September 28, 2008

Muschamp is the team's heart and soul

Will Muschamp is starting to have the same effect on Texas that Vince Young had on the Longhorns.

Players are starting to believe they can do anything. Thanks to playmakers like Brian Orakpo, Sergio Kindle, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, the identity of this team is changing - from uncertain to certain, from hoping to knowing.

It all leads back to Muschamp. He's not only the heart and soul of this team, but he may just be the Bill Belichick of college football.


In the NFL, Belichick is known for scheming to take away what opposing offenses do best.

What we learned Saturday night in talking to Muschamp's Maulers after the game was the coach added 20 new plays for Arkansas, including several different cornerback blitzes and some new zone schemes.

The result was 11 yards rushing, seven sacks, a defensive touchdown and three points allowed to Arkansas' offense.

"The plays were totally different," senior defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "We had like 20 new plays we picked up this week. Honestly, guys were kind of nervous heading into the first practice because we didn't want to mess up.

"We fought through it. We spent a lot of time walking through and doing things like that. When you do things like that and the coaches stay on you about it, learning a bunch of new plays doesn't seem too overwhelming. But it was a great scheme. Coach Muschamp is a really smart man."


One of Muschamp's many new wrinkles was having Sergio Kindle take his hand off the ground, stand up and start looking for a hole to blitz through on the same side as Brian Orakpo. Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick was so distraught at the thought, he called timeout.

"Getting into the hype throws teams off," Kindle said. "We know no matter how good we're playing, the team we're playing the next week isn't going to see it that way. They don't care about our ranking, points, stats or how good we've looked. They will want to take us down. So we can't get big-headed. We have to remain a humble team and put our work in."

What Colorado coach Dan Hawkins will see on film as he sifts through Texas-Arkansas is a Longhorns' defense that is stretching the capacity of its players. And the scary thing is, Texas has been able to handle Muschamp's desire to throw a ton of new looks at teams every week.

If there was a previous mentality at Texas of just lining up with superior talent and out-executing the opponent, those days are long gone. Muschamp not only wants his players to execute like marksmen, but he wants them to have a bunch of new artillery to fire.

"We install so much during training camp that the guys probably wonder how they are going to keep up with it all," Muschamp said. "But we just continue to rep it and rep it, and then when the week comes where we need to use a lot of it, it starts to take hold. The reps are starting to pay off and will continue to."


To add 20 new plays for Arkansas, Muschamp chose to skip a bunch of film study of the Razorbacks and do walkthroughs almost every day last week before practice.

"We walked through every day, even last Sunday," Miller said.

Added cornerback Ryan Palmer, "It's better to walk through than sit and watch film because you get some physical reps. We changed up some of the zones, and we didn't have hardly any busts. What makes me most proud is to see how the young guys in the secondary are continuing to grow. Guys like A.J. (Aaron Williams), Curtis (Brown) and Ben (Wells). They're looking good."

One of the biggest challenges in college football is avoiding the emotional swings of the season. A big performance can be followed by a flat one. That's why Mack Brown's seven straight 10-win seasons are so impressive.

But Muschamp has his guys completely invested in the blue-collar, physical mentality he promised to deliver before the season. During games, he hands out praise by slapping his players' chests and helmets or even jumping into their arms. But once the game is done, he's already thinking about next week.

"Coach Muschamp has a great scheme for every week," Miller said. "Our defense changed so much from last week to this week. We came in and said, 'How are we going to learn all these new plays for this week?' But that's what Coach Muschamp stresses to us, that we have to be multiple and smart. We have to break down a team, and Muschamp does that better than anyone. It's his schemes that allow us to make these plays. That guy deserves all the credit for that."


Here's where Muschamp is truly gifted: he's gotten a bunch of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to think the way he thinks. He's an incredible teacher. If his players can't grasp what he's teaching, it will show in confusion on the field. If players are a reflection of their coach, the Longhorns' defense is turning into something special because the players - young and old - are grasping everything he's teaching.

Let's be honest, Arkansas' offense was almost one-dimensional to begin with because Dick's receivers were so green. Four true freshmen took snaps at wideout. The running backs and tight end D.J. Williams were about the only ones who seemed to be receiving threats. The next three weeks will be the ultimate test.

But this defense is starting to believe it can do special things, and Muschamp is having the same effect on Texas that Vince Young had. It's the sense that no matter what bad happens, they can overcome it. And the players are starting to realize Muschamp will have something new for them every week - and that it will work. It's that kind of mentality that allows a defense to take down an offense that seems to be unstoppable, like those at Oklahoma or Missouri.

"We're just getting after it," said defensive end Henry Melton. "We're starting to put it together pretty much. We're just getting started pretty much. I have to give it up to Muschamp. He came in and said this what he expects out of us and we're just trying to achieve that goal. The guy is so intense at all times."


Melton went on to say, "We're kind of floating under the radar right now.

No one outside of Texas' locker room believes that. Texas got a No. 1 vote in the coaches' poll today. But as long as the UT players believe it that's all that matters. Talk to Muschamp long enough and the word overachieve keeps popping up. Listen to the players and you see how Muschamp is getting them to stretch, push and, in fact, achieve things they've never been asked to do before. It's what Muschamp calls overachieving.

"We're all feeding off each other's energy," Melton said. "We're feeding off each other. We're feeding off Muschamp. We're feeding off the offense. Everybody wants to get there, and that's what I love about this defense."

The unity and chemistry of the defense was illustrated when Aaron Williams returned his interception 81 yards for a touchdown. The entire sideline seemed to run on the field. UT was flagged for excessive celebration.

"That's the thing about this defense," Palmer said. "No jealousy. If someone makes a play, we all celebrate together. We jumped on him and got a penalty today, but we're just going to keep doing what we're doing.

"That's how the defense gets closer and gets unity. We were doing too good to get fussed at."


The offense senses the defense's new swagger. McCoy talked over and over again about the short fields the defense gave him to work with against Arkansas. Jordan Shipley said, point blank, "Our defense is playing lights out."

And then you have the secondary and line trying to give the other all the credit.

Said Orakpo, "Our guys are covering so well, it's giving us time to get to the quarterback because he's having to hold the ball."

Countered Palmer, "Rak and them got after them today. He gives credit to us, but we give credit to him because if he gets back there, we don't have to cover as long. It goes both ways. This defense is getting its identity - blue collar, no matter who we play. We're hard-nosed and real tight as a defense."

Before the season, Texas had a secondary full of newbies at safety, a chronic lack of pass rush and linebackers searching for confidence after being shelved most of last season. With Muschamp - like Vince Young - the things that may have looked impossible before the season start to look possible.

The dress rehearsals are over. Muschamp now starts the Big 12 gauntlet that includes nine quarterbacks currently ranked in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency, including UT foes Sam Bradford (No. 3), Chase Daniel (No. 4), Zac Robinson (No. 5), Robert Griffin (No. 10), Todd Reesing (No. 18) and Graham Harrell (No. 20).

You can bet Muschamp will have something new for each of them.

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