September 18, 2008

10 things that will make Saturday a success

The Longhorns will beat Rice on Saturday night and you'll find it next to impossible to find anyone that would argue that point. However, there's a lot at stake in all three phases for the Longhorns in this game. Which areas need to pick up the pace this weekend against the Owls? That's exactly what you'll find out in this week's look at the 10 things that Texas needs to accomplish on Saturday in order to call things a complete success.

1. Start fast

There's always too much talk on the 40 Acres about absorbing another team's initial surge and we seemed to see a little of that in game two in El Paso, as the Miners started out strong and scored twice before the Longhorns were able to get on the scoreboard and take their first lead of the game with three minutes remaining in the first quarter. Great teams strike fast against inferior opponents and if Rice has any delusions of winning the game, the Longhorns need to end those fast. Championship quality teams bury outmanned opponents at home from the outset, which means the Longhorns need to have a two touchdown lead going into the second quarter.

2. Limit the turnovers

This is one that will pop up every week in some shape or fashion. So far this season junior quarterback Colt McCoy has done a good job of taking care of the football. That needs to continue this week because the only recipe that the Owls have for winning involves forcing the Longhorn offense into a slew of backbreaking turnovers. In a game like this, you wouldn't like to see any turnovers, but if you're going to have one, it can't be the kind that leaves short fields or returns for touchdowns. Overall, McCoy and the offense need to keep the turnovers at one or less.

3. Force the vertical passing game

This offense is still missing explosiveness in the passing game and part of the reason for that is the lack of a downfield passing attack. It's obvious that the staff prefers a more controlled approach at this stage of the season, but Texas is not going to beat Oklahoma or Missouri next month if the training wheels are still on the offense. Texas doesn't have to complete a ton of downfield passes, but they have to at least try. If you can't impose your will on the Owls (isn't that what Texas is paying them for?), when are you going to be able to do it? It's time that this offense starts to open it up a little and there needs to be an average of at least one designed vertical throw (over 25 yards) per quarter.

4. Get the young receivers involved

It's pretty simple - get guys like Malcolm Williams, Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll and Dan Bucker more quality opportunities. There's no reason for the Longhorns not getting Williams more opportunities, especially in light of the fact that he represents everything the Longhorns need at the position. All four of these players need to catch passes in this game and it needs to happen before the third quarter. The quicker Greg Davis starts spreading the ball around more, the sooner the Longhorns will likely find a player that can truly compliment Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley in the passing game. Crossing the fingers and hoping with your eyes closed that it will magically happen isn't the answer.

5. The line paves the way for 250 yards rushing and they limit Rice to two or fewer sacks.

I set the bar at the same level for this group against UTEP and they didn't come close. This group needs to overwhelm Rice at the point of attack and open things up for everyone in both phases of the offense. The Longhorns have run at will against the Owls for years and that needs to be a trend that continues.

6. Let's see some explosive plays in the running game

Who cares which back gets them, just get them, right? There need be at least six runs of more than 12 yards and two runs that gain more than 30. You'd think this team is due for a huge game on the ground this week and there should be a lot of room for all of the backs.

7. Shut down Jarrett Dillard

Heck yes, he's a good player and probably their best, but great defenses find ways to shut down players that are not surrounded by equally formidable weapons. This is Texas' first chance to play an elite-level receiver and they will see plenty of them in the coming weeks. Scheme to limit Dillard's production and make the Owls beats you with the rest of their skill players - that has to be the goal. Overall, the Longhorns need to keep Dillard under the 100-yard mark, while also keeping him out of the end zone.

8. The linebackers force at least one sack, three tackles for loss and one turnover.

Calling Jared Norton, Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy and Rashad Bobino- be playmakers. We should see weekly improvement from these guys and the bar is going to be set higher than it has ever been before with Longhorn linebackers under Brown.

9. Do not allow Rice more than two touchdowns

The Longhorns need to dominate Rice. If the defense is leaky and they are allowing 20+ points, it's a bad sign with the meat of the schedule just around the corner. That being said, the defense shouldn't be punished if the offense or special teams gives up a cheap score. This week is about principles and the Longhorn defense needs to keep their opponent out of the end zone.

10. More explosives on special teams

Special teams can be a great equalizer and the Longhorns have the look of a team that might be very strong in this phase. Block a kick, return a punt for a score or recover an onside kick - it can be anything, but this group needs to continue to attack and force game-changing moments in each game.

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