Texas Football: 7 Keys to Winning the Wyoming Game
The Longhorns are back in long-awaited action this Saturday against the Wyoming Cowboys and reigning Mountain West freshman of the year Brett Smith. From here on out, all that matters is winning.
There probably are not seven individual things that the Longhorns simply must do to avoid an upset in this game because this Wyoming team is not in the same league as the 'Horns.
However, there are some things you would really like to see happen in order for this team to get the most out of what boils down to a preseason game that counts. Will David Ash take care of the ball? Which freshmen will make an early statement? How good will this defense really look?
The answers to these questions, as well as some things the 'Horns must do, and more heading into the first game of the season.
Make Things Simple for David Ash
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After he was named the starting quarterback not even two weeks before the first game of the season, the last thing anyone wants to see is David Ash struggle in his first game.
But the cards are stacked in Texas' favor here as it heads into a game against a Cowboys team that gave up 232 rushing yards/game last season. Translation: Let the running backs do the heavy-lifting.
Yes, you would like to see Ash throw the ball around some just to build his confidence and rapport with his receivers, but you would rather see it after the three-headed monster gashed the Cowboys' D a couple of times. After that, the field will be much more open for Ash and the opposing defense will have to take play-action seriously.
I would also like to see Ash get out and run a little. He's big, fast and establishing himself as a running threat can only help a team that already has so many unconventional threats.
The last thing this team needs is for Ash to go out and throw an early pick, which would put pressure on the entire team rather than just Ash. Ideally, he goes out there and completes more than 60 percent of his passes with no turnovers. Anything more would just be a bonus.
Give Johnathan Gray the Ball
Heading into a matchup against a team that ranked 115th in the country in rush defense last season, it is hard to think of a better time to let a player like Johnathan Gray start acclimating himself to the college game.
If Texas is going to live up to these BCS expectations that have placed on itself, Gray is going to have to make a big impact as a freshman. His skill set is totally unique to himself among these running backs, and he could very well win a Heisman Trophy before he is done with the burnt orange. So use this opportunity against a porous run defense to help build his confidence before the gauntlet starts in Week 4.
Texas took its time with freshmen Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron last season, which seemed fine until they were both stymied along with the rest of the offense in the Oklahoma game. Let's hope the Longhorns do not make that mistake again this time around and let Gray get his legs under him.
All that said, here's to hoping he touches the ball around 15 times in his highly-anticipated debut.
Run the Wildhorn
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After being arguably the team's best offensive weapon last season, the Wildhorn formation needs to be on full display in the Longhorns' first game of the season.
Last season was the tale of two teams after Fozzy Whittaker went down with an injury against Missouri. The team averaged 70 rushing yards less per game and was simply horrible in the red zone without someone to run the unorthodox formation after the team's senior leader went down.
The Longhorns know that, which is why they have three guys primed and ready to run the formation this season in Gray, Joe Bergeron and senior Jeremy Hills. Going against a team that is so ineffective against the run, at least two of these guys need to get on the field and run this package so they can get a feel for it.
There has been no indication as to which of these three will be the primary player running the Wildhorn, so this team has a great opportunity to see who has it down pat against Wyoming. Not to mention that the sooner they get this down, the sooner it can be relied upon in the big games to get the ball in the end zone.
Which of the Freshman Receivers Will Emerge?
An overlooked Achilles heel of the Longhorns in 2011 was their lack of depth at the wide receiver position, which they addressed by bringing in three top recruits in the offseason. Now we just have to see who will emerge to fill the void between Cayleb Jones, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders.
Other than the starters Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis and Marquise Goodwin, the 'Horns did not have a single pass-catcher record more than 200 receiving yards. The passing game is certainly not where this team plans on hanging its hat this season, but you need threats on the outside to keep opposing defenses honest. This is where a freshman needs to step up, especially if Goodwin is slow coming back after missing most of the summer to compete in the Olympic Games.
All three freshman receivers on the roster made the Week 1 depth chart, and all three should see at least some time in this game. Jones was the highest-rated of the three coming in, but my money is on Kendall Sanders to be the steal of the class.
Since being recruited as a corner, Sanders was immediately converted to receiver and has since placed himself just behind Mike Davis at the wideout position. And that is incredibly impressive after only a three-month body of work.
All three of these guys are good and will be good for years to come, but I cannot wait to see what Sanders has that placed him in such high regard.
What Does the Team Have in D.J. Monroe?
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Having failed to meet expectations in his three previous years on the Forty Acres, senior D.J. Monroe needs to prove himself this season if he does not want to be phased out on the game plan.
After Texas was able to steal Daje Johnson away from TCU this offseason, Monroe was forced to move over to wide receiver due to Johnson being the stronger runner. The only problem here is that Monroe has only eight receptions for his entire career, and his hands are suspect to say the least.
Monroe has a real opportunity to prove his worth in this game as Johnson has been suspended for Week 1 due for violating team rules. That means Monroe will not have the pressure of his replacement breathing down his neck for this first game and any impact he has will be a positive sign.
Whether Monroe will have an opportunity to show that he has the hands to play in the slot, a big play from him in this game will make it hard for the coaches to forget about him and his 4.3 speed when they are game-planning.
The Defense Must Pressure Wyoming QB Brett Smith
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When you look at the Wyoming team, the only player that stands out as a threat to an easy Week 1 win is reigning Mountain West freshman of the year Brett Smith.
Smith is scary because he is as effective with his legs as he is with his arm, accounting for over 3,300 total yards of offense and 30 total touchdowns. Smith also played well enough last season against TCU to give his vastly overmatched team a shot at an upset. In short, this kid can really play.
With Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs blanketing Smith's receivers on the outside, Manny Diaz and the defensive line should have no problem getting pressure on the young quarterback. But they need to be careful not to break contain and give Smith running room in the open field. If he gets those opportunities, he can really hurt this team.
Smith will certainly need help if he wants to upset this Texas team, but it all starts with him. If the defense can pressure him even into making bad throws at Byndom and/or Diggs then there is no reason the Longhorns should not win this game by 40.
Most Importantly, Do Not Underestimate This Team
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The Cowboys are going to need a miracle to win this game. They know it. Texas knows it. Everyone knows it. All Texas needs to do is not contribute to that miracle.
Last season the Longhorns had trouble putting teams like this away early, namely in the sluggish start against Rice and the blunder they almost pulled off against BYU. This year's team, unlike last year's, has a serious shot at playing in a BCS bowl and must play like it in this game. Every season there is one team that gets surprised by someone they should annihilate and Texas cannot afford to be that team in 2012.
Preventing that from happening is simple. Protect David Ash, do not turn the ball over, get the run game going early, make Brett Smith's life miserable and do not let up. All of which should be no problem for the Longhorns against this team.
Prediction: Texas 51, Wyoming 13
The running backs and defense dominate the game from the first snap. Smith finds a way to score a touchdown late against the reserves.