Texas Game Preview Part 3 - 5 questions

We sit down with Kevin Flaherty, the publisher of Longhorn Digest to find out what the Bears can expect from Texas this Saturday evening.

With the Baylor Bears facing off against the Texas Longhorns for the 102nd time, we sat down with Longhorn Digest publisher Kevin Flaherty to ask him some questions about UT.

1. What does the loss of Jackson Jeffcoat do to the UT front four and how big of a loss is it to the defense?

Any time you lose an All-America caliber player, and somebody projected to be a first-round NFL Draft choice, it's a pretty big blow. Jeffcoat had 11 tackles for loss and four sacks, so he actually made more big plays against the run than he did rushing the passer. And that could be where the biggest loss is felt. Fellow end Alex Okafor has called former five-star end Reggie Wilson the best backup defensive end in the country, and Wilson gets a chance to prove that now. But he's known as more of a pass-rusher than an every-down guy at this point. He, and fellow backup Cedric Reed, are pretty experienced, as Texas used four defensive ends against spread teams. Even if Wilson is ready for the limelight though, his promotion means that the Longhorns have to push up the development of true freshman Torshiro Davis. Davis is an excellent athletic talent, but now he'll have to put it all together because he's going to see his first playing time in key spots Saturday.

2. What is the status of Malcolm Brown, and if he does come back, how will that impact the running back time-share?

It's hard to get any information on Malcolm Brown's status, but the safe thing is probably to say that he hasn't played in the two games following his ankle injury, so there's no reason to assume that he'll be 100 percent even if he can go. Even with Texas's depth at running back, that's a bigger blow than most people imagine. Brown received more than three carries in two games this year, and in those two contests he rushed for 233 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and showing flashes of what made him arguably the nation's top back out of high school. Johnathan Gray was the Longhorns' leading rusher against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, but there's still some question about whether he can handle a full load. Joe Bergeron is physical and is a strong short-yardage back, but he hasn't shown the explosion many expected from him. Other than a 54-yard run in the opener against Wyoming, Bergeron has rushed 72 times for 247 yards, or just 3.4 yards per carry. Jeremy Hills is solid as a third-down back, but hasn't seen much action as a runner. Texas didn't really get to do this because of how quickly the Oklahoma game got out of hand, but don't be surprised to see increased touches for speedsters D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson, either in a more traditional running back role or on jet sweeps as a wide receiver.

3. How is the team feeling after the big loss to OU, their second in a row in the annual grudge-match? with so much noise coming out of Austin about the job status of certain coaches, including Mack Brown, has the staff lost the team?

I think the term embarrassed would probably apply. Most of the players I talked to felt like they were just as talented as the Sooners, but that the team didn't respond after Oklahoma punched them in the mouth early. I don't think Mack Brown has lost the team, though. One of the most fascinating things about Brown's tenure at Texas is just how well he's gotten the team re-focused after a Red River loss. Eight times, the Longhorns have lost to Bob Stoops and Co., and seven times, Texas has won its next game. Even the lone loss — last year's game against Oklahoma State — was arguably the team's best effort last year, and came against one of the top teams in the country. So the Longhorns will probably be pretty stirred up Saturday. Even if Brown weren't so good at getting the team back on track after Oklahoma losses, players are probably pretty motivated by the fact that Baylor has won the last two contests and that the Bears won last year's game so convincingly in the season finale.

4. The Texas defense was very highly rated coming into the season, but has fallen flat on its face so far this year. What has happened, and do you see any hope in getting back to being a good defensive team this season?

Sometimes, the simplest answer is actually the best one, and here it is: Texas is young, at least from an experience standpoint, up the middle. That's why the loss of Jordan Hicks was so devastating. With Hicks in the lineup, Texas led Ole Miss 38-10 at halftime. And ever since, we've seen the Longhorns give up an avalanche of yards and points. They've been especially poor against the running game from spread offenses. When Texas goes to the nickel, often its default set against spreads, safety Kenny Vaccaro moves down to the nickel back spot. That leaves Texas with two inexperienced linebackers — likely some combination of Steve Edmond, Kendall Thompson and Demarco Cobbs, with some of true freshman Dalton Santos thrown in — and an inexperienced safety in Mykkele Thompson. Likewise, Adrian Phillips hasn't made the easy transition from jack-of-all-trades cornerback/safety to full-time safety that many thought he would make. Thompson is a great athlete, and plugging him in against West Virginia helped to slow down the Mountaineer passing attack. But the Longhorns have struggled to maintain gap integrity against the run, and at times haven't even gotten lined up correctly. The positive news, if you're a Longhorn fan, is that those are mistakes that can be corrected. It's not a question of them just getting plowed over, or of them not being athletic enough. But those fixes better come fast. You can't be undisciplined defensively in the Big 12 and live to tell about it.

5. Who is one offensive and defensive player that Baylor fans might not know much about, but should be aware of before the game on Saturday night?

Offensively, I'd say it would probably be Daje Johnson. The Longhorns had a bunch of returnees offensively from a year ago, so there aren't really too many new faces. And Johnathan Gray's recruitment was enough of a news story that most people are probably pretty aware of him. In Johnson, a true freshman running back/wide receiver from Pflugerville Hendrickson, Texas has a very good space player with speed who can break some tackles. He's averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 16.7 yards per catch. The Longhorns didn't get to utilize him much last weekend, and could try to make up for it by pressing him into earlier action this week. Freshman receiver Cayleb Jones has also been seeing more and more time. He brings something the three starters — Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin — don't have, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound frame.

Defensively, Mykkele Thompson could wind up being a key for Texas. Last year, the Bears were able to exploit Texas's safeties in space a bit, and Thompson's primary strength is that he's a great athlete at safety. The former option quarterback is still developing as a tackler, but his speed on the back end could be vital to try and slow down Baylor's passing attack. Also, keep an eye on whether Brandon Moore plays. The junior defensive tackle was outstanding early against Oklahoma before getting hurt, and when he's on, he's a dominant presence on that line. Texas will probably try to defend Baylor's spread by leaving two deep safeties, meaning the Bears will have chances to find running room. So the best way for the Longhorns to show up well is to win the battle up front, and Moore could be important there.

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