Texas Longhorns preview

The Longhorns bring the nation's highest scoring offense and one of the nation's stingiest defenses to Pasadena to face an offense that could go down as the best ever and a defense that is ever-improving and looking to show that the only statistic that counts is the final score.

For the second year in a row, the National Championship game pits two teams that fans have been waiting all year to see play it out on the field. For the second year in a row, the number one and two teams in the initial BCS standings will meet for the crystal trophy, and for the second year in a row, the Trojans will be looking to defend their national championship title against the best of the Big-XII.

Longhorns on Offense

Quarterback – #10 Vince Young

Vince Young is one of the most dangerous offensive threats in all of college football and come Wednesday, he will yet again be the centerpiece of the Longhorns' offense. Young has always been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in terms of mobility, but this year he has dramatically improved his throwing arm, which helped him lead his team to the National Championship game and earned him a spot as one of the Heisman Trophy finalists.

Even with his improved throwing, Young is still far more dangerous as a runner and the Trojans will need to first and foremost keep Vince Young from scrambling all over the field. With every run, Young picks up both yards and momentum for his Texas team.

This season, Young leads the Longhorns in both carries (136) and yards (850) while picking up over six yards per carry and adding nine rushing touchdowns. He has looked to pass more this season, but is always a threat to pull the ball down and run. Texas will also throw more than a couple designed quarterback runs at the Trojans, in order to put the ball in the hands of their best playmaker as many times as possible.

Much has been made of Young's unorthodox, three-quarter throwing motion, but it's tough to argue with its results. Young leads the nation in passing efficiency at 168.5 and has completed almost 64% of his passes this season for 2,769 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has shown the ability to take advantage of the height of a few of his receivers, letting them battle for jump balls over smaller cornerbacks.

Young will also make a few mistakes, which are magnified because of his importance to his team. Ten interceptions on the season isn't a huge number, but some of them have put his team in some pretty tight spots. Young will need to be completely mistake free against the Trojans, which is something most quarterbacks in recent history haven't been able to manage. Watch for the Trojans to try and take advantage of the times Young chooses to run by attempting to force turnovers by stripping the ball or jumping on option pitches. No team in the nation forces turnovers like USC and Vince Young will no doubt feel that pressure of needing to play flawless football.

Running Backs – #22 Selvin Young, #25 Jamaal Charles, #11 Ramonce Taylor, #37 Henry Melton

Selvin Young will get the start in the Longhorn backfield for the Rose Bowl after missing two games this season and finishing with fewer yards and touchdowns than any of the other three running backs. But Young, a redshirt junior, is the most experienced of the rushers and head coach Mack Brown feels more comfortable with upper classmen in his starting lineups. Young has a history of injury problems, but is a more than capable runner. He is a complete back, able to take the ball inside or outside, and can run over or around defenders. On the year, Young has 89 carries for 416 yards and seven touchdowns. He hasn't made much of an impact in the passing game, but still presents a threat out of a backfield.

Jamaal Charles, just a true freshman, has been a big reason for the Longhorns' success this season. He is second on the team in rushing, picking up 844 yards on 114 carries, for a 7.4 yard-per-carry average. Charles has also added 11 rushing touchdowns. He is a pure speed back who will get the ball on end-arounds and quick throws to the sideline. Texas will have a few plays designed to get him the ball away from the line of scrimmage and hope that he can break something into the open field. He's also a threat out of the backfield, catching 14 passes this season for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

Ramonce Taylor is a lot like Jamaal Charles when it comes to speed and elusiveness. Taylor lines up in the backfield and also spends a lot of time split out wide. He has 72 carries this season, picking up 501 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. He's also the team's fourth leading receiver, with 25 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

Henry Melton is a big freshman fullback brought in for short yardage situations. Even though he's usually called upon to only pick up a few inches, Melton is capable of breaking through the line and into the secondary. He won't be brought down by the first tackler, and is always picking up positive yards. His ten touchdown runs this season put him third on Texas' freshman list.

Wide Receivers – #4 Limas Sweed, #6 Quan Cosby, #5 Billy Pittman

Limas Sweed's numbers won't knock you over, but his performance on the field will. Playing in all 12 games, Sweed has just 28 catches on the season for 480 yards and five touchdowns, but his game-winning grab against Ohio State is one of the reasons that Texas is even playing in the Rose Bowl. Sweed is 6'5" tall and can run, the exact type of wide receiver that has given the Trojan secondary fits this year. Vince Young won't hesitate to loft the ball downfield and let Sweed try to come up with it. The Trojan defensive backs will need to keep a body on him and not let him snag the ball at its highest point.

Quan Cosby is the kind of receiver that the Trojan secondary matches up very well against. He does have better than average speed, but he stands under six feet tall and is by no means a physical receiver. He has just 13 catches this season, for 254 yards and two touchdowns.

Billy Pittman has been the big-play receiver all season long for the Longhorns. He has caught 30 passes for a team-high 697 yards to go along with five touchdowns and uses his speed to find holes and seams in the opposition's secondary. Pittman doesn't have Sweed's height to challenge the Trojans on jump balls, but he more than makes up for that with speed.

Tight End – #16 David Thomas

David Thomas will need to have a big game against the Trojans in order to keep the defense honest and the ball moving downfield. He isn't the big-play threat that the wide receivers are, but he was the team's leading receiver this season, catching 40 passes for 525 yards and five touchdowns. He isn't exactly overpowering, but he is a very good player and the Trojan safeties will need to work to limit his effectiveness during the game.

Offensive Line – LT #73 Jonathan Scott, LG #64 Kasey Studdard, C #62 Lyle Sendlein, RG #72 Will Allen, RT #63 Justin Blalock

The Texas offensive line is just massive. All five starters weigh in over 300 pounds and have spent all year bullying opposing defensive linemen all over the field. The main reason that Vince Young has been able to develop his passing skills is the protection allotted to him by his offensive line. He has absolutely all day to find open receivers as the line just swallows up defenders. Jonthan Scott is probably the best of the bunch and protects Young's blindside, but there isn't a weak link along the line. They block exclusively downhill, simply locking up with the man across the line and rarely pulling or offering any other look. Their favorite play is the zone read, where Vince Young takes the shotgun snap and reads the defensive end. If the end maintains width to protect against the running back going outside, Young simply heads straight up the field. If the end collapses in to prevent that, Young hands off to his running back to attack the vacated edge of the line.

While this line is big, the Trojan defensive line always seems to perform well against bigger, less athletic fronts. The Trojans pride themselves on their quickness and power and will get another chance to prove themselves against one of the better lines in the nation.

Longhorns on Defense

Defensive Line – #80 Tim Crowder, #97 Frank Okam, #90 Rodrique Wright, #39 Brian Robison, #92 Larry Dibbles

Watching the Trojan offensive line go against this talented group of Texas defensive linemen should be one of the highlights of the game. Frank Okam, Rodrique Wright and Larry Dibbles form a solid corps of defensive tackles and are the first line of defense for Texas' stout run defense. Wright is the best of the three at getting to the quarterback, as Okam and Dibbles specialize in strictly stopping the run. Wright has posted 4.5 sacks and has 13 tackles for loss among his 46 total tackles. Okam also has 46 tackles while Dibbles has chipped in with 32, but neither has a sack.

Tim Crowder and Brian Robison have wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all season long for Texas. Robison leads the line with 57 tackles and leads the team with 15 tackles for loss and seven quarterback sacks. Robison is incredibly athletic and has a knack for getting to the quarterback. The Trojan tackle who draws his assignment will have their hands full on every play and will probably receiver help from a tight end or running back from time to time. Of course, the tackle that draws Tim Crowder probably won't be too excited. He also very athletic, piling up 46 tackles and three sacks to go along with an interception.

The Texas defensive linemen have been able to consistently pressure every quarterback they've faced this season, but in the Rose Bowl they'll be going up against a line that has blocked for back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners. Sure, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush have a lot to do with that, but all of the credit for the Trojans' offensive success over the past few years has to start with their offensive line.

Like in any other game, if Texas is able to pressure Matt Leinart by rushing just its front four, the Trojans could be in trouble. But look for the Trojans to try and take advantage of the strong pass rush by mixing a few screens and draws into the game plan.

Linebackers – #40 Robert Killebrew, #2 Aaron Harris, #44 Rashad Bobino

Aaron Harris is a true senior middle linebacker and is to the Longhorns what Lofa Tatupu would have been this season for the Trojans. He ranks third on the team with 87 tackles and four sacks, but his leadership extends well beyond numbers. He is an emotional leader and his hard-hitting style of play invigorates his defensive teammates. He will be a huge key for the Texas defensive in stopping the Trojan attack. During the 2005 Orange Bowl, the Trojans were able to pound the middle of the Oklahoma defense with every single LenDale White run and a lot of short passes. This year, the match up of Aaron Harris against LenDale White should be one to watch, because if White gets on track, the Trojan offense usually clicks.

Robert Killebrew lines up next to Harris and is another solid player for the Longhorn defense. He has 61 tackles to go along with four sacks, two forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. He's another hard-hitting linebacker, but it will be interesting to see if he can help contain the Trojans' speed.

Rashad Bobino is a redshirt freshman and, although he is a great player, you can bet the Trojan offense will pointed directly at him. He is smaller than the other two linebackers and his inexperience could come into play during the game. He has 53 tackles on the year, including two sacks.

Cornerbacks – #8 Cedric Griffin, #5 Tarell Brown, #31 Aaron Ross

Cedric Griffin is probably the best pure cover corner for the Longhorns. He is big and physical and could draw Dwayne Jarrett in man cover situations. Jarrett has struggled occasionally when defenders try to bully him and you can bet that Griffin will be all over him. Though he hasn't intercepted a pass, he leads the team with 15 pass deflections and ranks fourth on the team with 78 tackles.

Tarell Brown lines up on the other side and can play a physical game as well, although he is a more traditional cover corner, looking to outplay the wide receiver rather than rough him up. Brown has one interception to go along with 59 tackles and five pass deflections.

Aaron Ross will see significant playing time as well in the defensive backfield. He leads the team with three interceptions and is one of the most athletic players on the team.

The corners are good, but far from unbeatable. A main reason for their success is due to the tremendous pass rush generated by the Longhorn front. The Trojan wide receivers have had a few drops and other miscues this season, but they'll need to play near flawless football against these talented corners.

Safeties – #27 Michael Griffin, #7 Michael Huff

This is probably the strength of the Longhorns' defense. Michael Griffin and Michael Huff might form the best safety duo in the nation. Huff was named the Thorpe Award winner this year as the nation's best defensive back and Griffin leads the team with 116 tackles, three fumble recoveries and four blocked kicks.

During the Rose Bowl preparation, Huff claimed that he'd like to be responsible for covering Reggie Bush throughout the game. I don't think Mack Brown will go that route, as it worked so poorly for the Sooners last season, but if Huff is lined up against Bush one-on-one, the Trojans should have a decided advantage. Not even going into the fact that no player can single-handedly cover Bush for an entire game, if Huff is forced to play out of position due to the Trojans' formation shifts, the Texas secondary will be very vulnerable.

The Texas safeties have done well to not allow many long plays or passes completed over the top of them, but if the Trojan running game can get going, look for Matt Leinart to test them deep.

Longhorns on Special Teams

Kicker – #15 David Pino, #97 Greg Johnson

Like the Trojans' Mario Danelo, David Pino has had only one game where any of his kicks truly mattered. Against Ohio State, Pino converted field goal tries from 25, 37 and 42 yards away helping his team to a victory. But Pino has been very good over the entire season, hitting 12 of 15 attempts, with a long of 45. Pino has actually missed more extra points than field goals this season, missing on five of his 73 attempts.

Greg Johnson handles the kickoffs and has forced touchbacks on 24 of his 87 kicks.

Punter – #35 Richmond McGee

Richmond McGee is a pretty solid punter. He is averaging just over 38 yards on his 33 kicks, forcing 11 fair catches, two touchbacks and putting ten inside the 20-yard line. His long for the season is 56 and he has yet to have one blocked.

Kick Returner – #11 Ramonce Taylor

With Ramonce Taylor's playmaking ability, the Longhorns always find ways to put the ball in his hands. On 14 kick returns this season, Taylor is averaging just under 30 yards per return with a long of 54. The Trojans' special teams have been laughable at times this season, but the return of a few key special teamers should help to shore up the kick coverage.

Punt Returner – #31 Aaron Ross

Aaron Ross has been a dynamic punt returner this season, averaging 15 yards per try to go along with two touchdowns. But he isn't even the biggest threat in the punting game. The Longhorns' are excellent at blocking kicks, punts especially, and will look to test the Trojans' special teams. The Trojans should know where Michael Griffin is at all times and Tom Malone will need to have an especially quick foot. The Trojans will probably continue their practice of going for certain fourth downs rather than risk a kick.

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