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October 20, 2010

Mack's hoping to capitalize on current momentum

Mack Brown said he felt like the team had a building moment in the locker room after the Texas Tech win, but it was unable to carry that momentum forward. Texas followed that game up by laying an egg against UCLA. It now finds itself in a similar situation this week, coming off a big win against Nebraska and returning home.

"The dressing room, the scene on field after the Nebraska game again pulled the team very close together. It looked like team chemistry was building. The dressing room after the game was very emotional," Mack said. "So now we'll see if that will actually carry over and the guys will play inspired together much better this week for their first time back at home after the UCLA game.

"People been pretty critical of this team, a lot of it rightfully so. But this week they've been bragged on more. Will they be able to handle that positive attention, move forward and play as hard as they did last week?"

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Texas senior guard Tray Allen, who was expected to start this year before suffering a broken foot early in preseason camp, has officially decided to redshirt.

The decision has been expected for some time, but Allen was informed by doctors on Tuesday that he's at least three weeks out before being able to play in a game. With that in mind, he'll continue to focus on his rehab before sliding back into a starting spot next year as a fifth-year senior.

"The positive thing for Tray is that it gives him a fifth year. He was doing very well in spring practice. He had his best spring," Mack Brown said. "He got hurt very early in preseason camp. With that 320 pounds, a broken foot puts so much pressure on it it's hard for a young guy to come back."

Allen's situation is very similar to Mason Walters from last year. He also suffered a broken foot that was slow to heal due to the pressure that's put on the feet with a lineman's size. Looking forward to next year, Texas will now essentially return three starters on the interior of the OL (Allen and Walters at guard, David Snow at center).

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Texas is exactly halfway through its regular season schedule, and the Horns will play five of their next six at home (there's still that dangerous trip to Kansas State). Mack Brown called upon the fans to help the team finish strong.

"The fans, in my estimation, can have the biggest impact on this team they've had with any in our 13 years because five of the last six are home games," Brown said. "This team needs our fans. Some of our teams have not. This team needs our fans."

The 11 a.m. kick-off this week can make it tough for fans to get "into the(ir) spirit(s)" but Brown is hoping people will show up early and be into the game. He's also hoping for some warm weather.

"I do hope it's hot and humid. That's something, this time of the year, that's to our advantage," Mack said. "With our depth, we feel like we can try to wear the other team out if we can get 3 and outs and stay on the field offensively."

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No real news on the injury front, but sounds like there are some questions on the availability of guys that were dinged up in the Nebraska game. One would have to assume Kenny Vaccaro and Keenan Robinson, who both suffered head injuries, are among the guys that are still being evaluated.

Some players were held out of Tuesday's practice and Mack said they're hoping to get "just about all" of them back for the remainder of the week. The team will not issue an actual injury report until Friday morning, and some guys will actually be worked out that morning to determine their status.

Mack declined to say who did or did not practice, but …

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Mack may have tipped his hand a bit on Kenny Vaccaro's practice availability when asked about freshman Adrian Phillips.

"I think it will depend on Kenny some," Mack said.

Vaccaro was described as a "dynamic player" and "a difference maker" on special teams. He's played safety, he's played nickel this year, and the coaches feel he's athletic enough that he could help at cornerback in the future if he's needed.

"He's really good. I'm enjoying watching him."

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Expect Texas to force feed the ball to Mike Davis this week as the coaches try to get him back in the flow of the offense. The freshman looked like the team's best receiver after his break-out performance against Wyoming, but he's been a non-factor since injuring his knee against Texas Tech.

"We want to get Mike Davis back on track. He was doing so well and he's kind of gotten lost the last couple weeks," Mack said. "He needs to get the ball in his hands and he needs to make some plays with it. We want him to do what Jordan (Hicks) and Adrian (Phillips) did on Saturday. He was doing that and after he hurt his knee he's been just a little tentative coming back."

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The negative of this week's early kick-off is that it may not be a wild atmosphere, giving the Horns a noticeable home-field advantage. The positive, for Mack, is that it's less time for him to worry throughout the day.

"I'd rather start at 7 (a.m.) because my stomach hurts all day and I sit there and watch all these games. Maybe 6, but they make them eat four hours before. I liked it when we played the cotton bowl at 10 because we ate at 6," Mack said.

This week, they'll have the players up at 6:15 a.m., they'll eat their pre-game meal at 7, they'll head to the stadium at 9 and be on the field by 10.

"We do not have any say on when we play. I've learned that through the years," Mack said. "We cannot refuse a TV game. It's a conference deal, all the conference teams get some money when you play so you do not have the right to say 'I don't want to do that.'"

Texas will have a 6 p.m. kick next week against Baylor so it will be back to familiar ground, but the team is changing up its schedule this week. The players will not go to a movie on Friday night, they'll stay in their rooms and watch one instead. They'll hold their special teams meetings on Friday instead of Saturday. And all this week, the coaches have been texting the players several times throughout the morning to give the guys an idea of when they'll be getting up, eating breakfast, going to the stadium, etc.

"The 11 o'clock game changes all of their demeanor as they get prepared for the game," Mack said.

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Mack was asked if he thought the Big 12 was down this year. After dissecting some of the games, he said he actually thought it was stronger from top to bottom (ISU beating Texas Tech; Baylor could be bowl eligible before Texas; Ok State is undefeated past midseason; Missouri looks like it has a chance to be a great team; undefeated match-up this weekend with Mizzou-OU; K State playing well at 5-1)

"As I look at the last six games we've got, and this is unusual for us, we could lose the five conference games we've got if we don't play well," Mack said. "That's not usually been the case around here."

Is the Big 12 is getting much respect nationally?

"You know, when you lose two games you don't look much. So nationally, I haven't had the TV on much the last three weeks," Mack said.

How about locally?

"Nope, nope. … I love you all, the reason I do is because I don't look at anything you all do."

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As he said last week, Mack thinks the team is okay at punt returner. Both Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown had nice returns last week, and by putting someone else back there the coaches would basically be starting over.

Last week, the coaches gave the returners a little help, running "double jammer" on the gunners to give the returners more space to catch the ball.

"They both have the ability to score when they touch the ball. Curtis is very unconventional with his returns but he's really fast," Mack said.

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The coaches have really been driving home the point that this team can be really good if it stays focused, but it has to play with intensity every single game if it wants to win out.

"I told them yesterday, you've got 17 practices left and you've got six games left in the regular season. If you can't play hard for 17 days and play hard for six (games), then we've made a mistake in recruiting," Mack said.

The chemistry and leadership on this team, particularly on offense, is still coming together. It has not been the easiest group to build chemistry with because of the grouping of some veterans, some young guys and a lot of guys in between.

The older players have to be the driving force in getting the young guys ready. The young players have to make sure the seniors go out the right way, because they'll want the same when they're seniors.

"The measure of this team will really be how hard they play together and with how much intensity and confidence they play at the end of the year," Mack said.

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Did the offensive line turn the corner last week, or is it a case that the line still needs to play well on a consistent basis?

"They played really well, Maybe best game I've seen this group play. And I want to see it again. I want to see it back to back. I don't want to be satisfied, them to be satisfied," Mack said. "We need to be balanced. The running game we've been talking about, if we can get that and go back and consistently throw the ball well, then we have a chance to get our numbers back up on offense."

Mack feels the offense should be scoring up in the 30s (it's currently 78th nationally at 24 ppg). The offense as a whole played well in the second half of the OU game and was able to build off that last week. The OL helped move the ball better against Nebraska and has built some confidence.

"This is an offensive line, technically, that gave up nine sacks to Nebraska eight months ago … They completely turned it around in this game," Mack said. "Britt Mitchell hasn't played a lot. He's playing much better. Mason Walters has not played any. He's playing really well. They're all starting to play better together."

This week will be a different type of test. While not as physically talented as Nebraska, Iowa State slants and angles its DL more than anyone Texas will play all year. The OL now has to get it done against a team that moves, whereas NU was mostly man up.

"Our guys are going to have to get their head up, get their feet moving and still be aggressive but get a pad on pad," Mack said. "And play with low pads. They played with better pad angle last week than I've seen them and that was very important for us to see.

"I saw in practice yesterday, they came out with a swagger. They came out looking like 'We're going to run the ball for the rest of the year' so hopefully they'll do that."

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The coaches want to continue to get Garrett Gilbert involved in run game, both on designed calls and on plays where Gilbert pulls the ball down and tries to pick up first downs. He doesn't have break off 10- or 15-yard runs, but if he can pick up five yards on first down, the coaches want him to take it.

After Texas showed some designed runs against the Huskers, other teams will now be game planning to take that away, so it will make it tougher for Gilbert to pick up yards on designed runs.

But just making an attempt could also help keep defenses honest. Like he showed last week, when Gilbert starts to run, he can pull up and find a receiver downfield.

"That's what we saw from Colt (McCoy) and Vince (Young) - the pressure to run. (They) can run if you stay back but if you come up (they're) going to throw it," Mack said.

One of the concerns with Gilbert, who isn't the most elusive runner in the world, is with injury. He took some big shots against the Huskers and he has a knack for taking on tacklers instead of getting on the ground.

"I'm concerned about injury every minute of every play. That's just something you've got," Mack said.

Speaking of injury, the coaches still want to get Case McCoy more work, but the opportunity hasn't presented itself with Texas playing in so many close games. Right now, the team is in much worse shape than it was in last year's national title game when Gilbert was thrown into action.

"We have to do what we need to do to win," Mack said.

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On the drops by the WRs … the pass catchers have to be more consistent, but it may be hard for them to match the level that was set by Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby.

"Those guys were phenomenal. I don't remember but maybe one or two dropped passes in four years (for Quan), and in Jordan's eight years, or 12, whatever it was that he played," Mack said.

But make no mistake about it, the coaches are expecting more out of the WRs, who collected a total of one reception last week.

"We've been really challenging coach Kennedy and the receivers to pick it up," Mack said.

He noted that the other elements of the offense did well against Nebraska, but the WRs were spotty. The players are now healthy and Mack sounded like a guy that will not accept any excuses.

"They've got to pick up their end on this thing. They can, it's all there," Mack said. "Like the running backs, we've had injuries, but it doesn't matter. You have to play.

"We still haven't put things together. And because of our inconsistency with the receivers, I think that leads to our inconsistencies in the red zone. We don't have the guy right now that we know Garrett is going to throw to in a bind, and we've had that."

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Some pretty interesting comments on Marquise Goodwin

The speedy WR has started slowly this year, and there's some thought that him missing spring football to focus on track and field could be a factor in his sophomore slump. It doesn't sound like the workout schedule will be changing in the future.

"You'd rather have him, but that's a deal we made with him in recruiting. He will not be around, I don't think, in any spring that he's here or any summer that he's here because he's too good (at track and field)," Mack said. "He's got a chance to be in the Olympics, so it would be wrong for us to take that away from that young man."

Looking forward to next year, the coaches will look at adjusting Goodwin's preseason practice schedule to get him acclimated to the heat. They didn't do that this year and track conditioning is much different than football conditioning for a wide receiver, so that's set Goodwin back some. He also struggled with allergies. Mack feels they put too much on him too quickly after missing off-season workouts.

The good news … the coaches expect the absence affect Goodwin less as he gets older. Jordan Shipley did not go through spring practice last year, but he had played a whole lot, so it had minimal impact. They're hoping for the same from Goodwin.

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In interesting note that Mack passed on about recruiting analyst Tom Lemming and how he got started. Mack said back in his days as an assistant at Iowa State, he became familiar with Lemming.

A former postman, Lemming recognized that there was no opportunity for inner city Chicago schools to show off athletes kids because those schools had quit taping their games. Lemming would go video them, then charge recruiters to go into his basement to watch the film.

Boy, how times have changed.


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