Preview: Texas vs BYU
The Longhorns are off to a winning start in 2011 by registering a resounding 34-9 win over Rice. Then again, the last time Texas lost the season opener under Mack Brown was way back in 1999 when they were stunned by NC State in Austin. Since then, the 'Horns have never made the mistake of underestimating their first opponents, no matter how weak they are—which they usually are!
But it's the second game of the season that can be a tricky one. Despite the confidence boost after the first gimme, it's the next, slightly better opponent that tends to be a spoke in Texas' wheel. So far, Brown-led Texas teams have lost the second game four times after starting on a winning note. While two of these games were against top 10 teams, the other two losses came against unpredictable mid-level teams: Stanford (circa 2000) and Arkansas (circa 2003).
BYU, Texas' next opponent, also falls in this unpredictable mid-level bracket. Therefore, the Longhorns need to watch out for the Cougars, who are coming off a come-from-behind away win against Ole Miss. The newly-ranked 'Horns will face a stern test at Darrel K. Royal Stadium this Saturday.
Here's how they match up against the Cougars.
Garrett Gilbert passed for 239 yards against Rice
Although Garrett Gilbert started off slow against Rice, he managed to lift his game in the second quarter as he nailed a few long drives. His problem, however, was with short passes. This area of Texas' offense hasn't looked good since Gilbert started steering it. BYU is no Rice, and unlike the first game, he'll have to make every yard count. Long passes to Mike Davis and Co. will be a luxury.
The good news for Texas fans is that despite being sacked twice so far, Gilbert has yet to throw an interception this year. The Longhorns have truly come a long way since the glorious Colt McCoy era!
Unlike Gilbert, BYU's Jake Heaps lacks size, but is great off his feet. The sophomore can also make efficient passes in tough, short-yardage situations. In their season opener against Ole Miss, which was a defensive struggle, Heaps managed to pass for 225 yards thanks to several short passes.
However, just like Gilbert, Heaps is also susceptible to mistakes under pressure, and does tend to lose focus at times. The Texas defense will have to go after him from the get-go to ensure he's not much of a factor.
Thanks to his 86-yard effort against Rice, Malcolm Brown has moved ahead of fellow freshman Joe Bergeron on the depth chart. Besides, the Longhorns' running game gets a major boost since Fozzy Whittaker, D.J. Monroe and Cody Johnson are also adapting well to the new-look offense. In other words, the Texas offense is more effective on the ground than it is through the air.
Even BYU's offensive backfield boasts senior running back J.J. Di Luigi, who ran for an explosive 917 yards last year. He's had a good start this year as he rushed for 56 yards against Ole Miss, averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Di Luigi also has the ability to carve routes and excel as a makeshift receiver. The Cougars also have veteran Bryan Kariya at fullback and the option of sophomore Joshua Quezada on the the ground.
Exciting freshmen receivers Jaxon Shipley and John Harris seemed to complement co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's playbook perfectly during the season opener. Before he recorded his first reception, the younger Shipley took his first snap at QB! Even Harris was able to roll his arm as he hurled a 36-yard pass to Shipley on a reverse play to register his first touchdown in a burnt orange jersey.
But the star for Texas was sophomore Mike Davis, who was Garrett Gilbert's favorite target and is likely to be so again come Saturday. Gilbert does have a few options through the air, but as mentioned earlier, he needs to do better with his short passes.
Meanwhile, the Cougars are expecting sophomore Cody Hoffman to have a breakout season this year. The 6'4" receiver didn't see much action against Ole Miss, but his size and speed will come into play against Texas. Senior McKay Jacobson will also be a key component in BYU's offense this Saturday. However, all eyes will be on the highly recruited Ross Apo, who averaged 11.5 yards per reception against Ole Miss and even scored a touchdown.
Senior center David Snow seemed much more confident on the Longhorns' offensive line after the Rice game than he has in a while. They did a much better job of protecting the quarterback from a capable defensive unit. But BYU is a whole other story, and Snow will have to again lead from the front this Saturday.
Meanwhile, Matt Reynolds will be the key for BYU in this area. The senior left tackle is back for another year with the Cougars as he hopes to end his college career on a high note. His younger brother, Houston, is the only new face on a very experienced offensive line.
Texas' defensive line did a good job last weekend as they didn't allow any long drives or runs, and prevented Rice from getting into the end zone. Kheeston Randall, Alex Okafor and Chris Whaley have started off on the right foot, and a lot more will be expected from them against BYU.
The Cougars, on the other hand, are a strong defensive unit, and they rank 15th nationally in total defense. Junior nose tackle Romney Fuga is back after his knee surgery forced him to sit out most of last season. His inclusion has added a further boost to the defensive line.
Blake Gideon will again be the key for the Longhorns in the defensive backfield. The senior safety's experience will be critical for Texas as they look to register a home win by preventing the Cougars from taking the aerial route. Carrington Byndom and freshman Adrian Phillips have also proven to be explosive backs.
BYU's Travis Uale will be a man to watch out for as he tries restrict long plays in the backfield. Last year, the junior free safety proved to be a threat to opposing offenses as he registered a total of 42 tackles off of which 23 were solo efforts.
In the absence of Demarco Cobbs, Keenan Robinson and Emanuel Acho continue to be defensive coordinator Manny Diaz's main weapons. Both of them had a great game against Rice and will be looking to carry forth the momentum into this week's game.
BYU linebacker Jordan Pendleton is aware of the fact that, despite all its problems, Texas has a quicker offensive line and a more efficient quarterback. This is why the defensive unit is preparing itself for arguably their toughest assignment of the season. Pendleton and sophomore Kyle Van Noy add to the Cougars' defensive strength.