July 24, 2009

Five areas UT trails the 2008 Longhorns

Orangebloods.com did a series in May comparing this year's team to the one that won it all in 2005 to remind everyone just how difficult it is to win a national title and how much luck is involved (especially in terms of injuries or lack of them).

We also wanted to point to some of the areas where this year's team may be ahead of 2005 and where it may be behind. Today, I want to look at where this team is ahead and behind last year's 12-1 team that probably should have played for the national title.

Here are five areas where I think this team is behind last year's team. On Saturday, I'll have the five areas where I think this year's team is ahead of last year's team.


1. Running game
- Right now, we don't know if there's a back who can step up the way Chris Ogbonnaya did against Colorado (9 carries for 71 yards and a score and six catches for 116 yards and another TD ) and Oklahoma (15 carries for 127 yards). Ogbonnaya averaged 5.0 yards per carry and caught 46 passes for 540 yards (11.7 ypc). Ogbonnaya was the forgotten man going into last season, but he delivered when Texas needed him most.

It's possible Colt McCoy could lead UT in rushing again this season, but what would that say about UT's running game? Mack Brown says he's committed to a power rushing attack. Mack has sort of pushed all in on this. He believes defenses are so consumed with stopping the pass that they can be knocked backward by a smash-mouth running game.

All indications have pointed to Cody Johnson getting the first crack at the job in this new, power mindset. But Johnson still has to earn it after getting injured in the spring.

A healthy Foswhitt Whittaker has been impressive in seven-on-seven and has added the muscle coaches wanted. Vondrell McGee ran more relaxed in the spring.

McCoy will do whatever he needs to do to move the chains, and most of it will come through the air. But how will his arm be complemented on the ground? Hard to say right now.

2. Depth and experience on the defensive line - When you lose Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Aaron Lewis and Henry Melton, you've taken some huge hits.

Texas may end up being as talented on the defensive line this season depending on the emergence of some new faces like Alex Okafor and Calvin Howell as well as some familiar faces like Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall and Eddie Jones. But to start the season, UT is behind where it was on the defensive line last year.

In talking to Will Muschamp in the spring, he thought Texas might not miss a beat from a pass-rush standpoint on the D-line with all the passing teams it will face. Muschamp likes having flexible, athletic guys on the line to get after QBs on passing teams.

So you'll see Lamarr Houston with Randall and possibly moving Acho and Jones inside if Okafor comes on at end to get after passers. The big question will come against teams who can run - like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. In those games, a 1-technique NT like Ben Alexander could play a bigger role. While Alexander came on strong in the spring, he has to show he can do it over an entire season.

3. Element of surprise - How many times had you heard or thought during OU's five-year win streak against Texas from 2000-04 that OU always had the new wrinkle that caught Texas off-guard? Not last year. Greg Davis and the Texas offense sprung its 11 personnel (four-wides, one back) on the Sooners after not showing it the previous six years. It burned OU over and over as McCoy, WR Jordan Shipley and WR Quan Cosby kept connecting and answering any surges by the Sooners.

What will Texas have in store for OU this season? The Sooners will be game-planning for the 11 personnel. What will be new? The Oklahoma defense will be better because of the depth in the Sooners' front seven. Most likely it will come down to McCoy's ridiculous 73.4 percent career completion rate against OU. But a new wrinkle - like last year - would certainly help take some pressure off McCoy having to do everything against a defense that knows what's coming.

4. Pass rusher in the Buck Package - Last season, it took Will Muschamp one day of practice watching Sergio Kindle rushing the passer to know Kindle needed to be on or close to the line of scrimmage on passing downs. The result was 10 sacks to complement Orakpo's 11.5 sacks. With Orakpo moving on, it will almost be incumbent on Kindle to match Orakpo's total from last year. But who will match Kindle's production as the Buck end this year? Emmanuel Acho? It's possible.

Roy Miller had 5.5 sacks last season and Melton had four and Aaron Lewis had 1.5. You have to think Sam Acho, Alex Okafor and Eddie Jones can combine to come up with 11 sacks from the end opposite Kindle. But the Longhorns will need to find some serious pass rush ability from the Buck Package to match Kindle's production last season for Texas, which led the nation in sacks (47) last season.

5. Colt McCoy's completion rate - It's almost unfair to expect McCoy to match his NCAA record 76.7 percent completion rate from 2008. And McCoy doesn't need to go into the season thinking he needs to match it.

We will have a report in the next week showing just how absurdly good McCoy was on third-and-long last season. So McCoy doesn't need to put any added pressure on himself to try to surpass last season's passing totals. He just needs to do enough each Saturday for Texas to win.

My gut says Colt will finish the season with a completion rate around 74 or 75 percent. And that's still plenty good enough for Texas to move the ball and win each game.

Tomorrow: Five areas Texas is already ahead of last season.

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