Tuesday practice notes

Horns prepare for North Texas; Texas defense looks for redemption after '01's late-season collapse.

While other University of Texas students spent the last night of summer vacation at the annual "Gone to Texas" gala held in front of the Main Building, the offensive units for the No. 3 Texas Longhorns focused on third-and-short situations at Frank Denius Field. Classes start Wednesday.

Coaches conducted practices Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. in an effort to approximate actual game-day conditions in preparation for the Aug. 31 home opener against North Texas, also at 7 p.m.

Wednesday’s practice is slated for 3:30 p.m., where offensive coordinator Greg Davis said the emphasis would shift to long-yardage as well as red-zone play calling.

It’s game week and the times they are a’ changin’, according to RCB Rod Babers.

"We’re shifting gears," Babers said. "Two-a-days are more a matter of repetition. This week it’s more of a switch (from physical conditioning) to the mental part of the game. Physically, everybody is in shape."

There were no reports of injuries, although Mack Brown said Monday that DE Kalen Thornton is listed as day-to-day while wide receiver Kyle Shanahan and FS Kendal Briles (who appeared to have nailed down a starting spot in the secondary) will both miss Saturday’s contest due to ankle injuries.

ON ANY GIVEN DAY…

Brown reminded media (a-gain) not only of the close calls that Texas has had in its six-game series against scrappy North Texas, but also how other teams have found the Denton gang to be surprisingly surly houseguests.

The Mean Green beat Texas Tech twice in the previous decade, gave Texas A&M a scare, and trailed Oklahoma by only 21-10 at halftime last year in Norman before falling 37-10.

Apparently the pep talk has gotten the players’ attention.

"We’re really pleased about how focused the guys are on North Texas when a lot of people don’t want them to be," Brown said Tuesday.

Most of the preseason media speculation has focused on Texas’ killer four-game stretch, starting Oct. 12, against No. 1 Oklahoma in Dallas. The Horns then travels to No. 27 Kansas State (the only Big 12 team it has not beaten), followed by a home game against surprising Iowa State (from my living room, it appeared QB Seneca Wallace actually scored against Florida State, a play that would have tied the game on the next-to-last snap). The month-from-hell concludes against No. 9 Nebraska at Lincoln, where the ‘Huskers have not lost a home game since Texas turned the trick on Halloween, 1998.

DEFENSE ALSO LOOKS FOR REDEMPTION

Understandably, QB Chris Simms is looking forward to getting back into the game. After all, the three-year letterman with 18 career starts was the most highly-visible Holiday Bowl sideline player as his every reaction was nationally televised during last December’s pulsating 47-43, last-second, biggest-comeback-ever, career-best passing performance by Major Applewhite (who in San Diego started his first, and last, game of the season).

"This is about as excited as I’ve ever been in my life for anything," Simms said. "The way the year ended for me, I’m excited to get back."

Simms’ misfortunes in the Dec. 1 Big 12 championship game (three interceptions, one fumble, and one former cell phone number) are well chronicled. Overlooked in the bitter disappointment of that Dallas evening and euphoria of San Diego four weeks later is the relative collapse of Texas’ proud defense. Coaches, however, haven’t let them forget it.

"We weren’t pleased with the way the defense finished at the end of last season," Brown said. "We want to get the defense up and started again."

Last year, Texas led the nation in total defense (236.2 yards), finished third in scoring defense (13.7 points-per-game) and sixth against the run (89.5 yards). But Texas gave up a total of 82 points against Colorado (Big 12 championship game) and Washington (Holiday Bowl). On Dec. 1, the Buffs ran for 223 yards against the suddenly porous UT D while the Huskies passed for 293 yards en route to a 444-yard performance.

So, what happened? Brown traces the defensive troubles back to offensive turnovers, particularly in the Big 12 championship.

"If we didn’t turn the ball over (as Texas, with a 7-0 lead, was driving deep into Buffalo territory), it would have forced Colorado to throw and then they would have been in trouble," Brown said. "We tackled poorly, but give Colorado credit. They ran the ball against us the same way they did against Nebraska the week before."

Babers credits Colorado’s game plan but said it was ultimately the defense’s job to stop the bleeding despite the turnovers.

"The biggest thing during the last two games of last year is we (defense) didn’t make the big plays," Babers said. "We didn’t counteract their big plays. This year we’ve got playmakers. We’ve got older, more experienced guys who can step up and stop that. We’ve got (DE) Cory (Redding), we’ve got (WLB) Derrick (Johnson), and (CB) Nathan (Vasher) who can turn the tide in any situation. I expect that of us this year."


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