Blue Ribbon Preview: Texas
Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook – ESPN
Mack Brown has built a juggernaut at Texas. So much so that the Big 12 Conference hung in the balance in mid-June awaiting word on whether the mighty Longhorns would leave for the Pac-10 and take Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State with it.
Media speculation ran rampant, but the consensus was that after Nebraska announced it would leave for the Big Ten and Colorado left for the Pac-10, Texas would pull up stakes as well, also heading to the Pac-10 and taking four other Big 12 schools with it.
All the media types who claimed to have insider knowledge and that the Longhorns’ move was imminent were wrong. On June 14, Texas announced it was staying. The Big 12 was saved, and chances are good the Longhorns will continue dominating it in football.
Texas has strung together nine straight 10-plus win seasons and won at least nine games in all 12 of Brown’s seasons in Austin.
The Longhorns won a national championship in 2005, and played in the BCS title game in January, losing to Alabama, 37-21. The early loss of All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy, who injured his shoulder early in the first quarter, was a damaging blow.
It was a disappointing end to the season, but the Longhorns are hoping they at least have a head start on the 2010 season as freshman quarterback Garrett Gilbert was thrown into the fire against Alabama and almost rallied Texas to a victory.
Several key players were plucked away in the NFL draft, including wide receiver Jordan Shipley, defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, defensive end Sergio Kindle and safety Earl Thomas. But this team always replaces its departed stars and keeps on going.
Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis will try to help out Gilbert by revamping a running game that was a disappointing fifth in the Big 12. The Longhorns averaged 147.6 yards rushing a game, but McCoy rushed for around 25 of that total.
“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.”
Brown will lean heavily on defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to build another dominant defense. The Longhorns were first in the nation in rushing defense (72.4 ypg) and third in the nation in total defense (251.9 ypg), also leading the Big 12 in both categories.
But Brown is well aware another national title contending season will probably come down to his sophomore quarterback. Brown has been impressed with how Gilbert has handled himself since the end of the season. “We didn’t know what would happen to him after the national championship game,” Brown said. “He walked right out of there and went back to work. Not much bothers Garrett. He is very confident and very level headed.
“He’s got a great presence around him. When he walks in the room, all the kids look and they know he’s there. I think he has a chance to be really good.”
Head Coach: Mack Brown (Florida State ’74)
Record at school: 128-27 (12 years)
Career record: 214-101-1 (26 years)
• Mac McWhorter (Georgia ’74) Associate Head Coach/Offensive Line
• Duane Akina (Washington ’79) Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Backs
• Major Applewhite (Texas ’02) Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs
• Greg Davis (McNeese State ’73) Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
• Will Muschamp (Georgia ’94) Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
• Bruce Chambers (Utah State ’95) Recruiting Coordinator/Tight Ends
• Oscar Giles (Texas ’91) Defensive Ends
• Bobby Kennedy (Northern Colorado ’89) Assistant Recruiting Coordinator/Wide Receivers
• Mike Tolleson (Delta State ’70) Special Teams Coordinator/Defensive Tackles
Sophomore Garrett Gilbert (6-4, 212) took over for Colt McCoy five plays into the national title game, and while he struggled in the first half, he rallied Texas from 24-6 down to 24-21 in the second half, completing two touchdown passes in the process.
Gilbert finished the night against Alabama’s ferocious defense completing 15-of-40 passes for 186 yards. He did throw four interceptions and had a key fumble at the end of the game.
Gilbert was much more efficient in the Longhorns’ spring Orange-White game, completing 10-of-13 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns. The Longhorns recruited Gilbert, one of the top quarterbacks in the 2009 class, because of his poise and his strong arm.
“He makes very few mistakes and he’s very accurate with his passes,” Brown said. “The question mark that you would have coming out of the national championship game is would he take that game and be able to springboard toward confidence and leadership with his team?
“He really seems to have been able to do that. The team trusts him. They think he is the guy and at his age and not starting a game before, that’s pretty impressive for him.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis says Gilbert is what is known in basketball as a gym rat. “He is a student of the game,” Davis said. “I was really pleased with the way he approached the game from a mental standpoint. I knew physically that he could work hard at it. We just need him now to step up this summer because our quarterbacks normally take charge of our offseason throwing and catching, and it’s a big role for him to step into this summer.”
Gilbert will be backed up by senior Sherrod Harris (6-3, 215), who has played sparingly. The job is Harris’s for now, and the Longhorns would appear to go with him over true freshmen Connor Wood (6-4, 209) and Case McCoy (6-2, 175) — yes Colt’s younger brother — so that the two newcomers to the college game can have the opportunity to red-shirt if needed.
The Longhorns never developed a championship level running game last season, and that is something Brown wants to see change in 2010. It’s hard to believe the No. 2 team in the country’s leading rusher managed only 552 yards, especially when Brown’s teams have had a long line of standout runners such as Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and Jamaal Charles.
“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. “We’re in a transition phase. We’d said it, but Colt [McCoy] 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.”
Starter Tre’ Newton (6-0, 200), a sophomore, has been the kind of back that runs under his shoulder pads, so he fits in well with what the Longhorns are trying to build. Newton averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season and scored six touchdowns.
Newton of course is down with his coaches’ commitment to the running game. “I love that,” Newton said. “It’s a lot of fun just trying to get after people and running more downhill. It lets the backs see more and make more cuts.”
The Longhorns are looking forward to having a healthy Fozzy Whittaker as an option. Whittaker (5-10, 195), a junior, is a speed back and who does everything pretty well. He had 212 yards last season.
Redshirt freshman Chris Whaley (6-3, 245) is an interesting talent, but he has to earn playing time on the practice field.
“I like where we are,” Brown said. “I like the progress we’ve made and we’re still not there. We still have to get a lot better to be consistent in the running game. Unlike last year, we’re not going to change it. We’re going to go back and we’re going to be good in the running game.”
The Longhorns lost Jordan Shipley to the NFL, but there are plenty of talented pass catchers on the roster to fill the void.
The most talented of the group is junior Malcolm Williams (6-3, 225), who can go up and get the ball and also beat man-to-man coverage with his blazing speed. Williams just has to be consistent catching the ball, something that didn’t happen during a disappointing 2009 season.
The other starters are sophomore speed burner Marquise Goodwin (5-9, 175), who missed spring practice to run track, and senior James Kirkendoll (5-11, 180), who had 461 yards on 48 catches last season.
Goodwin is as electrifying a player as the Longhorns have had in some time, bringing back memories of track and football greats like Johnny “Lam” Jones and Tony Jones. Goodwin produced two of the Longhorns’ biggest plays in 2009, the team’s only touchdown in the win over rival Oklahoma, and a kick return for a touchdown against Texas A&M.
Goodwin caught 30 passes (third all-time among Texas freshmen) for 279 yards and a touchdown.
Kirkendoll, who scored six touchdowns, has stepped up to be the leader at receiver. “I like the position because every year you have to step up,” Kirkendoll said. “When I first got here, it was Limas Sweed, then it was Quan Cosby, then it was Jordan Shipley. It is a tradition here, and it is my opportunity to step up and lead these guys.”
Former quarterback John Chiles (6-2, 210) should take on a more of role in the passing game. And there is a buzz about sophomore DeSean Hales (5-11, 175), who had good chemistry with Gilbert during the spring game.
“DeSean is playing both slot receiver and outside receiver,” Davis said. “John Chiles has spent most of the spring as a slot receiver, and John wasn’t able to play, so we played James [Kirkendoll] and DeSean inside.”
With Dan Buckner leaving the team, two freshmen, Mike Davis (6-2, 183) and Darius White (6-3, 200), are expected to battle for playing time.
The Longhorns will have to move a few pieces around to replace three departing seniors from last year’s group.
Kyle Hix (6-8, 320) who has started at right tackle the last two years will shift to the left side while veteran Britt Mitchell (6-5, 300) will fill his place.
Michael Huey (6-5, 310) transitions from being the starter at right guard to left guard, and David Snow (6-4, 295), who has been a part time starter, will take over full time at center.
The competition is still open at right guard, but senior Tray Allen (6-4, 305), who was a high school All-American, is the favorite to win the spot. This new alignment is an effort by the Longhorns to be more physical up front in an effort to improve the struggling running game.
“We kind of went into spring with the attitude that we wanted to be nasty up front, and they have done a good job,” Davis said. “What we will try to do is find the top five and where they fit, and then we will start looking for who is going to be the sixth and who will be the seventh.”
Texas has decided to shift from a spread attack to a more pro-style offense to compliment young quarterback Garrett Gilbert, which in turn has meant a big change for the offensive line.
“What I’ve seen from the line is that we’re doing some things different in the run game to help them a little bit,” Davis said. “I see them really excited about it. I see an edge developing. We’re a work in progress. We’re not where we need to be yet, but I’m really pleased with the progress they’ve made this spring.”
After the starting five, the Longhorns will count on a couple red-shirt freshmen Thomas Ashcraft (6-5, 310), Paden Kelley (6-7, 290), and Garrett Porter (6-6, 300). “Ashcraft is phenomenal, his feet are the best that we have, and Garrett is doing really, really well for being at center for the first time,” Hix said. “He’s getting his snaps down and doing really well with his footwork, and Paden is probably the most athletic guy we have right now besides Tray [Allen], so they’re all doing really well.”
The defensive line is a tale of two extremes. The Longhorns are deep at defensive end with talent that will probably be playing on Sundays one day soon, but they are equally as thin at tackle.
Sophomore Alex Okafor (6-4, 250) and senior Eddie Jones (6-2, 260), will both be in the mix to start at defensive end along with returning starter Sam Acho (6-2, 260), who will be asked to play a lot of snaps at end and possibly be the starter at defensive tackle.
“[Acho is] cross training,” Brown said. “We’re cross training a bunch of guys. He’s still a defensive end. We’re hoping to find a guy that can start at defensive tackle, because he’s a dominating defensive end. He’s a great pass rusher. “We’re still not where we need to be at defensive tackle. That’s our problem. We’d rather not have him line up against Ohio State or Alabama in the running game for 75 plays.”
At tackle Texas will lean heavily on returning starter Kheeston Randall (6-5, 295), who is expected to be one of the best interior players in the conference. He racked up nine quarterbacks pressures last season.
The depth at tackle is talented but inexperienced. Redshirt freshmen Calvin Howell (6-4, 290) and Derek Johnson (6-3, 320) will compete for playing time along with junior Tyrell Higgins (6-3, 279).
The Longhorns will be without leading tackler Roddrick Muckelroy, but this still appears to be a position of depth.
Junior strong-side linebacker Keenan Robinson (6-3, 232) and junior weak-side linebacker Emmanuel Acho (6-2, 235), Sam’s younger brother, showed a knack for making big plays last season. Both are solid in pass coverage and have the speed to get to the sideline. Robinson impressed his teammates with his effort during the spring.
“Keenan [Robinson] does a good job of flying around,” safety Blake Gideon said. “He always does. He likes to fly around and hit. He wants to try out with the safeties too. He’s always joking with us.”
Acho had to sit out the spring game, but Muschamp said he could have played if it had been the regular season.
Senior Dustin Earnest (6-3, 229) has been waiting for his chance to start, and he had a solid spring and will be the starter at middle linebacker. “Dustin played well for us last year when he had the opportunity to get some snaps,” Muschamp said. “Keenan Robinson had a really good spring. Dravannti Johnson has had a really good spring, so we are pleased with that group and the young guys have to continue to come along.”
Johnson (6-2, 240), a sophomore, will back up Robinson. The Longhorns also have a talented freshman group coming in with Aaron Benson (6-2, 225), Tevin Jackson (6-2, 230) and Jordan Hicks (6-2, 220).
The secondary will be without its ball hawk, first-round NFL draft pick Earl Thomas, but this still should be a team strength.
Blake Gideon (6-1, 200), a junior, has started for two seasons and overcame some adversity as a freshman to become a standout at strong safety. Gideon was a ball hawk himself last season with six interceptions.
The Longhorns also get back their hardest hitter, free safety Christian Scott (6-1, 215), who played in only the BCS championship game last season.
“I have to be a physical player and coach Muschamp is a great coach,” Scott said. “He tells me I could use improvement and works with me and the defense. Playing with a defense like ours makes it easier to make plays.”
The Longhorns have three of the best cornerbacks in the Big 12 in starters Curtis Brown (6-0, 180), a senior, and Aaron Williams (6-1, 192), a junior, plus senior backup Chykie Brown (6-0, 187).
“I think our secondary could be as good as we’ve had,” Brown said. “You take three cover corners that I think will all be in the NFL over time with Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams.”
The nickel back is sophomore Kenny Vacarro (6-1, 201), another physical safety who drew raves for his hit on Newton in the spring game. “He is a physical player,” Muschamp said. “He is instinctive. He is tough. He plays the game the way you want it to be played. Football is important to him. He plays full speed, and he has to continue to develop at safety and nickel. We put a lot on him [in the] spring, and he is very intelligent and learned very well.”
The Texas special teams are as good as you’ll find in college football. Last season, the Longhorns had seven returns for touchdowns, three on kick returns, two on punt returns and two on blocked punts.
Sophomore D.J. Monroe (5-9, 171), who had a hamstring injury during the spring game, returned a kick for a touchdown on his first collegiate touch, 89 yards against Louisiana-Monroe. He averaged 33.6 on kick returns last season.
Marquise Goodwin had the crucial kick return for a touchdown against Texas A&M. Goodwin and Aaron Williams will compete to replace Jordan Shipley, who had two touchdown returns last season. “Our return game could be good,” Brown said. “[Aaron’s] got a burst. We know that Marquise can do things. We’ve got to figure out where D.J. fits in all this stuff.”
The Longhorns rival Virginia Tech as the best at blocking punts in the college game. Brown credits defensive backs coach Duane Akina for positioning his players to get to punts.
Hunter Lawrence’s kick against Nebraska with one second left will be shown in highlights for years to come, but Lawrence has graduated, so Texas is forced to break in a new kicker this fall.
Junior Justin Tucker (6-1, 177), who has been the Longhorns’ primary punter and kickoff specialist, will now take on the duties of being the regular kicker. “Justin Tucker has maybe missed one kick, so we haven’t dropped off there,” Brown said in the spring. “Hunter was so accurate for us last year. We’re really pleased with Justin. He’s getting the ball up high and fast. He can do the things we need there.”
True freshman Will Russ (6-4, 185) was signed to keep Tucker from being overloaded.
Justin Tucker will still be used in the punting game when his skills executing a rugby style punt are required. He will split time with senior John Gold (6-3, 205) who will likely be used for more traditional punts.
Will Russ has experience punting in high school and will compete with Gold this fall. “We’re still working with our punting game to see what type of protection ties together the best,” Brown said. “John Gold had an outstanding spring punting. We still have Justin Tucker punting, and we would like to have the rugby and the normal punt. I don’t see people doing that across the country, so we’re working hard in that area.”
Once again Mack Brown and the Longhorns were pretty much able to get whoever they wanted in the state of Texas. The Longhorns are famous for filling up their class nearly a year before signing day, but the two prize pieces in the class, defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (6-5, 235) and linebacker Jordan Hicks, didn’t commit to the Longhorns until the end of January. Texas brought in two highly sought after signal callers.
“Connor is in school. Like Case, he has the ability to run. He is big and is very accurate,” Brown said. “We were not concerned about private school or the level of football. Greg (Davis) and Major (Applewhite) really liked what they saw. We really like both Connor and Case, and they understand that, they are good friends, and they are ready to compete.”
Jeffcoat gets the accolades, but Texas will be very deep along the defensive line for many years. Reggie Wilson (6-3, 240) is an athletic pass rusher, and Ashton Dorsey (6-2, 290) and Taylor Bible (6-3, 300) are dominating interior players.
The standout position in this class is wide receiver where the ‘Horns signed two all-Americans in Darius White and Mike Davis (6-2, 183), plus Darius Terrell (6-3, 215), who may end up at tight end, speedster Chris Jones (6-0, 175), and John Harris (6-3, 200), who spent the year under the radar because he played quarterback for his high school.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
The Longhorns will have to go a long way to duplicate last season’s 12-0 regular season, a narrow victory in the Big 12 title game and a date in the BCS title game.
Like rival Oklahoma, the Longhorns lost several quality players to the NFL. But Mack Brown has proven one thing at Texas — he can reload as well as any coach in America.
Texas might be a better offensive team in 2010, and that sounds off the wall when you consider that Colt McCoy has departed. There’s a feeling the Longhorns relied too much on McCoy last year, and his departure has brought a re-emphasis on the running game. There is plenty of confidence in Garrett Gilbert and the passing game.
Texas’ front seven in solid, and the secondary is as good as there is in the nation. So are the Longhorns’ special teams.
The schedule opens with home games against Rice and Wyoming, so Texas should be 2-0 when it travels for its first Big 12 road game against Texas Tech and new coach Tommy Tuberville.
That should be a challenging game.
The toughest part of the schedule will be consecutive games against Oklahoma in Dallas on Oct. 2, and Nebraska in Lincoln on Oct. 16. The Longhorns have two weeks to prepare for what will be a grudge match against Nebraska.If Texas can get past OU and Nebraska with a 6-0 record, the Longhorns will be on the right path to another BCS bowl game, and maybe another national title game.