Horns Avoid Another Knight-mare

For the second time in three weeks, a too-close-for-comfort Texas win came down to its good-hands recovering a late onside kick. The Horns' 35-32 comeback was a snapshot of all that is good, and all the remains deficient, about this year's team.

The biggest problem to be solved is Texas' inefficiency inside the Red Zone. The Horns had six series inside the 20s, but managed just one TD (a six-yard toss to WR Nate Jones, giving Texas a 10-7 lead with 24 ticks remaining in the first quarter). The Red Zone struggles were punctuated by Ryan Bailey's five FGs, tying a single-game school record (held also by Kris Stocktown and Jeff Ward). Against TCU, Texas had four Red Zone opportunities but twice settled for Bailey FGs when drives stalled at the three- and at the 11-yard lines.

A running game that emphasizes delays, counters and stretch plays will, in all probability, continue to find it tough sledding when the field becomes condensed inside the 20s. For months, questions have surfaced about whether Texas has the linemen, the FB or the RB to run between the tackles inside the Red Zone, or goal line situations. Backup RB Chris Ogbonnaya continues to state his case as the short-yardage back; the 6-1, 225-pounder can move the pile. Plus, Ogbonnaya has emerged as a reliable receiving target out of the backfield and can bring the wood when he throws a block. In fact, Ogbonnaya threw the clearing block on QB Colt McCoy's 3rd-and-1 draw play midway through the fourth quarter and Texas nursing a 26-24 lead. McCoy's run was good for 10 yards, who then found FL Jordan Shipley for 38 more on play-action pass. Ogbonnaya's five-yard run moved the ball to the UCF 19-yard line but, indicative of the afternoon, the drive stalled and Texas settled for another Bailey FG.

Texas' passing scheme continues to rely on a steady diet of underneath routes against Two-Deep zones and, again, runs out of real estate inside the Red Zone. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis nickeled-and-dimed the Knights with hitches, slants, quick outs and the occasional toss to a RB in the flat. Davis has always said he wants to go deep at least once a quarter, and that's about what you got against Central Florida with mixed results. (Unfortunately for Texas, SE Limas Sweed's juggling 42-yard snag was overruled as an incompletion. Davis attempted to go for the jugular after the defense held on downs with 1:50 left in the third quarter, but McCoy suffered his only pick 29 yards downfield after RCB Joe Burnett stepped in front of his long ball.)

Obviously, it didn't help that Texas' primary vertical threats were non-factors in this ballgame (Sweed injured his left ankle in the first half; WR Billy Pittman has just completed a three-game suspension). Yet, Davis' game plan has been the same the past two weeks: mixing high-percentage underneath routes with the run. It added up to some coolly efficient numbers for McCoy (32-of-47 for 259 yards), who time-and-again bought himself some time with scrambles and with the likes of WRs Nate Jones and Quan Cosby making excellent adjustments on their routes.

Jamaal Charles looked like the Jamaal Charles of old, in the best and worst sense of the word. His 153 yards on 22 carries (7.0 ypc) was his best outing since logging his first start against Rice in 2005 (189 yards). His 46-yard TD run down the left sideline was, ultimately, the game-winner. Yet, the rub on Charles has been that he does not always run behind his blockers and that he fumbles. Word was that Charles did not fumble at all during August camp, but his two give-aways Saturday were nearly fatal, representing at least a 10-point swing. His fumble following a three-yard rush to the UCF three-yard line negated a first-down and, in all probability, points. His fumble at the Texas 46 gave new life to the Knights, trailing 35-26, with 1:24 remaining. The result was a six-play, 38-yard scoring march that would have been a non-issue if Texas had gone for a traditional PAT, rather than a failed two-point attempt, following its final TD. (Obviously, a 12-point lead does not allow UCF to complete the comeback with a TD, a two-point conversion and a FG following the recovery of an onside kick. Can't happen? It's how an 0-4 Oklahoma team beat Texas in 1996).

Defensively, Texas was resilient and rose to the occasion when it had to. The biggest number that jumps out at you is Texas limited UCF to 3-of-15 on third-down conversion attempts. The biggest surprise, however, was how effectively UCF's experienced offensive line (with 100+ combined starts) controlled the line of scrimmage during the third quarter. That's when the Knights rushed for 126 yards on four possessions.

Unless Roddrick Muckelroy, Jared Norton and Sergio Kindle (remember him) develop in a hurry, the level of play at linebacker will remain spotty throughout the season. But the DBs were playmakers at critical moments. Brandon Foster's pick-six broke a 10-10 tie following his 33-yard TD return. With less than four minutes remaining in the game, CB Ryan Palmer forced a QB Kyle Israel fumble that FS Marcus Griffin recovered at the UCF 46. It was arguably the biggest defensive play of the game because Texas was holding a five-point lead and the sudden change resulted in Charles' 46-yard TD run.

Predictably, Brown said the three-point win was good for his team. Meanwhile, Texas fans should stock-up on Malox and not be deceived by what should be a blowout win against Rice next weekend. Texas games in 2007 will, more often than not, be dicey affairs. In short, we haven't seen the last of Texas' good-hands people.

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