Picky, Picky, Picky

Seven of the Top 10 teams in the preseason ESPN/USA Today (coaches) poll have already lost at least one game this season, and the three that haven’t been booted off the island are, of course, the 4-0 Texas Longhorns and the two squads its fans love to hate (Oklahoma and Miami).

With conference play set to begin against Oklahoma State, the Horns enter Big 12 action as a team that has yet to be fully tested (and one that has not been tested at all in the fourth quarter).

So, if head coach Mack Brown appears a bit testy about certain aspects of his teams’ play despite running the table in non-conference play, it’s because he knows there is now less margin for error, starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

When asked during Sunday’s media conference to provide an assessment of where his national championship-contending squad stands on the brink of league action, Brown responded initially by saying he was looking for improvement in (you’re going to love this!) the kicking game.

Saturday’s contest against Tulane marked the most dominant Texas special teams play in recent memory, indicative of the depth and speed donning the Burnt Orange these days. Special teams accounted for two of UT's first three second half touchdowns, and spotted the offense on the 13-yard line after the kickoff team recovered a Green Wave fumble.

But one of the subtle differences in Brown this year is that, while applauding stellar efforts, he is consistently harping on correcting the relatively miniscule deficiencies in each phase of the game "if you expect to win them all" (and this year he knows winning them all is, indeed, a realistic expectation -- but so is losing). He also knows that Texas will have to produce at least one nearly flawless game at some point to roll the table.

As far as Saturday’s nearly flawless special teams play:

"I was disappointed in a couple of phases," Brown said. "They had a good punt return (26 yards) early, we (Dusty Mangum) missed a field goal (47-yard attempt), we (Richmond McGee) kicked the ball out of bounds twice on kickoffs, but overall I thought we were dominant in the kicking game."

"We need to be more consistent in the kicking game, which sounds funny because we’re playing better in that area," Brown said, "But we can’t miss field goals and kick balls out of bounds in tight situations. We’re getting into situations (Big 12 play) where the margin of error is much tighter than it has been in the past four weeks."

Brown pointed out that McGee sent six kicks into the end zone despite the two he sent out of bounds, spotting the Tulane offense on the 35-yard line. There is also no competition for Mangum’s job, Brown said. The sophomore has connected on five-of-eight FG attempts this season, and now holds the UT record for consecutive PATs at 62.

"Of course, there was the great (71-yard) punt return by Selvin Young," the head coach said. "It was blocked very well, but he made the first one miss him. I am excited about him for the future."

So, who returns punts in the future? And will Brown rotate Young as a punt returner when a healthy Nathan Vasher (ankle) returns to the lineup as the true freshman did with FS Dakarai Pearson Saturday?

"I’m not sure yet," Brown said. "We want to see how far along Nate is this week to see if he can come back, because he was the best in country when he left, but we sure didn’t mind putting Selvin back there."

Offensively, Brown wants the unit to display the high-voltage, balanced attack that it did (for the most part) against North Carolina and Houston.

"You look at our first couple of years here and we were in a fight in every game," Brown said. "This year we haven’t been in a fight in the fourth quarter. We have to understand that we have to play each week. Our games haven’t been close, but there were parts of each game where they got our attention and our players and coaches responded."

Defensively, Brown praised his nationally No. 1-rated unit, particularly since it has included three or four freshman starters in each of the past two contests. Still…

"We’re not getting enough pressure on the quarterback," Brown said. "We’re still having to blitz too much and I don’t like that. I’d still like to use the front four." (Defensive coordinator Carl Reese has often used a 3-3-5 alignment, substituting a defensive back for a tackle).

MACK THE KNIFE?

Look out, he’s back in town (to stick the dagger into the end zone during the final 99 seconds with a 42-0 lead)! But folks who have followed Brown closely know that, despite pleading early in the season for his offense to develop a killer instinct, he is typically not the kind to intentionally run up a score against a beaten opponent.

That is why some questioned Texas’ final drive for points late in the game, Saturday. From Brown’s perspective, the hefty fourth quarter lead represented a chance for second team players to run the offense.

"We played everybody on the bench that was not redshirted or hurt, so we got a lot of valuable experience" Brown said. "They’re young, they’re talented, but it was great to get all those young guys a lot of playing time. We scored the last two touchdowns with our second (string) offense, which helps us."

It was particularly important to give backup QB Chance Mock a chance to direct a drive (Mock threw just once, completing a 17-yarder to freshman WR Robert Timmons and then handed the ball off to Young five straight times to run out the clock). The speedy freshman tailback just happened to outrun the defense into the end zone with just more than one minute left, giving UT its seventh touchdown on the day.

"You don’t want to run up scores to embarrass the other team," Brown said, "but (Mock) needed to throw. We had a holding penalty, so it gave him an opportunity to have a deep throw."

INJURY UPDATE

Although true freshman Rodrique Wright started at defensive tackle, Marcus Tubbs returned in a big way by registering six tackles, two sacks, one blocked pass and one blocked field goal. SE Roy Williams (hamstring) made the trip and suited up for the game (but did not play), whereas Vasher did not travel to New Orleans.

"Roy worked out some on Friday, but we really didn’t need him yesterday," Brown said.

Both Williams and Vasher are now listed by Texas trainer Tom McVan as probable for Saturday's Okie State contest. FS Kendal Briles (ankle) remains questionable.


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