Hello, Cotton Bowl

Texas defeated Sam Houston Saturday, but mostly, the Longhorns readied themselves for the showdown against Oklahoma.

The Texas coaches and players said all of the right things leading up to Saturday night's 56-3 thrashing of Sam Houston State.

"One game at a time." "We can't take the week off." "We respect whoever is on our schedule."

That sort of thing.

But make no mistake, the Longhorns played Saturday's game with an eye toward next Saturday, when they will renew their annual battle with Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Not only did they steal some much-needed rest for some nicked up players, but the Sam Houston State game also provided some valuable experience for some players who might be needed in the future.

Like, say, next Saturday against the Sooners.

Defensive end Brian Robison will be critical for Texas next week as the Longhorns try to slow Oklahoma running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Peterson, and he rested his injured knee against the Bearkats, spending the game on the sidelines and out of uniform. Most believe he would've played had the opponent this week been Oklahoma rather than Sam Houston State.

Running back Selvin Young, nursing a rib cage injury, was also in plain clothes for the game, and fellow running back Jamaal Charles, who torched Oklahoma with a game-changing, 80-yard touchdown run in last year's game, was suited out but did not play.

You can pretty confidently speculate that all would've played had the Sooners been on the other side of the field.

Running back Henry Melton started and picked up quality playing time, gaining 63 yards and scoring two touchdowns. A confident Melton is just another added weapon for Texas to have in its arsenal against the Sooners, and the Texas coaching staff certainly succeeded Saturday night in filling the sophomore's head with good thoughts.

Tight end Jermichael Finley made a couple of nice catches as well, grabbing a pair of passes for 36 yards. The Sooners have shown, in the last two years, a tendency to give up big plays in the secondary, and the gifted Finley could cause problems for Oklahoma.

When Texas faces Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, the most effective players are those who descend the tunnel with confidence, and like Melton, Finley gained a bit of that in Saturday's game against Sam Houston State. Ditto receiver Jordan Shipley, who scored a touchdown and will be playing in his first UT-OU game Saturday.

But perhaps Mack Brown's most important goal reached against Sam Houston State was this: no one was hurt.

"Our guys were ready tonight," Brown said. "And we didn't get anybody hurt."

Defensively, the goal for Texas against the Bearkats was to not show too much, and it was accomplished. The Longhorns were plain vanilla on the defensive side of the ball, rarely blitzed, and played everybody except DeLoss Dodds in the second half, which began with Texas leading 42-0.

Another personnel move of note against Sam Houston – which might have a bearing on the Oklahoma game – was the significant playing time given to heralded linebacker Sergio Kindle. The Texas-Oklahoma game is chock-full of athletes, and Kindle is a true athletic specimen. He's finally healthy after nursing injuries, and all he lacks is experience.

That's exactly what he got against the Bearkats.

"Sergio really hasn't practiced very much," Brown said. "He got more playing time tonight that he's had on the practice field, and that will help him down the road."

Which translated might mean "down the road" to Dallas and the Cotton Bowl next Saturday.

"Our goal was to get Sergio some time with the first team, and we did that," said Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "He played maybe more plays tonight than anybody we've got. It was nice to see him running around our there, feeling healthy."

Not surprisingly, one of Brown's first questions following the game against the Bearkats pertained to the Sooners.

"I told our guys that we need to respect the game, respect yourself and be prepared," Brown said of the potential difficulty of motivating his team the week prior to OU week. "You only get 12 games a year, and you don't get do-overs. After the SC game last year, some of those guys said, ‘I wish we could play them again.'"

"If you only get 12, how can you decide one game is going to be more fun than the other? Our coaches did a good job this week of making sure our players were ready to play."

So, who do you play next, coach?

"This is going to be a fun week, a great week," Brown said. "OU was watching us tonight and getting ready for us. It's always like a bowl week in midseason."

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