[Insert opponent's name here] is the greatest team ever! Yes, it's Game Week and that means it's time for Mack Speak and the head coach and his researching minions build up the opponent into the toughest team Texas has probably ever played. Luther Ambrose is fast! Really, really fast! Maybe even faster than Usain Bolt! Quarterback Troy Revell
transferred from Florida State is from Florida State! The high school! He must be awesome! Uh oh, the new coordinator blitzes! Colt may be decapitated on a blitz by linebacker Cardia Jackson! Jackson for the Lombardi! They beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa! They're loaded with seniors! Oh no, it's Arkansas State all over again! They're loaded with seniors!
On a more serious note, over in the FanPosts kriess previews both the offense and defense for the WarHawks and provides just about all the previewing that you need for the game. In the past, they ran some two tight end sets, which they may not this year because of inexperience and also featured a lot of the zone read. When the players talked about ULM, each one of them mentioned that they are a fast team, so they do probably have some legitimate speed. The players also talked about dealing with a lot of motion and shifts in their offense, which will provide good experience for the defense. All in all, though, the talent gap is still extreme between the two teams -- something the final score should reflect.
Public Service Announcement. After breaking the astounding news that Colt McCoy will be the starter at quarterback on Saturday, Mack Brown returned to discussing McCoy later in his press conference and thinks that even the Texas players should appreciate his fourth and last season as the starter on the Forty:
I actually told the players the other day that I hope they realize they're playing with the most accurate quarterback in the history of college football, and that they need to enjoy it and embrace it. The defense needs to get off the field as fast as they can so we can get Colt back on. The offense needs to really appreciate him and what he's doing, and the offensive line needs to block well for him. The better we can run the ball, the better we'll pass protect. We need to really enjoy him being here, enjoy his success and make sure we don't take him for granted.
If Mack is directing that statement toward the Texas players, it's probably also worthwhile to direct similar comments towards Texas fans. While many probably took Vince Young for granted during his junior season, as it looked like he would return for his senior season up until the final play of the Rose Bowl left him with nothing more to prove as a collegiate athlete, the guaranteed fact of McCoy's departure after this season leaves no excuses for Texas fans not to appreciate his play this season. I expressed a similar sentiment in my Favorite 'Horns post, but it's worth repeating: Enjoy every snap that McCoy takes this season, every pass put into an incredibly small window, and every scramble that saves an otherwise-broken play. There will never be another quarterback at Texas quite like him.
First week special teams play concerns Mack. After having nothing to criticize about the depth chart last week except for the second-team offensive line, Brown had to move well down the list of normal concerns, past running back, past the tight ends, all the way down to the performance of the special teams as something he's worried about for Saturday. Particularly, Brown singled out the kickoff return game as an area in which the Longhorns struggled last season and need to improve this season, while the coverage unit also struggled at times last season. Brown said that early in the season the coaches might play more reserves on special teams to get the starters fresh.
Despite the rhetoric of concern, Texas special teams should be an area of strength this season. As Brown mentioned in an earlier press conference, Justin Tucker's leg is stronger now and he kicked so many balls out of the end zone in scrimmages that the head coach publicly expressed his disappointment at his team missing so many opportunities to work on kickoff returns. In the punting game, John Gold and Tucker's ability to rugby punt with both feet provide different options for the coaches depending on field position. Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams provide Texas with the ability to block kicks, while Jordan Shipley's two returns for touchdowns last season proved his big-play ability in the kicking game. Expect to see the Williamses get a look returning kicks in the non-conference, as well as Earl Thomas and/or Curtis Brown returning some punts. If the back ups can provide some explosiveness in the return game, the Longhorns could make a major step forward this season on kickoff returns when Jordan Shipley rests and in 2010.
watch. Having won the back-up quarterback job, the future of the Texas quarterback position remains a topic of conversation going into the game against Louisiana-Monroe. How much will he play, if at all? What type of offense will the Longhorns run when he's in the game? To "Leave No Doubt" this season necessitates putting opponents away early and often this season to give Gilbert some quality game reps at the position to prepare him for taking over the job in 2010. On Monday, Brown qualified how the coaches will use Gilbert:
We would like to get him on the field. We will talk about it on Thursday. Greg (Davis) and I talked about it some on Saturday and we mentioned it again this morning. We've got to be fair to our team, fair to Colt and get Garrett reps. Sometimes in the past we've put a quarterback in third series or the fifth series or tried to get them in the first half. The most important thing is you try to win the game, then you'd also like to get Garrett some quality snaps.
From his comments, it sounds like Gilbert won't see the field early in the game, a possibility I discussed back at the beginning of the summer when thinking about ways to get Gilbert work that will actually benefit him. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that approach, as McCoy needs the time to work with receivers like Malcolm Williams and especially John Chiles in the early part of the season. As a whole, the offense needs every opportunity to gel and reach a high level of play by the Texas Tech game -- the earliest Texas will have faced a truly competitive game that early since Ohio State came to Austin in 2006.
However, it would be extremely disappointing to enter Big 12 play against Colorado without fully knowing if Gilbert could effectively replace an injured Colt McCoy and do more in the actual offense than just handing off the ball. When he goes get into the game, it's imperative that Greg Davis call some passing plays for Gilbert to get a look at how he performs in game situations and the coaches must make that a priority.
Light on for Scott? As his physical play in limited action last season against Kansas showed, the football side of the equation -- being able to run and strike -- has never been in question. The reason that true freshman Blake Gideon beat him out last season was about the mental side of the game, with Scott often unsure of where to line up and unsure of his assignment. The failure of Ben Wells to get into his backpedal properly against Kendall Wright flying down the seam in the Baylor game demonstrated the consequences of blown assignments or poor efforts in the secondary -- long touchdown plays.
The good news for the multitude of Scott fans out there is that the proverbial light may have come on ($) during the off-season for the talented sophomore, according to his defensive coordinator:
We've challenged him to bring the mental attitude every day and for him to understand that one mistake made up front can be overcome but, sometimes, a mistake on that (DB) end can't. He's played well in space. He's tackled well and played the ball well. The mental approach has really changed his habits. There's a mental part of the game. You can't just line up and be better than everybody else. You've got to understand about splits, about angles to the ball, about pre-snap reads and all the things that go into being a defensive back. We've initiated that, and he's done a good job with it.
As discussed in a thread some time last week, Scott, Thomas, and Gideon may often see the field together, depending on the match up against the opposing slot receiver, with Thomas moving down to the nickel cornerback role in that defense. Whatever the case, if Scott can think the game well when he's on the field, his physical gifts will have a chance to shine through and it could become extremely difficult, extremely quickly, for Muschamp to keep him off the field. Thomas packs a big punch for a relatively small safety, but Scott has the size and striking ability to really intimidate receivers trying to catch the ball over the middle and help the Texas secondary become one of the best in the country.