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Five Things to Watch Against UTEP

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Horns_bullet_mediumCan the Longhorns stop All-World running back Buckram? In the latest installment of ____ is the greatest team/player ever, UTEP running back Donald Buckram apparently scares Mack Brown to death. He's from Copperas Cove, you know. So that means he's good. Like, really, really good. Not only is he good, he's probably better than Jahvid Best.

All this because the Texas run defense hasn't yet faced a serious challenge after games against ULM, Wyoming, and Texas Tech. In all seriousness, the Miners did rack up 145 yards on the ground last season and the run defense will be a concern until proven otherwise. Can the Longhorns hold Buckram in check and keep the Miner offense off the field? How will Kheeston Randall hold up against the run? This may be a game for Ben Alexander to play early and often.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan the offense get off to a fast start? After three consecutive sluggish performances in the first half, the Longhorns are hoping to jump on the Miners early and put the game out of reach. In particular, the offensive coaches hope that they can get Colt McCoy settled into the game early and will probably accelerate the tempo early and often to do so. Can the Longhorns run the ball effectively from the jet tempo?

Keep an eye on Colt McCoy's mechanics. Chris Brown had his take on the problems earlier this week:

It's true that in the first half McCoy just flat missed some open receivers; his footwork was off; and he was not helped by pressure in his face. From a quarterback coaching perspective, he's missing receivers high, which tends to be a mechanics flaw as simple as locking out your front knee when you throw or possibly taking too long of strides on the throw -- it's too hard to pinpoint exactly and I'm not sure. But that's something Colt can work on and will be fine with. Sometimes they just get away from you; he clearly has put a lot of pressure on himself.

While watching McCoy's front knee and stride length, keep an eye on how well he transfers weight to his front foot: Kafka reports in the comments of Brown's piece that Rich Gannon says quarterbacks throwing high are often throwing off their back foot, not on the front foot. McCoy doesn't need to complete more than 80% of his throws for this offense to find early success -- he just needs to relax and throw the football like he's capable of throwing the football.

Horns_bullet_mediumWill the WildHorn remain productive? Besides another slow start against Texas Tech, the topic of conversation this week was the debut of the WildHorn package with John Chiles that picked up 33 yards on the first play. Comparisons to the failed Q package emerged during the week, but Mack Brown explained the differences on Wednesday:

We don't change up any personnel, D.J. would be in the game, or we'd hope he would be in the game. One of the things we feel like that's so much better that we've learned from last year is that if we can be quick tempo with that personnel and not substitute, then the defense will not have time to substitute because if you substitute, the official stands over the ball and the defense has a chance to match what you're doing. If you do not substitute, you've got the 40-second clock and normally a defensive coordinator has to make the call so you could actually have a defensive coordinator make a call, you could change your formation and he's got to make another call, which gets very difficult for a defense, so we do feel like that it's much more of an advantage for us and it's because we've worked against people using it and in talking to our defensive staff, we feel like it's much more successful for us when we can keep the same people on the field.

Last season, teams keyed on Chiles when he came into the game, knowing that he was going to get the ball virtually every time the Longhorns used a play in the Q package. With the WildHorn, as Brown mentioned, teams don't have a chance to substitute, giving the Longhorns an advantage they didn't have last season.

The question is whether teams will run one or both safeties up to the line of scrimmage when the Longhorns use the package and if the Longhorns can respond in such a situation. Are there more plays like the reverse pass McCoy threw last week to James Kirkendoll? Are there any plays for Chiles to throw the football and do the coaches trust him with a play like that? Furthermore, are there any wrinkles in the package that can get DJ Monroe the ball in space? Will the Longhorns even use the package with more important games looming on the schedule?

Horns_bullet_mediumWill Garrett Gilbert get a chance to play? Longhorn fans expected to see quite a bit of Garrett Gilbert early in the season, but the slow starts in the first half have allowed him only two possessions so far in the season. Back in the spring, I floated the idea of giving Gilbert several possessions early in the game to get more meaningful snaps, but Brown shot that down this week:

We feel like right now that we're not going to put Garrett in early in the game. That's what we've done because we're starting slow and we don't want to put more pressure on him, so we need to get what we're doing worked out. In certain games we've played the second-team offense the third series of each game, and right now we're not playing well enough with the first team to start looking at the second team, and we've challenged the second-team players to play better in practice so we can gain more depth.

No argument from me on that, as the first team clearly needs to play better and more consistently, but scoring early and often will help guarantee one or two needed possessions for Gilbert late in the game to plan for next season and in case of an injury to McCoy.

Horns_bullet_mediumWill two running backs emerge for the Longhorns? Running back by committee. Dirty words now, judging by statements from Brown over the last several weeks. He wants several running backs to step up:

We're trying to get people healthy and we're trying to get the ones that are healthiest and the ones that are playing the best in the game. It's hard to play four backs, and right now we've played four with Fozzy getting well and that's a tough thing to do, so we've got to start narrowing it down. We've got to get a better identity in our running game and we feel like part of the running back situation will do that.

I'd rather have two guys getting a lot of carries, and I'm not counting short-yardage and goal line, not counting the four-minute drill at the end of the game, but we're counting in the every-down situation.

People have played with three. You can do that and keep the hot hand in the game. Normally when people use running back by committee, what they do is keep the hot hand in the game, and that's what we did with Tre' the other night. He started the second half, did really well and we let him have it.

With Cody Johnson no longer getting carries in the middle of the field, that leaves Tre' Newton, Fozzy Whittaker, and Vondrell McGee fighting for carries. McGee may not play much with his ankle injury and though Whittaker practiced this week and is expected to play, it's always hard to say with Fragile Fozzy. The obvious key here is Newton, who will likely receive the first carry of the game and may help the Longhorns establish a running game early, a major key if the Miners decide to keep two safeties deep. If that's the case, Texas absolutely has to run the ball well in the first and second quarters. If the Longhorns manage to gain separation early, it's possible that Jeremy Hills could get his first look of the season or even that Chris Whaley could lose his redshirt, though that seems less likely.