Horns Scheme For Mizzou, Plan For Rita

The bye week that comes before Texas' conference-opener at Missouri begs the question: are the Horns also preparing for Oklahoma?

Not any more than usual, coach Mack Brown said Wednesday.

"You have games like Oklahoma that you prepare for year-round," Brown said. "You're always running some of their plays and their defenses. They do that for us. Missouri's got our attention. We need to focus on them. We've got to be 4-0 before we head to Dallas."

It's a Missouri team "that almost beat us here last year," Brown said, adding that the Tigers are averaging about 500 ypg and are spearheaded by a new, improved senior QB Brad Smith.

A little perspective is in order: We all know that Texas mailed in an uninspired performance in that 28-20 win against the Tigers in 2004, coming off the heels of a draining shutout loss to OU. You will never see Vince Young play a poorer game than he did against Mizzou last season. This is still an underachieving Tiger team whose head coach Gary Pinkel sits on the hottest seat in the Big 12. Missouri has run up some numbers by notching a pair of wins over lightly regarded Arkansas State and Troy, but also dropped a Sept. 10 home game to New Mexico.

"(Smith) is playing with so much confidence right now," Brown said. "He's making plays with his feet and his arm again. I thought he played really well against us last year. In other games, he might have struggled but he's not struggling any more. He is back on target."

Part of Smith's troubles last season (and, consequently, MU's season-long slide to a 5-6 mark) had to do with Pinkel's attempt to turn Smith into a pocket passer. During his freshman campaign, Smith was just the second player in NCAA history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards passing in the same season. His rushing totals fell to 553 yards in 2004. With MU's leading rusher in 2004 (Damien Nash) running for the Tennessee Titans rather than the Tigers, the word from Columbia is that coaches want to get Smith on the move again in a spread offense.

"He's running more now but he's throwing like he was," Brown said. "You look at him and Vince, they're playing as good as any quarterbacks in the country right now. It'll be fun to watch both of them on the field at the same time."

I reported Justin Blalock's comment on the Members only message board Monday that backup LT Tony Hills was "fine" following his injury against Rice, but Brown told me Wednesday that Hills' hyperextended elbow has kept him out of practice this week. The bye week gives Hills just enough of a window to rest and rehab that Brown said he is "hopeful" Hills can return in time for Missouri. Hills subs for Jonathan Scott every third series.

"We've treated him like a starter," Brown told Inside Texas. "We've been able to play with seven (offensive lineman, including backup Mike Garcia). That's why we need to get Tony back. Tony's 315 pounds and he's got the feet of a tight end. He's well in his legs and his feet. He lost some of his straight-ahead speed and some of his running speed (as a result of the knee injury he suffered during the Texas 5A High School playoffs during his senior year) but he's got the toughness. He's growing into a great offensive lineman."

Coaches are insisting that players establish a contingency plan with family that are in the path of Hurricane Rita, a Category Five storm expected to make landfall on the mid-Texas coast sometime Saturday.

"Our main focus today was on the players' parents and families that are on the coast and in Houston," Brown said. "We've tried to put a plan together to have each family member and player talk now, and for them to come to Austin, or to have them meet somewhere so we don't lose communication over the weekend. We'd rather our guys not go into that area, if possible. Obviously, if their families are staying there, they might have to go help. We'd like to think that if (families) would come here, we could help them through the weekend. We thought that was the most important thing we could do for our football team right now is try to communicate and get a plan in place."

Brown wants every player to contact family members before Thursday morning. Meanwhile, UT Mens Athletics officials are conferring with the NCAA to determine what its statutes will allow The University to do for displaced family members of Longhorn players.

"We have to be careful with the rules," Brown said, "but, at the same time, the human interest is more important right now than everything else to make sure their families have a place to sleep and eat. We're talking to the NCAA even as we speak and trying to find out how much help we can give. A lot of our kids live off-campus but whether (family members) can stay in a dorm is another thing. We're just not sure yet what the NCAA will allow us to do. I know if an emergency came up and somebody was in real trouble, we would have to help and work it out later."

The team will practice Thursday and will release players for the weekend following their last class on Friday.

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