Losing like BYU did last week to Virginia leaves a rotten taste in your mouth. Games like that are probably harder as a fan than as a player because the taste can’t be washed away as easily. As a player you can only beat yourself up for a few hours, though painful as they may be, before you just have to make yourself move on and start preparing for the next week. As a fan, that awful taste just gets more and more bitter with every article you read, highlight you review, and troll who texts/tweets you. After what seems like an entire offseason, week two has arrived and us non-players can finally move on to the next opponent. Unfortunately the Texas Longhorns won’t provide much sympathy or relief as they travel to Provo. Here’s what to expect on Saturday.
The tradition of Texas Football is as rich as any program in the country. Four national championships, two Heisman trophy winners, a 100,000+ seat stadium (with top notch tailgaters, by the way), and top access to some of the best high school recruits in the country are all part of the package in Austin. Cougar WR Ross Apo originally signed with the Longhorns before changing his mind and signing with the Cougars. Growing up in Texas, Apo mentioned that playing for the Longhorns was the only goal for kids in Texas. “Nobody (who grows up in Texas) really wants to go to Texas A&M or SMU or schools like that,” Apo said. “Everybody wants to go to Texas. That was the main thing.”
The pressure and expectations of being a Longhorn are tremendous. After their last national championship in 2005, Texas has had a roller coaster of seasons due to coaching inconsistencies, poor play at quarterback, and weak defense. Couple that with a poor record against their biggest rivals, Texas A&M and Oklahoma (talk about rivalry; their fight song, even against BYU today, will say “Give ’em hell, give ’em hell, OU sucks!”), and while Mack Brown certainly isn’t on the hot seat yet, many are saying his backside is starting to get warm.
2013 looks to be a different season for Texas, though. The Longhorns travel to Provo with a #15 national ranking and they are looking to climb. With gobs of returning starters on both sides of the ball the talks about a National Championship are strong in Austin.
When BYU last travelled to Austin in 2011, the Longhorns were in a quarterback conundrum as their starter, Garrett Gilbert, struggled to find his way. After BYU took a 13-3 halftime lead, Gilbert was benched and the Longhorns came back to win 17-16 behind the throwing and running of Case McCoy and freshman David Ash. Ash is now the starter and heralded leader of the Longhorn offense and the struggles displayed in 2011 appear to be gone. In fact the Longhorns looked downright scary last week. Forget the fact that they played New Mexico State, whom BYU crushed two years ago in their bowl game. The Longhorns set an all-time offensive record last week, piling up 715 total yards on the way to a 56-7 manhandling of the Miners. Ash led the Longhorn attack throwing for 343 yards and 4 TD’s while also adding another 91 rushing yards. His experience coupled with his dual-attack, big play abilities make him a player to key on.
Ash is surrounded by offensive weapons including Jalen Overstreet and Daje Johnson at running back and Malcolm Brown, Mike Davis, and Jaxon Shipley at receiver. BYU’s injury-depleted secondary held its own against Virginia last week, but they will certainly be put to the test against Texas this week. Pressure on Ash will be key to stopping the Longhorn defense. I wouldn’t be surprised to see BYU LB Kyle Van Noy playing some spy on Ash at certain times of the game. Texas coach Mack Brown had all the praise in the world for Van Noy this week. “Kyle Van Noy is an All-American,” Brown said. “He’s one of those dominant players when you go into the ballgame you better find him.”
As was the case most of last season, it looks like the Cougar defense will be the key to victory. I don’t see the Longhorns having nearly the same success moving the ball as they did last week and if the defense can slow down Ash and company, BYU may just have a shot in this one.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz enters his third year at the control of the Longhorn defense and if big improvement isn’t made it could be his last. In 2012 the Longhorns ranked 90th nationally in rush defense and 68th in total defense, their worst defense in school history. 2013 looks to have improved for the Longhorns as they held New Mexico State to 350 total yards and just 14 points last week. Leaders on the defensive side include Cedric Reed, Quandre Diggs, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Carrington Byndom.
The key for the Cougars will be at running back. Jamaal Williams rushed for 144 yards in the sloppy season opener at Virginia and has truly been impressive thus far in his career. I look to sophomore Adam Hine to contribute on Saturday as well.
The Longhorns certainly are preparing for BYU QB Taysom HIll and recognize his big play abilities running and throwing the ball. After a very weak passing performance against Virginia (13-40, 175 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT), Hill will look to respond at home against the Longhorns. Hill will welcome preseason All-American Cody Hoffman back after missing the Virginia game with a hamstring. If Hill can have a solid performance and the Cougars can run the ball effectively, the Longhorn defense may be getting all they can handle on Saturday.
Tough one to call. Both teams played opening games perhaps not indicative of their overall power and abilities. Texas will certainly not put up the offense they did last week against what appears to again be a very strong Cougar defense. The Cougars will hopefully be able to have improved performance on the offensive side of the ball and start to see the Go Fast, Go Hard offense result in fewer “Go Punts.” I predict a lower scoring game where turnovers, big plays, and special teams will ultimately decide the outcome.
Prediction: Texas 31 – BYU 21.