How To Get To 10-2? Play For 2008

Realistically, Saturday's loss to the Sooners ended hope that this Longhorn team can win the Big 12 and play in a meaningful (read: BCS) bowl game.

The Horns could finish 10-2 overall and 6-2 in conference, but even that record is unlikely to land Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game or with an at-large berth in the BCS, which means the Cotton, Gator or Holiday Bowl is – again, realistically speaking – the best-case scenario for this Longhorn team. Given that, it's time for this team to play for 2008.

The beauty of playing for next year, though, is that it's also what's best for this year!

Simply put, at multiple positions, the young talent on this Longhorn team is better than the older talent. And the time has come to reward talent over experience, because experience has put this team in the two-loss hole that it is in just six games into the season.

The starting point in this youth movement must be at linebacker. It is past the point of argument that the trio of junior Rashad Bobino and seniors Robert Killebrew and Scott Derry should remain the starting linebackers. Sophomores Jared Norton and Rod Muckelroy have, from week one on, demonstrated that they deserve not just the start but the majority of the snaps at their respective positions, while sophomore Sergio Kindle has arguably done the same since his return from a three-game suspension to start the season. The personnel situation at just this one position may determine if one of the final six games is decided by Bobino's bad pursuit angles (see DeMarco Murray's 65-yard TD run Saturday, among a plethora of others this season), or a Killebrew personal foul or mis-read (too many to mention), or Derry's relative lack of athleticism.

Next is running back, where Jamaal Charles' role needs to be adjusted and Vondrell McGee's expanded. Give the junior starter 12-15 rushes per game (mainly between the 20s), with the remainder of his touches – six or so per game – coming in the passing game. To this point in the season, Charles has caught just five passes. That's criminal given his demonstrated explosiveness as a receiver out of the backfield (he had a 72-yard reception last season!). But worse still is a problem of his own making; his fumbles, which kept Central Florida in the game till the (nearly) bitter end, and which arguably cost Texas the win it desperately needed Saturday in the shadow of the State Fair Ferris Wheel. The coaches have already moved to use more of redshirt freshman McGee near the goal line, but his situational use should extend throughout the redzone, and as a change of pace elsewhere on the field. From here out, McGee's carries per game should roughly equal Charles'.

While sophomore Colt McCoy performed admirably in Dallas, the quarterback position could use an infusion of more John Chiles if for no other reason than to occasionally get McCoy out of the line of fire of defenders. Less hits each week could not only prolong McCoy's health through the end of the season, something in serious jeopardy given the number of hits he continues to take, but it could also provide crucial strength at the end of games, many of which will come down to the wire if last year's closing stretch is a preview of this year's. Fear of a 'quarterback controversy' should be outweighed by this: playing more of Chiles will accomplish what I described above, it will prepare Chiles for an even bigger role in the offense, if it becomes necessary because of another McCoy injury, it will provide a change-up to opposing defenses who would have to spend precious practice time preparing for two quarterbacks, and it could be a spark to an ineffective running game. All of those individually are good enough reasons to substantially increase Chiles' PT; taken together, it's a no-brainer.

On the offensive line, the playing time situation is already heading in the right direction, but more snaps for true freshmen Kyle Hix at right tackle, Michael Huey at right guard and Tray Allen at left tackle, plus for redshirt freshman Buck Burnette at center, will improve depth as this season winds down and fatigue increases, and perhaps as importantly get Allen and Burnette better prepared to take over the starting roles at their respective positions in 2008. The redshirts are off Hix, Huey and Allen. Don't waste the year of eligibility with minimal snaps (particularly for Hix and Allen, who have played less than Huey).

With the increased use of two tight end sets, true freshman Blaine Irby's snaps should increase as well. But he won't just be a placeholder. His skills are reminiscent of former tight end David Thomas, and he can be an increasingly important factor in the passing game as teams key on sophomore Jermichael Finley after his breakout performance versus the Sooners and with former passing game go-to guy Limas Sweed out for the season. Along with Irby, fellow true freshman pass catchers James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins and redshirt freshman split end Montre Webber (maybe most of all) should see their snaps increase. The Iowa State depth chart lists Quan Cosby as the new No. 1 at split end, and with his participation on all return teams, snaps simply have to increase for some of these guys to keep Cosby fresh.

At defensive end, injuries forced coach Oscar Giles to rely heavily on redshirt freshman Eddie Jones and sophomore Lamarr Houston plus true freshman Sam Acho (unexpectedly), and junior Aaron Lewis' elbow injury just as junior Brian Orakpo returned will keep that dynamic in place for the foreseeable future.

Finally, in the defensive backfield, the Browns – redshirt freshman Chykie and true freshman Curtis – have three-plus inches of height on the current starters at corner. That alone doesn't mean their playing time should increase, but the continued average play of the corners, partly reflected in their lack of interceptions, should at least get these guys an opportunity to show if they can be playmakers at the position.

Mack Brown values seniority. But he also greatly values 10-win seasons. And with two losses already in the record book this season due in part to the play of those experienced players, reaching 10 wins this year and positioning this team for even more in 2008 requires a youth movement starting this weekend in Ames.

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