It's High Noon For Brown, No. 2 Texas

Mack Brown's job is not at stake (nor should it be) when heavily favored Texas meets Oklahoma at 12 p.m. Saturday in Dallas. But nearly everything else is on the line when the ancient rivals collide for the 100th time.

Brown's 47-8 record during the past five years ranks third among 117 Division-I programs. Yet, fair or not, he understands that his otherwise remarkable Texas tenure has been defined by the one team he hasn't beaten during that span. A history-buff, Brown is fully aware that no Longhorn coach has lost six straight to the Sooners (although Darrell Royal finished with an 0-5-1 mark against OU at the end of his coaching career). Although he's one 'L' away for setting the mark for futility by a UT head coach in this series, Brown's not worried about job security any more than he's worried about leaving a legacy in Austin.

"I don't worry about last year's game, or the one before, or next year's game," he said. "This thing is a season in itself."

In that case, it's been five losing seasons for Brown. Yet, the eighth-year Longhorn coach has been remarkably relaxed and upbeat (downright giddy, at times) this week given what's at stake. Up for grabs, of course, is Brown's first-ever conference championship, the continuation of what is shaping up as a storybook season for the ages, and a shot at the program's first national title since the year the Beatles called it quits if, if, if!, Brown can get the Big Tex-sized gorilla off his back Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

"Everybody talks about the pressure on the coach but this is a fun week to coach," said Brown. "If we had lost the game last week, it would have been totally devastating because everybody would have said, 'Oh, god! They blew their whole year.' You're worried about the kids' focus and you're worried about them looking ahead to Oklahoma. You've got all of these things last week outside of just coaching. This week, you just coach."

But it's always been a "fun week to coach" for Brown, at least not this fun. This man is also smiling because he knows something that everyone else does. Despite the coach-speak this week about Oklahoma being baaaaaack, this is not your grandfather's Sooner team. Let me count the ways...

...The 2005 Sooners are playing 10 freshmen after sending 10 starters to the NFL. And that doesn't include Heisman winning QB Jason White.

...A young offensive front is now practically in diapers after two O-linemen quit the team (for the second time) last month, and starting center Chris Chester injured his MCL this past week.

...Three DEs, including Larry Birdine, are out with season-ending injuries. And it was already a group needing to replace Dan Cody and Jonathon Jackson.

...The 2004 Sooners averaged 462.1 yards of total offense per game; the current edition is averaging just 315.8 ypg (NCAA No. 95).

...RS-freshman QB Rhett Bomar has struggled so much during the early going that it's prompted some Horn fans to label him as 'a poor man's Shea Morenz'.

...As of Wednesday, RB Adrian Peterson had not taken a hit during practice after aggravating his high ankle sprain against Kansas State. Nuff said.

For the first time in six years, and for just the 23rd time since the inception of the AP Poll in 1936, Texas enters as the higher rated team. LDT Rodrique Wright has gone so far as to predict a Texas victory. DE Brian Robison stated the obvious when he said Texas is the better team, but that the best team doesn't always win.

The last time Texas entered the game as a 13.5-point favorite was in 1996. That's when an 0-4 Sooner club upset the eventual Big 12 champ in OT. And the last time Stoops started this many freshmen was in 2000, the year OU launched the current streak on the way to the national championship. And, of course, Texas coaches expect to see the same Sooner team that showed up last year rather than the one that narrowly avoided opening home losses to TCU (which it did lose) and Tulsa (which literally was in doubt till the final minutes).

"They're much improved and will be firing on all cylinders Saturday," said Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik.

In one of those throw-out-the-record book games in which it's entirely possible to crunch numbers in arguing for either team's advantage, the fact remains that this is a Texas team with an across-the-board edge in experienced talent that is looking to exorcise it's Red River demons. On the heels of a five-game losing streak, the most appropriate Darrell Royal-ism for Saturday's game remains: "Trends are bunk. Angry men win football games."

Or, with the spin SE Limas Sweed put on the Royal-ism this week: "This is the next stepping stone for us to get to the next level. We're very hungry for it. We're very hungry for the win."

The dinner bell rings at High Noon.


Nearly all who were part of the Oklahoma defense that Sports Illustrated once labeled "so good it's scary" have moved on to other pastures. But what we have this Saturday, on paper at least, is a classic matchup between the nation's No. 1 rushing offense (Texas is averaging 310 ypg) and the nation's No. 3 run defense (OU is holding opponents to 65.2 ypg on the ground).

"They are committed to stopping the run," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "The trend (in college football) is to out-number the run. It doesn't matter if you're playing Texas Tech, you've got to stop the run first and make them be one-dimensional. They are very committed to it. They're not afraid to commit secondary people to the run game."

There's no reason why freshman RB Jamaal Charles (8.1 ypc) shouldn't log his third start of the season just because it's OU. (The only thing that gives one pause for consideration was Davis' comments early this week that Oklahoma is a different type of ballgame than Ohio State and he said he "would be less than honest" if he said he wasn't concerned about a freshman starting in the back field.) Ohio State was Charles' trial-by-fire and the youngster had his hand in several of the critical game-saving, drive-sustaining plays in that 25-22 thriller.

"I don't worry about the crowds," Charles said this week. "I just go out there and play."

He has gone out there and played to the fastest start by any freshman back in school history, with 447 yards and five TDs on 55 carries. His 111.8 ypg is just a half-yard behind the Big 12 leader (KSU's Thomas Clayton) and ranks No. 15 nationally. He won't run into a more formidable crew this year than Ohio State's linebackers but Charles will likely meet DT Dusty Dvoracek early and often Saturday.

The fifth-year senior anchors the defensive front after being kicked off the team last season for well documented alcohol-related and anger-management issues. His NCAA reinstatement came as a surprise considering the Big 12 Conference had already refused his request for a medical hardship.

"Dvoracek is a disruptive force," said Davis. "He plays with great pad level and with great form."

Carl Pendleton was a generally solid stand-in for Dvoracek last season and returns for his sophomore season. Junior Zach Latimer is attempting to fill the cleats of departed Lance Mitchell but WLB Rufus Alexander and SLB Clint Ingram return to their old haunts. Both represent OU's leading tacklers from last year's 12-1 team, with Alexander posting 49 stops and Ingram credited with 30. Alexander is his team's top tackler this season with 32 while Ingram is currently OU's INT leader with two picks.

"Against a team like OU, you can't just go in and run the ball," Brown said. "You've got to be able to throw it and get it downfield some. Vince is more able to do that now than in the past in this game. We have to stay balanced. They do a great job against the run."

The flip side is that the Sooners have been lousy against the pass, giving up 253 ypg (NCAA No. 87). Davis insists he has seen "great improvement" in the Oklahoma DBs.

"Their secondary now has four games under them and they're playing better," he said.

A rising star in the Sooner secondary is CB D.J. Wolfe. A converted RB, Wolfe was one of just four true freshmen to play last season. Oklahoma mixes man and zone, but Wolfe is one whom Sooner coaches count on for man-coverage.

"They'll zone the front side and lock him up on the back side," Davis observed. "He does a really nice job with his hands. Over and over, you see people trying to go deep but when the ball lands, they're out of bounds. He does a nice job, as receivers are going downfield, to continue to press and cut off the lane. Any time you can take a guy and put him on an island, often, and win, then he's a difference-maker."


Texas coaches and players expect Peterson to play Saturday despite missing practice for most of the week. The only question is how effectively and for how long?

A gimpy AP is still more dangerous than most, but the sophomore we stand to see on the floor of the Cotton Bowl will likely be a fraction of the one who ran for 225 yards against the Horns, on the way to a school single-season record 1,925 rushing yards. Kejuan Jones subbed for Peterson and is joined in the backfield by understudies Donta Hickson and Jacob Gutierrez.

"I see a great corps of running backs," Chizik said. "Adrian Peterson is obviously what he is, which is a tremendous running back. But they've got some other guys as well that people may be overlooking."

How much does Oklahoma's offense change without Peterson (not in terms of productivity but rather scheme)? If Saturday's Kansas State game was an indicator, "you're not looking at so much of a physical, down hill running game, or the power game that you would picture them being in. Now it's more of an east-west type game geared toward getting the ball on the perimeter versus straight at you."

Specifically, OU showed more of an option game out of a shotgun package that sprung the RBs to a season-best 232 yards against Kansas State. Bomar ran for a team-best 67 yards on eight carries.

Whatever Bomar showed during the spring and summer, it wasn't enough then to beat out junior Paul Thompson. The RS-freshman took over midway through the home-opening loss against TCU as Thompson has since seen his playing time at WR. A young QB typically translates into a simplified game plan, Chizik said.

"It seems like that's what they did Saturday (against Kansas State)," Chizik said. "The game plan was concise but everything they do is conceptually the same thing. You could tell they kept it really close to him and what he needed to do and he executed it really well. He's a tough hombre and a good quarterback."

He's also shown a tendency to not just tuck-and-run but try to tuck- and run-people-over (prompting Vince Young to comment that Bomar will learn better as he matures).

"He'll try to run you over and he'll try to run around you," Chizik said. "You can tell he's a competitor. That's the first thing I noticed. Then it's just a matter of him getting worked into the offense and feeling comfortable with everything."

Bomar is 39-of-69 passing for 441 yards, including two INT and one TD. Most of his completions have been on intermediate routes but Chizik expects that to change Saturday,

"We think they'll take four or five shots. At least. We expect them to try to get everything stirred up by getting a big play out of him."

OU's first TD pass of the season came during the second half Saturday when Bomar hooked up with TE Joe Jon Finley for four yards.

"They'll split out their tight ends, they keep them in and they move them around," Chizik said. "It's kind of a catch-me-if-you-can type deal. Their tight ends are starting to catch more balls and I think they're getting confidence in their quarterback getting the ball to them."

The "feeling out" process extends to a slate of new WRs now that Mark Clayton and Mark Bradley have completed their eligibility. The leading returning receiver is senior Travis Wilson (50 receptions for 660 yards, including 11 TDs in 2004). He leads all Sooner pass-catchers this season with 233 yards on 18 receptions.

"He's a great receiver and we've got to try to find some ways to take him out of the game in passing situations," said Chizik.

And as for that offensive line? It's hard to imagine a Stoops offensive front this thin and this raw. Another injury and the 'shirts will be coming off the freshmen.

Chizik has seen his share of big games in the SEC but the closest he's come to Texas-OU are the games he catches on ESPN Classic. Even so, he has the bottom line for Saturday's high noon showdown:

"It's Oklahoma. They've got great players. To me, that never changes. When you lose three great players, you substitute with younger, potentially great ones. When they become great depends on how fast they mature."

Several Sooners will grow up in a hurry Saturday. The difference in the outcome is Texas is loaded with athletes who are convinced they have grown up in the 11 games since then.

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