Texas vs. BYU: Why This Is a Statement Game for the Longhorns

Zach SheltonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2013

The Longhorn offensive line needs to open more holes like this one against BYU.
The Longhorn offensive line needs to open more holes like this one against BYU.Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

It may not be a national headliner, but there will be several eager onlookers when Texas travels to BYU this weekend. Consider it a statement game for the Longhorns. Their performance will tell us a lot about what to expect from them for the rest of the season.

Any in-depth analysis of Texas' 56-7 rout of New Mexico State in Week 1 is overkill. The Longhorns won comfortably, just as they were expected to do.

This week's tilt with BYU is a different animal. Even after the Cougars' disappointing 19-16 loss to Virginia, this matchup presents major challenges for the Longhorns.

The first of them is Jamaal Williams, BYU's star tailback.

After tallying 1,090 total yards as a freshman, the sophomore kicked off 2013 with 144 yards on 33 carries in the loss to the Cavaliers.

With elite receiver Cody Hoffman battling a hamstring issue, expect the Cougars to shamelessly feed Williams the rock. That could spell trouble for the 'Horns, who allowed 192.2 rushing yards per game last season. 

Adding to the threat posed by Williams is dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill.

The sophomore quarterback is not a deft passer, but he has the wheels to burn defenses that focus too closely on Williams. Texas had trouble with similarly mobile quarterbacks in losses to Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State.

Unfortunately the obstacles do not stop there. Despite losing seven starters, the Cougars run defense is still formidable, which it proved in holding Virginia to 2.6 yards per carry. The 'Horns did not have a 100-yard rusher in any of last season's losses, failing to even reach 100 yards as a team in three of them.

Then there is the environment. The crowd in Provo is one of the more rabid in college football. LaVell Edwards Stadium sits more than 4,500 feet above sea level, which will make defending BYU's hurry-up offense tough for Texas.

Not to mention that the Longhorns are still implementing their own hurry-up attack.

While these obstacles may be difficult to overcome, they provide a great opportunity for some of Texas' question marks to be answered.

The first of those question marks is the offensive line, which underachieved in 2012. The 'Horns return all five starters up front, but they have been pushed around before by bigger fronts. The Cougars are replacing two NFL draft picks on their defensive front, giving the big uglies a chance to show they have it together this year.

On the other side of the ball, this is our first chance to see if experience and the return of Jordan Hicks combine to be the cure-all for the linebackers. Stopping Williams rests largely on their shoulders, and how they handle him will be a strong indicator of how they deal with Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and Oklahoma's Damien Williams this season.

Texas is the more talented team and should win this game thanks to far superior skill players. But if the offensive line and linebackers have strong games, this is easily a two- or three-touchdown win for Mack Brown's squad.

In a tough road environment against a team like BYU, that would be the biggest statement any Big 12 team has made so far in 2013.