UT: A fine 'line' between contending, pretending

Virtually overlooked in all the preseason hype about Texas' firepower at the offensive skill positions is the fact that there are no explosions unless the offensive line pulls the trigger. If anything, Texas' 27-0 home opener against North Texas is further evidence that offensive football truly begins with the big, meat eaters up front.

For all the preseason worry about Texas replacing three linebackers, there was relatively little buzz about the ‘Horns also replacing three offensive linemen (All-American Mike Williams, Antwan Kirk-Hughes and Matt Anderson).

Texas is ever-so-close, but not quite, to the level where it can just reload (instead of rebuild) at certain positions. (Texas can now reload in the secondary, at linebacker and on the defensive front. Same goes for receivers and fullbacks).

But the three offensive linemen who completed their eligibility last season also took with them a combined 91 starts. You don't expect youngsters to perform at that level during their debut, but then you also don't expect the kind of offensive meltdown that ensued against the Mean Green. Nor even against the Oklahoma Sooners or Nebraska Cornhuskers.

That's why the more head coach Mack Brown dissects Saturday's game film, the more he becomes aware that the second-half offensive collapse stemmed primarily from a mix of inexperience and complacency (which, in and of itself, is a byproduct of inexperience), rather than scheme or a disparity in the talent level.

Quite often, the line "didn't touch anybody," Brown said, because they were uncertain about blocking assignments against a team that was so blitz-happy that it surprised even the Texas coaches. The result is that the guys wearing Burnt Orange who touched defenders the most were quarterbacks Chris Simms and Chance Mock. Simms was sacked six times and Mock was sacked twice, the most surrendered since the 2000 Cotton Bowl against Arkansas.

Simms was the first to defend his bodyguards immediately after the home opener.

"We're going to be fine," Simms said. "This was our first game. I'm not worried about the offensive line. They're a really talented group. We won 27-0, and we controlled the game for the most part. We'll just continue to get better."

The good news for Texas fans, I suppose, is that the linemen who stunk up the joint in the second half were a) the same guys who gave Simms ample pass protection in the first half as the senior completed his first nine attempts, and who also were 5-of-5 in scoring while in the red zone; and b) not the same guys at all, as coaches sprinkled in younger players in an effort to develop a "three-deep" level of depth at every position.

The other good news is Texas has an open date Saturday, giving players an extra week of practice time to fix the problem and for coaches to tweak the lineup, if necessary.

Between now and what should be UT's first road win of the season, here's what to look for:

…look for OL Justin Blalock as the next true freshman to take off his red shirt. Blalock, who tips the scales at 6-4, 340 pounds, typically worked with the second-team O throughout two-a-days. Blalock earned first-team USA Today All-American honors at Plano East, was a Class 5A all-state selection and was The Sporting News' pick as the nation's 15th best high school product at any position. Blalock at guard is the next Mike Williams or Leonard Davis.

…look for the first string O-line to remain unshuffled, with coaches focusing more on personnel shifts among the "disappointing" second team unit.

…look for RB Cedric Benson to ride the back of pre-season All-American OT Derrick Dockery against North Carolina the way RB Ivan Williams followed in Mike Williams footsteps when the team absolutely had to score in the waning moments against Washington in last year's Holiday Bowl. Not that Texas should be in a position where they absolutely have to score late against the Tar Heels on Sept. 14, but the scenario will certainly surface before the Burnt Orange sun sets on this season. Look for Texas to pound the ball behind Dockery, again and again, and then some more, so that O-line knows that defense knows exactly what Texas is going to do and then daring the Tar Heels to try and stop it (and then mixing in some play action, for grins). It builds moxie, it forces the run, and it's proven effective.

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