How does Cody Johnson respond to his start? Last week was supposed to be Johnson's first collegiate start, but Fozzy Whittaker ended up coming out with the ones. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter which player steps out on the field first -- the more important aspect is how many carries a back receives. Mack Brown was talking about Johnson receiving 15-20 carries this weekend again to in an attempt to gain an understanding of how much he can improve or wear down the defense as the game goes on.
As mentioned earlier in the week, the problem is that Johnson doesn't really fit what Texas does offensively that well. When he's in the game, teams aren't going to be worried about him splitting out wide as a receiver or gashing them with flare passes into the flat. Teams now also load the box a bit more or at least anticipate run when the big back comes into the game. Johnson also isn't a great fit in the horizontal running scheme Texas employs, being better served getting his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage and heading downhill, much as he does in the short-yardage situations in which he excels.
This weekend, then, will be a test run for how well Johnson does with the current scheme and an effort to determine which plays are successful with him. Much like the Colorado game, Mack Brown may be stubborn about trying to run the football, so it will be interesting to see if Texas only runs their basic plays, or if they try to incorporate some misdirection as well, which has been pretty absent the last several weeks.
Can Texas exploit the right side of the Baylor line? As kriess does an excellent job of pointing out in his Baylor offensive preview, the right side of the Baylor line -- right guard James Barnard and right tackle Phillip Blake -- are two of the weaker members of the Bear unit, with Barnard struggling in pass protection and Blake coming in undersized at 275 pounds. Barnard in particular could be in for a long day matched up against Lamarr Houston shooting gaps and generally causing mayhem. After his incredible performance against UCF indicating that he is now completely comfortable -- as he has been for a while now -- and able to dominate the interior of the line, look for Houston to have another strong game.
Blake could be in for a long day as well. While he does have good enough feet to keep Sergio Kindle, Sam Acho, et al. from beating him on the edge, watch out for the Longhorn defensive ends using their speed-to-power move, Kindle's best, or simply bull rushing Blake back towards the quarterback. Baylor will probably try to run behind the larger left side of the line, but if they try to run right, the Longhorns will almost surely stuff those plays.
Can the secondary shut down David Gettis and Kendall Wright? The enduring image of the Baylor game last season was Kendall Wright running right past Ben Wells -- that was not an easy thing to recover from for Wells, as that was pretty much his first impression he made on the Texas fanbase. Uh yeah, no do-overs on first impressions, Ben.
In fact, Gettis and Wright may be the most talented pair of receivers Texas has faced this season and the only two players who provide a significant offensive threat to the Longhorns. After a mostly disappointing career, Gettis has come on late in his senior season, racking up more than 100 yards in each of the last two games, including seven catches for 124 yards against Nebraska. Gettis has also scored his first touchdown since his freshman season.
As for Wright, he may have been one of the most underrated players in the 2008 recruiting class, though perhaps the fact that he played quarterback in high school had something to do with that. Wright isn't a big receiver at about 6-0 and 180 pounds, but he has excellent speed and is dangerous in the open field. Last week against Missouri he had 10 catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns.
The Baylor offense is designed around getting their playmakers the ball in the space, so the Longhorns secondary will not only have to cover well, but also tackle well and fight through blockers on the screen plays Art Briles likes to dial up. Missouri missed 18 tackles last week, resulting in an extra 200 yards or so for the Baylor offense, putting solid tackling at a premium for Texas.
Can Colt McCoy post big numbers to help his Heisman campaign? Since most of the drama is gone from the season after the victory over Oklahoma State, the Longhorns simply have to take care of business until the Big 12 championship game, while putting up some style points along the way to keep the human voters happy, as there is little Texas can do to make the computers happy except win. The big storyline, then, is whether or not McCoy can make a late run at the Heisman trophy.
Last week was a good start to re-invigorate his campaign after the poor performance against Oklahoma in front of a national audience knocked him down in the standings. Even for a successful quarterback like McCoy, 470 yards is enough to get the attention of the most skeptical of voters. To have a chance, McCoy needs to keep putting up video game numbers, while keeping his interceptions in check. A highlight reel running play or two might help as well, anything to get on SportsCenter at this point.
The other aspect that will help his candidacy is his run on the all-time wins record for quarterbacks. With a win over Baylor, McCoy will tie David Greene for most all-time wins and a win over Kansas will break the record with several games left to create even more space. It's the type of story that national media outlets will eventually pick up and will help McCoy gain notice.
Can Longhorns fans making the trip to Waco make more noise than the Baylor fans? Yes, I'm now stretching here. Really, this could have been one thing to watch against Baylor -- the Longhorns putting their usual beatdown on the Bears. But hey, I'm trying not to pack this in like John Werner did in his preview for us.
So, back to the point -- Texas fans traditionally travel well to Waco, generally making up a sizable contingent. With Robert Griffin done for the season and whatever hopes Baylor fans harbored coming into the season completely squashed, there could be a ton of Baylor fans dressed as empty seats in this game. Mack Brown specifically asked fans to take over Floyd Casey stadium, since there are few things more beautiful than hearing a heart Texas Fight in an opposing team's home stadium.