DAN NEIL: THINGS HAVE CHANGED FOR LONGHORNS

This season, here on HornsDigest.com former Texas All-American offensive lineman DAN NEIL, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Denver Broncos (1997 & 1998) who opened holes for 2,000-yard rusher Terrell Davis, is breaking down film of Texas games and telling you what he sees. Catch Dan on “Upon Further Review” on the Longhorn Network on Mondays at 6 pm CT.

 

Texas' game against Kansas State Saturday was interesting to watch for a few reasons.  First, and most obvious, was the weather.  It is always interesting to see how different teams handle adverse weather conditions.  

Weather can be a big factor in a football game.  If it is a positive or negative factor for your team is up to you.

When I was in Denver, I used to always look at our schedule to see where we were going to be in December, because I hated the cold.

Give me 110 and sunny over 30 below any day.  I was always happy to be in the AFC West.  That meant two games in California every year.  I would always pray both of those would fall in December!  

During my eight years in Denver we won 2 Super Bowls, and we were in 10 playoff games.  

You might be surprised to know we won the AFC West one time during those eight years.  One year we went to Kansas City to play the Chiefs, and all we had to do was beat a bad Chiefs team to win the AFC West.  

It was a down year in the AFC West, and there were not any teams that would be a Wild Card team. So, you either had to win the West or you'd be home for the playoffs.

It was about 20 below wind chill in Kansas City, and the Chiefs do not have a heated field. We were playing on a block of ice.  Our equipment manager took a screw driver to the field before the game and I watched as he tried to drive it in the field and couldn’t because the field was frozen.  I really thought I was going to die! 

The one thing about weather is both teams have to play in it.  We went out that day and played like a team that was cold and stunk up the place.  The Chiefs had nothing to play for but to ruin our season, and they did.  The weather became a factor because we let it.  I still get mad thinking about that game!

Weather was a big factor Saturday, and Texas handled it better than K-State.

It was pretty obvious early on in the first drive when Heard threw the ball between two wide-open receivers in the end zone that Texas was not going to win the football game throwing.

K-State had a few chances in the third quarter - when the Wildcats were down by 7 - to make some throwing plays to open receivers, and the ball hit the dirt before it got to the open man. It was clear K-State’s passing game was seriously affected.

The weather caused this game to be a running game decided by the fat, slow guys up front.  Texas had 274 yards rushing. K-State had 135 yards rushing, and that was the difference in the ballgame.

UT’s offense did a great job blocking.  What I noticed on film, more than anything else, was the downfield blocking.  You need to watch some of the cut blocks by FB/H-back Alex De La Torre and WR Daje Johnson. Awesome stuff that made a big impact on Texas’ ability to run the ball. The offense is starting to get an identity.  

The base offense is the speed sweep formation with two backs next to the QB in the shotgun.  Everything they are doing is off this formation. It was against Oklahoma as well.  It is creating confusion for the defense, and the offense is doing a great job of getting bodies on bodies.  

The offensive line continues to get better as they get more comfortable with the plays that are being called.  One thing to remember is they are who we thought they were.  

A player is not all of a sudden going to become a Pro Bowler like Jonathan Ogden in the middle of the season.  Jonathan Ogden was special the first day stepped on the field.  What Texas' O-linemen are doing is working better together on pass blocking and zone blocking.

Two weeks in a row with more than 250 yards rushing is nothing to laugh at.  They are a well-coached offensive line, and Wickline deserves some credit for getting this line to play better each week.

The other side to this is the defense is stopping the run.  Texas junior DT Hassan Ridgeway may be the best defensive lineman in the Big 12 that I have seen so far.  

This guy is killing the other team’s ability to run the football.  Senior LB Peter Jinkens might be the most improved defender on the team. He is a fast guy who is making plays in coverage and against the run. He had a great sack in the fourth quarter that was a big time play.

Maybe the biggest difference on defense is the team’s ability to play man coverage in the secondary with one deep safety.  I know it was not a great test Saturday because of the weather, but this defense shut down OU’s passing game, and no one else has.  

Another factor that made this game interesting was to see how Texas would react after the big win against Oklahoma.  

Charlie Strong believes in his system.  It worked in Louisville and I don’t think he ever doubted it would work here.   It might have been a little tougher to change things around at Texas than Charlie thought it would be.

But he knew it would change.  

I think things have finally changed for Coach Strong.  I think Michael Dickson's punt to start the fourth quarter was the moment we all knew things have changed for Charlie.  

Football is a funny game. Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they just don't.  We all know about the special teams mistakes early in the year that may have cost this team two games. Things just weren't going our way.  

Saturday, we have a similar situation where there was a bad snap to Dickson.  Dickson had to run backward to the ball, with defenders closing in on him, and he confidently picked up the ball and got off an effort that pinned K-State inside its 10.

It looked like K-State would get the ball in great field position in Texas territory with a chance to tie up the ballgame.  

Instead, the field flipped by 61 yards, and K-State had terrible field position (at its own 8) with an offense that was struggling.  Why these things happen is a football mystery!

Texas goes back on the road next week against Iowa State.  The Cyclones just shut down the Baylor offense in the second half and will be a tough game for Texas in Ames.  

The Big 12 is a better league than it gets credit for.  You have TCU and Baylor in the top five. Oklahoma State is undefeated, and OU has one loss. 

There are no easy games except Kansas. Each week will be a challenge for the Longhorns.  I believe things have changed for this team. More importantly, I think the players believe it as well!


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