October 26, 2011
Six games into the season, there really have been no surprises for the Longhorns. Texas has defeated four mediocre to poor teams that it was better than on paper, and the Longhorns have stumbled twice to two opponents who are simply better football teams right now.
Saturday night will be more of the same with Texas picking up an easy win over one of the country's worst football teams in Kansas. After that, things get a little more dicey.
If the first half of the season went according to plan, the second half of 2011 will be a real opportunity for the Texas coaches to earn their money. Mack Brown said this week that he's expected all year that this team would have a big "learning curve" due to the new coaches and the youth at key positions. Now it's time to see if the Horns can live up to those expectations and make significant strides down the stretch.
At this point of the 2010 season, the Longhorns held the same 4-2 record they do this year. We all know what happened after that, with a demoralizing home loss to Iowa State sending the team into a tailspin from which it would never recover. It's inconceivable to think that the same thing could happen this year in week 7 (yes, Kansas is that bad), but what about in the weeks after that? How will Texas respond if it stumbles at home to Texas Tech next week (and beyond ... the schedule doesn't get much easier)?
This team seems to have a mental toughness and focus that last year's club lacked, that's the good news. On the flipside, I'm still not sure the 2011 Longhorns have enough talent at key positions to be consistently good enough down the stretch to string together several wins. A win against Kansas is a given, and a couple beyond that seems reasonable. But if Texas is going to make significant strides in the second half of the season, Mack better be right about that learning curve.
The season's halfway over and it's gone according to plan. At this point, you can throw all future prognostications out the window because this season could make dramatic swings from week to week.
Should be a fun ride over the next six weeks.
Sidenote ... I've heard a lot of people say that they felt Texas Tech would be an easy win for the Longhorns until they saw what Tech did to Oklahoma in Norman last week.
My question ... what Tech team were those people watching that seemed to indicate an automatic win for Texas? The Red Raiders are averaging 43.4 ppg this year (37 ppg in their two losses). This is clearly a team that's going to put points on the board when it visits Austin next weekend, and the Texas offense hasn't exactly shown that it can consistently light up the scoreboard.
Texas should be able to hold Tech below its scoring average and the Horns should have push for 30 points against a suspect Red Raider defense, but that game is no way a cakewalk for Texas. Never was.
SOME EARLY THOUGHTS ON KANSAS
I understand the need for Texas to stay focused from week to week, so it comes as no surprise that Mack Brown was making Kansas out to be the Green Bay Packers in his Monday meeting with the press.
Mack has to give each opponent its due and pile heaps of praise on even the worst team on the schedule. I don't.
Kansas is an atrocious football team. After winning its first two games of the season (including a 45-42 squeaker over Northern Illinois), the Jayhawks have dropped five straight. In those losses, the Jayhawks have given up a whopping 287 points (57.4 ppg). The Jayhawks are dead last out of 120 FBS teams in scoring defense, a full three points worse than the team in front of them.
Terrible. Simply put, this will be one of the worst teams to play in Austin in a long time.
Not only will Texas win, this game should be the perfect antidote for a Longhorn offense that's still trying to carve out its niche. The quarterbacks should have success throwing the ball. Texas should be able to stretch its legs and throw the ball downfield against a horrible Kansas pass defense. Malcolm Brown and the other UT backs should be able to approach season highs in yardage totals.
The Jayhawks rank in the bottom two of all teams in college football in passing defense, rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense. If Texas even remotely struggles in this one or has problems in the red zone, it won't be a good sign looking down the road. This one should be over by halftime.
A LITTLE BIT OF RECRUITING TALK
Lots of discussion when UT 5-star wide receiver commitment Cayleb Jones (@Cayleb_JonesTx4) tweeted that he'd be taking a visit to Auburn. No surprise there.
Some thoughts on this week's developments ...
When I talked to Jones' father this week, he seemed generally surprised that there was even discussion that his son would switch his commitment. Mr. Jones was pretty clear that his son is locked in for Texas and has no intentions of switching his commitment.
The pending trip to Auburn was described as a chance for Jones to go visit his cousin, Auburn WR Emory Blake. The plan was to visit Blake in Baton Rouge last week during Auburn's trip to play LSU, but the family was unable to work that trip out.
When I talked to Mr. Jones on Tuesday, the family had not yet discussed Cayleb's possible Auburn visit with the UT coaches. As Mr. Jones put it, Texas is secure with their place in Cayleb's recruitment and he viewed it as such a non-issue it wasn't a topic that needed to be addressed. If Texas had an issue, Mr. Jones said, the UT coaches have a good enough relationship with the Jones family that they could pick up the phone and talk it out.
One has to assume that Texas would strongly prefer that Cayleb does not take the visit, so it will be interesting to see if anything changes. Texas certainly feels comfortable that it will hold onto Jones' commitment, as it should. And Jones wanting to take advantage of a rare opportunity to spend some time with his cousin, with whom he's very close, makes sense. That being said, if you're Texas, even if there's only a 1 percent chance that the trip could cause Jones to have second thoughts on his commitment, that's not a chance you want to take.
As of right now, I fully expect Jones to sign with the Longhorns in February. I feel pretty confident saying that. But the issue with another visit is that anything can happen when a kid spends a couple days on another campus. Will Auburn make a strong enough impression to give Jones reason for second thoughts? Jones could have the most innocent of intentions on his way out to Auburn, but who's to say something won't blow him away while he's on campus? Not likely, but not impossible either.
Jones has grown up a fan of the Longhorns. He lives in the shadows of the Forty Acres. He's been one of UT's most active recruiters. He's already developed a close bond with several Longhorn commitments and current team members. There are a lot of factors weighing heavily in UT's favor and while I still fully expect Jones to stick with Texas, any time a kid is taking an official visit to another program, and I don't care who it is, it's something to watch.
Speaking of visits, Brenham head coach Glenn West was very clear in telling us on Wednesday morning that star DT Malcom Brown was solid in his commitment to Texas and not looking at other options.
Like Jones, look for Brown to play his college ball in Austin. But don't think for a second that other colleges, namely OU and Texas A&M, won't be on Brown like sharks drawn to blood in the water. I doubt it will be enough, especially if Brenham LB Tim Cole sticks with UT as expected. But fans might want to prepare for rumors on this one to pop up over the next few months.
Of note, a person I trust told me Brown was recently asked if he was serious about some of the talk of visiting OU. Brown, always a man of few words, replied with a simple "no."
Gotta love recruiting.
VINCE YOUNG IS SUPERMAN
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO A CHARLIE'S ANGEL, AND A TEXAN ...
Native Houstonian and Charlie's Angel Jaclyn Smith turns 64 today.