Deep Thoughts: Horns May Need To Air It Out

Texas unveiled its Zone Read running game against Iowa State in 2003, the last meeting between the programs. But expect the Cyclones to try to head Texas off at the pass when Big 12 Conference play begins for both teams Saturday in Austin.

The Cyclones are a low blitzing team, preferring to overload the run by bringing both safeties to the LOS. Texas coaches expect the visitors to force a vertical passing game, a feature that was MIA against Ohio State and used sparingly against a hapless Rice team.

"Iowa State has always been a team that said, 'We are going to stop the run. Period,'" head coach Mack Brown said.

Stats are skewed this early in the season (case-in-point: Texas A&M leads the nation in pass defense). So far, Iowa State has been quite stingy against the run, yielding just 85 rushing ypg. (Note: Texas currently boasts the nation's No. 2 run defense, giving up just 25 yards per outing.)

Conversely, Iowa State has been susceptible through the air. The Cyclones have been touched for 286.3 passing ypg in their first three outings to rank dead last in the Big 12 (NCAA No. 111). Even so, "They are going to make us throw the ball, and make our quarterbacks perform well," Brown said.

It begs the question: did Saturday's rout at Rice give evidence that Texas' downfield passing attack can now complement its potent ground game? Texas' tailback-by-committee has averaged 238 yards through three ballgames, tops in league play and No. 8 nationally. The Horns put the ball in the air just 11 times against Rice, but completed 10 for 163 yards. But it was a 52-7 runaway in which Texas had all the points it would need with half the first-quarter remaining. As such, Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis saw no need to put the ball in the air "when you're ahead of schedule on first-down as much as we were."

"I would like to get the ball vertical a little bit more, but so much of that is what (defenses) are doing," Davis said. "We want to stretch the field, but we want to be smart. I think that will continue to come as the season goes on. We're doing most of the things that we did the last three years with Vince (Young); we just haven't done it as much."

The times, they maybe a'changin'. Six Longhorn receivers recorded an "explosive" (reception of at least 16+ yards) Saturday. The longest was QB Colt McCoy's 38-yard TD toss to FL Jordan Shipley midway through the third quarter. RS-freshman TE Jermichael Finley finally got in on the act, notching 39 yards on three grabs, including a long of 21 yards. It was the first time this season that a Texas TE recorded a reception.

"I was happy that Jordan got going," Davis said, "and I was extremely happy about (TE) Jermichael (Finley) because we need that out of that position. We've got to continue to get Jermichael involved because he gives you the added threat that takes some pressure off the wide receivers. We need a guy who is going to get open when he gets back in coverage. In both of his catches, he had 'backer coverage. He's got to win that battle for us, and he did."

The offense remains a work-in-progress, still in search of its collective identity, Brown said again this week. But Davis believes he now knows something about his passing game that he didn't know at the start of the season.

"I know we're very accurate in throwing the football," he said. "You don't see a bunch of guys open that we missed."

Through three games, McCoy is 38-of-59 (64.4 percent) for 456 yards, including six TDs and one INT. Evidence of McCoy's progress, Davis believes, was his 16-yard TD pass to SE Limas Sweed just before halftime Saturday.

"They brought a free safety and a weak linebacker," Davis said, "and Colt saw it. Limas adjusted, and the (running) back picked it up. The one he couldn't pick up, the extra one is coming free. The ball is thrown and it's a touchdown. That's pretty good stuff."

And there's no doubt the offense will need to have all the right stuff this weekend in Austin. Other than the Buckeyes, Iowa States represents Texas' only test this side of the OU game. The Cyclones built an 11-point advantage at No. 16 Iowa last Saturday before Hawkeye QB Drew Tate rallied his troops for a 27-17 comeback.

"We want to set it up where, if the run's not working, you can win the ballgame by throwing. And if the throw's not working, you can win the ballgame by rushing the ball," Davis concluded. "You look at more at the end of the year than you do game-by-game."

Saturday's kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be televised regionally on ABC.

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