PB: Alright Big Roy. Think back to your summer expectations and compare with your thoughts now. What's changed?
Big Roy: Colt McCoy is better than expected. He looks incredibly strong and fast and he's making quick decisions with the ball. I'm less worried about the defense right now than I was because you can see they are playing with a "won't fail" attitude-particularly the defensive line. The secondary looks adequate, which was a huge question mark. I feel a little bit more confident about the upcoming schedule, but it still looks difficult.
PB: That's about where I am in terms of evaluations, but let's break this down starting with McCoy, because so much of any and all optimism where the next four weeks are concerned is founded on what we've seen from him so far.
True or False: McCoy can play at a high enough level in conference play to overcome Texas' lack of a rushing game from the tailback position.
Big Roy: True. I'm actually confident that Colt can run well in conference. We saw the quarterback draw for the first time against Arkansas and I like it. I was thinking about this yesterday: Colt is 30 pounds heavier than he was when he got here. At 180 pounds, he was the same size or smaller than every defensive player. Now, at 210 or so, he's closer in size to linebackers and bigger than most defensive backs. And he looks fast. I'm thinking that I want Colt running the ball 6-8 times against OU on designed plays. I think he can handle it. Name a big hitter on OU's defense.
PB: I'm not done with this line of questioning yet. A follow up, then: Does Texas need anything from the receiving corps in addition to Shipley-Cosby to win any/all of the upcoming four games?
Big Roy: That's a more difficult question. The tight ends worry me right now. I don't see anything from Greg Smith and Peter Ullman, while Ian Harris was flat-out awful pass blocking against Arkansas (and out injured against CU). As far as the receivers are concerned, I can't decide if it's good or bad that Williams, Kirkendoll, Collins, et al. haven't had more of an impact. On one hand, I think Colt has such a feel for where Shipley and Cosby are that he doesn't need to look for the others. On the other, it's particularly disturbing that none of the other receivers have shown anything more than glimpses. In the end, I think a lot of the success depends on how defenses decide to play Cosby and Shipley. Teams have given Texas everything underneath by playing soft coverage. If teams decide to press our receivers, can they get open?
PB: Here's the problem I see with accepting all of your statements to this point: You're forced to conclude that Texas' three Strong Elements (Colt passer, Colt runner, and two very solid WRs) is sufficiently outstanding that a good defense/defensive coordinator can't game plan it. That seem right to you?
Big Roy: Yup, I agree. But besides OU's good defensive line, does any defensive unit that Texas will face in the next month scare you? I mean, the offenses are great in the Big 12, but I think there are serious problems in every secondary around the conference. Look at Missouri letting Illini receivers run free all game.
PB: We can deal with the rest of the Big 12 another time; it's OU week. So let's start there. First, what scares you most about the Sooners?
Big Roy: The line play on both sides of the ball. With the running game looking like it has, the poor run blocking of our offensive line could be a huge problem. And their mammoth offensive line will test Will Muschamp's theory of playing smaller, quicker defenders inside against spread teams.
PB: I'm actually good with the smaller/quicker thing. My worry is not that Oklahoma will power its way past us; my fear involves streaking blurs of Johnson-Gresham-Iglesias. In fact, if I'm Will Muschamp, I'd absolutely focus 100% on taking out the big play from Oklahoma. Make Murray grind consistently and Bradford take what's there. Wrap tackles, hit hard, see about forcing a turnover if Bradford tries to overdo what we're giving him.
Big Roy: I think you're absolutely correct with your worries. Here's why I didn't list the OU receiving options as the biggest threats: OU has gotten big plays by throwing the ball down the field and I think the Texas defense is ready to combat that more than any other team OU has faced. Man up on the outside and get pressure with the front four and I think Texas can limit the big plays. Even though I'm worried about their offensive line, I think getting pressure in the face of Bradford could swing the game. Do you think the Texas D-Line is up to the task?
PB: They have to be, and no two players are more important than Houston & Miller inside. If either isn't available, it becomes too steep an uphill climb. Texas needs A+ games from those two, and a steady stream of Hell rotating on the ends: Orakpo, Melton, Jones, Acho, Carter--any fresh body who can go all out trying to force Bradford to make decisions a half-second before he'd like.
Big Roy: Definitely, it's all about disrupting the timing. Against inferior o-lines, the Texas defense has done that the last three weeks in spades. This is a seriously talented line going against another seriously talented line. You forgot to mention Sergio Kindle, who has the speed/power combination to give offensive linemen fits.
PB: He's the wild card, and I didn't mention him because I'm sitting here trying to think about what I'd do with him. Well, actually--what Muschamp will do with him. In four short games, we literally have witnessed Sergio Kindle transform from a pure beast of an athlete into Muschamp's personal weapon of precise destruction: the all-purpose, uniquely lethal assassin Muschamp can calibrate exactly to punctuate his defensive strategy for a given opponent. (God that felt good to type.)
So I continue to wonder... how is the Kindle best deployed to defeat OU?
Big Roy: I was thinking about this earlier and wonder about what the Buck Package can do. Can it confuse their offensive line? Shifting before the snap could really confuse their blocking assignments. I'm looking for Muschamp to use the package more than he has to this point in the year. That's being multiple and could be the ace up his sleeve. Stand up Kindle and Orakpo and let them exploit gaps.
PB: I think you're exactly right. The key to football--both ways--is thinking. You want your guys reacting, and the other team thinking. If we can count on that from Muschamp, less clear is the game plan on offense.
In Part 2, an exchange on the offense.