November 12, 2009

The Ticket City Locker Room

Q: (MB2Cotter) - Long time listener, first time caller. Several years ago you wrote about what you imagined it would be like in recruiting if Mack Brown managed to win a national title. Hopefully, here we are again. If Mack manages to win another one this year, how do you envision that affecting recruiting over the next several years (especially with OU down)? Or do you think things stay the same, since it's not as if things have been going badly in recruiting? Secondly, what do you think of Major Applewhite as a RB coach . . . if you're being honest?

A: Glad you finally sent in a question. I don't think there's any question that the Longhorns will be in the cat bird's seat in recruiting within the state of Texas. Things are already looking very promising on a number of elite-level players and the momentum from another championship would only amplify their position. Frankly, I'm not so sure that the Longhorns haven't turned a corner when it comes to recruiting against Oklahoma. Barring some sort of extenuating circumstance, the Longhorns are pretty much cleaning Oklahoma's clock in Texas and it's hard to imagine how that's going to change in coming years. In past years Oklahoma has sold football success as its chief selling point to top prospects against Texas, but that's a silly notion at this point. From academics to social life to BCS wins to NFL player development to head-to-head competition, the Longhorns have separated from Oklahoma and I think you'll continue to see dominance in recruiting on the part of the Longhorns, perhaps to a new all-time high.

As for my thoughts on Applewhite, I really like a lot of the things that he brings to the table. I don't think he's working with one of the more talented running back units in the nation and he had zero to do with the recruitment of anyone he's currently working with. I'm sure he'd look a lot better if Jamaal Charles were starting at running back instead of the revolving door we've seen this season. Overall, the jury is still kind of out because of the group's inconsistencies, but I do know that he's a good recruiter and his backs to a lot of the little things very well, especially ball protection. Oh, by the way, the Longhorns are 21-1 in his two seasons on staff.

Q: (Burnt-on-the-Bay)- Ketch could you give us a breakdown of the Horns vs. TCU as if we were playing the Horned Frogs. You know our OL vs. their DL etc. Thanks

A: Good question. Let's take a look at both sides of the ball and special teams.

Texas run offense vs. TCU's run defense

If there's one phase of this game where the Horned Frogs have a clear-cut advantage, this is where you'll find it. I don't have to tell you how inconsistent the Longhorns have been with the ground game this season and TCU is ranked seventh in the nation with 89.67 yards per game. While the Horned Frogs haven't been quite as dominant against the run as the Texas front seven (1.8 yards per rush), there's nothing shabby about TCU's stingy 2.9 yards per attempt. The TCU front four has good interior stuffers in Cory Grant and [b]Kelly Griffin[/db], along with the play on the perimeter with Jerry Hughes and Wayne Daniels. Of those two players, Daniels is probably a better player at the point of attack that Hughes, who is a terror in backside pursuit. I think the Longhorns could probably man-up on this group pretty well, but the real test for the Texas offensive line is being able to get to the second level and have success against the speed and quickness of TCU linebackers Daryl Washington and Co. If the two teams played in a BCS Bowl, the wild card would be Colt McCoy and his ability to make plays with his feet.

Edge: TCU

Texas pass offense vs. TCU's pass defense

The Horned Frogs rank seventh in the nation in pass efficiency defense, but there's not a team on their schedule that possesses the speed, athleticism and play-making ability of the Texas wide receiver unit, which is coupled with the best pass-protection they'd have seen this season, along with arguably the best quarterback/player in the nation. Tank Carder, Tejay Johnson and Nick Sanders are all fiery players and they would probably rank as the best secondary that the Longhorns would have faced this season, but the skill of Jordan Shipley and the size/speed of a guy like Malcolm Williams would represent tough match-ups for an undersized group of defensive backs.

Edge: Texas

Texas run defense vs. TCU's run offense

If the Horned Frogs were to have any shot of winning this game, they would have to do something that no other team that has faced Texas this season has been able to come close to accomplishing - making a living with the running game on offense. The Horned Frogs rank seventh in the nation in rushing offense 242 yards per game (5.1 yards per attempt) and they would be butting heads with the nation's clear No.1 ranked rush defense. The 1.8 yards per carry that Texas limits opponents to is half a yard better than the nation's next closest team (Alabama) and nearly a full yard better than the third-best teams (Ohio State and Oklahoma). The Horned Frogs have a nice stable of backs, but there's nothing back there that the Longhorns haven't seen elsewhere each season. The Horned Frogs live with a smash-mouth running game that is led by a powerful run blocking offensive line. As good as they've been, facing this Texas front seven would be unlike any challenge they've ever seen.

Edge: Texas

Texas pass defense vs. TCU's pass offense

Perhaps the most underrated aspect of this team's offense is the ability of senior quarterback Andy Dalton to get the ball to a speedy playmaking set of receivers in the passing game, especially with play-action. Dalton doesn't throw the ball a lot, but he's an efficient quarterback that does a great job of taking care of the football (only three interceptions all season) and he has some talented athletes on the other end of those deep passes. The problem that he'd have in this match-up is that his receivers might pretty good (which is all they are), but this Texas secondary is as good as any group that the Longhorns have fielded in the last 25 years and there's not a wide receiver unit they've faced that they haven't overwhelmed.

Edge: Texas

Texas special teams vs. TCU's special teams

If these two units were to meet on the field, expect some fireworks because both teams have playmakers galore in all phases. Shipley, D.J. Monroe and Jeremy Kerley are as good as it gets in the return game and both teams have fantastic coverage units because they put their best possible athletes on the field. On top of all of the athleticism and speed, both teams have ace place-kickers that have combined to convert 27 of 31 attempts this season. If there's any edge at all to be had in this third phase of the game, it might go to the Longhorns in the punt game where they a slight statistical lead.

Edge: Push

Overall, this would appear to be a game that comes down to one pretty simple question: Which quarterback do you think has a better chance of having success against elite-level defenses - Colt McCoy or Andy Dalton.

Prediction: Texas 28 TCU 13

Q: (relling44) - Why do you think that our run game, specifically out of the shotgun, is intent on running outside the tackle as opposed to the gaps between the linemen? There seems to be too much pulling on the line without enough time to get out there, leaving the outside option easily covered. Also, at least at home, why do we not use a verbal snap count instead of a leg kick? The leg kick seems to give the opposition a good guess of when the snap is coming, giving them a better chance to get a good push on our line. Is it time to stop talking about the running game?

A: Let's start with the last question first - probably. If the Longhorns can't run the ball better on first down than they have at various times this season (including last week), they have no choice but to turn themselves into a pass-heavy offense. With three games to go in the regular season, the Longhorns are an inconsistent running team that can be fairly good when they do get it cooking. That's the upside at this point based on actual results. We're getting ready to see the fourth different starting running back of the season and it's starting to feel like they are spinning the wheel on the Price is Right in hopes that it lands on a dollar.

The great news for the Longhorns is that the passing game really does appear to be ascending as the season goes along, with Shipley serving as the lead dog and emerging star Malcolm Williams finally settling into the No.2 role. Mix in a resurgent James Kirkendoll, along with the continued developments of John Chiles and Marquise Goodwin and suddenly McCoy and Co. aren't struggling as much to get on the same page. This group is the clear team strength on offense and when push comes to shove, the Longhorns are a pass-first, pass-second team that just hopes to be able to muster enough of a running game that they can nab quality, consistent runs and set up play-action.

As for your other questions, I think the Longhorns attempt an outside running game because they believe that it's the best plan of attack when you take into consideration the backs on the roster, the strengths/weaknesses of the offensive line and the general structure of the offense. I'm not sure if the Longhorns have the personnel to successfully incorporate much else and if that's not the case, I'm not sure that Greg Davis believes otherwise. Finally, the Longhorns probably stick with a full-time leg kick before the snap instead of verbal counts for consistency sake.

Q: (TX82) - 1) What insight can you share on Art Briles hatred (or maybe disrespect) for Mack? Is it exaggerated? Despite his politically correct statements, do you think Mack is bothered by the situation?

2) After nine games, what is your view of the offensive line and their inconsistency and silly mistakes? I've heard the complaints (I've screamed too), but what is your most honest opinion? Every year we are going to focus upon improving the running game and then……? Is this the reason they abandoned having Colt under center? Is Gilbert working on his scrambling?

3) What is your opinion of the SEC ref situation and the conspiracy theories of conference influence? The evidence is amazing.

A: First, I've yet to hear anything concrete that could serve as a viable reason for Briles' seemingly prickly attitude towards the Longhorns, but it could simply have to do with the fact that the Longhorns are not only the enemy in the Big 12 South, but a supersonic cloud that hovers over everything Baylor attempts to accomplish as a program.

I don't think there's anything personal to the situation and I've heard from good sources that Briles didn't even make the season-ending vote that Texas fans are still so unhappy about from the end of 2008 (an assistant turned it in). I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not one of those guys that really likes being best buddies with the competition and while Briles must certainly have a lot of respect for Mack, he probably has zero desire to exchange Christmas Day phone calls. Frankly, I think he's a little overrated, but I think he's a hell of a good guy that's super competitive.

Second, I think there are a combination of issues with the running game. Some of the issues are without question intertwined with a line that has struggled across the board at various times this season, especially the right side. However, they aren't getting any help from a Texas running back unit that doesn't appear to have anything close to a lead back in it. Every single player in the backfield seems to have a hole in his game that makes him a limited viability in the offense. On top of that, the coaches have clearly been fishing for answers all season and they seem to have settled on the principle that this group must have a tight end option (a position where the team has minimal options) on the field in order to run the ball effectively. That's a lot of stuff and it impacts everything, including the ability to line up under center.

Finally, the entire SEC season has been a bit of a sham in my mind because it seems like every game has been mired with some of the most insidious refereeing errors I've ever seen. The only thing I know is that it looks the SEC has accomplished everything it has set out to accomplish this season - pitting a pair of undefeated teams in the conference title game.

Q: (MBarnett) - Can you break down the Big 12 south next year? At first glance, it appears that Texas and Texas Tech will be the class of the conference, but I wanted to get your insights on where you would rank all of the teams. I would appreciate if you could include what each team will lose (both seniors and underclassman you think will leave) and give a prediction on what each team's final record will be.

A: Wow, you've given me quite a task, but how can I say no after putting together a 2011 All-Big 12 team a few months ago?

Let's just rank them in order:

1. Texas (projected record: 12-0 or 11-1)

Returning starters: 14 (6 offensive/8 defensive)
Possible early departures: Earl Thomas

The Texas defense should be flat out nasty next season with the players they have coming back and I would project Garrett Gilbert to have a better sophomore season than Colt McCoy had in 2007. If that's the case, the Longhorns are the clear favorite in the conference.

2. Oklahoma (10-2 or 9-3)

Returning starters: 15 (7 offensive/8 defensive)
Possible early departures: DeMarco Murray, Gerald McCoy and Jeremy Beal

The 2010 Oklahoma squad could look a lot like the 2009 Oklahoma squad. The defense should be loaded, although if they lose McCoy and Beal, the defense loses a little luster, especially when you consider that Brian Jackson, Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton are also scheduled to depart. Still, this unit projects as one of the nation's best. Their problems are going to be on the offensive side of the ball where much of the offensive line returns, except for their best players - Trent Williams and Brian Simmons. Also, I'm not so sure that Landry Jones has what it takes to be a legitimate championship-level starting quarterback.

3. Texas A&M (projected record: 8-4 or 7-5)

Returning starters: 14 (5 offensive/9 defensive)
Possible early departures: Von Miller

This is your sleeper team in the conference next season when you consider that they return most of their top skill guys at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, although they do lose three of their five average starting offensive linemen. Over on the defensive side of the ball, this is a young group that is overmatched this season, but they'll certainly be better next season, especially if Miller returns.

4. Texas Tech (projected record: 8-4)

Returning starters: 12 (6 offensive/6 defensive)
Possible early departures: None (although you never know)

It's a reach to think Texas Tech will emerge as a sure threat for the Big 12 title next season because their quarterback position has been in flux all season and the same group of players that have mostly struggled in 2009 will return in 2010. The lead candidate is Steven Sheffield, but it's impossible to grade him off of what little we've seen. On top of that, the Red Raiders will be breaking in four new offensive linemen and they lose quite a bit of senior talent on defense with Marlon Williams, Jamar Wall, Richard Jones and all four of their current defensive end two-deep departing.

5. Oklahoma State (projected record: 7-5)

Returning starters: 7 (5 offensive/2 defensive)
Possible early departures: Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter

Oh man, the Cowboys are going to be cleaned out by graduation after this season. The offenses will not only feel the sting of Bryant's departure to the NFL, but Zac Robinson, Russell Okung and Keith Toston will all be gone as well. It's even worse on the defensive side of the ball, as only Ugo Chinasa and Markelle Martin are scheduled to return as starters. This team will go through a serious overhaul in 2010 and the only known part is the presence of Hunter, who could be tempted by the NFL after an injury-plagued season.

6. Baylor (projected record: (6-6 or 5-7)

Returning players: 12 (7 offensive/5 defensive)
Possible early departures: Phil Taylor

The Bears could be better than last place with the return of Robert Griffin, but their defense is going to lose a lot of key players and it remains to be seen when and if the Bears will ever emerge as a legit bowl caliber team.

Q: (lsampson) - Ketch, can you break down our final three opponents and include the following:

A. That team's strength and what we should be worried about
B. The team's weakness that we can/will expose
C. The odds that we beat that team/final score prediction at this point.

Also, can you give us a breakdown of Texas players that will be up for awards (including all-conference/all-American teams) and the odds that they will get that award?

A: Ok, let's start off with a look at the final three games:

At Baylor

Top strength: Pretty solid defense and some nice skill talent on offense)
Top weakness: They are starting an inconsistent true freshman quarterback.
Odds of a Texas win: 1:25

Overall: The Bears aren't completely awful, but the simple fact that they are starting Nick Florence at quarterback on Saturday is an unavoidable X-factor in this game. The Bears will play hard and they will have a moment or two in this game, but they are completely outclassed in this match-up. Horns win 38-14.

Vs. Kansas

Top strength: They've got a senior quarterback who was once a Heisman candidate and he'll be returning home to Austin for one of his final games.
Top weakness: Whatever the numerical value of abysmal is, multiply it by 10 and that's the Kansas defense this season.

Odds of a Texas win: 1:25

Overall: It's possible that Todd Reesing could channel some 2007 magic and become the first quarterback all season to pick apart one of the nation's best secondary units, but Reesing has not been very good lately and the truth of what will likely happen next week will be much harsher than whatever feel-good homecoming vision anyone might have. Horns win 52-13.

At Texas A&M

Top strength: Outstanding young skill players on offense.
Top weakness: Outside of Von Miller, they've got a bunch of overmatched kids playing on defense and they are not strong up-front on either side of the ball.
Odds of a Texas win: 1:15

Overall: The Aggies have the firepower to conceivably put 20 points on the board, but can their defense keep the Longhorns from putting up 50? Horns win 49-17.

Finally, let's take a look at what players have legitimate post-season honors potential:

QB: Colt McCoy (pretty much every award and honor on the planet)
WR: Jordan Shipley (Biletnikoff Award/first-team All-American/first-team All-Big 12)
OL: Adam Ulatoski (Possible All-America honors and first or second-team All-Big 12)
OL: Charlie Tanner (second-team or honorable mention All-Big 12)

DT: Lamarr Houston (Possible All-America honors/second-team All-Big 12)
DE: Sergio Kindle (Possible All-America honors/first or second-team All-Big 12)
DE: Sam Acho (Possible All-America honors/second-team All-Big 12)
LB: Roddrick Muckelroy (Possible All-America honors/first or second-team All-Big 12)
LB: Keenan Robinson (possible All-Big 12 honors)
LB: Emmanuel Acho (possible All-Big 12 honors)
CB: Aaron Williams (Possible All-America honors/first or second-team All-Big 12)
CB: Curtis Brown (Possible All-America honors/first or second-team All-Big 12)
S: Earl Thomas (Thorpe Award/First-team All-American/first or second-team All-Big 12)

PK: Hunter Lawrence (Groza Award/first or second team All-America honors/first or second-team All-Big 12)
PR: Jordan Shipley (Possible All-America honors/first or second team All-Big 12)
KR: D.J. Monroe (Possible All-Big 12 honors)

Q: (Golfpr3145) - Are there any recruiting targets currently not publicized that you possibly see for us this year or for next year? Other than the Hicks, Jeffcoat duo, are there any surprises that has caught the attention of the staff? Usually, during the season someone pops up that has previously flown under the radar.

A: This is a difficult question to answer because I don't want it to sound like I'm ringing bells for the sake of ringing bells, but I've heard that the Longhorns have their eye on a few guys for 2010 and could try and make a late run. Being able to identify or even have someone go on the record about any potential interest is a little difficult at this time of the year, but don't be surprised if the Longhorns throw their hat in the ring with an in-state prospect or two before signing day.

Yes, I do believe there could be an interesting story or two that will better capture the football obsessed minds down the road because I'm of the belief that the Longhorns staff would like to flex a little muscle after back-to-back national title runs and they are simply trying to figure out the best way to do so.

Stay tuned.

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