In our summer preview of the Longhorns, Texas planned to emphasize their running backs this season to make up for the loss of Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley. Well, that hasn't worked out too well. Mack Brown and his staff have rotated through their backs and haven't found anybody who can produce. The Longhorns rank 82nd in rushing offense, averaging just under 130 yards a game. To put that in perspective, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is averaging over 147 yards a game by himself. The Longhorns have had to rely on the passing game more than they wanted, ranking 53rd nationally. Only James Kirkendoll ranks nationally (94th) at 58 yards a game. Garrett Gilbert ranks 82nd nationally in pass efficiency at 118.22.
Sounds like a feast for the Blackshirts? Think again. While the Texas offense has not produced this season, there are talented players in Austin. With two weeks to prepare for the Huskers, they probably spent much of the time refining and resetting their plan of attack. Who knows what an angry bunch of Longhorns might come up with offensively.
While Texas has had their issues defensively as well, they still rank 19th nationally against the run, giving up only 104 yards each game. Nebraska will need to establish the run, because Nebraska can't depend too much passing against the #8 ranked pass defense.
Needless to say, this battle is looking like a defensive struggle. Expecting Nebraska to run roughshod over the Longhorns like they did against Washington and Kansas State might be setting expectations too high. It's clear that Nebraska has the edge defensively against the Texas offense, so it will be incumbent for Nebraska to not make too many offensive mistakes. More from our preseason preview after the jump:
If you were like me, you probably checked the 2010 Husker football schedule late in the evening on December 5, 2009, to make a mental note of when Nebraska and Texas would meet again. And, oh lookee, lookee, lookee...the game is in Lincoln. Add in the sideshow of the near collapse of the Big XII Conference this spring, and this game seems to have taken on a meaning of it's own. Since the formation of the Big XII Conference, Texas has won eight of nine matchups to claim dominance in the final results, but in all but the 2003 game, the game was decided in the fourth quarter. 1996, James Brown rolls out right. 1998, Ricky Williams outduels Eric Crouch coming off the bench. 1999, Nebraska can't hold onto the football, with Correll Buckhalter fumbling at the goal line. 2002, Texas intercepts Jammal Lord in the end zone with seconds left. 2006, Bill Callahan calls for a pass on third and short and the lead, and turns the ball over. 2007, a spunky performance evaporates in the fourth quarter as Texas realizes they can run the zone read against a Cosgrove defense.
And of course, last year, Texas needed a second placed back on the clock to have a chance to win the Big XII Championship. (Care to buy the T-Shirt?) So if history holds to form, this final regular season conference matchup could be another classic.
But the Longhorns have some holes to fill this season. Only five players return on offense; gone are star quarterback Colt McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Garrett Gilbert takes over at quarterback, but he's not completely untested. He came in off the bench in last season's BCS title game and nearly rallied the Longhorns back into the game despite a horrific performance through the first three quarter. Gilbert, a 6'4" 210 lb. native of Austin, is a more prototypical NFL-style quarterback, so the Longhorns are expected to line up in more traditional formations with the quarterback under center.
They'll try to establish the run with sophomore Tre' Newton, who gained 552 yards last season despite missing most of five games due to a concussion. Injury prone junior running back Fozzy Whittaker has explosive speed, while 250 lb. junior running back Cody Johnson will reprise his role as the short yardage back after scoring 12 touchdowns last season. They'll operate behind an offensive line that will need to replace three starters from last season. Guard Michael Huey and tackle Kyle Hix return after honorable mention all-Big XII junior seasons last year.
At wide receiver, someone is going to need to step up and match the production of Jordan Shipley. Malcolm Williams might be that guy; he's a big (6'3" 225 lb.) receiver who caught 39 passes for 550 yards last season. Senior James Kirkendoll caught 48 passes for 461 yards and six touchdowns last season, while former quarterback John Chiles caught 34 passes for 319 yards in his first season after making the switch.
On defense, the Longhorns return seven players from one of the best defenses in the country. Junior Kheeston Randall is expected to take over for Lamarr Houston in the center of the defensive line. Senior Sam Acho will take over for Sergio Kindle at defensive end. Acho was honorable mention all-Big XII last season, and was named to the preseason all-Big XII team by the media. At linebacker, junior Keenan Robinson is the top returning tackler from last season's team and also a preseason all-Big XII selection; he totaled ten tackles against Nebraska last season. Junior Emmanuel Acho (Sam's "little" brother) will start at the other linebacker position.
The Longhorns' secondary is considered by most to be the best in the conference, even after losing all-American Earl Thomas in the first round of the NFL draft. Junior safety Blake Gideon has started all 27 games of his college career, and is a preseason all-Big XII pick. Senior cornerback Curtis Brown and junior cornerback Aaron Williams join Gideon as preseason all-Big XII picks going into this season. Williams is already showing up on NFL draft boards as a first round pick next year. His sack of Sam Bradford effectively ended Sam Bradford's college career.
When you consider that Texas doesn't so much recruit as select players, you know that there will be talented players waiting in the wings to fill the holes in the Texas roster. The only thing they'll lack is experience...and when the Longhorns arrive in Lincoln in mid-October, they'll have the experience of playing Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout.