Texas ‘O’ has something to prove in BCS
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Instead of talking about their next game, Texas football players spent a large chunk of Sunday’s media session reliving their last one.
Time and time again, members of the Longhorns’ offense were asked about the woeful performance that marred their 13-12 victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 5.
Texas mustered just 202 yards against the Cornhuskers and needed a 46-yard field goal as time expired to escape with the win. Asked if he thought his team would play better in Thursday’s BCS title game against Alabama, Longhorns center Chris Hall couldn’t help but laugh.
“If we don’t,” he said, “we’re in trouble.”
Make that big trouble.
As good as Nebraska’s defense was, Alabama’s may be even better. The Crimson Tide ranks second in the country in total defense (behind TCU) and also is No. 2 against the run. With first-team All-Americans at tackle, linebacker and cornerback, Alabama has all the pieces to give the Longhorns fits.
“Coach [Mack] Brown put it best,” Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. “Turning on their defense is like watching a horror film.”
Still, as impressed as they are with Alabama, Texas’ players said they need to be more concerned with themselves and their own individual improvement in order to have success.
A Heisman finalist the past two years, McCoy completed 70 percent of his passes this season and has the benefit of throwing to one of the country’s top receivers in Jordan Shipley. But usually teams that earn berths in the national championship game feature offenses that are effective both through the air and on the ground.
Texas is not one of those teams.
The Longhorns’ rushing offense ranked just 55th in the nation with 152.7 yards per game. The mediocrity of the ground attack was magnified in the tight win over Nebraska, when it mustered just 18 yards.
The good news for Texas is that freshman tailback Tre Newton appeared to be finding a groove before the team’s poor outing against the Cornhuskers. Newton – the son of former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Nate Newton – averaged 84.3 yards per game and 7.2 yards per carry over Texas’ final three regular-season victories against Texas A&M, Kansas and Baylor.
Granted, the defenses at those schools are not on the same level as Alabama’s. And even though Newton has shown promise, no one is confusing him with former Texas standouts Ricky Williams, Jamaal Charles or Cedric Benson – just like no one has even mistaken McCoy for Vince Young, the dual threat quarterback who led the Longhorns to their last national title in 2005.
“I’ll never be able to run like Vince,” McCoy said Sunday. “But I’m probably going to have to use my feet a little more in this game. If they want me to use my legs, I’ll use my legs. That’s fine with me.”
McCoy said the biggest key for Texas offense will be limiting its turnovers and managing the clock. Other than Shipley, the Longhorns’ roster doesn’t have many big-play, game-changing home run hitters like it has had in the past.
But if Texas prepares itself well, the Longhorns should be able to minimize their mistakes and string together time-consuming drives.
McCoy said the scouting report on Alabama rests on the nightstand of his hotel room here in California. It’s the last thing he reads before he goes to bed and the first thing he picks up the following morning.
“I go to bed dreaming about those things,” McCoy said. “I love challenges. I love playing in pressure situations. That’s exactly what this is.”
“Still,” McCoy said, “even if we know every blitz they’ve ever run, I guarantee you they’ll come up with three or four more that we haven’t seen.”
Hall agrees – but he said he’s confident in his team’s ability to improvise. He’s not willing to predict any lopsided scores or even a victory, but Hall did say he felt good about Texas’ chances of improving on its performance against Nebraska, especially considering the Longhorns will have had more than a month to prepare.
“I’d love to say we’re going to go out there and score a bunch of touchdowns and win easily,” Hall said. “But both of these defenses are so good, and you usually don’t see 50-0 scores in national championship games.
“Whoever wins this one is going to have to grind it out.”
Even though Alabama is favored, Brown likes his team’s chances of doing just that.
“People will talk about [the fact] that we didn’t play as well as we wanted to our last two games compared to them,” Brown said. “But really and truly, on Thursday night when it’s kicked off, all of that is thrown out the window.
“It will not be about the best program. It will not be about the best team. It will be about the team that plays the best for three-and-a-half hours hours. And when you get to that point – as Coach [Darrell] Royal always said – they start that scoreboard 0-0 for a reason.”