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Make or Break: Five Critical Quarters for the Longhorn Season

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 15, 2011:  This TD run by running back Jeremy Smith #31 of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys epitomized the loss of critical quarters in 2011 by the Texas Longhorns .  (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 15, 2011: This TD run by running back Jeremy Smith #31 of the Oklahoma State University Cowboys epitomized the loss of critical quarters in 2011 by the Texas Longhorns . (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
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Hi y'all... Yes, I'm back after a too-long hiatus of too busy and too far away (like on other continents).

Now that we've got that out of the way, I've been thinking about this upcoming season and it occurred to me that there are about five critical quarters that will decide whether the Horns live up to the brewing optimism in projected bowls and national rankings that has bubbled up in the days since David Ash was named the starter.

Why five critical quarters? It's been said (somewhere, many where's?) that close football games are decided by just a few plays. So why not whole seasons on the play in just a few quarters? With the Horns still being an incredibly young team, there are a lot of critical situations even the seniors haven't been through, How the team responds to its critical stages and most critical quarters will likely decide whether the Horns go 8-4 or 11-1 in the regular season.

#1. At Stillwater Sept 29, Third Quarter against Oklahoma State. While boisterous, the OSU stadium doesn't hold enough fans to stop the heart of a freshman. I see us in a close game, like 10-7 either way, at halftime. The Horns hung tough going in at the half of he 2011 game down 21-10 (and it could have been only maybe 17-10 if not for Jeremy Smith's breach birth through a vacant secondary for a TD with 38 seconds left in the first half).

Then came the third quarter where the Horns gave up 17 points on a 100-yard kickoff return, a Quinn Sharp field goal following an extended drive in which Quandre Diggs gave up two completions to Hubert Anyiam on third downs, and then Jeremy Smith's 74 yard explosion for the game-clinching TD with roughly 3 minutes left in the third quarter.

The Horns cannot afford those kinds of breakdowns in the third quarter this year because David Ash is not ready for the comeback on the road against a back 7 defense built to protect leads. Texas needs to bring adjustments in blocking schemes, coverages and blitzes and build a significant lead in the third quarter

More after the jump.

#2 DKR, Oct 6 Fourth Quarter against West Virginia. The Horns need to convert their advantages in strength and conditioning in hot weather, playing at home, and possessing the deepest secondary in the Big 12 to wear out the WVa defense, get their own defense off the field, break open a close game, and win going away. This is a quarter that Texas too often lost in 2011 due to poor conditioning from relying on too many freshmen and a general lack of confidence, especially in the QB's.

#3 The Cotton Bowl Oct 13 First Quarter vs Oklahoma. For too many years now, Mack Brown's approach to this game has been to avoid the big hype, to "relax," etc. only to have his team punched in the mouth and have to crawl back from big point deficits. To witness, since 2006, Texas has faced deficits of 7-0 (2007), 14-3 (2008), 6-0 (2009), 14-0 (2010), and 13-3 (2011) at the end of the first quarter or very near the beginning of the second. That's a combined 54-6 at the end of the first quarter over the last five years. Granted, Texas came back to win two of those and almost a third (in 2010 no less), but comebacks are no basis for continued success.

This year Texas needs to be the aggressor in the first quarter. This is about knowing you can blow up the soft OU DT's and overwhelm the young offensive tackles in fire zones. This is about knowing you can hit that post into Tony Jefferson's quarter of the field when he overplays the run. This is about, "You're mine now." If Texas can avoid the first-quarter deficit, I like their chances to win the RRS.

#4 Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock TX Nov 3, Fourth Quarter vs Texas Tech. It hasn't been that long since the Debacle in the last 40 seconds of this game in 2008. None of the players were in it, but the Red Raider fans remember, and their energy and expectations, combined with the weirdness that is Raiderland on a Saturday night means that this will likely be gut check time.

This is when Texas' vaunted defense very well may need to win a game for the season. This is when the sculpted running game will need to smash down the field and eat the clock like the Hulk after missing breakfast. The Raiders have enough offense and potentially fluky defense to hang within 14 or less until the fourth quarter, and the Air Raid plus inexperienced panic by the Texas youth brigade could lead to the presumed impossible.

#5 Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Dec 1, Fourth Quarter vs. Kansas State. The cold. The wind. The puzzling zone coverages and annoying blitzes. The baleful stare of Bill Snyder. The broken, burnished baggage of more than a decade since a win vs Kansas State (Vince Young did it his RS freshman year). It could be a 9-9 game going into the fourth, not unlike the Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska in 2009. Texas could be 10-1 or even 11-0.

No pressure...Some underclassmen (and I emphasize the plural) will need to step up and make a play. A special teams tackle. Cause a fumble. Kick a winning field goal as time expires. Make a throw into a tight window. Fight through a sack to find a checkdown. Break three tackles instead of two. You get my drift. You can wave West Virginia and the RRS all you want -- this will be The Game for Texas... for this year...

So there you have it -- five quarters. Win them and Texas is back in the Natty conversation. Lose them and there's all kinds of conversations going on that Mack Brown doesn't want to hear. Win them and some SEC team will start to fear.Lose them and Baylor starts winning more recruits over Texas.

There isn't anything left to say but... Hook 'Em.