December 25, 2007

Ask the Expert Q&A: Texas Longhorns

Frequently during the 2007 season, we ran a story previewing Arizona State's next upcoming opponent from the view of a beat writer covering that team. For the Holiday, Jason Suchomel from was kind enough to give Arizona State fans insight into their next opponent, the University of Texas Longhorns.

Can you give us an injury update and what kind of impact any potential losses would have to the offense/defense?

Texas has had horrible luck with injuries this season, but most of the injuries are several weeks or months old so the team has been dealing with them for some time. Early in the season, the Longhorns suffered a key blow when all-American wide receiver Limas Sweed elected to have wrist surgery, ending his season. Like every other program, Texas has dealt with a variety of other injuries throughout the year, but the team did suffer two more bad breaks towards the end of the season.

Senior offensive linemen Tony Hills (left tackle) and Dallas Griffin (center) were both lost for the year down the stretch, and the coaches are still trying a variety of options to find the best way to fill the void. One likely possibility is seeing redshirt freshman Buck Burnette start at center with true freshman Kyle Hix starting at left tackle. Combine those two guys with two other sophomore starters and one junior starter, and Texas is obviously very young up front.

Defensively, Texas is pretty healthy, with the break before the bowl game giving several guys with bumps and bruises a chance to get back to full strength.

Mack Brown said that all starting spots are up for grabs for this game. What kind of impact has that had on practice preparations and if there are significant changes, where will they likely come with the two-deep?

The bowl practices have been some of the most physical that Texas has had in Brown's 10 years in Austin. Nobody is happy with the way the season unfolded, particularly a second-straight loss to an underdog Texas A&M game to end the regular season. Brown is as angry as he's demanded extra effort from every single one of the assistant coaches and players.

As for depth chart moves, Brown's "positions are open" talk doesn't carry a lot of weight with people who follow the team closely, because he and his staff are not known for making risky moves, and they always give the nod to the experienced player. The unit that would most seem to be in line for possible changes is at linebacker, where Texas has three underclassmen that have consistently outperformed the upperclassmen starters. Another possibility would be at defensive back, where the Longhorn have really struggled. The team does boast some young, albeit inexperienced players, but the veterans have earned most of the snaps during the regular season.

Most likely, you'll see the young linebackers -- Sergio Kindle, Jared Norton and Roddrick Muckelroy -- get quite a few snaps, but the veteran trio of Scott Derry, Robert Killebrew and Rashad Bobino will remain in the starters' seats.

Who are the impact players for Texas on defense and what is the preferred style of play/what will be the objective against ASU? What are the team's weaknesses on defense?

Texas has some players on defense that have received a lot of ink, but most of the guys have struggled to live up to the hype. Frank Okam and Derek Lokey are both very good at their defensive tackle positions, but the tandem disappears far too often. Brian Orakpo can be a playmaker at end, but he's struggled with injuries this season.

At the linebacker spot, Texas has really struggled all year and the three veteran starters have made very few game-changing plays. The young back-ups have much more athleticism and playmaking ability, but their snaps have been limited, much to the chagrin of the Texas fan base.

In the secondary, safety Marcus Griffin is a hard hitter who is capable of making a big play in the run and pass game, but the group as a whole really struggles.

First-year defensive coordinator Duane Akina likes to employ an aggressive style, but Texas has not had much success with its blitzes this year. Mack Brown said recently that the defensive coaches are getting back to basics - meaning they're focusing on tackling and executing their assignments - and they might scale back the defensive playbook for the bowl game.

Texas is decent against the run, but it really struggles against the pass. The Longhorns surrender more than 275 passing yards per game, ranking them 109th in the nation in pass defense.

What is the team's mindset coming into the game? Do the players seem motivated and if so, what is motivating them?

The answer to this question depends on who you listen to. Of course, Mack Brown has said the team has a lot to play for, including a seventh-straight 10 win season and a fourth-straight bowl win, and he expects his players to be ready.

But this is a team that was counting on a BCS bid had it won its most recent game, and it finds itself in a similar situation that it was in last year. Texas threw away a BCS bid late in the year, played Iowa in the Alamo Bowl, and the Longhorns came out flat and unmotivated in that game. Some insiders feel that this year's team has the same feel heading to the Holiday Bowl.

Texas should be able to get up for the game because of the quality of opponent, but this has been a tough group to read all year. It has often-times played down to the level of the competition, but it's been able to fight back for a win the majority of the time.

Defensively, ASU has had some trouble defending the field laterally in space, especially with bubble screens and passes in the flat. Will Texas look to exploit this and if so, how?

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has never been afraid to call screens to the wide receivers. In fact, he has mentioned several times that they use that play as an extension of their running game. However, Texas does not throw to its backs in the flat very often, unless it's on a play where McCoy moves out of the pocket and dumps it off.

Look for Texas to throw several wide receiver screens, with Quan Cosby being the likely recipient.

What is your prediction on the game and why?

Texas is such a hard team to figure this year because they can look awful at times, only to turn it around and play like a championship-caliber team all within the course of a game. I could certainly see a scenario where the Longhorns win this game, but I don't think it's a very good match-up for Texas and I expect Arizona State to put up a lot of points on the board, particularly with the pass.

I like the Sun Devils in the neighborhood of 38-28.

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