Texas Longhorns Game Week: Five Things to Watch Against Oklahoma

Horns_bullet_mediumWill DJ Monroe build on his success against UCLA? Mack Brown was surprised how much attention fans were paying towards a third-string wide receiver. Mack Brown was making excuses about why Monroe couldn't see the field -- the defense knew he was going to get the football, he's too small, he wasn't practicing well enough. Eventually, Mack Brown didn't have a choice.

Injuries to Tre' Newton, Cody Johnson, and Fozzy Whittaker in the first several games of the season essentially forced the decision to move the most electric player on the team to his natural position of running back and get him the football. The result? Six carries for 51 yards (8.5 yards per carry) and a long run of 23 yards. By contrast, the starting running back, Fozzy Whittaker, carried seven times for 14 yards.

On the negative side, Monroe was at least partly responsible for a fumbled exchange with the quarterback, though the blame has generally fallen on Gilbert and an overall lack of repetitions for the two. A dropped pass served to confirm the assessment by that the Angleton speedster has struggled to adjust to playing receiver.

All the other excuses don't matter -- the concerns about pass protection, the concerns about his durability -- the fact of the matter is that if the coaches are truly concerned about giving themselves the best chance to win, they have to find ways to get Monroe the ball between 5 and 10 times a game. It's not their job to make excuses about why they can't, as they did for far too long, it's their job to devise ways to make it happen. After all, is Monroe being out with an injury from overuse really any different than not playing at all?

Horns_bullet_mediumCrossroads for the Texas offense. It's no secret that the team that runs the ball better almost always wins the Red River Rivalry. It's also no secret that the Texas running game has been an absolute disaster this season. With that in mind, besides hoping for DJ Monroe to become a savior in the ground game, how else can Texas run the football?

Last season, the offense faced a similar crossroads after Brown and his staff stubbornly tried to run out of the four-wide offense against Colorado. Dan Buckner completely failed his test as a blocker and so the offense moved back to an 11 personnel look for the majority of the season. In addition, the coaches unveiled the jet sweep package with DJ Monroe that included three successful plays -- the jet sweep itself and two counters working off of the jet sweep.

After all the talk in the offseason about the addition of the H-back to the offense and a more physical running game from under center, the offense appears increasingly headed towards a spread passing attack similar to the one operated by Colt McCoy over the last several seasons, with the positive addition of Garrett Gilbert's superior arm strength.

Will Greg Davis return to the four-wide flex offense that helped spark the Texas offense after Blaine Irby went down in 2008? Or will the gameplan be more conservative and use an H-back to win the battle at the point of attack against an OU defense considered somewhat weak in the middle of the defensive line? The injury to freshman receiver Mike Davis, who was still questionable as of Brown's Wednesday press availability, as well as the need for continued development from Darius White and a shoulder injury to DeSean Hales, may help push that decision towards the actual introduction of the H-back into the offense for the first time this season. Such an offense, as was discussed in the offseason, could conceivably open up the play-action passing game downfield, but adds another ineffective receiver into the mix, as neither Greg Smith nor Barrett Matthews have aided the passing game at all this season.

Either way, the offensive look in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday will more than likely influence the direction for the remainder of the season.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas contain DeMarco Murray and Ryan Browles? A major recipe for success in the Will Muschamp era has been making Oklahoma a one-dimensional passing team. Last season, the Sooners actually lost yardage on their 22 rushing attempts, finishing 16 yards in the red. Murray's five carries went for a loss of three yards, with a long run of two yards. Chris Brown fared little better, picking up only 23 yards on 12 carries. In 2008, the Longhorns allowed only 48 yards on 26 carries and held Murray to seven yards on six carries.

This season, in all probability Murray will be more dangerous than in previous years given the decrease in the overall quality of play by the interior of the Texas defensive line and the fact that Murray is finally healthy for the first time in years. The bad news for OU fans is that the Sooners have hardly been dominant on the ground this season, averaging barely over three yards per carry on the year. Even the dominant win over Florida State failed to produce gaudy numbers -- 41 rushes for 93 yards.

Broyles, on the other hand, has been having more success. Much more success. Now in the midst of a string of seven consecutive 100-yard receiving games, the explosive junior is fourth in the country in receiving yards per game at 120, although his 11.76 yards per catch is quite pedestrian. It's also an indication that the Sooners get him the football on screens and in the short passing game. And often -- Landry Jones has targeted Broyles on a little more than one third of his pass attempts and has connected on nearly 80% of those attempts, an astouding number. The task of stopping Broyles will probably fall heavily on the shoulders of star cornerback Aaron Williams, who held Broyles to only two catches for 33 yards last season.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the Texas offense win the battle against the OU defense? As inept and bumbling as the Texas offense has been the last several weeks -- penalties, turnovers, sacks, missed assignments, no running game -- the Oklahoma defense has been similarly poor (and porous) this season. For years one of the dominant units in the country, the lack of stellar play in the secondary and at defensive tackle has resulted in the 97th-ranked total defense in the country, right behind Lousiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette. The rush defense has been a major culprit, allowing almost 180 yards per game, although the 4.3 ypc mark is good enough for 79th in the country. Overall, however, the rushing numbers were greatly impacted by the game against Air Force, a team that passes for only 80 yards per game.

And wait a minute, Texas can't run the football. Or do much of anything right offensively right now and Mack Brown didn't sound like he had a lot of answers this week. It is, however, the case that something must give in the battle between what Scipio Tex called the "resistable force" against the "movable object." Right?

Horns_bullet_mediumWill there be a new crying Sooner fan this season? The Texas faithful can only hope. Nothing like the intensity of the Cotton Bowl to create a few indelible images. And yes, this is a throwaway thing to watch.

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