But That Was Last Year

Last season, the Texas Longhorns weren't all that great a team. Sure, a bad year for Texas meant that they finished second in the Big 12 South to a BCS-Bound Oklahoma Team. But they also lost to mediocre Texas A&M and Kansas State squads, and were only a play or so away from losing games to both Nebraska and Oklahoma State.

That would have pushed Texas all the way down to a disastrous fifth in the south.

But that was last year. This year, the Longhorns are sitting pretty at 9-1, with a whole lot to play for in the upcoming weeks. First, there’s the shot at a Big 12 title. Then, there’s the possibility that, even if they don’t win the South, the Longhorns could wind up in the national championship game.

Offensively, the Longhorns have been juggernauts, putting up 44.3 points and 476 yards per game, something that can be explained through the emergence of the Longhorns’ triggerman. Quarterback Colt McCoy (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) has rebounded nicely from a down sophomore year and is clearly in the race for the Heisman Trophy. As he should be – McCoy is creating a nation’s best 78 percent of his passes, while throwing for 28 touchdowns against just seven interceptions. He’s added another 449 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

While McCoy is the team’s top rusher, Texas has several solid options at running back. Vondrell McGee (5-10 205) and Fozzy Whittaker (5-10 190) are both more explosive, speed back types. Chris Ogbonnaya (6-1 215) brings versatility and is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Fullback Cody Johnson (5-11 255) is a short-yardage threat. He has 10 touchdowns on the season. The Longhorns will also line up defensive tackle Roy Miller (6-2 295) at fullback in short yardage situations.

McCoy’s season has been helped dramatically by the emergence of two top-notch threats in the receiving corps. Flanker Jordan Shipley (6-0 190) leads the Longhorns with 70 catches, 860 yards and 11 touchdowns. But it’s split end Quan Cosby (5-11 200) who is the Biletnikoff Award finalist. Malcolm Williams (6-3 218) is a big play threat as the team’s third receiver. He averages 18.5 yards per catch. The Longhorns lost another threat when tight end Blaine Irby went down for the season with injury. His replacement, Greg Smith (6-4 295) is more of a lineman. He has just two catches for four yards, though one of his receptions was for a touchdown.

The offensive line has been responsible for Texas gaining 174 yards per game on the ground, while at the same time giving McCoy time to pick apart the defense. It’s a good group, but one that should be pretty banged up heading into Saturday’s game. True freshman David Snow (6-4 300) will step in at center, thanks to the injury to starting center Chris Hall. Starting left tackle Adam Ulatoski (6-8 302) was injured last week as well. If he can’t go, look for sophomore Tray Allen to fill in. Kyle Hix (6-7 320), Cedric Dockery (6-4 315) and left guard Charlie Tanner (6-4 305) make up the rest of the line.

While the offense is better than it was last year, it’s the defense, under the direction of Will Muschamp, that has made the biggest strides. A lot of that starts up front, where the Longhorns have multiple players among the best in the conference at their positions. Foremost among that group is quick defensive end Brian Orakpo (6-4 260), who is expected to play despite missing last week with an injury. In nine games, Orakpo has 15 tackles for loss, including nine sacks. He also has 23 hurries, which puts him just two hurries up on nose tackle Miller. Miller also has seven tackles in the backfield and three sacks on the season, while defensive tackles Aaron Lewis (6-4 270) and Lamarr Houston (6-2 279) have combined for 10 tackles for loss. Henry Melton (6-3 260), a converted running back, is solid at the power defensive end spot.

The linebackers have also shown vast improvement from last year. Sergio Kindle (6-4 239) has supplied another pass rusher from the SAM linebacker position, grabbing eight tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Rashad Bobino (5-11 230) and Jared Norton (6-3 230) have combined for 70 tackles in the middle, which still leaves them 23 tackles back of team leader Roddrick Muckelroy (6-2 235).

If the defense has a weakness, it’s in the secondary, where the Longhorns could be without cornerback Chykie Brown (6-1 185), who has been hurt by a high ankle sprain. Still, Ryan Palmer (5-10 186) and Deon Beasley (5-10 175) are solid options. Right safety Earl Thomas (5-10 195) and left safety Blake Gideon (6-1 197) are solid tacklers, but they can be exploited at times with the passing game.

Hunter Lawrence has had a nice year kicking the ball, connecting on nine of 11 field goal attempts, including four of five from 40 yards or more. Punter John Gold averages 43.6 yards per punt, while Shipley and Cosby handle return duties. Shipley is the more explosive option – he averages 30.6 yards per kick return, while he took one of his two punt returns back for a touchdown. As a team, the Longhorns have returned just nine punts in 10 games.

Historically, the Longhorns haven’t played well when traveling north into cold weather, but they’re playing for a lot, including shots at both the Big 12 and National Title. It will take more than a little cold and wind to keep them from showing up.

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