October 13, 2009

Texas' title hopes on the line Saturday

This is what Colt McCoy and Sergio Kindle came back for. This is what Mack Brown pointed to when he told Mel Kiper Jr. before last season that the 2009 team would probably be more like the 2005 team. The Texas season starts Saturday in Dallas.

The Longhorns are a 3 1/2-point favorite to win their fourth against OU in the last five years. There is actually heat north of the Red River on Bob Stoops to win a big game. Fast. Otherwise there will be more calls for Stoops to shake up his staff.

Let's be honest, Texas has had five preseason games to get ready for what's about to take place in the Cotton Bowl. Maybe Texas has played down to its competition. Maybe that's the reason for the slow starts. But this is it folks. These opportunities for a title are hard to come by.

WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

Ask Mack Brown, one of the winningest active coaches in college football who has ONE conference title in 25 previous seasons as a head coach.

This week will be about Brown and Greg Davis, using their collective acumen on offense to figure out how to win a game that could catapult the Longhorns to a special season. Lose this one, and UT will be hoping for another backdoor entry to the Big 12 title game and give OU the edge in the Sooners' quest for a fourth straight Big 12 title. Any national title hopes for Texas would almost positively be gone.

AIRPLANE BANNERS AND BCS PAYBACK

There will be talk this week about the airplane banners that were flown in Oklahoma and Austin after this game last year.

There will be talk about how Texas was robbed and OU, by Sam Bradford's own admission, "caught a break," from the BCS.

About OU using Longhorns stickers on their performance chart when a player underperforms in a workout.

About how Texas may have tried to claim the 2008 Big 12 title with an asterisk in its team meeting room.

RIVALRY AT ALL-TIME HIGH

There is so much bad blood in this rivalry, and this year's battle may be the most angry, heated and explosive between the fans. OU fans are sick of losing big games. Texas fans want what they felt was theirs last year.

"This game is so important to the fan base that when we beat Colorado last year, our fans started yelling, 'Beat OU,'" Mack Brown said. "They did it again Saturday after the game. They're not even taking in the victory over Colorado. They're already to Oklahoma."

But all the yelling we'll hear between those in burnt orange and crimson on Saturday at the State Fair of Texas will eventually give way to what's between the white lines in the greatest game day atmosphere in all of sports.

HEISMAN SHOWDOWN

Throw in the fact that Sam Bradford won a Heisman Trophy that probably belonged to Colt McCoy in 2008, and we've got the marquee matchup for this title fight.

You've also got the No. 1 (Texas) and No. 3 (Oklahoma) rushing defenses in the country. Both also are getting great pressure on the quarterback. Oklahoma is No. 4 nationally in sacks. Texas is No. 8 nationally in tackles for loss.

"Sam is a great player," Kindle said. "Me being on the other side of the ball and seeing this guy work, it's amazing. He's that good.

"Having him and Colt on the field at the same time will be something to see. As good as the defenses are with these two guys quarterbacking the offenses, it's going to be hard to stop them all the time. This year, we want to cut down on the points we gave up to OU, but we'll just hav to wait and see."

So let's get down to Xs and Os for a moment.

OFFENSE UNDER MICROSCOPE

Is anyone concerned about how the Texas defense will play against OU's re-made offensive line (now without left guard Brian Simmons), receiver Ryan Broyles coming back from injury, Sam Bradford in his second game back from a serious shoulder injury and a unit missing super TE Jermaine Gresham?

How about the Texas offense?

Exactly.

COTTON BOWL COLT

This game is about the most accurate quarterback in college football history, working against one of the best defensive fronts in the country.

McCoy has been brilliant in this game for three years, completing 74.3 percent of his passes with five TDs and only one interception. But this season has been one of slow starts.

"We're just doing things a little different," McCoy said when I asked how this year's offense is different from last year's. "We haven't really played a consistent four quarters like we want to. And it's time. Especially with this stretch we're in right now. We've got to come together and play sharp and just be consistent.

"Last week, I thought we threw the ball really well. I mean really well. And we could have thrown the ball a lot. We just need to be able to balance a little bit better. When you can balance a little bit better, we can stay on the field, and we just haven't done that yet."

SUPER SHIPLEY

It's about Jordan Shipley continuing to play at an All-American level.
"It's always a challenge," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Monday when asked about trying to defend Shipley. "In the end, you have to find different ways to double him, to try to get a man on top of him.

"They move him around. But that's part of the game. Any time you try to double cover a guy, that leaves some other guys in positions where your defense could be more vulnerable. You've got to pick and choose when you do and how you're going to cover him and that kind of thing, depending on where he's at."

THE THIRD PHASE

It's about the special teams and players like Shipley and D.J. Monroe continuing to make big plays.

"They've got talented, explosive players," Stoops said. "Like the other night, they score three different touchdowns without the offense touching the ball. You've got guys who can make big plays. Like always, they've got talent and are coached well."

RETURNING A FAVOR?

The Texas defense might be forced to help carry the Longhorns until the offense can get going, and Will Muschamp understands that. Muschamp said the offense saved the defense last year. To show his gratitude, Muschamp jumped into the arms of Davis on the floor of the Cotton Bowl after last year's 45-35 victory.

"I think Greg (Davis) did a great job that day," Muschamp said Monday. "We always say a player is a reflection of their coach, and Colt McCoy gave a special performance. He played at such a high level.

"You know, I don't ever see the offense. When they say, 'Third-down alert.' I walk up and look, and I know Colt and the offense converted a bunch of them. Based on how we were doing on defense, I knew Greg was doing a great job. But that happens.

"You have to pick each other up. I've been in this profession long enough to know you're going to have your long days at the park. Greg and Colt were certainly phenomenal in that game."

HEATING UP

Is McCoy ready for a quick start? It would appear so. Since the second half of the Texas Tech game, McCoy is completing 81.5 percent of his passes (Colt was 15 of 18 in the second half vs. Tech and has completed 75 of 92 over the last two and a half games).

Davis said he thinks McCoy was pressing early, but he's not seeing it anymore.

"I've seen him relaxing," Davis said. "I think he went into the season with his bar set so high it was almost impossible to attain. He wanted to be perfect on every play. I've seen him relaxing more and playing like himself. He's dropping the ball down.

"He's gone to his third and fourth receiver in the progression more through five games this season than he did all of last year. He's making quick decisions and able decipher when he needs to check it down."
McCoy knows Saturday may be a zero sum game for Texas' hopes for a Big 12 and national title.

"Going into my fourth year, this game is as big as any we play," McCoy said. "It determines a lot for your season. It impacts the conference race and potentially more. I think it's a big challenge for us.

"Our defense is playing great. Their defense is playing great. They've had some ups and downs with injuries, and their record does not at all indicate how good they are. We understand that going in. We have to prepare and be ready."


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