October 8, 2009

MUSCHAMP 101: Colorado, who's stepping up and more

Will Muschamp's defense is coming off a five-turnover shutout against UTEP (only points were a pick-six by Colt McCoy) and now gets a Colorado offense that is averaging three interceptions per road game this season.

If you're still wondering if Muschamp is the magic potion he was last year, stop wondering. It will be unmistakable the next four games.

Sergio Kindle is on a two-game streak with a sack/fumble. Emmanuel Acho is on a two-game streak causing a fumble, picking up where his brother, Sam Acho, left off after Sam recovered four fumbles in the first three games of the season.

This week, we talk to the defensive coordinator and future coach of the Longhorns about celebration penalties (FYI, he wasn't happy about his alma mater Georgia getting flagged for excessive celebration against LSU last weekend). About the pass rush, about Jared Norton and Christian Scott's absence from the run defense. And much, much more.


After the Georgia receiver A.J. Green's celebration penalty, which appeared to be questionable, and probably helped LSU win in Athens last weekend, Muschamp said celebration penalties are about judgment.

"You always have judgment," Muschamp said. "We always tell our guys as long as you don't bring attention to yourself, you're all right. But if you do, you're subject to a penalty probably.

"We always try to tell the guys it's not just you who made the play. Someone freed you up to make the play or caused the interception or the fumble. Someone else took a double team and allowed you one-on-one in the pass rush. So it's not always me, me, me. Yeah me.

"Someone else helped you get there. That's where I think some players want to draw attention to themselves because they think they made the play alone. But it's a team game. Football is the greatest team game there is."


After four games, Texas is 11th nationally in sacks (3 sacks per game), second in rushing defense (47.3 ypg) and is second nationally in third-down defense (21 percent). But Muschamp said he'll take turnovers. Texas is ahead of last year with 12 forced turnovers after forcing only 16 all of last season.

"I'll take turnovers," Muschamp said. "I think we've gotten good pressure in four games. I think we've positively affected the quarterback for our team. I look at pressures and hits.

"Obviously we want sacks, but I think we've done an effective job in the game of affecting the quarterback with the exception of the Texas Tech game.

"I don't know that we affected him as much as we could have on a couple drives. Now, obviously the sack/fumble we did. We had two series there when we certainly did. But I've been pleased with the rush all year.

"Whether we're rushing with four or five, we have maxed and brought six at times, we've done a nice job."


It's probably hard for UT coaches to think about what could have been with Texas' run defense if Jared Norton and Christian Scott were on the field. Especially with running teams like Colorado and Oklahoma coming up.

"They are two of our best hitters on the team," said Mack Brown. "They knock you out. Christian, a couple times in practice, I was trying to pull Christian away before he hurt somebody. Jared is the same way. They're athletic, but they're big hitters."

When asked about what Norton and Scott were bringing to fall camp and could have brought to the run defense if healthy, Muschamp wouldn't let himself go there.

"They're both good, physical football players," Muschamp said. "But one man's misfortunes is another man's opportunity. I hate it for both of those kids with the injury to Jared and the situation involving Christian. But you've got to move on. We're not going to make excuses. We've got good players, and it's time for someone else to step up and play. That's the way we do things."


The Texas defense had success batting down passes of Colorado QB Cody Hawkins last year in Boulder.

"We talk about pushing the pocket and not giving throwing lanes," Muschamp said. "We talk about getting hands up and batting the ball. We expect a lot of pocket movement, sprintout and dash (from Colorado) - number one, because our rush has been effective; number two, because he (Cody Hawkins) is a good athlete and throws very well on the run."

One concern for Texas will be the ability of 5-9 Colorado RB Rodney Stewart to hid behind some 6-4, 6-5 and even 6-7 linemen before finding holes. Muschamp said there's a way to make sure a small back doesn't get lost.

"Gap control. The biggest thing is you lose sight of the back and come out of your gap," Muschamp said. "We're an attack, gap-control defense, so just keep your head in your gap. The ball may bend back to you. Stewart will take the ball anywhere. He's got good vision.

"So just keep your head in your gap. Strike and control up front. Strike out of your hips, play in your gaps up front, attack and understand the ball will bend back to you eventually if we do our job on the front side."


Several young players have gotten playing time on the Texas defense recently, including DT Calvin Howell.

"Calvin's done a nice job of striking and playing with pad level and running to the football and playing with effort," Muschamp said. "He's like a sponge. He's taking it all in right now. We've thrown a lot at him and let him play early in games and cut it loose."

Tevin Mims and Tyrell Higgins' specialties are a quickness. While Derek Johnson is a plugger, who can take the role of nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.

"Tevin Mims, we decided to play up at Wyoming because we felt like with Eddie (Jones') shoulder we didn't know," Muschamp said. "He's had some injuries in the past, and we didn't want to get to Week 8 and have to trot him out there without ever having played. We felt like he was ready.

"He's a very mature young man. He needs to get stronger in his upper body. But he's got a lot of upside to him. The stronger he gets, the better player he's going to be.

"Tyrell has done a nice job with some of the opportunities he's had. He needs to continue to work on his pad level and overall girth, body strength and playing the double teams.

"Derek Johnson is a big body inside they have a hard time moving. You play a lot of 3-4 with that in the middle. Demand the double team inside, and he had a good week for us."


Muschamp got questions this week about why Texas is ahead of where it was last year in forcing turnovers. In 2008, UT forced only six interceptions and 16 turnovers total. Texas had four interceptions in the UTEP game alone.

"No one will believe it, but we emphasized it last year," Muschamp said. "We talked about it. We did strip drills. We chart every practice as far as caused fumbles, caused interceptions, interceptions, blocks on returns. I think we've just finished plays a little better.

"We've had good pressure. Better coverage on receivers at times. In the UTEP game, Earl (Thomas) makes a phenomenal play on the ball, and the interception by Ben Wells came off pressure. The interception before half was caused by great pressure up front by Lamarr Houston.

"Maybe a little better pressure at times and then finishing plays better. I think there's a little less thinking going on and a little more reacting. That comes with experience, which I think we have, especially on the back end."


Muschamp felt like Texas matched up well with Colorado last season in Boulder, a 38-14 victory by the Longhorns.

"We felt like we matched up well with them up front," Muschamp said of Colorado last season. "They have three good backs. Hawkins is an athletic quarterback who has a lot of savvy about himself. McKnight is a good receiver outside, and they have three, big tight ends who run decently.

"So we have to do a good job on the intermediate coverage and matching up on the tight ends and do a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage because they are probably going to come in and try to slow the game down, pocket movement and run the ball."


One third of the way into the season, I asked Muschamp who has been a pleasant surprise for him on defense.

"I think there's a lot of guys who have been deserving," Muschamp said. "We put an awful lot on Sam Acho from the standpoint of a guy we needed to play well for us. I think Sam's palyed well in four games. He's been very consistent in his performance. It was expected, but you don't know until it's down-to-down.

"Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson have been guys who played last year but didn't get the snaps they're getting now. Lamarr Houston continues to improve inside. He's had a good week. I'm pleased with him.

"Curtis Brown has really played good football for us this year. He's been as consistent as anyone back there. Earl Thomas has played well and that was expected. I'm looking at guys in different roles. Sergio played a lot last year, so we expected him to be as good as he's been."


Muschamp said senior LB Roddrick Muckelroy has been "very steady" and a "great role model for the younger guys." Muschamp said LB Dustin Earnest has bounced back from the flu that sidelined him against UTEP. Muschamp is also high on redshirt freshman Ryan Roberson.

"Ryan Roberson probably has the best feet of all the guys," Muschamp said. "Good natural instincts. Good punch and power - a guy I think is really going to be a good player but just hasn't done it. He played a lot in the UTEP game and has been doing well on the special teams."


Muschamp was asked to compare his defense to others defenses doing well nationally. As soon as the question got out of the reporter's mouth, I knew we would get one of those curt responses from Coach Boom.

"We've got our own set of issues," Boom said. "Week-to-week. I could care less what anyone else is doing."

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