I won't pretend like I've done anything more than read Phil Steele in explaining to you barkers what could be significant in the game today for the purpose of foretelling the rest of the season. However, it's still a football game right? The other side hands out scholarships too, right? Do they, actually? Somebody look into that.
Here's what we can glean from the fact that the Longhorns are playing in a football game against an opponent that will be attempting to compete in said game.
1) Base schemes
Since we have a new offense and a defense that struggled to find, much less execute, a basic identity in 2012, there's actually a lot we can learn from how the Longhorns play this football game.
You can't hide your basic principles and philosophy from Oklahoma's keen scouting department. We're not going to run the Wing T today in order to throw off the brothers Stoops.
On offense we have a collection of solid looking wide receivers, many of whom are hurt, a cast of athletic and mobile OL that lack the straight ahead road-grading power this offense would really thrive with, and a stable of extremely talented backs.
Then there's David Ash, still in some sense a blank slate of athletic ability who's potential is probably still mostly unknown even to himself.
How Applewhite looks to fit these pieces together to form the beautiful bridge to paradise on the cover of the puzzle box will tell us a lot about our plans for this season. If it goes remarkably well, or poorly, that could be a good indicator of how the season will look.
Personally, I'm very curious to see how our full-house backfields work. The rumored schemes that stack the backfield with two or three running backs at a time should be fascinating and potentially very innovative or revolutionary to the game. Most diamond formation type schemes rely on placing a few blockers in the backfield so a formation that looks to use option, motion, or passing routes from the backs could be something new in the world of spread-option offense.
On defense, I'm looking to see if we try and play Man-Free and lock down New Mexico St. as we did in our opener against Wyoming last year or if we play our Palms defense and just try to rely on execution and team pursuit to swallow up their offense.
Additionally, even a basic Diaz defense still makes heavy usage of the Fire Zone, so look to see if we continue to make those a big part of our defense.
2) Execution in the basics
Remember Longhorn Scott talking about looking for "vertical displacement on Inside Zone" from our offensive line? Yeah, that's even more important now with our new spread offense focusing more on the between-the-tackles run game.
In the past, this OL has not been able to blow through defensive lines with solidly built folk up front. This New Mexico St group...okay, maybe I didn't even read the Phil Steele bit on NM St...I have no idea what kind of resistance they'll offer.
Let's just hope that it doesn't even take one quarter for our boys start moving people out of the way for our inside run game.
Again, as Scotty detailed, we're looking for quick decisive reads by Ash paired with strong and accurate throws to the flats. In reading how good a job he is doing in live action, keep an eye out for the positioning of the NM St outside linebackers and safeties.
If the linebackers are packed near the line of scrimmage and safeties split outside the hash marks, that's going to give Texas a lot of "pass" reads. Personally, that's exactly what I'm expecting for most of the year until David Ash and these receivers prove they can punish teams with the quick passing game.
So look for the positioning of their defenders, and then whether or not Ash is making quick throws to receivers that allow them to turn and get upfield quickly. If they are quickly swallowed up by defenders that's a good indicator that our WR blocking or Ash's passes are not getting the job done.
On defense, we want to see our linebackers coming downhill quickly and decisively in the running game, and then obviously making tackles. It seems a reasonable guess that NM St. will employ a healthy amount of spread option given their OC's background and how atrocious we were last year in defending it.
Our defense against the option in the past has been designed to channel the ball inside to the hard-charging linebackers. We shouldn't see the QB cutting upfield through big creases, or hitting the pitch man very often. If the ball is getting strung out to the pitch, it should be happening in as slow and indecisive manner by the offense as possible.
People are going to talk a lot about tackling by the safeties but the real key is overall defensive leverage. A better sign to look for in determining if our run fits and team tackling is improved is to watch for ball carriers stopping/slowing down and looking for new places to run.
That means that our defenders are leveraging themselves properly to yield the tackling results we all want to see. Bad tackling happens when poorly positioned defenders attempt to wrap up offensive players who have momentum.
3) Guys who "flash"
This is often overblown, but it's still fun and reasonably accurate. If Daje Johnson makes a quick cut on a screen pass and runs past the entire NM St defense that doesn't just mean that they are too slow and unathletic to hang with Texas, it also means that Daje is pretty good and we're getting him involved.
How do you think Ricky Williams put up huge Heisman numbers? He ran for 215 yards on New Mexico St, and only 43 yards on Kansas St. when they attacked him with a nine man box. Now, he also ran over some good teams, but the point is: Great players abuse bad teams.
Our best players on offense should be abusing this team and putting up big numbers and it should be enjoyable to watch. This is always one of the underrated parts of having a great team, it can be fun to watch them absolutely stomp an inferior squad. Let's enjoy it while we can.