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Dispatches: Texas 2009 Preview

What happens when Adam Jones, Scipio Tex, and I exchange a flurry of emails two weeks before the season opener? Greg Davis winds up in the shower with Raquel Welch, that's what.  After the jump, our 2009 season preview of sorts. Bend over and grab the soap, if you dare.

PB:  I'm a Big Picture guy, so let's start with a little discussion of the stakes here. We've heard over and over that 2009 is an opportunity to repeat 2005. While that's true to some extent - a lot of the parallels are downright eerie - it doesn't set the table quite right for me.  2005 was about breaking through, snapping the OU losing streak, winning that first big one, showing Mack Brown could get the most out of a top-ranked class, etc.

That's not really the narrative this year, is it? It seems to me that rather than about recreating 2005, this fall is about doing what Texas failed to do in 2006-07: twisting the knife in our rivals by building on the 2005 breakthrough. A win in the Cotton Bowl would be four out of five over OU.  An undefeated regular season and Big 12 championship validates Mack Brown; a national title puts him on the short list of the modern game's top head coaches. And another big game loss might finally put the heat on that sniveling, passive aggressive Daddy's girl coaching in Norman.

What do you think? What's at stake for the Longhorns this year?

Adam Jones: Six to one, Mr. Bean, six to one. That's the biggest blemish on the Mack Brown resume: one conference title versus six for Mr. Charming. We gave away 2006-a couple of plays by almost anyone would have won the K-State or A&M games, either result keeping OU out of a title game they won with a converted receiver at QB against a brain dead Nebraska game plan. Conversely, when Stoops gave one away in 2002, we didn't close the deal. We won't even discuss 2008. 4-3 would be fine; I would even take 5-2, but 6-1?  That's Federer versus an obscure Serbian in a first rounder at the U.S. Open. Ugly. Texas needs to chip away at the most unsatisfying stat in the Brown era.

On another subject, Mack quipped (back when he stilled quipped) when he first arrived that his defenses at Carolina the last couple of years were so good he could get a cold drink while they were on the field and know the other team would not have scored by the team he got back. That's great, but I personally have not hit the concession stand a hell of a lot during Texas defensive stands in the last decade. We've been good at times, great occasionally, but never truly dominant.  How about this year? Shades of 1983 when an impenetrable secondary allowed a talented front seven to attack the ball without consequence? Earl Thomas = Jerry Gray? Those are the early returns, but everyone loves you in August.  What happens in September, Scipio?

Scipio Tex:  As much as I'd like to go contrarian early, I can offer only confluence and agreement.  Peter does a nice job of framing up the big picture stakes here and, like Adam, I'm bedeviled by the lack of conference championships.  2009 represents the 4th quarter of this decade and over its span, Texas has gone 97-18 with a national championship, nine consecutive Top 15 finishes, four Top 5 finishes...and one conference championship?  No wonder we're held in higher esteem nationally than we are regionally.

2009 also represents the potential end of an era.  Mack Brown has the chance to go out like the great Jim Brown - on top of the football world, at the height of his powers, and to a nude scene with Raquel Welch.  That gentlemen, is how you end a career.  (In related news, I pray that Brett Favre is struck by a small thermonuclear device)  I think it's quite possible that Brown retires at the end of this year, and failing that, I'm willing to bet very heavily that it's the next.  Given the changing of the guard at QB in 2010, this year represents his last best chance for another Big 12 Title and a national championship.  

September is a series of routs; our season starts in October.  Colorado - whatever their failings - will show us how we react to a legitimate running game.  OU defines the 2009 season and, arguably, the decade.  And road trips to Mizzou and Oklahoma State will reveal our championship mettle and ability to close the deal should we dispatch the Sooners in Dallas.

Or am I just way oversimplifying this? 

PB:  Pass the lotion, it's a circle jerk! Truthfully, I couldn't agree more on the big picture takes, and yes, it's as simple as you make it out to be.

Still... if there's anyone who could botch a shower scene with Raquel Welch, it's Greg Davis, right? So let's shift gears and don our contrarian hats for a minute: How might Texas go wrong in '09? Deserving as is Colt McCoy of all the attention and accolades, it's the defense that gives me the most confidence Texas can run the table. If we stumble, I suspect it will be the offense that lets us down.

My lone complaint from the otherwise stellar 2008 season was the coaching staff's reaction to playing at the front of the pack. As an underdog against OU, we attacked. Fired up at night against an overrated Missouri squad, we dominated. And then, as a consensus #1 and the Team To Beat, we started to play Not To Lose, first at home against the Pokes, and then again a week later, until a 19-point deficit sounded the alarms.

Tell me why we avoid that mistake this year, Adam. Or why we don't. After all, that is the reason Mack's only got one Big 12 title to date, right?

Adam: How's that? I'm sorry; I'm still stuck on Greg Davis and Raquel Welch in the shower...

Well, for one thing, we could go undefeated and finish third in the BCS. This noble idea that an undefeated Texas automatically gets its ticket punched because of last year finds it roots in the concepts of fairness and emotion, not cold-hearted algorithmic reality. Look at USC's out-of-conference sked. Now look at ours. Then call Tommy Tuberville to explain how the math works to Mack. Depressing to think about, so let's escape this paragraph; it's really not about any mistakes we might or might not make.

I guess Colt could regress toward the mean and not complete 80% of his passes, leading to somewhat diminished success on third down, killing a couple of key drives, costing us on the road at Stillwater. More likely, he'll just get hurt; that or decide that the pacifistic nature of the Quakers appeals to his concept of Christianity, leading him to found a Friends Meeting House and circumcision clinic in the Philippines during the break between the end of the regular season and the Big 12 Championship Game.

My guess: the offense will operate at the same level, getting a boost from the "hurry-up" downhill running game we sneak-previewed in the Fiesta Bowl. The defense will improve and force more game-changing plays. Kansas (shelled by Texas 42-9 in the regular season) will somehow negotiate a murderous schedule and scare us to death in the Big 12 Championship game. We will win anyway and meet Florida in Pasadena. Boring prediction, satisfying outcome. 

Scipio, what's your take on where we might pick up the shower soap with painfully surprising results?

Scipio Tex:  Our team's shower encounter with members of the Aryan Brotherhood would most likely manifest itself in a compromise of Colt's health.  Football is a dynamic game and there is no gentleman's agreement between our offense and defensive coordinators to play us the way we'd like and endure the slow drag of the razor of our precision passing game across their exposed throats.  

We saw Colt take colossal beatings last year against poor defenses like Oklahoma State, Baylor & Texas A&M.  And he was batted around again in the Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State.  There's learning to be had there.  Defenses will challenge our short passing game, make Colt hold on to the ball, and bring numbers on delayed blitzes.  That will create opportunities downfield, but so what?  They'll readily concede a completion in exchange for hits on Colt.  Putting Colt McCoy out of a game and stopping our offense are goals that overlap almost perfectly on a Venn Diagram. 

As for Greg Davis, I readily concede that we will turtle up in a road game once a year, but as offense is all about rhythm, timing, and coordination, the players create a lot of their own reciprocal garbage in a destructive interplay with the coordinator's play-calling - a pick 6, a dropped TD on a fly pattern, dropped passes - it all serves to create a mutually reinforcing downward spiral that's tough to escape. 

How do you break free?  Defense and special teams.  I'll hold that the latter - neglected and forgotten as it is - holds this team's ticket to Pasadena.  When you're loaded at DB and LB, have an array of strong kickers, and you have a six deep of dynamic potential return men, let's not go all Courtnee Garcia.  I want to win special teams, dominate them, not hold serve.   What do you want to see, Peter? 

PB:  I want to see Quan Cosby's NCAA record 346 fair catches get challenged. (If we miscast John Chiles in a return role, I'll know your dreams are shot, Scipio.)

I'm with you on the potential for this team to help itself on the margins with special teams, but the other thing I really want to see speaks to the other point you raised: the danger of injury to Colt McCoy. As much developmental progress as John Chiles made running the ball three times and out for 20 minutes a game, I'll be dumbfounded if Mack Brown sends in Gilbert or Harris to do the same this year.

Setting aside the need to get one or the other ready to make a title run in 2010, the stakes are plenty high this season. An injury to McCoy might doom the team against Oklahoma, but what about at Missouri? Or when Kansas comes to town? You can't tell me this Texas shouldn't beat those teams with the second team quarterback, but they won't if neither plays any meaningful football before they're forced into it.

There's nothing I like less than when fans overplay the "classy" card, and while I do commend Mack Brown for pulling the first teamers when the game's outcome is decided, there's absolutely nothing unsportsmanlike about, you know, playing real football with the second unit. If you're not sending them in there to play, take a knee three times and punt. Otherwise, and preferably, send in the second team as a courtesy, but let them play.

God forbid we'll need the second team quarterback to win us a game this year, but we already know we'll need ‘em next year. Ándale!

What about you, Adam? What's on your wish list this fall?

Adam: I wish that Malcolm Williams would frighten small children and the elderly every time he leaves the line of scrimmage. Tell me, what physical gifts do Dez Bryant and Dezmon Briscoe have that Malcolm does not? None, but they do get more touches and have a better rapport with their quarterbacks. If you ask the bar room question: "What would happen if Colt McCoy had someone like Lovell Pinkney or Roy Williams to throw to?" Then my answer might well be: "How do you know he doesn't?"

Back to Scipio on special teams, let's dispense with punt return all together (although no one appreciates a Courtnee Garcia shout out more than I do) and just block all the sumbitches. The Texas official stats credit, somewhat charitably, Aaron Williams with four blocked punts last season. Maybe he got his hands on four punts, but he didn't block them. Not in the "smack the ball straight backwards and have a teammate fall on it for an easy TD taking all the air out of the opposition and leaving the opposing punter with a bruised kidney" fashion. Truly momentum-shifting punt block, kick block, forced error opportunities were noticeably absent last season-and Texas still went 11-1.  I noted in my first post: Earl Thomas = Jerry Gray? That may be a stretch, but can Aaron Williams channel his inner Michael Griffin? He certainly has all the tools.

I like emotional devastation of the opposition. You're right, PB, I'm not sure that's really Mack's style (but it may be Muschamp's).

Scipio Tex:  I'm a big fan of emotional devastation and destruction of the opposition: in college football, on Indian buffets after a mountain bike ride, and on work colleagues who use the word "synergy" too often. 

I'm not into running up the score either, but I believe in allowing your 2nd teamers to play the game unfettered.  Getting our backup QB eight quarters of real work over the course of the season should be our goal, but I fear that we'll see lots of handing off to Jeremy Hills.  If it hurts another coach's feelings that we're running our offense normally, my heart weeps for them.  It's our job to do what's best for this team and next year's team.  It's not as if Brown has any friends in this league to begin with and the Stoops sewing circle will do whatever it can to work against Longhorn success.  And secret poll ballots only aid and abet that.  Knowing that, I might just be inclined to drop 63 on Art Briles in Waco if I could.  Perhaps that would impress him.   

PB:  We're roaming into the territory of 2008 and the petty stepsisters; it's time for the lightning round, before we all become emotionally devastated.

Who's your offensive breakthrough player?  Fozzy Whittaker

Who's your defensive breakthrough player?  Eddie Jones

The player no one's talking about now but will by November is:  Keenan Robinson

Who wins Georgia-Oklahoma State?   OSU 28-27. Bryant or Cox returns a kick for 6.

Who wins the Big 12 North?  Nebraska, for the schedule. Kansas, if they can find a running game.

Rank Texas top five most difficult games, from most to least challenging:  OU, at OSU, vs Kansas, at Baylor, vs Colorado.

Does Texas play in the Rose Bowl?  McCoy vs Tebow, with ESPN introducing the two to "Calling All Angels" in the worst featurette ever made.



Who's your offensive breakthrough player? Courtnee Garcia, or maybe David Snow

Who's your defensive breakthrough player? Sam Acho

The player no one's talking about now but will by November is: Emmanuel Acho

Who wins Georgia-Oklahoma State? Georgia

Who wins the Big 12 North? Who gives a ----? OK, Kansas

Rank Texas top five most difficult games, from most to least challenging:  at OSU, Oklahoma, Kansas, at Texas A&M, Colorado-we work Missouri at their own homecoming

Does Texas make the Rose Bowl? Indeed.


Scipio Tex:

Who's your offensive breakthrough player?  Malcolm Williams

Who's your defensive breakthrough player?  Aaron Williams & Sam Acho

The player no one's talking about now but will by November is:  Emmanuel Acho

Who wins Georgia-Oklahoma State?  Take Georgia +6.  I also like them to win s/u.  27-24.

Who wins the Big 12 North?  Which of the three teams tied at 4-4 or 5-3 atop the standings wins the tie-breaker.  Oh, let's say Kansas.  

Rank Texas top five most difficult games, from most to least challenging:

  1. OU
  2. OSU
  3. @ Mizzou
  4. Kansas
  5. @ Baylor

Does Texas make the Rose Bowl?  Lord, please.