Cowboys Football: Texas Scouting Report

There is no doubt that there is more optimism and confidence in Texas. Although in reality, the Longhorns are where they were last season -- unbeaten early in nonconference only to find out in Big 12 play that they weren't able to measure up. Last season they did have two new coordinators and that process often takes more than one offseason to really take hold.

Head coach Mack Brown is ever the optimist, but Brown has had his "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" outlook seriously challenged over the past two seasons.

Believe it or not, the national media is heaping the praise on Texas, and there won't be any "upset alert" warnings going out Saturday night. So is Texas vulnerable to being overconfident?

"We talked about that as a team," said offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "I think there's a mindset regardless of how do you handle adversity, success, business. Your mentality doesn't change regardless. That's hard to do.

"It's human nature to get excited when you're up, and it's the same way when you get down, to kind of get down on yourself. I think the one thing we try to preach to our players is just handle your business the same way whether we're up or down. We're going to operate until the clock is zero-zero.

"It's easier said than done, but it's something we emphasize and talk about. We talk about being humble, hungry, poised and paranoid. Those are things we have to do from the offensive standpoint because if you decide to let up a little bit, that's when you get hit in the mouth."

Therein lies the situation for Saturday night at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Longhorns have not been hit in the mouth this season, and Oklahoma State plans to do just that.

The Cowboys had their wake up call when Arizona hit them in the mouth, the Pac-12 officials hit them with flags, and the Cowboys hit themselves with turnovers. It was a slap across the face and they have bounced back. This team hasn't been the same since as they have seemingly got back to the blue-collar work ethic the program is built on.

Does Texas have that? When hit in the face will they flinch or keep on going? The answer will come on Saturday in Stillwater.

Texas Offense
The basics are the Longhorns are a mixture of under center and shotgun with a variety of formations that range from power loaded with as many as three backs to five wide and no backs. But the norm is more toward power with all the talented running backs in the fold. Texas wants to power run opponents, throw when it is open, and add in a dose of trickeration.

The biggest question is quarterback David Ash and his newfound confidence in running the offense and his lack of running the ball. Last season he was a major weapon against Oklahoma State with quarterback runs and zone reads. Those haven't happened much this season, yet Brown talks about wanting to have Ash be effective as both a thrower and a runner.

On the injury front, Texas can win without Ash. But it would be tough without Joe Bergeron, the best of the backs who has been cleared to play despite a shoulder injury.

On Ash, the Oklahoma State defenders and defensive coordinator Bill Young all say he is different and plays with much more confidence.

The Longhorns don't say much but what they do say seems to agree with the Cowboys. "He is more confident," said receiver and U.S. Olympian Marquise Goodwin.

"We have done a better job of protecting him and that was a major priority for us in the offseason, summer, and preseason," said junior guard Mason Walters. "We understand that if we protect him he will play well."

"(Previously), I was just trying to do too much," summarized Ash.

According to Harsin, the Mississippi game was really good, maybe an offensive breakthrough of sorts.

"You like to have an opportunity where you go out there and things are going your way," said Harsin. "You feel like everybody's doing their job. The guys have the ball in their hands, they're productive with it.

"Quarterbacks are making good decisions. Wide receivers are going up and making plays. To me that was all 11 guys, for the most part, putting it together on quite a few plays in that game is what it was. I think that's something that every offense would say they're capable of doing when they go out and execute like that.

"I think what that shows is what we talked about, what they already know. When we go out there, everybody does their job, executes at a high level, those opportunities to put points up like that, have big chunk plays, explosive runs, whatever it is, are going to be there. That becomes a motivating factor. We have to still go out and do these things, but this is what we can do if we're firing on all cylinders."

The running backs are still the backbone of the offense but if you watched the Mississippi game the Longhorns started to stretch out the list of playmakers

"As far as the backs go, Joe [Bergeron], Malcolm [Brown], both those guys have been playing very well. Johnathan [Gray] has continued to get more and more reps in games, more opportunities. He's progressing where we want him to. I think we're getting him the reps that he needs to keep progressing," said Harsin.

"Joe and Malcolm continue to play well and excel their game. D.J. Monroe is a guy that has had the ball in his hands. (Wide receiver) Marquise Goodwin. We've had different ways to get the football in their hands, just not in the pass game. All those guys understand it's a matter of time. Each game is different. One guy could have more touches than the other. It's how the game plan works out. They all understand the opportunities are going to be there. It's just a matter of when it gets called, and if the quarterback doesn't change [the play] or decides to come to me, I have to be ready for it."

A question in Austin with the homefolks is that now things seem to be going well could the playbook be stretched. Is Texas ready to open up a few more chapters?

"Every week's a little bit different. You talk about the playbook. It's always open. It's always open. Like the never-ending story, I guess," said Harsin, who is known to have some interesting twists and turns in his playbook.

"There's no end to it, you know what I'm saying? As we continue to grow, you go back and watch your game, you look at it, go, ‘Wow, maybe there's something off of that.' Then you watch the opponent, you see them do something. Maybe we can have that wrinkle. It all fits what we're doing. That's part of that tweaking.

"That's part of those packages, getting the right people in the right spots. Who do you want to utilize on a particular play to get the ball in his hands? Those little tweaks, things like that, are going to come week to week. You're still going to maintain your base philosophy, base pass, but you'll have tweaks in there every week."

For Texas on offense it has been going well, confidence gained each week. Maybe trying a new chunk of the playbook would be great. Possibly great for Oklahoma State because the truth be known is that if I were coaching Texas I would keep it basic based on what has been done so far. Texas has been broken in previous seasons, but at least right now, the offense doesn't appear to be faulty.

Texas Defense
The Longhorns are a 4-3-4 base defense that likes to man cover with a talented secondary and then use two talented defensive ends up front with the rest of the front to zone pressure the quarterback. Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor have combined for five sacks and seven tackles for loss.

The biggest question is did Wyoming and Mississippi complete those big plays against the Texas defense because the Longhorns had big leads or from a lack of focus and concentration? Because if Wyoming and Mississippi can hit jackpot-style plays on Texas, Oklahoma State might hit tilt on Saturday night.

"Yeah, their numbers speak for itself. They're in the top 10 in virtually every offensive category imaginable," said Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz of the Cowboys. "I don't know of anybody else in the country that could lose their starting quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and have a guy come in and set the record for total offense in school history. There's no great speech needed this week. They have our full attention.

"First of all, to me it speaks to the coaching. You have to give the coaches some credit, not just in the system that they use but the preparation that goes into it," continued Diaz.

"I think it has to speak to the other 10 guys that are on the field. Their linemen do a good job. Their running backs, I think, are both good players, combined for over 200 yards against us last year. They open up the passing game and have a group of wide receivers and had a group of guys that made plays for their quarterback down the field. The quarterback is going to be the lightning rod of everybody's attention. There's a lot of guys around him at that school that are helping him to his success."

Diaz admits that preparing for two different type of quarterbacks in Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh has cost the Longhorns practice reps.

"What you have to do is you have to teach your defense," said Diaz. "We need to get good at what we need to get good at, understand the concepts of our defense, find out who they are, what they want to be. You never know until you get in the game, then go on from there."

Like the offense, the Texas defense has an injury issue and it's a big one as their only really experienced linebacker in Jordan Hicks has a hip injury and may not be able to go.

"Well, I mean, obviously Jordan is a guy that everyone on the football team respects a lot. Jordan is a guy that has more experience than anybody else in our room," said Diaz. "I look at the second half of the game in Oxford, other guys filled in. Kendall Thompson, Demarco Cobbs, not having taken a snap at Will linebacker all week in practice, helped us see the game out."

Oddly enough, a player that could help out a lot at linebacker is true freshman Dalton Santos, who at one time was the first commitment in Oklahoma State's 2012 recruiting class before locking on to Texas.

"What we're trying to do is what any coach is trying to do, put our 11 best football players on the field given the offense we have to defend against," explained Diaz. "Dalton has done a nice job on special teams and has continued to get better every week."

Bottom line, the biggest problem for Texas on defense so far (and the area Oklahoma State on offense would love to expose) is poor tackling. It is every defensive coordinator's worst nightmare. To be good you have to tackle.

"What we showed was, again, everything we try to tell our defense, this goes back to when we assess performance, we don't talk in vague terms that can't be backed up," said Diaz. "When you can show a football team that two missed tackles gave a football team a quarter of their offense, wow, that gets my attention. How do we not let that happen? Good, let's move on.

"If those are two things we can fix, and we can, gosh, how would we have felt about that day if we stacked all those other plays up? That's what the players understood. That's what came out when we got through reviewing last week's film. I think the guys have responded really well this past week in practice."

Now we see how they respond on Saturday. and how everything plays out for the Cowboys and the Horns in a very important Big 12 opener.

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