Bearkats in Austin for One-Night Stand

Oklahoma has an 'open date' on Saturday; Texas coaches have spent part of this week trying to convince fans and media that the Longhorns do not. Can Sam Houston State hang with Texas, even for one quarter? Or, should the Bearkats keep the married guys off the field?

On paper, the final tune-up before you-know-who is Texas' biggest mismatch in recent memory. The spin that Longhorn coaches have put on this ballgame is that it's another chance for the Horns to improve. They've resisted all suggestions that Saturday's blowout-in-the-making is essentially an opportunity to get more reps for backups, or even to rest some of their walking wounded. Coaches and players have talked all week of playing to a standard, irrespective of opponent, even though there's precious little respect among the fanbase for a Division I-AA opponent that's picked to finish sixth in the seven-team Southland Conference. Eventually, Texas coach Mack Brown uttered the all-but-inevitable comment: "They've got scholarship players, too."

Just not as many and, that, according to Co-Defensive Gene Chizik, is the primary distinction between D-I and I-AA programs (which are limited to 65 total scholarships).

"If you go through NFL rosters right now, you'll see a lot of I-AA guys on them," Chizik said, before mentioning former I-AA greats RB Walter Payton and QB Steve McNair.

But you will see neither Sweetnees nor Air McNair in a Bearkat uniform Saturday. The Bearkats are coming off a 3-7 season and was thumped two weeks ago at lowly SMU, 45-14, the only other D-I school on this year's schedule. Stranger things have happened than a I-AA school springing the upset against some of the big boys. This season, six Division I programs have fallen to a Division I-AA opponent (including Colorado's 19-10 home-opening loss to Montana State). Five other Division-I programs survived narrow escapes, winning by a field goal or less, against I-AA foes, including Kansas State's 24-23 nail-biter over Illinois State.

But SHSU is 2-19 against D-I programs; the lone wins have come against a couple of those hyphenated Louisiana schools that will never pass for a Top 25 program, let alone the defending national champ.

Compared to Texas, other Big 12 schools have enjoyed steady diet of Division I-AA creampuffs (every other Big 12 program has scheduled at least three games against Division I-AA opponents during the past five seasons). Even so, Saturday's date between Texas and SHSU represents a one-night stand between the universities. It's a match-up that has never happened before, and it will never happen again. At least, not if Brown has anything to say about it.

"It's not us," Brown said, when the September 30 opponent was announced to fill the formerly 'open date' after the NCAA allowed a twelfth regular season game.

The Bearkats will take the money and run. And Brown will try not to run up the score.

If you're looking a couple of pro prospects on the Bearkat roster, look no farther than the WR corps.

NFL scouts would be aware of WR Michael Malone even if his father wasn't NBA Hall-of-Famer Moses Malone. The 6-3 junior transferred from Virginia Tech in 2004 and currently leads the Bearkats with 49 ypg and 13.4 ypc. He is also responsible for half of SHSU's six passing TDs this season.

The Bearkats have started three QBs in three games, but Texas coaches expect junior Brett Hicks to be behind center. Wade Pate earned the starting job during the spring but suffered a separated shoulder in the home-opener. Texas Tech transfer Phillip Daugherty started against SMU but was pulled after tossing two INTs in the first half. Hicks played the entire second half against the Mustangs, completing 16-of-26 passes for 134 yards and directing the Kats on TD drives of 84 and 85 yards. He made his first collegiate start last Saturday at Missouri State, completing 19-of-34 for 184 yards to help notch a 20-17 win and to raise SHSU's record to 2-1.

OT Lance Hancock is a pre-season First-Team All-Southland Conference honoree who has notched 31 starts the past three seasons.

"They throw a lot of screens," Chizik has observed. "They throw a lot of those under-screens as equalizers against the blitz. They basically throw the ball out of a one-back (set). It can be four-wides or three-wides but it's basically a spread offense."

The Bearkats return eight defensive starters from a 3-7 team. The unit bases out of a 4-2-5.

"It's another opportunity for us to go out and try to get better, especially with a young quarterback," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "It's a chance for him to get some more looks at some different things. Their structure is different from anybody we've played this year."

It's a structure that Texas will later face against Baylor and Oklahoma State.

"It's an eight-man structure where four guys are pretty close to the ball on both sides," Davis added.

Senior DE David Branch is a pre-season First-Team All-Southland Conference selection. The three-year letterman, who led the Kats in TFL (13) and sacks as a junior, started the first two games of the 2006 season but is not listed on this week's depth chart.

MLB Shane Richburg is the team-leader in tackles (18), TFL (3) and forced fumbles (2).

The Bearkats return four starter to their secondary, but no DB stands taller than 5-11.

Horns Digest Top Stories