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October 9, 2008

Big 12: Texas defense ready for test vs. OU

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Heading into the season, it looked as if the offense would be the strength of the Texas Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy, an experienced line, tight end Blaine Irby and a few running backs from which to choose.

Now, it's the Longhorns' defense that seems to be providing much of the swagger for Texas. And that's saying a lot considering where Texas' defense was in 2007 busy setting the school record for most yards allowed.

Much of that swagger is coming from new coordinator Will Muschamp, who has put young players on the field, moved players from one position to another and infused a blue-blood program with a blue-collar attitude. "I want my players to overachieve," he says.

They will get that chance Saturday in the Red River Rivalry against top-ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners have the nation's second-rated passer in Sam Bradford, three receivers (Manuel Johnson, Juaquin Iglesias and Ryan Broyles) who can get deep, running back DeMarco Murray and a tight end (Jermaine Gresham) who can dominate the middle of the field. The Sooners are in the top five nationally in scoring offense (No. 4, 49.6 points per game), passing offense (No. 4, 361 ypg) and total offense (No. 5, 540 ypg).

"We'll be fine," Muschamp said when asked about facing the Sooners. "We look forward to the opportunity."

Muschamp's unit is fourth nationally in scoring defense (11.4 ppg) and No. 1 in sacks with 19 through five games, with 17 coming in the past three games. The Longhorns' leading pressure players are Brian Orakpo (5.5 sacks) and Sergio Kindle (3.0 sacks).

"It's a big challenge," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "They have an excellent team defense, and they have had a lot of sacks and quarterback pressures. They will stunt you different ways. ... Will we be able to give Sam time to throw the ball? And more importantly, will we be able to run the ball?"

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Oklahoma State's offense vs. Missouri's defense. Missouri's offense gets all the headlines, but the Tigers were awfully proud of their defense after last season. Then Mizzou opened the 2008 season by giving up 42 points and a school-record 451 passing yards (and five touchdowns) to Illinois QB Juice Williams in a 52-42 victory. Now the Tigers, who have the 115th-ranked pass defense, face the Cowboys, who are ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing. OSU's ground game is led by Kendall Hunter (141.6 ypg). WR Dez Bryant is fifth nationally in receiving yards per game (110.0 ypg), and QB Zac Robinson is the nation's No. 3 passer.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    Texas vs. Oklahoma, noon
    Colorado at Kansas, 12:30 p.m.
    Kansas State at Texas A&M, 2 p.m.
    Nebraska at Texas Tech, 3 p.m.
    Iowa State at Baylor, 7 p.m.
    Oklahoma State at Missouri, 8 p.m.
    Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell. In a 58-28 victory at Kansas State last week, Harrell became the Big 12's leading career passer with 12,709 yards, breaking the previous record of 12,429 yards set by former Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury. Harrell, who leads the country with 405.4 passing yards per game, goes up against Nebraska's 98th-ranked pass defense (248.2 yards per game). The last time Nebraska visited Lubbock (in 2004), the Huskers left with the worst loss in school history (70-10).

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Missouri, the nation's No. 2 scoring offense, has yet to have a three-and-out this season. ... Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree's two touchdown receptions last week at Kansas State tied him with Jarrett Hicks (2003-06) for the Tech school record in career touchdowns (30). Crabtree is a sophomore. ... Oklahoma State's Bryant caught three passes for touchdowns and scored another on a punt return in a 56-28 victory over Texas A&M last week. Bryant has nine TD catches this season. ... Kansas State WR Ernie Pierce had a 33-yard touchdown reception against Texas Tech and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown his second such return this season and third of his career. ... For the fourth consecutive game, Kansas had two players with 100 yards receiving in a 35-33 victory at Iowa State; this time, it was Kerry Meier (125) and Jake Sharp (107). The win at Iowa State was the Jayhawks' fifth road victory in a row in Big 12 play. ... Missouri's victory over Nebraska last week was the Tigers' first victory in Lincoln since 1978. ... Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud set career-highs in passing yards and touchdowns by throwing for 268 yards and three TDs in 35-33 loss to Kansas last week. Iowa State WR R.J. Sumrall had career-highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (106) against KU.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Nebraska has a veteran offensive line, an experienced quarterback (Joe Ganz) and a talented running back (Marlon Lucky), but could only manage 76 rushing yards on 34 carries (2.2 ypc) against Missouri last week. ... While Missouri was able to stop the Huskers on the ground, the Tigers are giving up 281.6 passing yards per game. ... Texas A&M QB Jerrod Johnson had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first half of the Aggies' loss at Oklahoma State. A&M had five first-half turnovers in that game. ... Iowa State had a 20-0 halftime lead on Kansas before losing 35-33. The Cyclones almost rallied from a nine-point deficit with 3:39 left. But after recovering an onside kick with 1:13 left at ISU's 41, those hopes ended with four consecutive incompletions, including a long pass to Sumrall that was just off his fingertips. ... Texas Tech coach Mike Leach went for it on fourth down from his 29 with a 14-7 lead and failed last week at Kansas State. Leach probably will keep going for it on fourth down, considering his team is averaging 30 yards in net punting (112th nationally). ... Baylor is 118th in punt returns, averaging 1.7 yards per return.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "Well, we're not the same team that we were in 2003, and they're not LSU." OU's Stoops on facing Muschamp, who was the defensive coordinator at LSU when the Tigers knocked off Oklahoma for the national title in 2003.

    "We are excited no matter if we are playing the No. 1-ranked pass defense. It doesn't matter to us. We are just going to go out, and no matter what the defense gives us, we are going to take it." Oklahoma State's Robinson on facing Missouri's pass defense.

    "They totally outplayed us for most of the second half. The bottom line is everybody talks about playing 60 minutes and we haven't done that yet, and that's really disappointing to me." Iowa State coach Gene Chizik after his team lost a 20-0 halftime lead against Kansas last week.

    "It's the only injury we had." Texas coach Mack Brown after the Colorado game on his wife, Sally, who fell and broke her right arm and cut her face while hiking near Boulder before the game.

  • ETC.
  • Oklahoma is perfect on 24 trips inside the red zone (23 touchdowns, one field goal). And OU is the only team in the nation that has not lost a fumble. ... Texas has held opponents to 14 or fewer points in the first five games of the season for the first time since 1991. The Longhorns haven't allowed a TD in the first quarter this season. ... Oklahoma State leads the nation in punt returns, averaging 27.3 yards per return. ... Oklahoma junior LB Keenan Clayton had a career-high 14 tackles (11 solo) against Baylor, earning Big 12 co-defensive player of the week. ... Seven Big 12 seniors are on the list of semifinalist nominees for the Draddy Award, a sort of academic Heisman: LB Mike Rivera of Kansas, QB Chase Daniel of Missouri, WR Todd Peterson of Nebraska, LB Seb Clements of Oklahoma State, RB Chris Ogbonnaya of Texas, QB Stephen McGee of Texas A&M and QB Graham Harrell of Texas Tech. Semifinalists must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first-team player or significant contributor and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

    Chip Brown is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at chipbrown210@gmail.com.



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