As we continue our look at key match-ups for the BCS title game, it's next time to look at who each member of the Orangebloods.com staff feels will play the biggest role when Texas is on defense. Just about everyone agrees that this game will be one or lost at or near the line of scrimmage, so it comes as no surprise that all of the selections play in the front seven.
Alabama's ground game, led by Heisman winner Mark Ingram, will be as good as any unit Texas has faced this year and the Horns' No. 1-ranked rush defense will be put to the test.
Who will step up for Texas on D whose effort might be overlooked? Our selections for the defensive unsung hero are below:
Man, I thought long and hard about this one and I'm going with sophomore defensive tackle Kheeston Randall, who will play a big role in the interior against the Alabama running attack.
When the season first started, there were questions about whether Randall was ready to assume a prominent role on a BCS-championship level team. Well, as the season has stretched on, he's proven without a shadow of a doubt that he's an emerging force at defensive tackle and that he has the long-term potential to be a No. 1 defensive tackle on a nationally elite defense.
When you look at the match-ups inside, the battle against Alabama sophomore guard Barrett Jones should be very competitive because both players have saved their best football for the home-stretch of the regular season. The Longhorns won't need Randall to be a star, but they absolutely need him to hold up well at the point of attack and help Lamarr Houston bottle up Alabama's inside running attack. If he can give them an inside pass rush as well, then that's a bonus. First and foremost - he has to be a run stuffer that helps the Longhorns control the line of scrimmage.
When the Longhorns enter the 2010 season, Randall will be the team's No.1 defensive tackle, so his time is arriving. Randall must bring his A-game and I expect that to happen.
The vote goes to Roddrick Muckelroy. I almost said Lamarr Houston here because the two are almost intertwined in what they do to stop the run. We've sort of started to take UT's rushing defense as a given. But it's not. Each week, teams do everything they can to figure out a way to run the ball on Texas, and it's Houston taking up blockers, so Muckelroy and the other linebackers can run free and make plays.
Muckelroy has come through on big stages before. He had 16 tackles last year against Oklahoma in a victory in which Texas held OU's rushing attack to 48 yards. Muckelroy was also a man possessed against Texas A&M with 15 tackles, including a TFL for a 7-yard loss. He will need to have the same kind of game against Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson on Jan. 7 for the Longhorns to have a chance at pressuring QB Greg McElroy. Texas wants McElroy to have to win the game with his arm. If McElroy is having to throw a bunch in this game, then Houston and Muckelroy will have done their jobs - again.
It's probably not fair to call him unsung after he led the Longhorns in tackles, but I'm going to go with Roddrick Muckelroy as my choice on defense.
I've said it several times over the past couple weeks, but I think this game is won or lost on first and second down in the run game. If Alabama is able to pick up good yardage by running the ball, staying ahead of the chains, Texas' job on defense becomes much tougher. On the flipside, if the Longhorns can hold Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to minimal yardage gained on first and second down and put the pressure on quarterback Greg McElroy, I'll take my chances with the UT secondary.
In order for the Texas rush defense to maintain its lofty standard against Alabama's powerful ground game, Muckelroy's going to have to be heavily involved. He's not overly flashy, but he does have a terrific nose for the football, he's very physical and he's one of the team's most reliable tacklers. Texas will need every bit of his talents in the title game because the 'Bama backs are among the nation's best at getting yards after contact.
Chykie Brown has had a pretty up and down season. If he wanted a time to shine, it is coming on January 7.
With Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown taking Alabama's best receiver and their formidable tight end, look for Brown to not only be valuable in run support but also in being the Texas defensive back that will be thrown at the most. If he doesn't get caught looking in the back field, which has been one of his issues, he will have the opportunity to make plays and turn the ball over.
If the Texas defense has game-long success against Alabama and leads the Longhorns to victory in this game, Brown will play a big part. While I'm in the camp that says this game and the Alabama team is overcooked, it does have some weapons. I'm also of the opinion that this defense that the Longhorns will field has the better defensive backfield and playing the weaker quarterback. Brown will have the opportunity to shine and should he win the day, Texas will win this game.
I tried to go to the trenches on offense so I've got to go to the trenches on defense for my unsung hero.
Over the last few years defensive end Sam Acho has been quietly building a strong resume and in 2009 he has only continued to build. He is not a flashy player, but he just gets the job done. He makes teams respect what he does and as a junior he has strung together quite the list of accomplishments.
He has tallied a team-leading nine sacks and recovered a team-leading four fumbles. As you can see, it will not be a shocker when Acho has a strong performance, he has done it all season.
Acho is beginning to garner more and more attention, but he's still unsung in my book. He will continue to make plays and in the BCS Championship game he will quietly put together another strong performance.
It's kind of hard to name a guy like Acho an unsung hero since he does so much, but I will anyway.