FROM THE STANDS: UCLA

So it’s over and done with and it’s time to move on. Texas takes the show on the road for the first time under Charlie Strong as they head to Dallas. The game is in Cowboys Stadium, but it’s a home game for UCLA, so Texas will be in the road whites while still having a home game-type crowd in Dallas (UPDATE: Actually no, Texas is the home team. I was told this was a home game for UCLA, but that is not correct. No road white for the Longhorns. Not sure if this is considered a home game for either team, but Texas is wearing the home team colors). I heard UCLA is bringing a lot of folks and this not only a destination road trip for them, it’s going to pull all the fans/alumni in the state to Arlington. It’s going to look a lot like a conference title game. Speaking of conference title games, the last time Texas played in Jerry World was 2009 when Colt McCoy hit the railing, Hunter Lawrence nailed the game-winner and everyone thought Ndamukong Suh was a class act. Texas squeaked by in that game. I’ll take it this time, too. For Texas to win it will likely need to be another 13-12 turnover fest, but that would still count. Let’s get to it!

 

GAME THREE

TEXAS vs. No.12 UCLA Bruins

September 13th

Cowboys Stadium

7 pm

Fox

Texas and UCLA have some history and profound things happened as a result. The 66-3 loss to the Bruins signaled the end of the successful but turbulent John Mackovic era at Texas in 1997. After that loss the Longhorns went into the tank and Mackovic was fired about five minutes after the loss to A&M in the season finale. And then the Mack Brown regime began. The following year on the road at a very, very good UCLA team the Horns got down big but fought back and lost, 49-31. In that loss, starting quarterback Richard Walton was injured and his backup, Major Applewhite, took over. In 2010 a 1-2 UCLA team came in and beat up the undefeated No.7 Longhorns, 34-12, in an ugly game that was a sign of things to come. After that season most of the Texas offensive coaching staff was replaced. In 2011 Texas repaid the beat down and the pink slip with a 49-20 win, contributing to UCLA’s 8-loss season and the firing of coach Rick Neuheisel. Things happen as a result of this game, don’t they? Of course they do.

I wonder what is going to happen this time around? The Bruins are a frontrunner for the Pac-12 division title with their entire offense back, but they haven’t exactly gotten out to the hot start they wanted. The defense has been inconsistent and so far they haven’t looked like the dominant team Bruins fans expected, holding off a middling Virginia team and winning a shootout at home over Memphis. They have a Heisman candidate in quarterback Brett Hundley, but they have offensive line issues as well.

This seems to be the breakout/swan song game for someone on one of the sidelines. Who will it be? Is Jim Mora, Jr. auditioning for Jerry Jones and the soon-to-be-vacant Dallas head coaching job? Will Hundley’s Heisman campaign begin? End? Will Tyrone Swoopes show he’s the real deal? Someone else? I can’t wait to find out.

 

This is a big day in Dallas. UCLA (Again, it’s Texas in home colors, so maybe we sold our soul) sold their soul a home game to Jerry to get in front of Texas high school kids and show them their program, and Texas is trying to re-establish their stronghold on local kids. See what I did there? Stronghold? And there is a game to be played. A win and UCLA heads into conference play in the top 10, while a win for Texas gets them back on track. What happens? UCLA first.

 

UCLA

Offense

UCLA brings nine starters back on the offense, including the aforementioned Mr. Hundley. The 6-foot-3, 226-pound junior has NFL skills and will be a next level quarterback whenever he decides to go. He’s a Heisman candidate with all the experience around him and he’s been good through two games. A very athletic guy that moves well, he wants to throw the ball first and run second. On the season he’s 53-77 for 638 yards, three scores and one interception. 68.8% is a terrific completion percentage, but three td’s for an offense averaging 35 points per game seems low. He hasn’t broken out running the ball so far this year, but that doesn’t mean he won’t as he rushed for team-high 748 yards last season. He’s big, elusive and smooth and is as dangerous Taysom Hill, but not quite as thick or as fast. As I said, he’s a next-level guy and they will run him some, but they want him making plays with his arm.

When he throws his top two receivers are Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior Jordan Payton leads the team with 202 yards receiving, which is 101 per game. Math! He’s a returning starter that is quick and athletic and can get deep. Duarte is more of an H-back/tight end type, getting down the seam for 149 yards and two scores on seven catches (that’s not 101 per game). They have more weapons in their three- and four-wide out sets, but Payton and the 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore Duarte have been the go-to guys so far.

Last year one of the breakout stars of the college football word was Myles Jack. As a freshman the 6-foot-1, 232-pound Jack was fifth on the team in tackles with 75, had a sack and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown and a blocked kick. Oh, he was also second on the team in rushing touchdowns with seven and was fourth on the team in rushing with 267 yards on just 38 carries (a 7 ypc average). The term “Jack-of-all-Trades” is more than just a pun. So far this season he’s scored once and is second on the team in tackles with 19, including one for loss, and two passes defended. They haven’t used him as much on offense so far this season because they have a healthy stable of backs. (They did not last year, forcing them to use Jack beginning with game No.9, making those stats even more impressive.) He’s big, strong and obviously physical and athletic, but so far this year they have relied on senior Paul Perkins. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound sophomore is powerful and talented, averaging 89 yards per game on the ground with two touchdowns. He’s also versatile with four catches for 11 yards. The running back passing game hasn’t really been used so far this year, but Perkins is excellent in that role. I think he’s solid, but the No.1 guy was supposed to be Jordon James. The 5-foot-9, 196-pound sophomore was averaging 116 yards per game last year before hurting his ankle and he hasn’t regained his spot or his schwerve yet. Second on the depth chart ahead of James as he works his way back is Nate Starks, the 4-star freshman that is the biggest of the trio at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds and averaging over 5 yards per carry on the season. The running game, at this point, is relying on Perkins and to a lesser extent Hundley (32.5 ypg) to keep defenses honest and respecting the running game, but it just doesn’t look all that dangerous at this point, and here’s why-

This OL is just okay. With a Heisman candidate at quarterback, experience at wide out and a solid running back, and considering the opponents have been Virginia and Memphis, this offense should be ranked higher than 38th overall. They are 35th in rushing and 45th in passing, and when you take all of the above into account, it’s the offensive line that is a bit of a weak link. So far on the season they’ve allowed nine sacks. Nine sacks in two games. Nine sacks with a mobile quarterback that led the team in rushing last year and is second on the team this year. As my man says, that not good. That isn’t me saying that. That’s their own coach. From si.com, when talking about his unit’s play in the season opener at UVA: “UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said Tuesday that his unit’s performance againstVirginia last Saturday was ‘one of the sh—iest I’ve been a part of as a player or coach.” And they followed that up with four sacks allowed against Memphis at home. Now they get the Texas dl.

I am well aware that I said similar things about BYU last year before they played Texas, and the Longhorns did their best to turn their o-line into the Dallas Cowboys circa 1993. And they gave up 40 points again last week. But the defensive line for Texas was all over BYU and a variety of other issues contributed to those 40 points. I think the UCLA ol is going to be in for a very, very long evening this Saturday.

Despite some inconsistencies up front, UCLA is still winning games. I expect they roll Hundley out a lot and get him outside the pocket, negating that pressure from inside and forcing Texas to commit to stop his arm or his legs. And you can bet they are going to attack the middle of the field, where the linebackers are, with Duarte from the tight end spot and different motion/formation packages to get people in the middle of the field. And they will run draws and zone reads with Hundley to make Texas choose between the back or him, and if Texas doesn’t tackle at the second level better than they did in the third quarter, the same thing will happen. That’s what UCLA is counting on.

 

Defense

The defensive numbers are not overly impressive: 168 yards rushing allowed per game (35th nationally), 217 yards passing allowed per game (37th) and 27.5 points per game (tied for 82nd). They gave up 35 points to Memphis. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story: they scored three defensive touchdowns against UVA, one on a fumble recovery and two on pick sixes, so they are opportunistic and athletic.

The experience of this defense is the secondary, where all four starters return. The guy that jumps off the page is Fabian Moreau, the 6-foot, 200-pound junior starting cornerback. He’s big, physical and fast. So far on the season he has 10 tackles, one for loss and two passes defended. On the other side the smaller junior Ishmael Adams (5-foot-8, 185 pounds), who has one of the team’s two interceptions this season, which he returned for a score. They are experienced and very talented. Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth are the safeties and both are solid. Goforth scooped up a fumble and returned it for a score at Virginia and Jefferson is fourth on the team in tackles with 11. Goforth is doubtful for the Texas game with a shoulder injury and that is going to sting because he’s a veteran that knows where to be and when to be there. This is a good unit even without Goforth, with some NFL talent (Moreau looks like an NFL corner), but you can’t ask them to cover for 5 seconds, which they are having to do way too much …

… Because the front seven has one sack in two games. One. They run the 3-4 and ask their defensive line to run interference for the four linebackers to make plays. Statistically it appears that they do that, as inside linebacker Erick Kendricks has a team-high 26 tackles as well as the other interception run back for a touchdown. The 6-foot, 230-pound senior is a fireplug in the middle with enough skill to drop into coverage as well. With the super athletic Myles Jack making plays outside, the linebackers are solid and can make plays, but not in the backfield. Nose guard Kenny Clark is third on the team in tackles with 14, which is nice, but there are too many holes and not nearly enough pressure from the front seven to help the secondary.

You already know what’s coming this week: a stacked line of scrimmage, man-coverage outside and UCLA more or less daring Texas to throw the ball. They will blitz with their inside linebackers, Kendrick and 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore Jayon Brown, and they will bring olb’s Jack and Kenny Orjioke (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) off the edge to create havoc in the Texas backfield. They have to like their chances of doing that against a very inexperienced Texas offensive line. Honestly I just don’t know if they will be able to it, because they haven’t really done it yet. Sure this could be the game it happens, but I don’t think so. Anyway, that’s the game plan: make Texas pass.

 

Special Teams

They missed the only field goal they’ve tried, missed an extra point and average 36.8 yards per punt. They don’t return kickoffs well at all, averaging just 18 yards per. They do, however, shut down kickoffs, allowing just 16 yards per return. They are terrific on punt coverage, allowing no yards. That could mean all three returnable punts were downed or went out of bounds (nine of 14 were fair caught and two more were touchbacks), so the ability to directionally/placement kick seems very good. They are outstanding returning punts, averaging 10.4 yards per return.

UCLA seems like a conservative special teams squad, as you would expect from a former NFL coach, but they could all change this week. I don’t think it will. They don’t need to dominate in special teams, they need be solid and keep Texas from dominating in this area. They will design something to spring a punt return, which they have been very close to doing.

All in all they are coming in confident with some excited fans, but I see some glaring issues on the UCLA side, and where they struggle offensively Texas excels. Likewise, I don’t see a strong enough defense to do what BYU did for an entire game. Let’s take a look at the Horns.

 

Texas

There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, lament the third quarter, the special teams gaffes and everything else if you are Texas. UCLA is not the least bit interested in hearing about it and the BYU game was a week ago. The old adage is “never let one loss beat you twice,” so Texas needs to move on from last week and find the positives. Yes, there were positives. Tyrone Swoopes looked very good in the first half and did not shy away from the moment. The Texas dl was, as I said, monster. A terrible third quarter was the difference and I see a lot of things that are fixable. Of course there are things that aren’t fixable: you can’t make players older, or more experienced, but you play with what you have, and that’s what we will do. Here’s what I think Texas needs to do this weekend:

 

Offense

Get Swoopes on the move. He’s 245 pounds and he can deliver a blow to a corner or safety filling on the run. Get him outside the pocket and give him run/pass options and make the secondary commit. He’s seems best when he’s bootlegging out. I see a pulling Jake Raulerson getting some good blocks and Swoopes picking up yards.

Get some motion going in the offense, too. Move some people around. Last week there were times everyone knew what was coming. Keep the Bruins on their toes. Send some of those athletes like Jacorey Warrick and Armanti Foreman in motion at the snap, give Swoopes the option to hand it off on the jet sweep or hit them on the run out of the backfield. Move those tight ends tight, wide, off the line, on the same side, all of it. Give your offensive line some help and force the defense to think and not pin their ears back every play.

Screen game. I would like to see some screens to Marcus Johnson, Warrick and Foreman. (I specifically left out Jaxon Shipley, who is questionable for Saturday with a possible concussion. My guess is he’s out for the game.) A quick screen outside might net a yard or two, but showing a willingness to throw it forces the defense to play up, aggressively attacking at the line of scrimmage, which opens up the pump-fake/play-action and the deep ball, which is Swoopes’s most consistent threat.

And let’s throw that deep ball. Texas cannot be afraid to do that. The staff has said that the game plan will be the same with Swoopes as it would with Ash, so let’s see it. Let the guy wing it downfield. Just attempting it gives the defense another thing to think about.

I don’t think this is a great defense, Myles Jack aside — seriously, the guy won the Pac-12 Offensive AND Defensive Newcomer of the Year last year — and I think the young, inexperienced Texas offensive line could hold their own if the staff will help them out some.

No fumbles. NO. FUMBLES.

 

Defense

Charlie Strong said he left reminders everywhere of “550 yards” last week. Sometimes that’s the perfect motivation and sometimes it backfires. Remember “.01” and “REDemption” in 2010? That was Nebraska’s mantra after the 13-12 game in Cowboys Stadium. They entered that 2010 game ranked in the top 5 and Texas had just lost to UCLA and ou in consecutive weeks. They were so amped up, so angry, so intense … And they pressed and made mistakes. That loss has to be one of the worst ever for Nebraska fans. I remember Florida State/Miami in 1988. The U beat FSU 26-25 in 1987 in a top-4 matchup. Florida State went for two with 42 seconds left after a score and didn’t get it. Miami went on to win the National Title. All summer Florida State players wore “Unfinished Business” T-shirts and were reminded daily of that 2-point conversion. In week one they met, and Miami won 31-0. Sometimes guys internalize it too much and when one thing goes wrong, it spirals out of control. I don’t know if that happened to Texas last Saturday, but it certainly felt that way to me in the stands.

That game is over. Watch the film and move on to the next one. The Texas defensive line needs to keep on keepin’ on. They were good last week. The secondary will be tested more but I don’t think UCLA has a Jamaal Williams-type back at this point that can take over games, no offense to Paul Perkins.

I think the Texas dl has a marked advantage over this UCLA defensive line and if the linebackers can play better and the turnovers and other nonsense are kept to a minimum, I think Texas can do a good job against an offense that frankly hasn’t looked all that good at times this year. That’s oversimplifying it I know, but this matchup looks favorable for Texas to me.

Keep Hundley contained, protect over the top against the deep ball and make those running backs earn their scholarships inside. Come on, Steve Edmond. I’ve seen you make plays. Make some this weekend.

 

Special Teams

The exact opposite of last weekend. Better decisions on when to return kicks, no punching other people in the stomach AFTER the return man has been tackled, no missing field goals.

A big play in the special teams department can swing this game. Who will make that play?

A similar effort this week will produce a similar result.

 

So …

I don’t think the fumbles not happening or the missed field goal having been good or the special teams mistakes not being committed would have changed the outcome of the game, but it would sure have looked different.

If I am Charlie Strong, I would spend the second half of this week focused on the the good from last week. The first half. The offense was doing OK with Swoopes, no running game aside. The defense was picking the offense up. If Texas can hang on to those two fumbles and eliminate things like chopblock personal fouls, punching people after the play and making the same field goal they make 100 times a day in practice, how differently does that game go? That’s my focus: we were close for a half, and if we eliminate the mistakes that are in my opinion easily eliminate-able, it’s an entirely different game at the start of the third quarter. You have that chance to eliminate those mistakes this week. The defense will bring it, now the special teams and offense must clean up their mistakes and we are close to being where we want to be.

Of course “close for a half” is far from the goal of this team, everyone knows that, but considering all that’s happened this year I’m OK with using that as a starting point to build for the future.

Learn and grow, boys, and let’s see what happens this weekend.

 

THIS WEEK IN THE BIG 12

No.19 KANSAS STATE (2-0/1-0)   BYE WEEK

 Friday, September 12th

No.8 BAYLOR (2-0) @ Buffalo Bulls (1-1)   7 pm   ESPN
Bryce Petty sat last week as Baylor played Lane Bryant or whoever, but he’s back against a I-A team this week. Baylor gets the TV all to themselves Friday night and they are going to light up the sky so bright you can see it from the GTA. That’s the Greater Toronto Area. I am very Canadian: Roots, Bobcaygeon, Tim Hortons, butter tarts, peameal. See?

 Saturday, September 13th

WEST VIRGINIA (1-1) @ Maryland Terrapins (2-0)   11 am   Big Ten Network
Last year the Neers were embarrassed by Maryland in Baltimore, 37-0, in a six-turnover effort that they were never really in. This year I expect a different result. I think. West Virginia looked much better against Bama than I expected and I think they will take some confidence from that loss. Maryland has played no one and they are wearing these.

Ick. I think Couch Fires wins this one.

KANSAS (1-0) @ Duke Blue Devils (2-0)   2:30 pm   ACC Network
The best game of the day. In basketball. But this is football. Both have played the outlet malls of football in their first three combined games. Duke is coming off a 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance and Kansas is coming off a 2013 Chick-fil-A Bowl party at someone’s house. Since this game is at Duke, I’ll take Duke. Just for your information, if this game were at Kansas, I’d pick Duke. If this game were at Chick-fil-A, I’d go.

Arkansas Razorbacks (1-1/0-1) @ TEXAS TECH (2-0)   2:30 pm   ABC
Tortilla has the chance to make a statement against a middling SEC program this weekend and I think they will. I just don’t know what statement that will be. They struggled with Central Arkansas and UTEP and now the upgrade in athletes across the field will be a mile high. I think Tech has the firepower to light Arkansas up, but I don’t know that they can stop anyone. I think this is a shootout that Tech wins because it’s at home. The good news is two obnoxious fan bases with a shared hatred of Texas can swap stories. The 40+ year olds can reminisce about the SWC days, while the students can share stories about throwing things at people. Good times.

IOWA STATE (0-2/0-1) @ Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0)   2:30 pm   ESPN
Normally I’d say 0-3 awaits Iowa State, but they have beaten some pretty good Iowa teams over the years. Why? Because it’s the CyHawk. The CyHawk! In a battle of OC’s, it’s Mark Mangino vs. Greg Davis. That historically hasn’t gone well for Davis. Until this year. Quentin Bundrage is out for ISU with a blown ACL, and I don’t see the offense stringing together enough points to beat Iowa at home. The Paul Rhoads Farewell Tour rolls on and we creep closer to the Mark-Mangino-Interim-Head-Coach press conference.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0) @ TCU (1-0)   3 pm   Fox Sports 1
Neither one of these teams has played anyone and TCU had last week off in preparation for this game. The Big Ten was bad last week, very bad, and I think they continue to be bad this week as TCU unleashes their up-tempo, Sonny Cumbie-run offense on Minnesota, who I don’t think will have an answer. It’s going to be around 85 on Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth, which will feel like Christmas Break to the TCU kids. I see a fired up, enthused TCU team whoopin’ the Gophers.

UTSA Roadrunners (1-1) @ OKLAHOMA STATE (1-1)   6 pm   Fox Sports Network
A very, very interesting game. A college football poll recently came out that UTSA ranked No.46 in the country. They whipped UH and should have beaten Arizona at home last week. Now they travel to Stillwater to play the team that beat them last year in what was, at the time, the biggest home game in school history. A nice effort in the loss to Florida State was followed up by a pedestrian win over I-AA Missouri State and now it seems Daxx Garman (Southlake Carroll grad, Arizona transfer) has replaced JT Walsh as the starting quarterback for Oklahoma State. UTSA brings in a stout defense that OSU better respect or they will get beaten. I don’t think they will get beaten, but I think it’s a close game and the new starter at quarterback will make some mistakes. Enjoy your trip to Stillwater, UTSA fans. It’s the best road trip in the Big 12.

Tennessee Volunteers (2-0) @ No.4 oklahoma (2-0)   7 pm   ABC
My dog is 14 years old. She’s a little Boston Terrier that in the last year has lost most of her sight and hearing. She is still kicking, though. Last weekend she decided to go into our half-bathroom and start eating toilet paper. Like a roll at a time. We have a basket in there where extra rolls are, and she would just pull them out and eat them. All. That’s her thing now. So that’s something.
That’s it for this week. I can’t wait to see Texas in the road whites (in their traditional home orange) this weekend

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