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September 7, 2011
Horns preparing for a physical fight
We've heard all week from the Texas players and coaches how physical the BYU team is that will hit the field on Saturday night. The Cougars were able to use their tough play to shut down the Ole Miss offense last week, and Texas will have to be on top of its game if it is to have success against a veteran BYU team.
UT co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite understands the Horns' offensive task will not be easy, especially on the ground, but he said you cannot base everything off what was shown in BYU's opener.
You have to look at things from UT's standpoint, Applewhite said. It was the first game for the Ole Miss offense and both teams were getting adjusted to game speed, much the same way Texas was against Rice in a sluggish first-half performance. Also, Ole Miss suffered a run of injuries to its running backs in the game.
"We know they have a great front seven. We understand that," Applewhite said. "They have a very strong, stout front seven, and they're talented. It's not that they're just a bunch of disciplined, mature guys. They're talented too. We understand it's going to be very difficult so we have to manufacture some things."
--- Part of the creativity will continue to center on utilizing a wide variety of personnel and a mixed bag of play-calling. Another challenge is making sure the Texas players understand the physical challenge they'll face in an experienced and aggressive BYU team.
Of course, the Longhorn coaches have shown their players tape from last weekend's slugfest with Mississippi. They've also dipped into the film archives from the past couple seasons to show the Cougars efforts last year against Florida State (a loss), and BYU's 2009 win over Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium. That game, for all intents and purposes, ended the college career of OU quarterback Sam Bradford (Aaron Williams might beg to differ).
"We know they're a formidable opponent. I think you always look at the head coach and you see the personality that they have," Applewhite said. "Their coach (Bronco Mendenhall) obviously has a strong personality, a very tough personality and usually the team takes on the head coach's personality.
"They have great coaches, they're very disciplined, they really pride themselves in being a tough ball club. They obviously take a lot of pride in being an older, mature group that focuses on execution and discipline and not being out of place, out of assignment.
"If you look at BYU, you're looking at older, mature guys. But not just older, mature guys. Guys that understand their role. They understand the important things about football, which is playing hard, being tough, finishing and executing."
--- The young Texas defensive backfield excelled against Rice, holding the Owls to 2.7 yards per pass attempt and a longest completion of just 14 yards. The task will be much tougher on Saturday with BYU expected to take more shots downfield, but defensive backs coach Duane Akina feels his guys are up to the task after last week's strong performance.
"I think they're confident. I think it's justified right now but we have to make sure it's not arrogance," Akina said. "Sometimes that can sneak in there. But I have not seen any of that."
Healthy competition among so many young defensive backs has helped keep guys in check. If one guy was to get a big head and loaf on a play or two, other players are nipping at his heels to move up the depth chart.
"Because of the competition that's back there - it's a very competitive unit - you can't relax. The guy behind you is waiting for his turn. It's really a great room to be part of right now," Akina said. "I've been fortunate over the past 10 years that it's been one of the strengths of the room that there's been tremendous competition in there. And it's healthy competition because they're good friends.
"You see that as defensive back continue to come back and encourage the younger ones. I'm proud to be part of all of that."
As for the BYU passing game, led by high-profile QB Jake Heaps and WR Ross Apo (a former UT commitment), Akina said his secondary will have to play well both physically and mentally.
"They've got good size at the wide receiver position. They've got an experienced quarterback. They have a good, strong run game that is going to set up the vertical throwing game for them as they continue to pound it," Akina said. "It's challenging our eyes and our patience back there. Those would probably be the biggest concerns for us."
Part of the challenge this week, Akina said, will be to keep his secondary grounded after receiving so much praise from media and fans in recent days. Shouldn't be a problem.
"I think they've realized they're young and a lot of their better football is still ahead of them. I have reminded them of that. And I think they're a really solid group. They really understand what their potential is and that we're not close to the finish line for a lot of these guys," Akina said. "Even some of the guys who have played here - Kenny (Vaccaro), Blake (Gideon) - they still understand there's a lot more out there for them to improve too."
--- If you ask the Longhorn fan base to discuss quarterback Garrett Gilbert's showing in the opener, you're likely to get varying opinions. The UT coaches and players, however, have consistently stated that they're extremely pleased with the play of the junior signal caller. It wasn't always flashy (although Gilbert did connect on two passes of 50+ yards and led scoring drives that covered 99 and 94 yards), but it was efficient and free of mistakes.
"He didn't turn it over. He did great. Your number one job as a quarterback is to take care of the football. Usually when you take care of the football, eventually you'll either swap field position or you'll run into the red zone, and that's when you get points," Applewhite said. "It's really a simple game. It's a game of keep-away, quite honestly. At some point you get to either punt it and swap fields with them or you get a chance to score points yourself.
What's sometimes lost on the casual observer is the management of the game, particularly in a season-opener in which Texas was breaking in a new offense. Several players have commented this week that Gilbert had a clear command of the huddle, and Applewhite praised Gilbert's ability to get the offense lined up quickly and in the right spots.
"When plays were there, he made plays. He made some big throws, got us off our 5 on 1st-and-5, just did some really good things. I look forward for him continuing to build," Applewhite said.
--- Last week, true freshman running back Malcolm Brown didn't get into the game until the third quarter. His 86-yard performance in the second half had some fans wondering what took so long to get the highly-touted back into the game.
The plan was actually to get Brown a series in the second quarter. But lengthy drives by both UT and Rice to begin the quarter chewed up most of the clock and when Texas finally got the ball back, the coaches went with their two-minute offense, which features Fozzy Whittaker.
"It's not etched in stone. It's not a manual. It changes week to week," Applewhite said of the scheduled running back rotation. "Certain plays are featured, certain protections are featured, certain formations are featured, certain runs fit one guy better than the other therefore this guy has more of a role this week. Certain protections fit another guy better therefore his role maybe increases or decreases.
"It's fluid and it changes over the course of the game based on a guy's performance. It doesn't matter how old you are. if you're a senior or a true freshman, we'll play you. If you can help our team win, we're going to play you.
--- Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has now had a couple practices with the team, and the plan is to get him limited work this week against BYU.
The team would like to get him involved in special teams as he gets his legs back, both as a returner and a guy who could help off the edge on the punt block team.
Along with his obvious speed and playmaking abilities, the coaches continue to praise Goodwin's maturity and leadership, and they've been working this week to find ways to get him involved on offense. Goodwin's similar to D.J. Monroe in size and speed, and though they play different positions, they could see some overlapping in their roles in UT's constantly evolving offense.
"Monroe is more of a tailback, Marquise is more of a wide receiver. But obviously their speed is something that we see as a positive. So they will be used in some similar roles," Applewhite said. "Obviously in the passing game, Marquise will feature some things and in the running game, D.J. will."
--- Texas played a staggering 18 true freshmen last week, by far the most of any team in the country. Jaxon Shipley and Quandre Diggs have earned praise for their efforts ever since stepping on campus, and that duo in particular seemed unfazed by the responsibilities that were placed on their shoulders in the opener.
Applewhite gave a refreshingly honest answer in describing a big part of what makes both players so successful ...
"I think that's what you look for as a coach in recruiting. Sometimes you can get seduced by height or a 40 time or a star, or whatever coaches look at now. Sometimes you just have to look at what kind of quality football player (a prospect) is," Applewhite said. "Does he make plays when he's out there? Or is he a combine guy? When you see guys like Shipley and you see guys like Quandre, they're just football players. You can throw all the heights and 40s out the window. They're going to make plays. They have extreme confidence in themselves on the field."