We're back from the Dallas Zoo where the mountain lion hides in the shade and the tattooed handler feeds mice to the bearded lizards before your eyes!
In part I, we examined the lesser squads of the league as well as some of the more troublesome teams. Tim's anointing of the Red Raider defensive line notwithstanding (seriously? Better than the one with Brandon Williams, Dixon and Whitlock in 08?) the bottom half the of the Big 12 is nothing to write home about but certainly stronger than something you would find in most of the other conferences.
In review, we've got Texas pegged as a running team that is secretly building packages behind a vastly underrated interior OL and some dangerous young skill players paired with a defense that is strong enough for a Big 12 running game, loaded with pass-rushers, and backed by a solid safety duo that will have to cover for a green crop of corners.
Thank God they aren't on the schedule:
Forget the fact that talent and venue doesn't seem to make a lick of difference when we play this team and consider these facts:
Somehow Jared Crick still has a year of eligibility left. He's coming off a 2nd consecutive season with 9 sacks playing defensive tackle and I did not think that would happen once he was no longer partnered with Suh. We had to avoid him and focused on running over Steinkuhler and their nickel personnel with unexpected QB running packages. I still think their nosetackle is overrated for his last name but it's a good bet that he drops his 6'6" frame to a better pad level in his 2nd year as a starter.
Their linebacker Lavonte David compiled 152 freaking tackles last year with 10 pass break-ups, 6 sacks and 9 other tackles for loss, he's pretty terrifying. The secondary returns another future 1st or 2nd round corner in Alfonzo Dennard Sr. plus their strong safety Cassidy. With Pellini defenses the key is this: returning players in the secondary means misery for passing offenses because they play team coverage unlike any other team I've observed in college football.
On offense the white ghosts are back and their embrace of the possibilities of shotgun/pistol option football makes them pretty formidable. Niles Paul is gone but it wouldn't take anything at all for T-Magic (not to be confused with a Michael Bolton-playing radio station) to be twice the decision maker he was last season. He single-handedly lost the Big 12 title lead to OU with a baffling display of incompetence which may have shortened Pellini's life expectancy by 10 years.
I think schematically they are way ahead of most of college football and I wouldn't relish trying to score on that defense after it's been adjusted to handle the physicality of Big 10 running games.
I can't believe I'm saying this but with Greg McElroy they would be a runaway favorite against us and anyone else. The blitzing possibilities afforded by Texas' defensive roster plus the skill with which Diaz creates pressure makes Texas a tough matchup for any team with an inexperienced quarterback that could give us a puncher's chance.
You may recall that had McCoy not been injured or the offense not pulled that early red-zone boner that cost a touchdown Texas may have quickly built a multiple score lead on Alabama that would have necessitated that McElroy throw the ball. You may also recall that of the 11 times he dropped back to pass he was sacked on 5 of those occasions. My point is this, you could throw mad pressure at him and he didn't turn the ball over. He may not beat you but he was the ultimate game manager who would take any punishment before he coughed up the ball with a hasty decision.
Here is what Bama does have going for them though: An enormous offensive line with 4 starters back. From center to right tackle they go 294 lbs, 311 lbs, 335 lbs and were 2nd team SEC, All-American, and All SEC Freshman team respectively. Oh yeah, and Trent Richardson still plays there with Marquis Maze.
The defense is just about back to it's 2009 level as well. All their secondary starters are back and 3 of them were All-Americans last year, the other is Dre Kirkpatrick. The linebacker corp is about 32 deep I believe and the DL is stocked with Juco talent or returning starters. They would bury us and should we return to BCS level this year we shouldn't be eager to attempt to pay them back just yet.
Gary Pinkel's use of the TE part of the depth chart is deeply frustrating to me. This is a team the employs much of the same playbook that Greg Davis played with here and manages to put together a credible running game, field a tight end who can both catch and block, and still employ shotgun spread formations with wide splits.
They lost Gabbert, who threatened a good portion of the field, but have a returning 1000 yard receiver (TJ Moe) and this year's receiving tight end threat is named Michael Egnew. Should they start James Franklin we can be reminded of what happens when their QB is a running threat who isn't attempting to destroy a ring of power.
We're gonna have to hope that Diaz can confuse and corral Franklin because they have a lot of receiving options between their backs, receivers, and Egnew that we would not be able to man up on and out-execute. Did I mention that their tackles are returning starters that held OU without a sack?
On defense they have typically managed to field 1-3 NFL talents every season and Pinkel has converted that from run-stuffing safeties and future Pittsburgh DL to more useful guys like Zaviar Gooden who can run sideline-to-sideline and play coverage, or pass-rushers like Madison or Smith who took advantage of Aldon Smith's injuries to combine for 13 sacks last year.
Here's the brightside, they really only have the resources to be excellent at a limited number of things. If we can get to Franklin and stay in front of their skill people they can be had. Should they score early and plug our running game we'll be in a terrible spot playing in front of the kind of rowdy drunks who have been making Kansas bleed for over a century.
Oklahoma St. has had the most underrated running game in college football for several seasons now due in large part to the magic that Joe Wickline works with their offensive line. Last year he transformed 4 new starters into the league's best unit and their diamond formation (3 backs forming a triangle around a QB in the pistol) proved to meld with zone-running and kendall hunter like the stench of bat crap to Aggy bravado.
I happen to think that the loss of Hunter and their no. 1 fullback Bryant Ward will make a big difference. Hunter did, after all, run for almost 1600 yards last season. Don't get too excited though because likely starter Randle averaged 5.5 ypc last year and had 400 receiving yards. He'll be deployed by former Jacksonville WR coach Todd Monken who has some experience in maximizing versatile backs.
Whatever is made of their running game, Weeden to Blackmon is something we couldn't stop with Aaron Williams or Curtis Brown and we certainly we won't have an easy answer without them. Weeden is a very mentally tough and intelligent quarterback besides having a great arm, great 2nd and 3rd targets, and a magnet in Blackmon.
If we can't shut down that running game they are going to drop at least 30 on us again, winning this game in a defensive battle is not a realistic vision.
They don't have a ton of scary personnel on defense but it's being directed by Bill Young, who turned Kansas football players into a dominant defensive unit. They use a "star" linebacker, which means that they play a S/LB hybrid as SLB like OU or Diaz prefers, and that player was a freshman All-American last year (Shaun Lewis). Their SS Markelle Martin is another play maker that broke up or intercepted 13 passes last season. Young's preferred style is to react and wrap-up, forcing you to earn your way down the field and his track record in that philosophy speaks for itself.
They really got burned a few times last year when teams had the skill talent to work them down the field (OU, Aggy) and whether the better league offenses can do that will depend a lot on whether they've found some players at defensive tackle in converted TE Nigel Nicholas or 332 pound Christian Littlehead. If the latter can keep their smallish linebacker corp clean of Mason Walters or Trey Hopkins that's a nice start. Like everyone else they're really built more to stop spread offenses than a 2-back Power/PA team but they won't automatically give up touchdowns just because we send out a fullback on 1st down either.
Game's in Austin again this year (thanks Nebraska!) which makes it a coin flip. Expect a slugfest in this one and I'll go on record as projecting a victory in one of these 2 contests.
Keep Miracle Max on speed dial:
Texas is so selfish and entitled for daring to break up the Big 12 and force the Aggies and the rest of the league into a beneficial and fan-favored partnership with the PAC-10. Good thing we have those noble hearts in College Station who have the guts to do the right thing and head into the SEC alone, gutting the Big 12 and leaving the children with mommy Texas to provide for alone.
It gives me no joy to say that they are perfectly designed to defeat us in front of a starving fan base this thanksgiving. If they didn't already have a possible Red Zone target in young TE Nehemiah Nicks or junior WR duo Nwachukwu and Swope they have Jeff Fuller whom we will have to cushion like mad and double team within 20 yards of the end zone if not the entire field. With his 6-4 frame and ball skills he is a match-up nightmare and sadly not their only good receiver even if he is far and away their best.
Compounding that fact is that Vince Young wannabe Jerrod Johnson fell apart last year and granted Tannehill some valuable starting experience to prepare him for herding the sheep to the well of hidden delights this year. Tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel have each had some serious seasoning and could be the best pass-blocking ends in the conference.
The interior OL isn't bad either and worked our lot last year when Cyrus Gray went for 200 yards on our bowl "hopes". I hold out hope that our run defense will far stouter this year but Gray and Michael are very dangerous between the tackles and in the screen game. Sherman can attack the whole field with this offense so long as his thinking isn't interrupted by TV timeouts or those conniving Longhorn network reporters don't interrupt his afternoon naps, those cheating bastards. Oh to be in the SEC! where sportsmanship and the gentleman's code is honored like the very Word of God...
I might put our own defense or OU's at the top of the conference but DeRuyter has the right personnel to give us some real fits this year. They're using a legit 3-4 in which all 3 DL are actually guys who can hold up inside and they go 285-295-300 apiece. Space-eaters of the sort that the wrecking crew used to be built around. Fortunately they don't quite have the linebacker talent they were once famous for but Damontre Moore is definitely a credible replacement for Von Miller who was a once in a generation-type talent (at least I hope to God he was) and their other outside backer is dangerous as well. Hodges is gone but their Inside backers are of a solid quality and they generally stock that position pretty well.
The secondary is another unpleasant place with 4 starters back (and a good nickel as well), including Trent Hunter who has started 7 seasons in a row, and Coryell Judie who had 4 picks last season. They turned in very solid performances last year against the conferences' better receivers with very little pass-rush help on plays in which Von Miller missed with his pounces.
There is the talent at corner to allow for 8 man fronts against our running game and talent/size on the DL to not be plowed over. They are going to play us like it's the superbowl in front of a fanbase that wants blood and it will take turnovers, special teams, and some Boise-style magic to come out of this alive. It'd be nice if we caught Tannehill early before everyone else begins vetting him with blitzes and disguised coverages, tough luck there.
Their performance against the next team is another factor that could impact how they play us, perhaps a loss in Norman would demoralize the team if not the fans.
Check out the SPSB take here.
Landry Jones played far better last year than I anticipated after his first season and his TD toss to Kenny Stills over good man coverage from Acho uno ocho in the RRS was very alarming. Perhaps in addition to having a fantastic understanding of the game Josh Heupel can relate it in his teaching as well. This is another QB who will be a little more prepared for the confusion Diaz is going to unleash this season, and I know Venables is going to throw some similar pressure concepts at him in practice all fall. Jones has the arm strength to really make you pay for a busted assignment or single coverage.
Stills and Broyles are All-American and All-Conference level WRs respectively and they've got a solid TE (seriously what the hell Mack!) and a now sophomore FB named Trey Millard that make their offense pretty multiple in the formations they can rush out there in their mad, blazing pace that always seemed to catch Muschamp for a few big plays. Perhaps most frightening is Broyles whom, as Aaron Williams can attest, can turn a missed tackle on the sideline into a quick score. Given our youth at Corner and Diaz's preference for Cover-3 you can be sure that Broyles will have many chances after short catches on the sideline this year.
They are losing DeMarco Murray who ran or received for big gains in 3 of 4 of his RRS games but Roy Finch has the look of a Quentin Griffin to me with his shifty cuts. There's also Brandon Williams whom we all would be coveting if not for how well Malcolm Brown compliments Jonathan Gray.
Their OL only gave up sacks on 3% of their snaps last season but I attribute much of that to their frequent QB rollouts and exhausting pace. I love Jeffcoat and Okafor vs. their tackles this season and we have better interior rush options this season with our blitz packages. Against their running game it may be a different matter and they have some talent inside starting with center Ben Habern, though his matchup with Randall last season wasn't remotely impressive, and the monstrous 320 lb. Tyler Evans. We bottled up this crew in the running game apart for some big plays on the edge last year so this is another game where Texas' addition of Hicks and Vaccaro to the equation are going to eliminate some opportunities in the open field enjoyed by teams last year.
Their pass-rush looks good assuming Ronnell Lewis' career arc looks anything like Sergio Kindle's, which any Sooner would assure you it does. Alexander started to get it together last year and Stoops may have the best pass-rushing end tandem I've seen there in years.
Truly sad what this offseason has done to their linebacker crew which was otherwise considered the best in conference. If Corey Nelson really was "the best defensive player by far" in their spring game the injury to Travis Lewis may not sting as bad but I hardly believe it. Nevertheless, Tony Jefferson IS ideally suited for their SLB "royback" position and their starting corners are among the best 4 or 5 in the conference.
Generally, because Stoops maintains so much continuity within his staff and their strategies we know what better OU teams look like. They can run the ball (likely), attack downfield (absolutely), have savvy playmakers at safety who punish and create turnovers (this years' SS is 175 pounds and neither started last year...), and unleash hell from the LB positions (already digging into the depth chart).
For those reasons I believe the key for their season and their defense is in whether or not Jamarkus McFarland makes the leap at defensive tackle and can disrupt our running game and create an interior pass-rush for them. If so, they can handle us and A&M en route to getting smashed by Alabama in the national title game. If not, it's an excellent defense and well-led offense that won't be able to escape the conference schedule without a loss or two. They get us and Okie Lite away from Norman, and that home winning streak won't last forever...but they're probably going to beat us.