A Match-Up As Big As, Well, Texas

We take a detailed look at No. 2-ranked Texas, which comes into Ohio Stadium Saturday (8 p.m., ABC) to face No. 4 Ohio State. We look at the coaching tenure of Mack Brown. Plus, we study the impact of do-it-all quarterback Vince Young. We scout the UT offense and defense and provide a ton of neat notables on this one-of-a-kind match-up. Click here for more.

Just last year, Mr. February suddenly became known as Mr. January.

Of course, we're talking about Texas coach Mack Brown, whose reputation as a strong recruiter was dulled by the fact his Longhorns teams had never seemed to win the big one.

That all changed last Jan. 1 as Brown guided Texas to a stunning 38-37 victory over Big Ten co-champion Michigan on the hallowed ground of the Rose Bowl. That win, keyed by the heroics of then-sophomore quarterback Vince Young, helped Brown finally get that big game monkey off his back.

That win helped Texas finish 11-1, its best record in Brown's seven years as the Texas head coach. The major stumbling block in his tenure has been Oklahoma, which has taken five straight wins over Texas.

"We need to get from 10 wins, 11 wins to 13 or 14," said Brown, whose No. 2-ranked Longhorns will invade Ohio Stadium Saturday for a game against No. 4 Ohio State (8 p.m., ABC national telecast). "The things we haven't accomplished, our ultimate goal ... (beating) Oklahoma leads to all of it."

How much has Oklahoma cost Texas these last five years? Consider that the Longhorns were 52-6 in all of their other games combined, it is possible that OU denied Texas perhaps as many as three or four Big 12 championships and maybe even one or two shots at a national title.

Brown's reputation as a recruiter is nonpareil. He and his UT staff landed the nation's top recruiting classes in 1999 and 2002 and also had top-five ranked classes in 2000 and 2001. Texas is already the leader in the clubhouse for the 2006 recruiting race. With nearly five months until national signing day, Brown has 24 verbal commitments. That group includes six of Scout.com's top 100 players nationally.

Texas fans have stood by their man, as has the administration. Prior to last year's Rose Bowl -- which was Texas' first appearance in the seven-year-old Bowl Championship Series -- the school gave Brown a 10-year, $25 million extension that will take him through 2014.

"Mack's been the difference," said UT athletic director DeLoss Dodds. "He's turned things around, and got us where we need to be. He's done it in the right way, with class. I don't think it's ever been any better than this."

For now, though, Oklahoma is the last thing on Brown's mind. That rivalry will keep until those two teams meet Oct. 8 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Instead, Brown and the Longhorns are focused on Ohio State. This game is a rare nonconference match-up of top-five ranked teams.

"One of the great things about this game is the young guys that came to The University of Texas, and the young guys that went to Ohio State did that for reasons like this, for this game," said Brown, whose team opened with a 60-3 laugher over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday. "It's two great universities. It's two storied histories, and all of these players have dreamed of this game. A lot of them talked about it being the one of the things that excited them when they signed. It makes it even more fun to prepare. Our guys can't wait."

Just as Texas and Michigan met for the first time at the Rose Bowl, this will be the first meeting ever for the nation's two largest universities on the football field. The teams will be matched again next year, when Ohio State visits Austin on Sept. 9, 2006.

"These two schools have played football for many years and have not played each other," Brown said. "It probably says something about our championship system for all three of these teams to have been so good and never met in the final game. But that makes it exciting as well."

Brown revealed that Texas was in position to play OSU in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2003 season until Kansas State upset Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

"We were very disappointed that we didn't get this match-up in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago," he said. "We felt like it would be a prelim to the series and we are excited about them coming here next year. I know there is a tremendous amount of excitement in Columbus but Austin will be the same way next year."

Ohio State and Texas have each had their share of award winners, All-Americans and guys who went on to fame and fortune in the National Football League. The star power should again be heavy on Saturday night as Young and the Longhorns take on Ted Ginn Jr., the latest Sports Illustrated cover boy, and the Buckeyes.

"Our guys talk about being on ESPN highlights all the time," Brown said. "That is something they like. They say you want to be on there for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons. They know these players. The Ohio State players know our guys because it's the respect they have. On All-American teams, they are always together. At the awards banquets at the end of the year they are together. These teams are a lot more familiar with each other than we would think."

Forever Young

Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis has built his attack around the incredible talent of Young, UT's 6-5, 233-pound quarterback who boasts 4.4-second speed in the 40.

Last year, he became the first player in Texas history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in a season. He was 148 of 250 passing (59.2 percent) for 1,849 yards with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also had 167 carries for 1,079 yards (6.5 average) and 14 touchdowns.

Young was at his very best in the Rose Bowl, accounting for all five of UT's touchdowns. He threw for 180 yards and a score and also carried 21 times for 192 yards and four touchdowns.

"We are really excited about Vince's personality in big games and the way he handled himself at the end of last year, specifically at the Rose Bowl," Brown said. "I think that flipped another switch for him and put him in another gear. He is pumped about this ballgame.

"He is very competitive, but fun, and light-hearted. He really embraces this arena. He likes it. He competes for it and the kids like the way he responds to it."

Texas is reloading at tailback after the departure of Cedric Benson, who rushed for 1,839 yards and scored 19 touchdowns last year. The three lead candidates are junior Selvin Young (6-0, 215) and true freshmen Jamaal Charles (6-1, 190) and Henry Melton (6-3, 270 – yes, that's not a misprint, 270 pounds).

Selvin Young rushed for 408 yards and scored four touchdowns as Benson's backup a year ago. He had 67 yards and a touchdown in the opener against ULL.

"The biggest concern is the inexperience at running back, specifically with Selvin," Brown said. "We want to make sure he is well mentally, because he is physically. He still has not put his new game back on the field, per se."

That has meant that Charles, who had 135 yards and a touchdown in his debut against ULL, and Melton, who had 65 yards and two scores last week, have gotten a look.

"It is unusual to play freshmen so early," Brown admitted. "It puts us in a position where we have not had the depth there (without) Cedric Benson. We feel like both of these young men have a chance to be great. Cedric was in that position when he was a freshman; Selvin was a backup when he was a freshman. These guys need to jump out there and be ready to go on Saturday."

One more key weapon for the offense is sophomore Ramonce Taylor (5-11, 195), who could line up in the backfield as well or at receiver.

"Ramonce is young in our program," Brown said. "He did some great things last year. The thing he does the best is make yards in space. Every time he walks in the game everybody is saying they are going to throw it to him or hand it to him, so we have to try and build some things for him to do that do not distract from the offense."

Senior Brian Carter (5-11, 190), sophomores Limas Sweed (6-5, 219) and Billy Pittman (6-0, 198) and true freshman Quan Cosby (5-11, 200) will also factor in.

"We feel like we can improve at explosives," Brown said. "In the passing game, we can stretch the field more vertically. That is something we are still not getting done as much as we would like to but we feel like we do have a chance.

"We felt like our receivers responded well. They worked so hard this spring and summer under Vince's direction. He was raving about them after the summer. To see the improvement that all of them have made, specifically a guy like Billy Pittman, was really exciting. Billy caught the ball throughout camp. Ramonce (Taylor) has really helped us out there because he can make plays in space and he has got great hands. We felt that the guys passed the test overall. We are pleased with our receivers right now."

Senior David Thomas (6-3, 245) returns at tight end. He had 25 catches and five touchdowns – including UT's first score at the Rose Bowl – a year ago.

"David Thomas is a great person," Brown said. "He is a great player, and he has meant so much to this football team over that last three years. We will still get the ball to him a lot this year, so he will be a valuable part of this offense. He is a great student. He wants to coach after he gets through with the NFL. He is engaged for next year so he has some new changes coming up in his life. If we could recruit everybody that works as hard, and is as smart and talented as David Thomas, my job would be a whole lot easier."

The Texas offensive line is considered among the game's very best with four starters back. The key name is senior left tackle Jonathan Scott (6-7, 315). Also back are junior left guard Kasey Studdard (6-3, 305), senior right guard Will Allen (6-6, 315) and junior right tackle Justin Blalock (6-4, 329). Junior Lyle Sendlein (6-5, 305) played extensively as a backup at center last year and takes over that position.

"We feel like we have a chance to be as good as we've been in the offensive line since we've been here," Brown said. "Our first offensive line (in 1998) was a great one, and Coach (John) Mackovic recruited all those guys. They played together two or three years and they had Ricky Williams. It made them very good. They were successful.

"Last year's offensive line was one of the best in the country because we were able to run the ball so well, and a lot of that had to do with Vince (Young) and Cedric (Benson). This year they have to reprove themselves because everyone will be gunning for them. They're doing it without Cedric. Hopefully we will be able to throw the ball better to help them some more as well. We think they have a chance to be really good."

Getting Defensive

Seven starters return on defense, and this is where Brown was looking for some major improvement – even though only two teams all year scored more than 23 points against the Longhorns.

"I was disappointed some in our defense last year," Brown said. "We gave up too many rushing yards against Oklahoma. They had a great back (Heisman finalist Adrian Peterson) but we missed too many tackles.

"I remember (ABC commentator) Lynn Swann asking me at the half, 'Why aren't you tackling (Adrian) Peterson better?' I said, 'Nobody else is either.' We didn't stop Kansas like we should have. We didn't put them away early like we should have. We're down 35-7 at Oklahoma State. We give 37 points to Michigan, so I really think we can be better."

With Greg Robinson leaving the coordinator's job to become head coach at Syracuse, Brown hired Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to lead this group. Chizik won the Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant. A year ago, Auburn's 13-0 SEC championship team led the country in points allowed (11.3 points per game).

Three starters return up front with junior defensive end Tim Crowder (6-4, 270) and senior defensive tackles Larry Dibbles (6-2, 285) and Rodrique Wright (6-5, 315). Junior Brian Robison (6-3, 267) takes over at the other end spot.

Crowder led UT with 4-1/2 sacks a year ago. Robison was second in tackles-for-loss with 14. He had a team-high eight tackles in the win over ULL. Wright added a sack in the opener. Also in the defensive tackle rotation is sophomore Frank Okam (6-5, 315).

"Larry and Frank and Rod would be the starting defensive tackles," said Brown. "Frank can play both nose and defensive tackle, Larry is a nose and Rod's a tackle, so we would actually rotate those three and go from there to the other guys. All three of those guys we feel like deserve to start. Rod has played like he did as a sophomore. He had a great spring and great preseason. This is the best I've seen him play in a while... He's back full speed and he looks really, really good."

Texas lost Butkus Award-winning linebacker Derrick Johnson. But senior Aaron Harris (6-0, 230) returns in the middle. Harris was second to Johnson in tackles a year ago with 110. He had seven stops in the opener against ULL. He is flanked by redshirt freshman Rashad Bobino (5-11, 230) at the weakside spot and the platoon of sophomore Drew Kelson (6-2, 215) and senior Eric Hall (6-2, 245) at the strongside spot. Sophomore Robert Killebrew (6-2, 230) is also in the mix.

"If you took Bobino, Killebrew, Aaron Harris, Drew Kelson and Eric Hall, they're all five starters," Brown said. "There's very little difference in them when you put them in except Eric's played more and been more experienced. Drew will probably stay at Sam but Eric Hall can play Sam and Will, Killebrew can play all three and we felt like that helped us build some depth."

Three starters are back in the secondary with senior Michael Huff (6-1, 205) at strong safety and senior Cedric Griffin (6-2, 205) and junior Tarell Brown (6-0, 200) at the corners. They each had two interceptions a year ago. Huff had 73 tackles, while Cedric Griffin tallied 68. Junior Michael Griffin (6-0, 200) is listed at free safety with his twin brother, Marcus Griffin (6-0, 195), tabbed as the backup. Junior Aaron Ross (6-1, 192) is also in the mix at corner.

Senior Richmond McGee (6-4, 203) handles the punting and kicking duties. He averaged 39.7 yards per punt a year ago. In his debut as the starting kicker, McGee missed an extra point and had two PAT attempts blocked by ULL. Senior David Pino (5-8, 180) could also get a shot on field goals and PATs.

Also Notable

* This will be the first meeting ever between these two storied programs.

Coming into the season, Texas was fourth all-time in NCAA Division I annals with a winning percentage of .711 (787-310-33) and third overall in wins.

By contrast, OSU was sixth in winning percentage at .709 (764-298-53) and tied for fifth in wins at 764. Michigan and Notre Dame are 1-2 on both lists.

The programs also compare with:

Bowl record: OSU, 17-19; Texas, 21-21-2.

National championships: OSU, seven; Texas, three. (It should be noted that both schools claim a national title for 1970, when AP went with Nebraska, UPI with Texas and the National Football Foundation with OSU.)

First-team All-Americans: OSU, 164; Texas, 110.

Heisman Trophy winners: OSU, six (Les Horvath, Vic Janowicz, Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, Archie Griffin twice and Eddie George); Texas, two (Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams).

Conference championships: OSU, 29; Texas, 26 (UT played in the Southwest Conference from 1915-95 and has been in the Big 12 since 1996.).

* Texas has won nine straight road games and 21 of its last 22 road games at opponents' home stadiums. The lone loss in that stretch was a 42-38 loss at Texas Tech in 2002. Texas is 26-6 overall on the road under Brown.

* OSU is 27-3-1 all-time against teams currently in the Big 12. Texas is 9-5 all-time against current Big Ten members. UT is 3-0 against Indiana, 0-1 against Iowa, 1-0 against Michigan, 0-1 against Northwestern, 2-3 against Penn State, 2-0 against Purdue and 1-0 against Wisconsin.

* OSU is 5-1 against top-10 teams under Jim Tressel. That includes a win over No. 1 Miami (Fla.) in the Fiesta Bowl. The loss was to then-No. 5 Michigan in 2003.

* OSU is 63-44-8 all-time against top-10 opponents, including 24-22-4 in Ohio Stadium. The last home win over a top-10 team was last year against then-No. 7 Michigan (37-21).

* This will be the 25th time in Ohio State history that the Buckeyes will be involved in a game with two top-five teams. Ohio State has a record of 15-8-1 in those games. OSU twice has won three such games in the same year – 1968 and 1996. The last time OSU was involved in a top-five match-up was the 2003 Michigan game, where UM prevailed 35-21.

In Ohio Stadium, OSU is 7-1 all-time in games matching top-five teams. The only loss was to Oklahoma (29-28) in 1977. The last time the stadium hosted a match-up of top-five teams was when then-No. 3 OSU blistered No. 4 Penn State 38-7 in 1996.

* Last week's win over Miami (Ohio) extended OSU's win streak in home nonconference games to 36. Since 1983, OSU is 50-1 in home nonconference games. The lone loss was in 1990 against USC (35-26).

* OSU has won its last 14 games against Big 12 opponents, dating to the 1977 loss to Oklahoma. That includes bowl wins over Kansas State and Oklahoma State the last two years.

* The Buckeyes are 6-0 all-time in night games in Ohio Stadium since the first one in 1985 (Pittsburgh, 10-7). The last night game was a 28-9 win over Washington in 2003. All-time (including bowl games), OSU is 25-8 in night games.

* The eyes of college football will be on Columbus. ESPN College Game Day will set up just north of the stadium. ABC's studio show, which normally originates in New York, will be on location in Columbus. Plus, the Sports USA Radio Network will carry the game live to a nation of radio affiliates.

Notable Links

* Earlier in the week, we took a look at some of the most notable nonconference games in Ohio Stadium history:

Ohio Stadium Nonconference Classics

* Plus, we also have a link to our complete Game Data page, which includes pertinent information on the game, depth charts and a prediction on how it may play out:

Game Data: Texas at Ohio State

* And, our sister site, Inside Texas (texas.scout.com) has done a nice job this week of previewing the game from the Texas angle. Click this link for a look at that site's story archive for the week.

Inside Texas story archive

* Dave Biddle has a story from the September edition of Bucknuts The Magazine on the spectre of the Ohio State-Texas game.

Spectre of Ohio State-Texas


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