Behind Enemy Lines: Longhorns

DALLAS — In Part I of our Behind Enemy Lines series before the Red River Rivalry, Joey Helmer from Sooners Illustrated asks Kevin Flaherty from Longhorn Digest for some insider scoop on No. 10/11 Texas.

Joey Helmer: Shed some light on the quarterback situation. Garrett Gilbert starts the year, but now Case McCoy and David Ash have assumed split duty roles as the signal caller heading into the Red River Rivalry. What does each bring to the table, how are they similar and how are they different?

Kevin Flaherty: I think one common misconception is that the Longhorns went to two quarterbacks to replace Gilbert. David Ash, the true freshman, was going to play regardless, and was actually playing when Gilbert was still the starter, in select packages. The Texas coaches were enamored by his running ability, and he allowed them to do some other things in terms of trick plays. When the Longhorns go to the Wildcat for instance, Ash is the quarterback lined up at receiver, and he threw a touchdown pass on a reverse pass against Iowa State last week.

The real changes are that 1) Case McCoy replaced Gilbert after the latter quarterback threw two interceptions early against BYU; and 2) Ash saw his package increase with the change. In the UCLA game, McCoy still took most of the snaps (as Gilbert did), though Ash did see a few more plays than was typical. The big change came after the bye week when the Longhorns took on the Cyclones, as the quarterback snaps went like this: McCoy (30), Ash (30), Fozzy Whittaker (6, in the Wildcat). When you consider that Ash plays in the Wildcat, he actually saw six more plays than McCoy did.

In terms of what they bring, for lack of a better way to describe him, Case will remind people of his brother Colt a bit. He doesn't wow you physically, and he doesn't have a ton of arm strength, but he has moxie, accuracy and the feet to extend a play. Ash is more of what every coach looks for in a quarterback. He's 6-foot-3-plus and weighs more than 220 pounds, has a powerful arm and he can make plays with his legs. I'd say that McCoy is more elusive in the pocket and has better pocket presence, but Ash is the one who hurts you more when he gets outside of the pocket.

Both quarterbacks have teamed up well and have excellent passer ratings. But perhaps most importantly, they haven't turned the ball over yet. That's really what Texas needed out of the position: better ball security.

JH: OU has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. What must Texas do in order to prevent OU's offense from doing what it does every other week of the season, going off and scoring at will?

KF: I think that any time you play Oklahoma, there are two things you have to do to be successful.

The first is that you have to account for the Sooners' breakneck tempo. I thought Texas did a better job of that as last year's game went on, but it was still a big part of the reason that Oklahoma jumped up 14-0 before you could blink a year ago. There were some plays that OU ran while Texas was still trying to line up. You can't have that — which is easier said than done — and expect to contain such an explosive offense.

The second is that you have to, have to, have to get to the quarterback. Whether it was Jason White or Sam Bradford or Landry Jones, putting the quarterback on his back was the best way to disrupt the offense. Sure, the Oklahoma running game is tough. But there's a big difference between giving up a six- or seven-yard gain and looking at Ryan Broyles smiling from the Sooner end zone with the ball in his hands. You don't even necessarily have to sack him. But make Jones uncomfortable, and you give yourself a chance to create some errant throws, and potentially some turnovers.

Let him sit back there, and Oklahoma has way too many weapons to pick you apart with. In addition to the excellent receiving corps, OU gets the ball to the auxiliary positions in the passing game — running backs, tight ends or fullback Trey Millard, as well as anybody in the country.

JH: Does Texas have any glaring weaknesses, and if so what are those?

KF: I think the biggest weakness is just how much the Longhorns rely on the running game. Shut down the running game, and you really have a chance to shut down the Longhorns. And when McCoy is the quarterback, I'm not sure you quite get the vertical passing game that you would like, due to his lack of arm strength.

Defensively, they've shown that they can be gashed at times with the running game, though the run defense has been pretty salty overall. Perhaps the best example was the UCLA game. Just looking at the overall stats, UCLA rushed for 141 yards on 34 carries, or 4.1 yards per tote. But those numbers are deceiving in that the Bruins gained 67 of those yards on three carries (one a quarterback run). So UCLA averaged 22.3 yards per carry on three carries, but just 2.4 yards per carry on their other 31. It's a run-fit thing. Most of the time, the Longhorns are stellar there, but they'll miss their fits occasionally, which can lead to big plays.

And overall, I think there's a sense that the Longhorns have been a bit lucky the past two weeks. Iowa State turned the ball over like crazy. UCLA turned the ball over AND missed assignments like crazy, allowing for big plays. Texas has averaged 44 points and 444 yards per game in the last two contests, since switching off quarterback Garrett Gilbert. And yet there's a feeling of not really knowing how good this offense really is.

JH: What is the general mood in Austin, is there a true belief that Texas can win this game? Or is it a sense of OU is just at another level right now and it will be very difficult to come out on top?

KF: I think there's always a belief that your team can win the Texas-Oklahoma game, regardless of which side you root for. It's one of those great games in which the old cliché of 'you can throw the records out the window' actually applies. Take a look at last year's game. You have the worst Texas team in more than a decade against a BCS-bowl-winning Oklahoma squad. And it still came down to a point where everybody inhaled as Landry Jones' fumble bounced — seemingly in slow motion — across the Cotton Bowl. Of course, it went out of bounds, Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, a second-round NFL Draft pick, botches the punt catch and Oklahoma wins without the Longhorns getting their final comeback chance.

I think there are a lot of Texas fans who take heart from last year's game when looking at this year's game. There's somewhat of an attitude of: 'Well, our team last year was terrible, and they were still in it, so why can't this year's team win it?" And up until last year, Texas had been on a nice little run of its own in the series. So the Longhorns have played well in this game if you look at the recent history of it.

JH: Extending on that, for such a high ranked matchup, the Sooners are a fairly strong favorite in this game. In your opinion, just how does Texas pull off the upset and win this game?

KF: When you get to the X's and O's of it, Texas likes its chance to be able to run the ball out of the different looks the Longhorns will show offensively, and defensively, they feel like they can get to Landry Jones and potentially force some turnovers. Considering that those might be the biggest keys of the game: whether the Longhorns can run the ball and whether they can get Jones off-rhythm, it makes sense that they feel confident about their chances Saturday. Add in the fact that the Longhorns are one of the few teams that match up athletically with the Sooners, and you have a recipe for a good ball game. It should be a lot of fun.

Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Joey answers five questions from Kevin.

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