The 2010 Longhorns (1-0, 0-0 Big 12), will try to start quicker when Wyoming (1-0, 0-0 Mountain West) travels to Austin on Saturday. The game is set for 6 p.m., and will be shown on FSN.
The Cowboys will bring their version of the Missouri spread to Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, thanks to head coach Dave Christensen, the architect of Missouri's explosive offenses with quarterbacks like Brad Smith and Chase Daniel. Christensen's last two years in Columbia, the Tigers went 22-6, twice winning the North while averaging 41 points per game. His first year at Wyoming was also a success, with the Cowboys finishing 7-6 and 4-4 in the Mountain West. They ended the season on a high note, winning the New Mexico Bowl in double-overtime.
Now entering Christensen's second year, the Cowboys return 16 of 24 starters from a year ago. Perhaps most importantly, they return a quarterback with the potential to become a star.
As Austyn Carta-Samuels goes, so go the Cowboys. The sophomore was a revelation a year ago as a freshman, completing 58 percent of his passes for 1,953 yards and 10 touchdowns to five interceptions. Though he didn't take the starting job until the seasons' fourth game, he also rushed for 366 yards. He used last season's Texas game to propel himself into that starting job, completing 7-of-12 passes for 68 yards without a touchdown or an interception. After winning the job, Carta-Samuels was thrice named the Mountain West's Offensive Player of the Week, and was one of just nine freshman quarterbacks to lead his team to a bowl victory.
He was 6-4 as a starter, and five of those games required that Carta-Samuels make fourth-quarter comebacks. His leadership ability in those games allowed Carta-Samuels to earn a spot as a team captain, though he's just entering his sophomore year. He had the first 300-yard passing game of his career in Wyoming's 2010 opener, completing 26-32 (81 percent) for 319 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw an interception. Texas coach Mack Brown called Carta-Samuels a difference-maker, and said he was the primary difference between last year's Wyoming team and this year's.
Carta-Samuels's favorite target is 6-foot-4 senior David Leonard. Heading into Leonard's senior year, he already ranks among the top-10 in career receptions, thanks largely to a 77-catch season a year ago. But while Leonard has the size of a pro prospect, he doesn't necessarily have the blazing speed of one. He'll see the ball plenty – he averaged 5.92 catches per game a year ago, and caught six passes in the opener – but he isn't a game-breaker. He averaged just 9.2 yards per catch last season, had three touchdowns among his 77 catches and has yet to put up a 100-yard game in his career. The closest he came was a 13-catch, 97-yard performance at Florida Atlantic a year ago. Still, his size and hands make him a must-find on third-down situations, and make him a potential danger in the red zone. He caught six passes for 58 yards a week ago.
The key to any spread offense is having several receivers to spread the ball to, and Wyoming appears to be building that luxury. Zach Bolger, a 5-10 senior, caught five passes for 134 yards and two scores a week ago, serving as the unit's big play threat. Fellow starters Mazi Ogbonna and Chris McNeill caught a combined 11 passes for 98 yards last week. Ogbonna added another touchdown.
When the Cowboys run the ball, they have a good option in sophomore Alvester Alexander (5-11 208), a Houston native. Alexander rushed for 640 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, and ended the year well by rushing for 137 yards on 12 carries against Fresno State. He rushed 13 times for 40 yards and a touchdown last week against Southern Utah. Alexander isn't a workhorse back, as Wyoming's bread is buttered through its passing attack. He averaged a little more than 10 carries per game last year, with a season high of 17 carries against Florida Atlantic. He will be used some in the passing game — he had two catches for 19 yards last week, to go with his 13 carries. Look for him to get between 13-17 combined touches on Saturday.
The offensive line struggled a week ago, with Wyoming averaging just 1.4 yards per carry. The line also gave up three sacks of Carta-Samuels against Southern Utah.
The defensive line was active against the pass last week, helping the Cowboys to four sacks. But they were considerably less effective against the run, where Southern Utah rushed for 191 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per tote. Right defensive end Gabe Knapton (6-3 251) had five tackles and a sack, while left defensive tackle Mike Purcell (6-3 269) had six tackles, including 1.5 stops in the backfield. Fellow starters Josh Biezuns and Patrick Mertens combined for another five tackles.
The linebacking group is solid, led by MIKE Brian Hendricks (6-1 228). Hendricks tied for the team lead with 14 tackles a week ago, with 0.5 tackles for loss. Hendricks is a tackling machine — his 23 tackles against Air Force last year was the highest-tackling performance in the country for the season. He also had 14 stops against the Longhorns last year.
Cornerback Marcell Gipson and strong safety Shamiel Gary were the top two performers in the defensive backfield a week ago. Gary tied for the team lead with 14 tackles, while Gipson had seven tackles, 1.5 for loss, two forced fumbles and a pass broken up.
Wyoming didn't attempt a field goal last week, though kicker Ian Watts knocked through all four extra points. Punter Austin McCoy averaged 44.2 yards per punt, placing one of his five boots inside the 20. Kickoff specialist Oliver Schober, from Munich, Germany, averaged 65 yards per kickoff. One of his five kicks was a touchback.
QB: 5 Austyn Carta-Samuels (6-2, 215, So., San Jose, Calif.)
RB: 32 Alvester Alexander (5-11, 208, So., Houston, Texas)
WR: 33 David Leonard (6-4, 211, Sr., Overland Park, Kan.)
WR: 89 Zach Bolger (5-10, 185, Sr., Casper, Wyo.)
WR: 2 Mazi Ogbonna (6-1, 194, Jr., Westbury, N.Y.)
WR: 80 Chris McNeill (6-1, 180, So., Simi Valley, Calif.)
LT: 72 Clayton Kirven (6-6, 305, Jr., Buffalo, Wyo.)
LG: 75 Sam Sterner (6-4, 302, Sr., Waconia, Minn.)
C: 60 Nick Carlson (6-4, 290, So., Arlington Heights, Ill.)
RG: 69 John Hutchins (6-5, 295, Jr., Inver Grove Heights, Minn.)
RT: 76 Josh Leonard (6-4, 296, So., Helena, Mont.)
LDE: 44 Josh Biezuns (6-2, 249, Jr., Prior Lake, Minn.)
LDT: 50 Mike Purcell (6-3, 269, So., Highlands Ranch, Colo.)
RDT: 95 Patrick Mertens (6-5, 269, RFr., Sterling, Colo.)
RDE: 52 Gabe Knapton (6-3, 251, Jr., Mead, Colo.)
LEO: 17 Keith Lewis (5-11, 213, Sr., Evergreen Park, Ill.)
MIKE: 8 Brian Hendricks (6-1, 228, Jr., Burlington, Colo.)
WILL: 23 Ghaali Muhammad (6-0, 225, So., St. Joseph, Mo.)
CB: 2 Marcell Gipson (5-10, 189, Sr., Dallas, Texas)
CB: 4 Tashaun Gipson (6-0, 203, Jr., Dallas, Texas)
FS: 24 Chris Prosinski (6-1, 210, Sr., Buffalo, Wyo.)
SS: 7 Shamiel Gary (6-1, 210, So., Tulsa, Okla.)
PK: 51 Ian Watts (6-3, 187, So., Philadelphia, Pa.)
KO: 35 Oliver Schober (6-0, 231, Jr., Munich, Germany)
P: 28 Austin McCoy (6-3, 208, Jr., Winter Haven, Fla.)
KR: 1 James Caraway (5-11, 185, So., Topeka, Kan.); 23 Ghaali Muhammad (6-0, 225, So., St. Joseph, Mo.)
PR: 33 David Leonard (6-4, 211, Sr., Overland Park, Kan.)
H: 28 Austin McCoy (6-3, 208, Jr., Winter Haven, Fla.)
LS: 58 Jordan Van Royen (6-0, 234, Sr., Scottsdale, Ariz.)