup. Fifth-year senior Sherrod Harris is the rough equivalent of Nebraska’s LaTravis Washington. Brown would far prefer one of two true freshman (Connor Wood or Chase McCoy) win the No. 2 job.
Gilbert’s prime receiving targets won’t be finalized until fall, but they should be plucked from James Kirkendoll, John Chiles, Marquise Goodwin, Malcolm Williams, D.J. Monroe and DeSean Hales. The last of those two are speedsters who could serve as UT’s return specialists, as well.
Running back is unsettled, although Tre Newton, Vondrell McGee and Fozzy Whitaker return after getting a lion’s share of the carries last year. Cody Johnson is the short-yardage guy, but expect him to be phased out by Chris Whaley - brother of NU linebacker Alonzo Whaley - provided Whaley dumps some pounds. He was UT’s best back in the spring game, but, at 260 pounds, he’s on his way to Ja’Mar Toombsville.
“We want him to lose about 25 pounds,” Brown said.
Overall, this is a middling bunch at best. Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and Charles aren’t walking back through the door.
On defense, UT may not replace super-safety Earl Thomas, but Muschamp has few worries at linebacker, where Sergio Kindle roamed in 2009. Young guns Dravannti Johnson and Keenan Robinson - who started 14 games last year - will easily pick up the slack. It will be exceedingly hard to run against Muschamp’s 3-4 defense that favors big, rangy linebackers. The defensive line shouldn’t experience any drop-off from 2009.
Breakout player: Defensive tackle Kheeston Randall started ten games last year as a sophomore, but should be a centerpiece of the defensive line as a junior. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, he can play inside or outside, and Muschamp will be creative with him. He’s a first-round NFL Draft pick waiting to happen.
Whether he loses the weight or not, Whaley is a gifted runner, the likes of which Texas hasn’t had in some time. Most of UT’s backs are cutesy types who like bounce in and around holes instead of getting north/south. Charles was that, too, but he possessed world-class speed. Guys like Newton, McGee and Whitaker do not. To think the Longhorns passed on Rex Burkhead until it was too late - and passed on Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter entirely - is astonishing.
What You May Not Know: Texas scored four touchdowns on interception returns in 2009 and seven more on punt and kickoff returns.
That’s 11 touchdowns that, quite frankly, you can’t count on from year to year. UT had only four such scores in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Just store that in the back of your brain.
Keep an eye on: Two things:
1. The police blotter. Texas players are often close enough to home that, well, trouble is more easily accessible. It tends to bite the Longhorns once every offseason.
2. How UT responds to rumors, speculation and grumbling regarding conference realignment, revenue sharing and the Big 12 as a whole. Texas can easily flee to the SEC, Pac 10, or, well, anywhere, but it’ll lose its own private 12-team fiefdom if it does. The Longhorns don’t need more money or television exposure; what they prefer is control of a league that stations its offices a few hours from Austin. Do not underestimate what Texas might do to keep the Big 12 together. It possesses the clout to make Missouri or Colorado an offer they can’t refuse.
Spring Opponent Reports: Kansas State Kansas, Western Kentucky, Colorado, Kansas State
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