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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Texas Football: The Arkansas State Game 

Week One: No. 4 Texas (0-0) vs. Arkansas State (0-0)
Last Season: Texas (10-3; Won Alamo Bowl); Arkansas State (6-6)
Last Meeting: Never Met
All-Time Series: Never Met

As I write this I'm tuned into ESPN's "25 Hours of College Football Live," and the thought occurs to me: am I really so hard up for football that I'm watching Rece davis and his annoying colleagues blather about the same tired storylines that they've droned on and on about for weeks now? Well, yes I am.

I know I'm not alone, either. Yesterday I read a post on HornFans.Com that had spawned more than eight pages worth of debate (some of it heavy on the vitriol) about whether the Horns' decision to honor the late Lady Bird Johnson with a small bluebonnet sticker on the back of their helmets was appropriate or not. Seriously. Finally one rational person summed it up: "Man the season needs to start..... "

Yes, it does. And on Saturday it finally will.

This Week's Game in a Nutshell

Per Mack Brown, Arkansas State feels like all four of their defensive backs will get drafted. Considering Texas hasn't played a season opener decided by fewer than 27 points since losing to NC State in 1999, Indians coach Steve Roberts might want to try putting all four on the punt block team (if they can force Texas into a few fourth downs).

Brown says he's not concerned with how many yards his team gains on the ground this season, but with a banged-up receiving corps, and with Jamaal Charles finally in position to be the showcase back, who doesn't expect to see Charles rack up carry after carry? How well can the Arkansas State secondary step up to stop the run?

According to NCAA 2008...

Texas wins, 45-7. The Horns account for only 345 yards in total offense, though, including 122 yards on the ground. Colt McCoy completes 11 of 15 for 193 yards and three TDs. Electronic Arts doesn't care about Jamaal Charles, I guess. For the record, the computer has now completed more games against itself than I have completed against it. Brief aside: NCAA '08 has been the biggest waste of $50 since the round of jaegerbombs I bought while playing wingman for my buddy Justin once at Sherlock's. But at least with the bombs I got a buzz and a random makeout session (even if it was with homely friend).

Matt brings it strong in this season's first TWTWB

What we learned last week: We learned way too much about dog fighting. Thank God that college football is finally here.


You're gonna have to go through hell, worse than any nightmare you've ever dreamed. But when it's over, I know you'll be the one standing. You know what you have to do. Do it. – Duke to Rocky before fighting Drago in Rocky IV

(If you have Eye of the Tiger in your iTunes library, go ahead and fire it up).

2005 will forever be ingrained in the memory of Longhorn fans nationwide, and with good reason. It was the perfect storm of Vince Young’s heart and determination, Michael Huff’s brain, Ramonce Taylor’s electricity, Billy Pittman’s speed and an offensive line that could move the Rocky Mountains to Oregon.

But 2006 will forever be remembered as the year that could have been, the year where focus was lost, where things were seemingly on track to at least win a Big XII title and go to a BCS bowl, and then it all came crashing down on a cold night in Manhattan, Kansas.

And then the unthinkable happened. A lackluster loss to the dreaded Aggies. At home. And frankly the team didn’t even look like they cared to be there.

Perhaps it was the dreaded championship hangover that a lot of championship teams endure in the next season. Or perhaps the team just wasn’t good enough. Perhaps you shouldn’t expect much from a team with a freshman quarterback.

And I’m not saying that 2006 was a failure. Ten wins isn’t anything to sneeze at in today’s college football landscape.

But 2006 left us wanting more.

Because we know this team is better than that. We know the coaching staff is better than that. Texas is not the 99th best team in the nation against the pass. We know this. Texas is not a team where you only have one 100 yard rushing effort all year. We know this. We know that we don’t give up 90 yard drives, mostly on the ground, with the lead in the 4th quarter in our own house. We know this.

At the risk of getting a bit cheesy here, when Apollo Creed died in the beginning of Rocky IV, and Rocky got all down, Duke had to come to him and tell him, yeah, he’s gone, but you’re the one now. He’s gone, but you have to keep up the spirit now.

Vince is gone (as are Michael Huff, Kasey Studdard and a myriad of others). Although he certainly personified it, Vince wasn’t the passion and the heart of the Longhorn program. It’s time to put 2005 in the memory bank and the trophy case and go out and do it again.

It all starts on the defensive side of the ball. The Longhorn defense in 2006 was, for lack of a better word, stupid.

We heard the linebackers were below average, so the secondary was brought up to stop the run, but we were burned on the play-action pass all season. Baylor had a double digit lead in DKR for chrisakes.

The injuries in the linebacker corps didn’t help last year, but it’s time for Muckelroy and Killebrew to quit showing all of their potential on Denius Fields and start showing it in DKR. It’s time for Sergio Kindle to quit being an idiot and go out and do it. We all bitch and wonder why certain guys are behind others on the depth chart, but it’s time for the second string guys to get out there and do it.

Frank Okam could have been a first round draft pick this past April but decided to come back because he wanted to show he could do it and possibly jump in the Top 10 of next year’s draft. His linemates will be just fine. Derek Lokey was showing the potential to be one of the best defensive linemen in the nation before he broke his leg in Lincoln. Brian Orakpo is my pick to be the dominant defensive player this year, and Aaron Lewis will be more than solid taking the place of Brian Robison.

The secondary has the chance to lose two first-round draft picks and be better than it was last year. Marcus Griffin needs to step up and establish himself as a leader on this team, and Drew Kelson needs to show that the coaching staff jerking him all over the field was a huge mistake and start to show it on the field. Erick Jackson will be the biggest hitting safety we’ve had here in a long, long time (I expect him to be on YouTube by week 3 at the latest). Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster have been nickel corners here seemingly since the McWilliams era, and it’s time for them to show that they can do it.

This offense has the chance to put up stupid numbers.

Colt McCoy tied a freshman record for receptions last year despite missing the better part of two games. Jermichael Finley looks like he could start. In the NFL. And although they are banged up, this receiving corps has the chance to be the best since the Williams/Johnson/Thomas days. Nah, screw that, they are better. They’ve scored against Oklahoma.

So who needs to do it on offense? Jamaal Charles.

Yeah, 831 yards and 7 touchdowns is a “nice” season, but for this offense to be truly feared from Stillwater to Norman to Lincoln, Charles needs to step up this year and realize his potential as a touchdown threat every single time he touches the ball. And not only that, the Texas coaching staff needs to find every single way imaginable to get him the ball in open space.

The pieces are there, it’s time to put it all together and play Texas football every single game. A national title isn’t necessarily the goal again. But there is no reason that this team can’t play it’s best every single Saturday and let everything else take care of itself.

The 2005 team did it. The 2006 team hoped the 2005 team would do it again.

The 2007 team needs to step up do it for themselves.

All your strength, all your power, all your love. Everything you’ve got. Right now!--Duke
They Said It...

"He has done an outstanding job, and in the nine years he's been here, he has generated tens of millions of dollars in new revenue."

- UT President William Powers, Jr., regarding Mack Brown's raise and contract extension, announced Wednesday.
Some of that revenue even came from sources not named Joe Jamail. But I'm glad to see that money is more important than championships. We're Texas!

In the Huddle with "Sir Rod"

Coming soon, hopefully...

Tailgate Talk

With Longhorn Foundation members finding themselves displaced by the construction at DKR, the state lots in around Scholtz and the Bob Bullock Museum should be even more lively than normal. The weather should be beautiful (read: it won't be 103 degrees like last year's opener), and the tickets plentiful. Brisket, chicken, sausage and cold, cold beer -- who cares that the Horns are playing a glorified scrimmage?

A few other College Football-related Thoughts

  • I don't care much for Mississippi State (f Jackie!), but Sylvester Croom seems like a top-notch guy. I'd like to see him do well. Maybe I'd rather he get fired from MSU and go to a school I like so that I can really get behind him.

  • The season hasn't yet started and I'm experiencing serious USC-fatigue.

  • Mark May... could he be more intolerable?

  • Stuart Scott has described events as "bananas" twice tonight on Sportscenter (what happened to CFL for the past hour?). Do people really say "bananas"?

  • Typically I don't make a big deal out of supporting other Big 12 teams for the sake of being a "conference strength" kind of guy, but I'd love to see Oklahoma State go to Athens and upset the Dawgs.

  • OU still sucks.

  • Fifteen Years Ago this Week

    (note: 2007 marks the 15-year anniversary of the Temple Wildcats' 1992 5A Div. II Texas State Championship, which came during my sophomore year of high school. I'll re-cap that season throughout the fall.)

    The road to state started on the road at Austin's Nelson Field against Johnston High School. As fate would have it, No. 3 Temple scored a TD on their first play from scrimmage and never looked back. The Cats won 27-7, setting up a showdown with top-ranked Odessa Permian in Week Two. Temple, coming off of a 9-3 season in 1991, was picked by Dave Campbell's Texas Football to win the state title, but the schedule Coach Bob McQueen lined up would not make it easy. Both Permian and perennial power Converse Judson appeared on the non-district slate, while defending Division I champ Killeen and rival Waco awaited Temple in district play. leaving the stadium that night, those of us in Royal Blue knew only one thing: beating Austin Johnston told us very little. One down... fifteen to go.

    Personal Anecdote Involving This Week's Opponent

    I know nothing about Arkansas State. But I do remember my last trip to the state of Arkansas. The folks there were the antithesis of hospitable. No one threw anything at us, nor did anyone pee on us (one lady kindly asked our group to relay the lack of urinary abuse to our friends back home as proof that Hog fans do possess civilized traits), but they were rude and obnoxious, and I did catch an elbow in the chest from a passing co-ed. Something tells me that we'll see more than a few Razorback t-shirts among the 700 Indians fans that actually bought tickets.

    Semi-Relevant Song Lyric from the Old 97s

    "I went through the motions with her, her on top and me on liquor."
    Going through the motions may be the best way to describe Texas' approach on saturday. I figure that the Horns show about 15 percent of their playbook in this one. As fans we'll try to make this up by using at least 85 percent of our livers during the all-day tailgate.

    Deluded/Rational Thoughts from an Opposing Message Board

    This one doesn't come from a message board, but rather from the official Arkansas State athletics: with more than 1300 votes registered thus far, 33 percent of fans expect the Un-Indians to win "six or fewer" games. Almost 28 percent expect seven wins. No other category garnered more than 18 percent of the vote.

    Now for the actual post, from pioneerhog on TribalGrounds...

    You may not believe this but I actually dreamed something ... we kick off to UT they return it, didn't get how far in my dream, on their first play they throw it and it is intercepted and returned for a TD. We then kick off and hold them to 3 and out and we get the ball and Reggie breaks a 64 yard TD run. We are up 14-0 in the opening moments of the game. I then woke up excited, wishing I had dreamed more of the game.
    My completely unrealistic dreams usually involve naked women (or did before I met my girlfriend).

    The Greg Brown Memorial Pregame Premonition

    I just can't get rid of this section.

    Texas kicks off to ASU. The Indians go to the air on their first play, but Erick Jackson nabs the interception and returns it for a touchdown. Afer the kickoff the defense holds Arkansas State to a three-and-out and gets the ball back. Jamaal promptly scampers 64 yards for the TD and Texas leads 14-0 in the opening moments of the game.

    Mine flows better, don't you think?

    Random Texas-Arkansas highlight that has absolutely nothing to do with this game, but was sweet nonetheless

    Again, my friends and I did not get peed on before or after this one.

    Prediction: Pain



    Wednesday, August 08, 2007

    Texas Football: The 2007 Longhorns Season Preview 

    2006 Record: 10-3 (Won Alamo Bowl)
    2007 Preseason Rank: 4 (USA Today/Coaches Poll); 5 (Associated Press)

    2006 In Review

    Remember Texas' 1999 season? Lop off the ends -- the NC State's bizarre punt block-fest in the opener and the post-suspension-feuled "Dead Man Walking" routine in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas -- and Mack Brown's second (and, to-date, least successful) season eerily resembled what the Horns did last year.

    Texas began both 1999 and 2006 basking in the proverbial glow of the prior season's glory -- Ricky Williams' record-breaking march to the Heisman Trophy and the school's first National Title in 35 years, respectively. They dropped decisive home games against high-profile foes (#13 Kansas State in 99, #1 Ohio State in 06), proceeded to steamroll the meat of their schedules, but yet they ultimately fell into a tailspin that resulted in consecutive losses to finish both seasons. The Longhorns also managed regular season wins against OU and Nebraska both times, but lost to Kansas State and Texas A&M both times, the latter of whom benefitted from facing emotionally deflated Texas teams.

    1999 and 2006 both represented the kind of "could have been" seasons that fans dread. But there is one major difference between these two similar years: the Mack Brown era was still in its nascent stages in 1999, when nine wins, a division title, and a Top 15 ranking energized the Texas fanbase and served notice to the rest of the country that Texas football was once again on the rise. In 2006, fresh off college football's pinnacle, three losses and a minor bowl don't sit so well with fans that have grown accustomed to top five finishes, or with the players and coaches responsible for upholding the mantra, "the pride and winning tradition of the Texas Longhorns will not be entrusted to the timid or the weak."

    2007 in a Nutshell

    Texas expects to win. Texas has always expected to win, even during the dark years of the late 80's and early 90's, when 6-5 was damn near satisfactory. And with the ADT Trophy now collecting its second year of cobwebs, Texas wants to taste that level of success again. Is it a realistic expectation? The preseason rankings seem to suggest so. But as the Horns learned a year ago, when they started at No. 2 for the second consecutive season, those rankings don't always bear resemblance to reality.

    The unfortunate reality of 2007 is that while Texas has no doubt improved from a season ago, multiple roadblocks loom for the Horns on their way to a potential Big 12 title and BCS berth. In fact it's not wholly unrealistic to think that Texas has about the same likelihood of ending up in San Antonio for another Alamo Bowl as they do for the Big 12 Championship game.

    Perhaps I'm merely looking at a half-empty glass, but when Mack Brown calls this the youngest team he's ever coached, part of me grows somewhat uneasy. Youth is not necessarily a bad thing, and an influx of fresh talent helps to reinvigorate a team, especially one that mailed it in down the stretch a season earlier. But if 2004 and 2005 proved anything (besides Vince Young's super-human ability), it's that leadership means everything in college football. You cannot win without it. Who will truly lead the Horns in 2007? If Colt McCoy (or Limas Sweed, Jamaal Charles or someone else) steps in to fill that void, it will go a lot way to assuage the anxiety that I share with many of my reality-grounded Longhorn brethren.

    For more on the 2007 Longhorns, check out the season preview Matt and I penned for the campus publication, Study Breaks. It's at least mildly funny, and much less stuffy and boring than what you'll find just about anywhere else. Plus it's got a cool, glossy layout, complete with lots of good photos. Just in case you're too lazy to click on the link, here's a snippet of what you'll find in Study Breaks.

    Texas Football 2007: A Week-by-Week Glance

    Sept. 1 vs. Arkansas State (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – 6 pm-FSN PPV

    The Horns take a break from the season opening rotation of North Texas and Louisiana Lafayette to welcome Arkansas State to town. As in 2006, questions abound for Texas: Can the secondary rebound from a sub-par season? How will Jamaal Charles handle the full load at tailback behind a rebuilt offensive line? Will their opponent – the soon-to-be-no-longer Indians – even have a mascot?

    Sept. 8 vs. TCU (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – 6pm-FSN

    TCU may be a step down from Ohio State as marquee out-of-conference opponents go, but the Frogs harbor BCS hopes, just like Texas. Look for the Longhorns to rely on Colt McCoy and his talented array of targets to overcome a defense that returns nine starters from a unit that ranked second nationally against the run.

    Sept. 15 at Central Florida (Bright House Networks Stadium; Orlando, FL) – 2:30 pm-ESPN2

    This might not be just another Mickey Mouse opponent (sorry); Central Florida will want to make the most of the first game in their brand new, 45,000-seat stadium. But unless Mack Brown has contracted John Mackovic’s tendency to lose road games against undermanned opponents, Bright House Networks Stadium is unlikely to be a Magic Kingdom for UCF (sorry, again).

    Sept. 22 vs. Rice (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – 6 pm-FSN

    If Rice still had Todd Graham at the helm, with Longhorn legend Major Applewhite calling the plays, perhaps they would have a chance to make a game out of this. But they don’t. And they won’t.

    Sept. 29 vs. Kansas State (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – TBA-TBA

    Longhorn fans no doubt remember the upset in Manhattan last year that ended Texas’ dreams of a repeat. They should also remember that Texas has managed only two three-point wins in their five Big 12 meetings with K-State. As long as Colt McCoy doesn’t try to run any sneaks on 4th-and-goal, Texas should get back to .500.

    Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl; Dallas, TX) – TBA-TBA

    What more can you say about this game? Well one thing you can’t say anymore is that Bob Stoops owns Mack Brown, as Brown’s squad attempts to win a third straight Texas-OU clash. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: this game’s winner should find their way to San Antonio for the conference championship game (barring late season meltdowns – see: 2001, 2006)

    Oct. 13 at Iowa State (Jack Trice Stadium; Ames, IA) – TBA-TBA

    Remember two years ago when Iowa State was the trendy pick to win the Big 12 North? No? I guess the glory days of Cyclone football seem like ages ago. New coach Gene Chizik should have his defense fired up to stop his former team. That means Texas may only score 40 on a squad most believe will wind up in the division cellar.

    Oct. 20 at Baylor (Floyd Casey Stadium; Waco, TX) – TBA-TBA

    If it tells you anything about Baylor, they lost their best player from the past few years to graduation in ’06 – punter Daniel Sepulveda. Since last beating the Horns in 1997, Baylor has scored ten points against Texas at home and has been shut out three times (including the last two).

    Oct. 27 vs. Nebraska (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – TBA-TBA

    But for a well-placed Aaron Ross helmet, Nebraska would have finally managed a regular season conference win against Texas in 2006 (it’s almost unfathomable to believe they have failed in all five attempts). It’s bound to happen eventually, right? At least if Texas requires late-game heroics this time, it won’t have to come in the middle of a blizzard.

    Nov. 3 at Oklahoma State (Boone Pickens Stadium; Stillwater, OK) – TBA-TBA

    Two seasons ago Okie State had the eventual national champs on the ropes at halftime, but were unable to deliver the knockout punch. With a talented offense – QB Bobby Reid ranked 16th nationally in pass efficiency as a sophomore on a unit that ranked 16th in total offense – and Les Miles thousands of miles away, the Cowboys could pull a home surprise. Or not.

    Nov. 10 vs. Texas Tech (Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium) – TBA-TBA

    Tech hasn’t won in Austin since 1997, though they came very close in 2003. They also came close a year ago in Lubbock, when they jumped ahead 21-0 before the Horns roared back. Any Mike Leach offense is going to be dangerous, and the outcome here will largely depend on how well young DBs like Chykie Brown and Deon Beasley mature during the first ten games. History is on the Horns’ side in this one.

    Nov. 23 at Texas A&M (Kyle Field; College Station, TX) – 2:30pm-ABC

    Common sense says that Aggieland will be extra electric when Texas A&M takes the field, as the Ags have not won consecutive games over Texas since 1993-94. But with a schedule that includes likely losses to Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Nebraska (and don’t chalk up a road win over Mizzou just yet), A&M seems poised to return to mediocrity this season. Aggie football – it’s Fran-tastic!
    What to Expect in 2007?

    Of course I'm referring to my weekly game preview. I'll continue to take an irreverant look at the upcoming games, showcasing both my own hit-and-miss wit and Matt's much more coherent The Week That Will Be. I may or may not continue looking into my crystall (foot)ball for the Greg Brown Memorial Pregame Premonition, but I'll certainly continue looking high and low across the Interweb for Rational/Deluded Thoughts from an Opposing Message Board. You'll also have to endure more of my Personal Anecdotes Involving This Week's Opponent, but hopefully I won't be the only one reminiscing. I've invited the great Rodrick Walker to share some stories from his playing days.

    For those that started watching Texas Football last fall, "Sir Rod" was one of a bevy of talented backs in the Texas attack from 1990-94. He's pictured here "shakin' they ass up" against Rice

    "See that calm expression on my face? Just like Carl Lewis was when he broke records in track. Just like Earl Cambell when he burst out of his jersey. Just like Ali when he 'down goed Frazier!' Just like... Rodrick Walker when he... shook they ass up!"
    I've been fortunate enough to hear a number of stories from the old days, including this one, regrading the closing moments of the 1990 win against Texas A&M. Coach David McWilliams called timeout with seconds remaining, before instructing Peter Gardere to take a knee inside the A&M 2-yard line.

    "THE KNEE. That was sweet. When McWilliams told him to kneel down, I looked at Peter and said, "dive over the top!” He goes, ”hell no, I’m not getting in trouble for you.” I told him, ‘it’s not for me…do it for the team!” He was scared, Drew."
    Good stuff!

    Look for In the Huddle with "Sir Rod" (and Friends?) all season long.

    And look for my Arkansas State preview... Wednesday?

    I'll close with what you've probably been waiting for...

    The Best Preseason Texas Video I Could Find on Youtube

    Hook'Em Horns!


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