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Horns Look To Declaw Cougars

A preview of the BYU matchup

By Russ Espinoza, 12:07PM, Thu. Sep. 8, 2011

Malcolm Brown
Malcolm Brown
Photo courtesy of UT

BYU did in 2010 what the Longhorns couldn’t: play their way into a bowl game. Though, a lot of teams are coming off better seasons than Texas’ dismal 5-7 2010. The Cougars (7-6 last year) played in the fringe New Mexico Bowl – drubbing UTEP 52-24 – while the Longhorns reeled from their first losing season in the Mack Brown era.

There is scant head-to-head history between the two schools — both bastions of their home states. BYU has a gilded .1000 winning percentage against the Longhorns: but this year’s clash will be won or lost by players who weren’t even alive in 1987 and 1988, when BYU beat UT 22-17 in Austin, then bested the Longhorns again with a crushing 47-6 victory in Provo. History is always worth noting and reflecting on, but here it portends nothing about Saturday night’s outcome.

The Stormin’ Mormons defected from the Mountain West Conference and are playing the 2011 season as an independent (a la Notre Dame). BYU went 7-6 last season but were routinely declawed and secularized away from home. Their 1-4 road record illuminates their weakness in enemy territory, and last season’s 34-10 loss at Florida State in mid-September parallels their upcoming challenge against the Longhorns in Austin.

On the other hand, last week’s 14-13 come-from-behind win at Ole Miss was a redemptive stroke. The one-point nail-biter dims how BYU comfortably outshined Ole Miss in all important statistical categories – 316 total yards against 208: BYU ran 12 more plays and controlled the ball nine minutes longer, for instance. Yet the SEC’s worst defense from 2010 held the Cougar offense scoreless until the fourth quarter – a forced fumble and recovery in the end zone by the BYU defense gave them the lead for good after the PAT with 5:09 left in the fourth quarter.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his colts celebrated their largest comeback win under his six-year tenure in Provo. His respectable 56-21 career record at BYU could not deter his shakeup of 2010’s coaching staff, however. Like Texas, the Cougars are retooled with new coordinators, including on offense, where Brandon Doman is charged with revitalizing a system gone stagnant. Week one’s showing was not a reassuring dress rehearsal: Doman’s charge only generated one touchdown that came late in the game – fortunately the defense equaled the output and saved the day. To boot, Cougar sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps threw as many pick-six’s as touchdowns on the day: one apiece.

For Texas, hopefully highly touted freshman tailback Malcolm Brown’s legs talked Mack Brown into starting him on Saturday night. Brown (the tailback) didn’t tote the pig until the third quarter, but his 86 yards on 16 carries suggest he could’ve accosted a 200-yard game had he started: he could very well be a godsend for a Longhorn team ranked 66th in rushing for 2010. Last week’s 34-9 home win over Rice was a statement victory of sorts, albeit a mundane one, in the sense that the 34 points UT’s suspect offense generated eclipsed their 2010 average of 23.9 (and boasted 99- and 94-yard touchdown drives). Garrett Gilbert’s even, turnover-free performance (just barely) displayed occasional bursts of greatness, and the no-nonsense running attack commandeered the game’s second half.

The level of competition will escalate with the Cougars in town, but not considerably. The BYU offense looks physically unable to tax the Longhorn defense by stretching the field aerially or playing smashmouth between the tackles. Look for them to delve deep into their playbook for gimmick formations and trick plays. BYU’s 111 total rushing yards against Ole Miss don’t foreshadow a concerted attempt to hammer away at Texas’ one area of weakness from the Rice game: the defensive line.

The remarkable thing about this Saturday’s game is that Texas has a chance to equal their home win total for 2010 in week two. They should, easily. And they will: 30-9. But don’t read in to this inevitable win as a barometer of UT’s talent and cohesiveness, unless they win ugly, in which case: lock the message boards from the inside and look the hell out.

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