Can Texas Longhorns Hook the Tougher Teams?

Bert HancockCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2008

You might, at first glance, believe the ‘Horns have very little to be concerned about, considering the consistent romps they’ve produced in the first three games.

Two 52-10 triumphs and another by a 42-13 score will do that.

But what do these early blowouts indicate beyond the fact Texas is superior to the generally lower-tier programs?

For one, you need only remember last year’s struggles against the lesser lights to realize this Texas team is stronger. Whether that translates into a better record (10-3 last fall) or not against a likely tougher schedule remains to be seen.

Two areas of concern linger following the third blowout this past Saturday night, and they’re of the variety that can produce plenty of problems for Longhorn fans when going against the likes of Oklahoma and Missouri.

One that stands out at this stage is the pass defense, particularly in the early going of games. Though Rice and similar strength teams possess their share of skill talent, Texas’ troubles defending the pass are cause for alarm versus the upcoming powers.

Thus far, the ‘Horns have been able to weather the early storm and come away with gaping triumphs. But if it takes a quarter or so to get untracked defensively against the Sooners or Tigers, will Texas be able to recover?

It seems the biggest specific issue defensively—as has been the last years—is the zone coverage. Texas has provided the NFL a plethora of defensive backfield talent, but it still continues to struggle with that zone concept.

Offensively, it’s fatiguing to find fault with a team that is averaging almost 49 points per game, but the recent loss of tight end Blaine Irby for the year (knee) puts further pressure on a running game that’s been something of a mixed bag so far.

The supposed starting running back, Vondrell McGee, showed flashes in 2007 but very little overall this year. Versus less-than-robust Rice, he garnered all of 28 yards, running with less fortitude than in the past.

In contrast, the new guy buried down the depth chart, massive Cody Johnson (5'11", 255), plowed for 67. He now leads in rushing among the running backs, with "Fozzy" Whittaker receiving an incomplete grade due to only playing in one contest.

In that limited time, Fozzy looked very promising, showing the kind of decisive upfield burst Texas needs to succeed on the ground.

The leading rusher overall for Texas is not a running back, though, but do-it-all quarterback Colt McCoy. Colt, now a junior, is frankly playing at a Heisman level at present.

Still, despite his unquestionable athleticism and determination that has surprised many doubters, Texas really needs alternative running options to take the load off Colt, the Horns' only proven passer.

One such performer is current backup John Chiles, who possesses more running talent in this region recently than anyone not named Vince Young.

Chiles, to this point, has yet to establish himself as a passing threat, something he will need to do to avoid becoming overly one-dimensional against an Oklahoma.

It is this running question that poses potential problems for the Longhorns against the stouter defenders. At this stage, it looks like a hybrid of Colt’s scrambles, Chiles’ periodic zone reads, and newcomer backs Cody Johnson and Fozzy Whittaker will be all needed to make the opposition respect the ground game.

In the past, a lack of such has spelled doom versus the likes of Oklahoma.

Texas has, in recent seasons, played Bob Stoops’ squad well. But how well it handles that and other tough tasks ahead will depend in no small part on the generating of its ground game to complement Colt McCoy and shoring up a still suspect pass defense.