UCLA Villains Loom in Latest Longhorn Page-Turner

Every chapter a cliffhanger

David Ash (14)
David Ash (14) (Photo courtesy of UT)

Our story begins in that fateful week the Longhorns decide who they are.

You've heard that sort of bold announcement repeated about the often-baffling University of Texas football team. It began two years ago when they improbably made it to the championship game only to see Colt McCoy's arm turn into a withered kite string.

It continued last season with a few lackluster early wins followed by Armageddon. It makes for a taut plot line, the kind that gets made into a Major Motion Picture that breaks hearts and evokes sighs.

Armageddon was named UCLA, a so-so team that throttled then No. 7 Texas in Royal-Memorial Stadium with 264 yards on the ground, most of that in the second half en route to a 34-12 win that was just the beginning of the ugliness for the 2010 Horns. That same UCLA team finished the season 4-8, even worse than Texas' 5-7 2010 record.

This Saturday's chapter: The Rematch is in the Rose Bowl, home of the Vince Young Amble, the too-unreal-for-television comeback win and UT national championship to cap a perfect 2005 season.

So which team will Texas be this week? We've got the slow-starters of 2011 who have to come back strong for wins (or fall apart) and look suspiciously like their 2010 counterparts, or perhaps (can we dream again?) the 2005 swaggering athletes with confidence and clutch. Your guess is as good as mine in this deceptive story.

But Mack Brown's coaching staff is showing signs of a new dawning as we entered the Book of Longhorn's Act III. Benching Garrett Gilbert in favor of the tag-team fun of Case McCoy and David Ash is a good sign. Listing Malcolm Brown as co-starter with Fozzy Whittaker in the backfield is an even better omen. Marquise Goodwin at starting receiver is almost as good as watching roomies McCoy and Jaxon Shipley playing pitch and catch just like their older brothers did — probably just like their dads did at one point or another.

Brown went young with his new-and-improved coaching staff. Now he's got no problem with allowing co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to do the same on the field. Will it be perfect? Magic 8 Ball sez ask me after the Oklahoma game. No, it will be sloppy with a mixture of cringes and hints of greatness. Here's hoping Ash isn't forgotten in a McCoy II offense as nothing more than razzle dazzle. The Big Man from Belton looks the best of any Horn signal-caller to my eyes.

Will Texas start slow against UCLA like they have the last two weeks (and most of that season that we shall not mention again, at least until the next paragraph)? Probably not. This is not a stellar UCLA squad and nowhere near the 1997 Bruins that burned holes in fan retinas with a 66-3 crushing of Texas that still aches.

Kevin Prince pounded Texas in 2010 both through the air and with his feet. But he's still banged-up from their opening 38-34 loss to Houston. Backup quarterback Richard Brehaut was so-so in a win over outmanned San Jose State last week. Coach Rick Neuheisel likes his quarterback to line up in the shotgun as often as possible as a means of shaking opponents nerves and opening the field, but Texas' defense appeared to gel last week.

Will the Bruins be able to run on the Horns like they did last time? Derrick Coleman had 135 yards on 14 carries last week. Expect him to break a few against Texas, but not to top 100 yards as the Bruins instead try to get it done through the air.

Will the Longhorns win? They should, but nothing is a guarantee in this eggshell year with the stench of loss lingering in the air. Mack Brown even admitted as much in his press conference this week, saying that every week will be like this one. Every chapter a cliffhanger.

It makes for a good novel of a football season and will have fans anxiously turning the page wondering: Will that Gilbert kid make a comeback? Can a freshman find love on the football field from jaded fans for whom a winning season is never enough? Where or where is the conference of our dreams? The answers will unravel like so many veils floating from the hands of a crazed dancer.

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