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Texas Longhorns Game Week: Five Things to Watch Against Nebraska

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Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas contain/slow down Taylor Martinez? It's probably the foremost question on the mind of Texas fans heading into the weekend, and, for most, what has been a growing anxiety throughout the season is only allayed by the average performance of Martinez against South Dakota State (bonus points for anyone who even knows where SDSU is located without having to resort to Google). The overall high level of despair and lack of belief in this team as a whole has kept this author out of the fearful camp, at least.

With Martinez such a threat in the open field, the obvious strategy is to try to give Martinez a give read as often as possible, and then deal with the effective, but less athletically talented running backs the football. The problem, as Will Muschamp alluded to in his media availability this week, is that Nebaska will show so many different variations of the zone read and veer option plays that it's difficult for the defense to consistently force a particular read.

As always, option football is assignment football and it's an area the Longhorns struggled in both against Rice and UCLA. The hope is that with two weeks of preparation for Nebraska and their schemes, as well as some game repetitions this season, that Texas will remain more disciplined. The difficulty is that the variety of looks Nebraska will provide are designed to keep teams off balance -- depending on the particular zone read or veer option play, anyone from the nose tackle outside to the safety walking up into the box could be the read man, which often creates the indecision necessary to break big plays.

And that final point is the key -- not even Will Muschamp expects his defense to completely stop Martinez, but if the Texas defense can get off blocks and tackle well in space, as SDSU did, they have an opportunity to slow down or contain the newly-minted Husker star.

Horns_bullet_mediumIs Greg Davis really going to open up the offense? There may be mass suicides among Texas fans if the Longhorns open up the Nebraska game with another sideways pass. The good news is that as likely as that seems -- Davis unveiled a new formation that was obviously designed to set up a screen pass against Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship Game -- the maligned Texas offensive coordinator opened his presser this week by wondering aloud whether the conservative game plans early have led to the slow starts this season. Ya think, GD?

Instead of "let's get the flow of the game," as Davis described it -- which apparently means plenty of third and longs after failed sideways passes to help Garrett Gilbert gain confidence with three-yard checkdowns to a tight end tackled immediately thereafter -- Davis mentioned that Texas will "be a little more attacking and aggressive" early in the game. Whether that will actually happen remains to be seen, but at least the rhetoric from Davis changed this week and that certainly counts as a moral victory for the opponents of the early-game strategy the last several weeks (that would be everyone but the opposing coaching staffs). And hey, a moral victory is some type of victory, at least.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe DJ Monroe Watch continues. After earning a rare repeat Flavor of the Week award for his 60-yard touchdown run against Oklahoma that staved off a possible blowout, the DJ Monroe Watch continues this week. Two weeks worth of repetitions at the running back position should mean that Monroe is now familiar with both running plays in the Texas playbook, potentially eliminating one of the excuses for not playing him more in the second half against Oklahoma. Davis confirmed that Monroe is indeed "more comfortable" now.

Davis also said that the staff is "constantly" looking at ways to get Monroe more involved in the offense, which seems laughable considering that Monroe has 11 touches on offense the entire season and is not exactly a ringing endorsement of a staff that needed to do a study to realize that Monroe is one of the most explosive players on the team, a fact apparent the first time he touched the ball in a Texas uniform.

Durability is supposedly a concern, yet Fozzy Whittacker has 64 touches this season, almost six times as many Monroe and despite an injury history so extensive that any positive predictions for him this season invariably included a major caveat -- if he stays healthy.

It's getting old saying this now, but if Texas wants to have a chance to win this football game, DJ Monroe needs to have the football in his hands. Some way, Some how. And if it doesn't work the first time, don't *$&@#^& just abandon him.

Horns_bullet_mediumHow many stupid penalties/mistakes will Texas make this week? At this point, it's probably not even worth wondering whether or not Texas can eliminate the dumb penalties and critical mistakes that have come to characterize the 2010 season. At this point, all signs point to the Longhorns being a team that extends drives defensively with costly penalties on third down -- eight on the year, to be precise. At this point, all signs point to the Longhorns being a team that makes costly mental mistakes, with 19 "Not Our Standard" plays on defense against UCLA and another 17 against Oklahoma. At this point, all signs points to the offense consistently stalling drives with false starts (Kyle Hix and EBS, I'm looking at y'all) or holding penalties.

It's been said that this team lacks an identity, which isn't exactly true. The problem is that the identity is entirely negative -- a football team that beats itself with mental lapses from players and poor coaching by the staff.

Is a bye week enough to reverse an identity that appears to run so deeply in this team?

Horns_bullet_mediumWill the Texas dominance over Nebraska finally end? With the Huskers moving on to the Big Ten next season and virtually no hope of the 'Horns making the Big 12 Championship game, along with the prospect of not playing Nebraska in the near future, this will likely be the last opportunity for the proud program to avenge some of the heartbreaking losses to Texas incurred during the existence of the Big 12.

It's been no secret that the team has circled October 16th on their collective calendars ever since Hunter Lawrence's game-winning kick slide just inside the left upright and even though 2-8 looks little better than 1-8 and even though one win hardly qualifies as a winning streak, a loss in this game would crush burgeoning hopes in Lincoln of a national championship and keep intact a precious narrative to Texas fans.