Archive | December, 2012

FROM THE STANDS: Alamo Bowl

Five pushups? I got $3 says I can do 5 pushups:

  • I am sorry Myck Kabongo is out for the year will miss 23 games. You don’t get better when your starting point guard is out for the year and Texas will definitely miss his leadership on the court and in the locker room… But the national media is acting like Texas just lost John Stockton or something.  Enough, already.
  • Don’t be anything but truthful with the NCAA, guys. They like that even less than whatever you did to get investigated. Dez Bryant says hello.
  • For all the struggles in the early season, the Texas basketball team looked MUCH better in a big win over North Carolina and a good effort in a loss at Michigan State. Keep it up.
  • For all the bush-league moves from guys like Tommy Tuberville, there is occasionally a guy that does it right. Utah State coach Gary Anderson took the Wisconsin job, but before he did he called every one of his players to tell them. 106 phone calls made, going on until 2:30 am. That’s how you do it, Tubs. Well done, Coach A.
  • Lache Seastrunk will win the Heisman Trophy in 2013. Don’t believe the Baylor running back could do it? He does, just ask  him.
  • Concussions are a serious thing and not just in football. Ryan Freel was a fearless baseball player before concussions ended his career in 2009. Now he’s no longer with us.
  • Texas will be in the road whites for the bowl game. I love the road whites.

ALAMO BOWL
Alamodome, San Antonio
No.23 TEXAS (8-4/5-4) vs. No.13 Oregon State Beavers (9-3/6-3)
Saturday, December 29th
5:45 pm
ESPN

We are days away from the bowl game and even though it’s in the middle of winter break for school (and work) the Horns and Beavers are playing on a Saturday, meaning the preparation will not vary much from a regular season game. Both teams spent the early bowl workouts, as all teams do, as a mini-spring practice. It’s a time to get younger guys reps and let the starters rest up/ heal up and occasionally a player or two will even switch positions to see if it is a better fit. About a week out they get back to their normal routine and install the game plan and right now (12/24) they are in San Antonio and its long, physical regular season-type practices for both teams.
It’s easy to get distracted during bowl prep because there is no school, the regular students that stick around campus are staying up late and sleeping late and not at all interested in anything work-related. Senior players, and talented juniors, are peeking around the corner at the NFL and how and if that gets started for them. Freshmen are lost, not sure what to do as this an entirely new experience and coaches are getting fired/hired, rumored to be one or the other, etc. A lot of stuff is going on and most of it has nothing to do with the field. Teams have been going pretty much non-stop since the beginning of August and the small break they got at the end of regular season was a welcome change from the 17-week grind. Sometimes it’s hard to get the edge back after that break. And then there is the bowl game itself. Sometimes guys just aren’t interested in playing in a particular bowl game:  they feel snubbed by better bowls and think they deserve better, or they don’t want to go some place they’ve been two (or even three) times already, and sometimes the season didn’t go as well as they hoped and they are just ready to be done. Of course the opposite can be said. Sometimes the bowl is too much fun and guys are more interested in what’s going on off the field when they get to the site and have their practices. Case in point- Boise State sent one of their starters home before their bowl game because of the always popular “violation of team rules.” See? Lots of distractions.

Bowl games are all about who gets their edge back, who can stay focused and who is excited (for the right reasons) to be there. If you watch the bowl games you’ll see at least one team that has no business losing get beat and while the play on the field determines that outcome, you can be sure that something in the reasons listed above was a determining factor for the winner and the loser.

So who is excited about being in San Antonio and who will come out on top? Let’s take a look at Oregon State and Texas and see what’s good.

Oregon State

The Beavers from Corvallis come to SA and most of you probably don’t know much about them. They come ranked No.13 and are a win away from 10 on the season, which they have done only once in Mike Riley’s 12-year tenure. They were not expected to be this good, but they are and they bring an excited team with four Texans on the roster to San Antonio. Let’s see what they plan to do.

Offense

The Beavers aren’t great at anything, but they are good at several things. The last two seasons they struggled to run the ball and it affected everything but they seem to have found their tailback and he’s as amped for this game as anyone. Why? He’s a former Pflugerville Panther.  Redshirt freshman Storm Woods won the job and hasn’t looked back, rushing for 822 yards and 11 scores, both team highs. The 6-foot, 202-pounder is also third in receptions with 36 for 291 yards. He has good speed, vision and hands and is a complete back. He’s a definite upgrade from years past and playing 90 minutes from home you can believe he’s ready to make a statement against his hometown team… But they still rank 99th nationally in rushing yards, which means this offense is successful when they are throwing the ball. And that could be a problem.

Starter Sean Mannion looks the part at 6-foot-5, 212 pounds and is the captain of the team and had a great start to the season, but injuries late changed his game. On the season he has 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns, but also has 13 interceptions. Picks were a big problem for Mannion in 2011 and it seems they still are now. He went down with a knee injury and in stepped Cody Vaz. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound junior doesn’t have the measurables that Mannion does, but he is he makes better decisions with the ball with only one interception on the season to go along with 11 scores. Mannion is the clear starter, but he isn’t completely healthy and the Oregon State staff has smartly decided to hold off on naming a starter until game time. Update: The Beavers announced over the weekend that Cody Vaz will start. He is not quite the athlete that Mannion is and doesn’t have the biggest arm, but he makes good decisions with the ball. Losing Mannion’s leadership on the field is a big blow for Oregon State, however.

Vaz has two players he throws to: Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Each has over 1,000 yards receiving this year with Wheaton’s 1,207 and Cooks’ 1,120. Wheaton has 11 touchdowns on the season, which is more than a third of the teams 27 td receptions. Neither Cooks are Wheaton is a big, physical guy, but they are absolutely lethal in the open field with world class speed. Wheaton is the bigger of the two at 6-foot-1, 182 pounds and is equally as dangerous inside or outside. Cooks is smaller at 5-foot-10, 179 pounds and has a game similar to former oklahoma sooner Ryan Broyles, excelling in screens and crossing routes. It’s these two and pretty much nothing else as they combine for 193 of team’s 316 yards passing a game. Occasionally they will find tight end Connor Hamlett (27 catches, 333 yards, 3 scores) and tailback Storm Woods, but the offense depends on Wheaton and Cooks to get open and Mannion Vaz to move the chains.

It’s a pretty anonymous offensive line, but they get the job done for the most part. Oregon State depends on the pass to get the majority of their yards and the o-line has done a decent job keeping the stationary Mannion and Vaz upright. On the season they have allow 1.92 sacks per game and produce 442 yards of offense. They remind me of the West Virginia offensive line in that they aren’t big names, but they get the job done. That’s pretty much all you can ask of your big boys up front.

Again, they’ve seen the tape: expect to see heavy doses of Storm Woods running right at the Texas defense to see if they still have tackling issues. Expect to see the quarterback run a bit as Texas commits everyone to Woods and Wheaton/Cooks, and expect to see some play-action passes to the 6-foot-7 tight end Hamlett to try and catch the Texas safeties creeping up to support the run. This not a great offense, but it is a very good offense with two terrific receivers and a very motivated running back and if Texas can’t stop the run, look out.

Defense

The defense is what Oregon State hangs their hat on. They beat Wisconsin at home on opening weekend and held the Badgers to 7 points and won. Oregon’s high-powered offense aside, they have shut down just about everyone they have played. On the season they allow 130.5 yards rushing per game, 223.17 yards passing per game and 19.75 points per game. They are No.17 nationally in pass efficiency defense with a 223.17 rating and do a decent job of getting sacks, ranking 47th nationally. They get it done.

The key to their success in stopping the run is defensive tackle Castro Masaniai. A beast at the nose, the 6-foot-3, 354-pound Masaniai is nearly immovable in the middle and has 21 tackles with 4 for loss, including two sacks. Joining him up front is defensive end Scott Crichton. The 6-foot-3, 263-pound sophomore leads the team with nine sacks and ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 1.42 tackles for loss per game. He has terrific speed coming off the edge and is active and physical, which all combined to make him First Team All Pac-12 this year.  There are some nice pieces up front aside from Crichton and Masaniai, but those two are the playmakers up front and they have been more than enough to control the line of scrimmage in most every game they have played this season.. Two key backups, defensive end Rudolph Fifita and tackle Mana Rosa- were suspended and are not going to play against Texas (they didn’t make the trip), so the starters must stay healthy.

With a solid line up front, will linebacker Michael Doctor has lots of room to move around. The 6-foot, 223-pound junior from Tulsa leads the team in tackles 72 and tackles for loss with 10.5. He also has five passes defended and four others broken up. He has speed and is all over the field and is active as any lb Texas will play this year. He’s equally as good in coverage as he is attacking the line of scrimmage and the Horns will need to know where he is at all times. He’s the star of the unit and while fellow backers Feti Unga and DJ Alexander are solid, it’s Doctor’s show at lb.

In the secondary they have cornerback Jordan Poyer, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior that is second in the nation in interceptions with seven and is First Team All Pac-12 and a First Team All-American. He’s the real deal and will be an early pick in the coming NFL draft. He has speed, quickness and experience and is super, super aggressive, making plays on the ball every chance he gets. Opposite him is Rashaad Reynolds, who is also very good. The 5-foot-11, 186-pound junior has a team-high 16 passes defended, three interceptions 70 tackles, which is second on the team. They are set at corner and have two big, bruising safeties in the 6-foot, 206-pound Tyrequek Zimmerman and the 6-foot-3, 213-pound sophomore Ryan Murphy… Wait, Tyrequek? How do you say that? I don’t even know where to start… but I like it. A lot. Anyway, this secondary is outstanding with size, speed and NFL talent in multiple places and they are going to be ready for the Texas Longhorns.

History has shown that the way you shut down the Texas offense is by getting pressure on David Ash. When Ash is hit, his decision making deteriorates and the offense can get bogged down. OSU is going to try and get pressure on him with their front seven and let their talented secondary play coverage and ball-hawk. If they can get Crichton loose, he can get the pressure that might force some poor throws and allow the Beavers, who rank No.18 in turnover margin, to get their hands on the ball. They also like to strip (the ball) and have forced 21 fumbles and recovered 11. They are coming to shut down the run and get pressure on Ash and they feel if they can do that they win.

Special Teams

Kicker Trevor Romaine was named All Pac-12 Honorable Mention for going 14-16 on field goals and 48-51 on extra points on the season. The sophomore is pretty much nails. Punter Keith Kostol is solid with a 42.1 yards per punt average, but has given up a block. They don’t allow much on kickoff or punt returns with 19.1 and 6.2 yards allowed per return respectively, but they are ATTROCIOUS at returning kicks, averaging 5.3 yards per punt return and 18.3 yards per kickoff return. That’s really awful, but the coverage and the kickers are very good.

I expect few tricks as the Beavers will force Texas to go the length of the field against their defense and I expect that inside the 30 its guaranteed points with Romaine kicking field goals. This is a good special teams unit that could be much better if anyone could figure out how to return a kick.

Texas

You know I’m big on energy and you know I’m big on a new coach bringing energy. To be honest with you I think a lot of the team was pretty “meh” about playing in the Alamo Bowl until Bryan Harsin took the Arkansas State job. With that departure, Major Applewhite was promoted to OC (rather than “co”) and play caller and everything changed. Applewhite is a fiery guy that the team LOVES. If a team loves a fiery coach it means he rides them hard: mental mistakes are unacceptable and lack of focus is punishable, 100% effort is expected and required every time and you will be publicly admonished if it isn’t there, execution is demanded every single time. It also means he rewards great effort, execution and focus with public adoration and, more importantly, playing time. Players, for the most part, are fine with being put through the meat grinder of practice, film, off-season and whatnot as long as their efforts are rewarded consistently and fairly. That’s Applewhite. The guys on offense want his attention and want to impress him and get on the field. That motivation to be noticed, obviously, brings energy, intensity and enthusiasm. They either want to get on Applewhite’s radar or they need to keep up with someone else trying to get on Applewhite’s radar. And that’s a great thing.

This has nothing to do with how Bryan Harsin did things. He might have done the same things, or totally different, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t matter because he’s gone. The urgency to impress him, and his openness and willingness to be impressed, for playing time closed in September barring something crazy. That window is right here and right now with Applewhite. And that energy has bled over to the defense, which by necessity at the very least has elevated their levels of intensity and effort to match the offense (no wants to get yelled at, right?). That’s a very long-winded way of saying I think Texas is excited to be here, which is very, very good. Let’s see what Texas has in store for the Alamo Bowl.

Offense

I can’t wait to see what Major does. I think you’ll see a lot of the same things, but I also think he’s going to go about it a bit differently. I expect to see Texas throw the ball to set up the run. I think the Longhorns are going to attack those safeties with crossing routes and seam routes and use a bit more up-tempo, no-huddle stuff to keep those big fellas up front in the game and wear them down, then hit them with J.Gray and Malcolm Brown up the middle… I guess. That’s the thing, there is no book on Applewhite. Oregon State has a stout rush defense, but they were gashed many times over at the end of the season and were definitely not as good as they were early in the year. We literally could see anything and I can’t wait. A few things have to happen for whatever he plans to do to be successful:

  • Dominic Espinosa has to handle Castro Mansaniai. He’s a mountain inside and Espy has struggled at times with big, physical tackles. With Trey Hopkins out for the bowl game (stress  fracture) expect to see Sedrick Flowers in there. He isn’t as complete a player as Hopkins, but he’s a big man with a big mean streak he likes to run block and mix it up. He’ll be asked to help on Mansaniai, but Espinosa has to handle at times alone if the Horns are to establish any sort of running game.
  • Likewise, Josh Cochran and Donald Hawkins have to control Scott Crichton. He’s every bit as good as the TCU guys, who wrecked shop on Texas. They have to give David Ash time to throw.
  • And Ash has to look like Texas Tech/Oklahoma State Ash. He can’t be Kansas/TCU David Ash.
  • Hang on to the ball. When Texas turns it over, they lose.

This is going to be really fun to watch Applewhite calling the game. I can’t wait to see what it looks like. I feel really confident Texas is going to score some points.

Defense

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the game plan: get pressure on the quarterback, stop the run and cover the two wide outs. Seems pretty easy to diagnose. The problem is diagnosis and application is not the same thing. Nebraska won two straight National Titles running the same three option plays that everyone knew was coming but was unable to stop. Can Texas stop this Oregon State defense? Of course they can.

The Beavers can bog down offensively at times and even though Storm Woods is fired up to be playing his hometown team, they aren’t great at running the football. They need to throw to be successful and anyone that is one-dimensional can be beaten. How does Texas do that?

Keep it simple, Manny. Texas has played its best defense of the year when the stunts and twists were at a minimum. Get them lined up and let them react to the offense. The first half of K-State, Iowa State, etc.. It was good stuff. Don’t over-think it, coach. It’s all about execution, not deception. Keep those talented receivers in front of you and don’t let them get behind the coverage, get a hat on Storm Woods and GET AFTER Cody Vaz and get him on the ground. And tackle. TACKLE. Texas can’t afford to let Oregon State extend drives by missing tackles.

It’s the last collegiate game for Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro and, in my opinion, they are going to have big days against this o-line that will give up some sacks and a less experienced backup quarterback.

Special Teams

I’m calling for a specials touchdown. It’s DJ Monroe’s and Marquise Goodwin’s last game as well and one of them goes out with a bang. Who will it be?

The kickers for Oregon State are better but the return game for Texas is better and I think the Longhorns break a big one to ignite the Alamo Dome crowd.

In Conclusion…

I can’t wait to see Applewhite calling plays and I can’t wait to see Texas coming out in the road whites. I am excited about the bowl game and I think Texas is, too, and I think you will see that from the opening kick. This is a very, very good Oregon State team that can easily make this game ugly for Texas with their talented defense and wide outs; however, I think a motivated and excited Texas team can do the same thing to them.

Let’s see what happens.

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