No one expects Saturday's Memorial Stadium mismatch to be a nailbiter, but there are still some questions that must be answered, starting at 6 p.m. (CDT). And the results could be a harbinger for the season. Namely, how wide open will the offense be this year? Will SE Limas Sweed establish himself as QB Vince Young's go-to receiver? How many touches will Ramonce Taylor get, and will he function more as a WR or an all-purpose back? What will be Co-DC Gene Chizik's rotation, especially at outside linebacker? Will RB Selvin Young show signs of rust after nearly a year's absence, and is there evidence that he can be an above-average back? Are there signs Texas will get an honest pass rush from its front four? Is there discernable improvement in special teams play? Will Richmond McGee handle all three kicking chores? Which freshmen will lose their 'shirts, and are there indicators that they will be impact players this season? And has VY really upgraded his game that much since the Rose Bowl?
This is what Brown knows for sure: "In the opening game, the kicking game, turnovers and explosive plays are even more prevalent because you haven't played against anybody. And since we do not have preseason games like the NFL, it scares you to death in opening games."
During the course of the season, you can lose count of the number of times that Brown says some aspect of an opponent "scares you to death." Obviously, coaches have gone to great lengths to keep players from looking past an out-manned Rajin' Cajun team toward next week's prime time tilt at Ohio State. And one of the ways Brown has done it has been to reference, early and often, the fact Louisiana-Lafayette held a double-digit lead the last time it came to town five years ago. The visitors parlayed a Chris Simms' INT return for TD to stake an improbable 10-0 margin going into the second quarter.
"What I remember about that game is that we were down 10-0 and we couldn't make a first down running the ball," Brown said. "They were tough and they got after our tail. We ended up having to spread them out and throw the ball. Major (Applewhite) pulled us out by throwing the ball all over the place. I think we had about 25 yards rushing in that game."
Final score: Texas: 52, Louisiana-Lafayette 10.
Brown will always want to establish the run first with a big, bruising RB. But there is no question that he now wants to spread the field and throw the ball around at a greater clip than since Simms completed his eligibility in 2002. Coaches believe VY has taken his game to a level where he is a dual threat, even if the receivers are still a question mark. Rajin' Cajun coach Ricky Bustle has echoed the comparisons that are made between Young and Atlanta Falcon QB Michael Vick -- and Bustle would know. Now in his fourth year in Lafayette, Bustle was Vick's quarterback coach at Virginia Tech. And the comparisons don't stop there.
"Ricky's done a good job of taking the Frank Beamer philosophy of the kicking game (i.e., a very hands-on emphasis) because they've had 16 blocked kicks since he's been there," Brown said, "and they have not gone five games without a block of some type. Their punter last year downed 14 punts inside the 20, so they work really, really hard on field position."
The Rajin' Cajuns have also returned three blocked FGs for TDs during the past two seasons. At the same time, UL-Lafayette's kickoff coverage was the most porous in the Sun Belt Conference last year.
On paper, the Rajin' Cajuns may need a couple of blocked punts just to cross mid-field. Yet, just as Brown points to the game five years ago when Texas trailed at home, Bustle could also appropriately point to the contest when Louisiana-Lafayette managed to pull the upset against Texas A&M. While the Horns hope to answer some questions Saturday, the visitors will deposit a fat payout in their local coffer, will receive more exposure courtesy of a Fox Sports Net live broadcast than they will all year and, for another 24 hours or so, can entertain the possibility of college football's biggest upset of 2005.
The latter isn't gonna happen but, as Brown observed: "They have nothing to lose, so we expect everything that they've got to pull out of the trick bag. They'll be ready to play, and they'll play hard."
Chizik calls this a "great" home opener simply because of the looks that a Rajin' Cajun multiple offense will throw at his defense.
"We'll get a chance to see a lot of different things that we'll see down the line," he said. "It's a good gauge to open with and it gives you good preparation for things to come."
What we can expect to see is a no-huddle offense that uses multiple sets and strives for a balanced attack.
"They do a unique thing," Brown said. "They'll lead-block with their fullback and their tailback on their draws and sprints. So, their tailbacks are tough."
The key, however, is QB Jerry Babb. The junior is one of seven offensive starters returning from a unit that produced a league-best 380.5 ypg in 2004. Babb led his team in both passing (2,345) and rushing (498) yards last season.
"He's had a lot of success," Chizik said. "He accounted for nearly 3,000 yards last season by himself. Any time you have someone who is that productive, you have to take note of that. He's obviously athletic enough to make some things happen on his own. If things are not there for him, he has no problem tucking the ball and running. He makes a lot of great decisions when it comes to those things."
Babb had his hand in 16 TDs last season on the way to team MVP honors.
"He's really good with the ball on the run," Chizik said, "and you can tell that they know that. They'll do some sprint-outs and things to get him on the perimeter and let him make throws on the perimeter."
The visitors desperately need to upgrade their rushing offense and hope that moving TB Dwight Lindon to FB will help put some burst in the backfield. He'll line up along side RB Chester Johnson. Chizik expects the Rajin' Cajuns to initially try to establish a two-back running offense.
"They stick to their plan and they don't panic," he said. "They played in a lot of close games last year. And I think it will help them that they moved one of their tailbacks last year to fullback so now you've got dual threats in the backfield. They're going to try and establish the two-pronged run first. Their starting point is power football and then try to add some misdirection off of some of those running plays."
Bustle has reconfigured the Rajin' Cajun defense, departing from an eight-man structure to a 4-3 alignment.
"They felt like that was instrumental in cutting down on the number of big plays they gave up last year," OC Greg Davis said. "When you watch them on film, the first thing that jumps out at you is that they are a very sound defense. They're a bend, don't-break defense that guards against the big plays. Their secondary was 11th in the nation last year in pass defense. Their linebacking corps is really good. Their defensive ends are guys you have to keep an eye on."
Davis doesn't expect much of a blitz from a team that blitzed approximately 15 percent of the time in 2004. Big 12 Conference teams, by comparison, blitzed anywhere from 25-to-32 percent of the time last season (although Davis said those numbers are lower against Texas, largely because of Vince Young's scrambling ability).
"When they do blitz, they've had success," Davis continued. "They'll bring secondary guys and both 'backers off the side. But they're not a team that does that a great deal. That's not the way they live and die. They live and die by forcing you to go a long way and by trying to create turnovers."
Lafayette returns seven defensive starters, including five of the front seven. Senior LB Terry Newman posted a team-best six TFLs last season.
"They'll put someone on the center's nose with a stack," Brown said, "and they'll change up their coverages. They haven't blitzed as much but we do anticipate it in this game."
PUTTING FOOTBALL IN PERSPECTIVE
Brown conferred with Men's Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds on Tuesday to ascertain if NCAA rules would allow The University to respond to Louisiana-Lafayette players whose families might have been deeply affected by Hurricane Katrina.
"With state rules and (UT) Regent rules, it's a very difficult thing to do," Brown commented, "but their families are obviously in our thoughts and prayers. We're going to focus on the game and get ready to play but if there's anything we can do to help, we'd like to try."
UT officials are asking fans to give directly to the relief organizations and has posted contact information on Mack Brown's website.
Members of OC Greg Davis' family were directly affected: Greg Davis, Junior, is the offensive coordinator at Tulane. The senior Davis reported that family members are doing fine as the Green Wave team relocated to Jackson, Mississippi.
"They are not sure when they can return, to be quite honest," Davis said, "but the most important things got out. He said they had rain and wind but nothing like New Orleans.
Tulane and LSU cancelled their respective season-openers.
"I don't think Lafayette got a lot of the damage because most of the damage was east of New Orleans," Brown said, "but, obviously, some of the families would be affected more than the students themselves."
WR Jordan Shipley (right hamstring), questionable (game-time decision);
DL Kaelen Jakes (back), out;
DT Derek Lokey (left foot), out.