Now, Muschamp Earns His Paycheck

The Horns begin their murderer's row of Big 12 competition, and it reads like this: four consecutive Top 20 foes, three of them in the top seven. Texas hired defensive coordinator Will Muschamp for times like these.

It starts at the top. Oklahoma enters the Red River rivalry ranked No. 1, but that's nothing new. It marks the eighth time overall, and second in five years, that Texas will meet a top-ranked Sooner team.

Here's what's new: based on this week's USA Today Coaches Poll, the Horns face No. 2 Missouri following Saturday's shootout. This would mark the first time in school history that Texas faced the No. 1 and No. 2 in consecutive weeks. Meanwhile, Texas' next four opponents are all ranked in the Top Five in scoring offense while each is in the top six for total offense.

Any chance that Muschamp is getting much sleep these days?

"Will never sleeps during football season," Texas coach Mack Brown said.

What are the odds that Muschamp even leaves the office this week?

"We'll do what we've got to do to win," replied Muschamp.

Any sign that the firebrand coordinator is any more excitable just because it's OU?

"He's been intense since Florida Atlantic," said SLB Sergio Kindle. "He's the same every week."

First and foremost, Muschamp was brought on board to generate a sustained pass rush. Statistically, Texas' pass-defense the past two seasons was the worst in program history. Now, the unit faces the most prolific passers in Big 12 history, starting the second Saturday in October. The two-deep at safety is littered with freshmen; the undersized cornerbacks are suspect tacklers. Texas is still giving up an average of 244 passing yards per game.

But Brown knows the best pass defense begins up front anyway.

Previously, Brown's defenses couldn't get a sack at a grocery store. These days, Texas leads the nation with 3.8 sacks-per-game and is No. 2 in Red Zone defense and third against the run (51.8 ypg). The Horns are also in the top 10 against third-down conversions. There have been 70 QB pressures and 44 TFLs in five contests.

"We've taken positive steps every week," Muschamp said. "I've never watched a film and thought that there was no way we could do this or that we couldn't handle something. It's just a matter of the reps and the experience."

Muschamp's players have bought into his schemes, his rotation, his emphasis on accountability and, just as important, his fiery demeanor. DT Roy Miller is so stoked by mid-week that he has literally asked reporters not to mention Saturday's game (it literally makes his heart race and, in Miller's own words, his "kidneys start pumping adrenaline"). Even mild-mannered DT Aaron Lewis evoked the rhetoric of 'We're Texas' when referencing his defense's swagger.

"We're not like anyone OU has played this year," Lewis said. "Our athletes and their athletes compare really well."

Muschamp became a YouTube poster child as an Auburn coordinator; his excitable outburst following his defense's wicked hit against Arkansas has become the stuff of legend in Austin.

"That's just me," Muschamp said, "and I ain't changing. I enjoy the atmosphere. I enjoy being in the arena with the players. If it helps motivate our team, so be it. That's still your job as a coach. We can get so involved in Xs and Os, but how do you hit the fire with the players? What are you going to do to motivate the guys to play at a different level? Motivating players is a huge part of being a good coach."

There can be little doubt that a two-game winning streak puts Texas atop the polls. Yet, one of the best attributes of the 2008 Longhorns is their ability to compartmentalize each game for maximum focus and intensity.

"I don't even know who we play after Oklahoma," said Lewis. "Seriously. I honestly don't."

The 34-year old Muschamp is, at once, a combination of old-schooler and a young up-and-comer. Already, he's coached in the NFL and sports a national championship ring from his 2003 season as LSU's defensive coordinator. That's when his Tigers bloodied (and limited to one TD) the same Sooner team that hung 65 on Texas 10 weeks earlier. Of course, he coordinated a rock-solid Auburn defense that has been part of a six-year win streak against bitter rival Alabama.

Incredibly, Muschamp remarked this week, "I don't have the experience that a lot of guys do. I have to work harder."

By all accounts, that's what Muschamp is doing these days. So, what is his game plan for stopping the likes of Oklahoma's offensive juggernaut?

"Playing good defense," Muschamp said.

It's just as simple, and as difficult, as that.

Horns Digest Top Stories