Texas Football: How Mack Brown Plans to End Losing Streak Against Oklahoma
It's been a rough two years down in Austin.
Texas has had two straight subpar seasons in 2010 and 2011 and, to make matters worse, the Longhorns have lost the last two Red River Rivalry games to the Oklahoma Sooners.
But the Longhorns are back on the uptick heading into the 2012 season, and once again there are BCS expectations for Texas.
The biggest roadblock for the Horns next year is, as always, the Sooners. They present the toughest test on the Longhorns' schedule. If Texas wants to win the Big 12 and reach a BCS game, it will have to figure out a way to topple its rival from the Sooner State.
So, here are the things that Mack Brown and the Longhorns should build their game plan around to defeat Oklahoma on October 13th at the Cotton Bowl.
Texas Must Win the Turnover Battle
It's no secret that having a positive turnover ratio is the key to success in football. Whichever team wins the turnover battle will come out on top the majority of the time, and it has been no different in the Red River Rivalry.
The past four years, Texas and Oklahoma are 2-2 against one another, with the Longhorns winning in 2008 and 2009 and the Sooners taking the games in 2010 and 2011.
In each contest, the team that had the fewest amount of turnovers won the game.
Fumbles and interceptions were particularly costly for Texas in 2011—when they were drummed 55-17. The Longhorns had five turnovers in the game leading to 31 Oklahoma points, and it was often an ill-timed loss of possession that took away any momentum the Longhorns had gained.
If the Longhorns hope to have any chance of toppling their rivals from across the border in 2012, they have to win the turnover battle.
This means David Ash will have to make smart decisions within the pocket, restraining from forcing the issue against a tough Sooner defense. The running backs have do their part, too, by holding onto the ball high and tight and keeping it off the ground.
It's not all about taking care of the football on offense though; the defense needs to find a way to come up with some game-changing plays, whether it be from an interception or a forced fumble.
Expect Mack Brown to come up with an offensive game plan that limits mistakes and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to call an aggressive blitzing game, which can hurry the quarterback and often forces fumbles and interceptions.
Take Full Advantage of Texas' Three-Headed Monster in the Backfield
The quarterback position might be a question mark at UT, but there is no such problem in the Texas backfield.
The Longhorns will feature an explosive group of playmakers at the running back position this season. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron return as sophomores,and the No. 1 rated running back recruit in the nation, Jonathan Gray, also joins the mix.
The three backs complement each other well. Bergeron is the big bruiser in the backfield with his 6'1", 220-pound frame. Brown is a runner capable of running inside and outside of the tackles; he isn't the fastest back in the world but he cuts quickly and is a perfectly capable downhill runner.
Gray, the all-time rushing leader in Texas high school history, brings explosiveness to the gridiron for the Horns. He is capable of breaking off a long touchdown run at any time and is very comparable to Reggie Bush in his USC days.
If Texas hopes to defeat Oklahoma this season, the offensive game plan should be heavily focused around these three backs. Running the ball keeps the dangerous Oklahoma offense off of the field and will tire out an aggressive Sooner defense.
Keeping the ball on the ground also keeps the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, which is good because Texas' play under center has been suspect at best the last few years.
The trio of Texas backs will keep one another fresh and should be able to shoulder the offensive load the entire game. If Texas manages to rush for over 150 yards and lead in time of possession, the Longhorns should leave the Cotton bowl with a victory.
Defense Has to Put Pressure on Landry Jones
Landry Jones has carved up the Texas defense the past two years, combining for 603 yards and five touchdowns between the two games. Perhaps more importantly, he hasn't thrown an interception in either contest while he carved up the Texas defense with precision.
In the past two Red River Rivalry games, Jones has been largely untouched behind the Oklahoma line of scrimmage. He has often gone into a three-step drop and unloaded the ball quickly; but even when he held on to the ball for longer to throw it deep, he was given a clean pocket.
That has to change if Texas wants to be victorious in 2012.
Jones is a highly capable quarterback and is a likely first-round pick in the 2013 draft. The only way to rattle a gunslinger like Jones is to get pressure in his face, which forces him to get rid of the ball early, scramble around in the pocket or make a bad throw.
Texas has the pass-rushers off the edge—in Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor—to put pressure on Jones early and often. The Longhorns will need both to consistently beat their blocks and get to the quarterback to have success. That way, Jones is thinking about the 250-pounders heading at him with a full head of steam instead of the routes his receivers are running in the secondary.
The Longhorns Need to Produce a Big Play or Two
If turnovers decide most games, the final scores of the ones that aren’t will usually be dictated by the team that produces more big plays.
Whether it is on a long pass, an explosive touchdown run, a defensive score or a game changing special teams’ return, those are the plays that make the difference in the final outcome.
The last couple of seasons the Sooners have just made more explosive plays. They have more completions for over 20 yards, rushes for longer than 10 yards and defensive touchdowns.
The only stat they don't have the advantage in is special team's touchdowns. But that is only 1-0 in the Longhorns favor and the late second-quarter return that Foswhitt Whittaker made in last year's game had little impact, because Oklahoma responded with a touchdown just two minutes later to end the half.
Texas has to turn these statistics in their favor if it hopes to come up with a win at the Cotton Bowl, and it has the tools to do it too.
The Longhorns feature explosive return men in Marquis Goodwin and D.J . Monroe—both of whom have sprinters speed and the ability to break a big return off at any moment. On offense they have three talented running backs who are no strangers to long runs and a pair of receivers with speed to stretch the field.
On the defensive side of the coin, they have a ball-hawking secondary capable of coming up with interceptions and doing something with the ball after it's picked off.
Texas also has Bryan Harsin as its offensive coordinator. And, as he proved last year in his first season on the job, he isn't afraid to call a trick play. He broke them out multiple times last season and they almost always resulted in a game-changing play.
David Ash Has to Play Solid Football
David Ash struggled as a freshman. He was raw and inconsistent, which is why he found himself on the bench just as often as he was on the field splitting time with Case McCoy.
But Ash improved steadily through the season, and coming out of Texas Holiday Bowl win, Ash seems to have put a stranglehold on the job.
The Longhorns have a lock down defense and a potentially great rushing attack heading into 2012, so Mack Brown and his staff won't be asking their sophomore signal-caller to carry the load.
They just need him to be solid and steady.
This means limiting turnovers and taking what the defense gives him, making quick and accurate first and second reads and, most importantly, not forcing the issue and trusting his teammates to make the plays.
This will be the game plan for Ash the whole year, and sticking to it will be especially important versus Oklahoma. He does not need to be spectacular for the Longhorns to come away with the win: He just needs to be solid.
The last few seasons, LSU and Alabama have proved that a team doesn't need a great quarterback to be successful, but it does need one who won't cost the game. That is the kind of play that the Longhorns need from Ash against Oklahoma; he doesn't need to be Colt McCoy, just Greg McElroy.
If Texas can get turnover free ball and a couple of touchdowns out of Ash, the Longhorns will be able to walk out of the Cotton Bowl with the Golden Hat trophy in tow.