Big 12: Casey Dick

What we learned in the Big 12, Week 5

September, 28, 2008
9/28/08
11:22
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Texas' defense finally is playing up to Will Muschamp's standards. The Longhorns' defense dominated Arkansas from the opening snap, posting seven sacks and limiting them to 11 yards rushing and a season-worst 191 yards of total offense. The resurgence of Brian Orakpo, Sergio Kindle and Henry Melton led to a feeding frenzy on beleaguered Arkansas QB Casey Dick that lasted throughout the game. The only touchdown the Longhorns allowed in a 52-10 beatdown came on a returned fumble late in the fourth quarter. Texas has notched 14 sacks in the last two games and appears to be peaking as conference play approaches.

The J-Train appears to be back on the track. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman must have had a late-game revelation against Army on Saturday. With the Aggies flirting with a third-straight home loss to start the season, Sherman turned to tailback Jorvorskie Lane, who responded with 34 yards on six-straight carries to salt away a tougher-than-expected 21-17 victory over the lowly Black Knights. With Stephen McGee doubtful with an injured shoulder, it behooves Sherman to keep using Lane to keep bleeding the clock. It might be his best hope for future success.

Bo Pelini has to learn to harness his emotions on the sidelines. The new Nebraska coach picked up a crucial unsportsmanlike penalty late in the game after he argued with officials when nose tackle Ndamukong Suh was flagged for a late hit. The penalties helped Virginia Tech wrap-up its 35-30 victory with a clinching touchdown. Something tells me that Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne will have a talk with his new coach about anger management. A bigger concern will be the play of Pelini's defense that yielded 377 yards by a team that came into the game ranked 112th nationally in total offense. Hey, Bo! Deep breaths. Start practicing, because you'll need them when Chase Daniel and Missouri's top-ranked offense visits next week.

Oklahoma State's offense might be its best defense. The Cowboys rolled up 612 yards and hung more than 50 points for the third straight week en route to an impressive 55-24 victory over Troy. But the most impressive statistic of all was that the Cowboys held the ball for 40 minutes and 25 seconds. If they can continue that trend in Big 12 play, it will give them a chance to keep an inconsistent defense off the field. Oklahoma State has notched only two sacks this season and forced only one punt on Saturday. That production has to improve if the Cowboys have any hopes of challenging the South Division powers.

Ron Prince's nocturnal sprints for his defense last week didn't teach much. The Wildcats were gashed for 335 yards rushing by Louisiana-Lafayette, marking the second straight week they gave up at least 300 yards on the ground. Prince was so perturbed after the first struggles that he made his team run when it got back home in the middle of the night. He probably didn't do it after Kansas State's 45-37 victory over the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday, but he'll still be steamed when he watches the game tape nonetheless. The Wildcats nearly squandered a 28-3 first-half lead, permitting 27 points in the second half and 509 yards in the game. And it could get a lot worse when Texas Tech's high-powered offense, complete with a resurgent ground game, visits in the conference opener next week.

Big 12 predictions: Nebraska, Colorado face big tests

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
9:09
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'm hoping that playing all of the conference games on Saturdays again will help boost my percentage after last week.

Here's what I've got.

Florida State 27, Colorado 17 -- Neither Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson played well last week at quarterback for the Seminoles, but their defense kept the game close. With four projected defensive starters returning from suspension, the Buffaloes struggled down the stretch before escaping with a field goal in overtime to beat West Virginia. The guess here is that the Seminoles simply have too many athletes for the Buffaloes, who have tried to prepare for the trip to humid Jacksonville by swigging Gatorade all week. They should stay close before wilting at the Gator Bowl in the fourth quarter.

Kansas State 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 28 -- Coach Ron Prince was so perturbed by his team's defensive performance last week at Louisville that he made them run in the middle of the night as soon as they returned to Manhattan. Louisiana-Lafayette has a strong ground game that is averaging almost 6 yards per carry, but the Wildcats will be up for the test after last week's struggles. Look for Kansas State QB Josh Freeman to return to form and feast on the Ragin' Cajuns' weak defense.

Nebraska 28, Virginia Tech 24 -- The Cornhuskers have been lightly tested in their first three games of the season. This game should be an indicator if the Cornhuskers are legitimate North challengers, as well as an early litmus test of coach Bo Pelini. Virginia Tech is heavily run-based with QB Tyrod Taylor, which should play right into the Cornhuskers' defensive philosophy. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz has shown he can beat top opponents by passing before, but will be challenged by Tech's tough secondary. Give the Cornhuskers a narrow edge, mainly because of a better passing game and the home-field advantage.

Oklahoma 37, TCU 14 -- The Sooners are still smarting from TCU's last visit to Norman, when Horned Frogs shocked OU with an upset victory and the kind of physical whipping that rarely happens to a team coached by Bob Stoops. That was OU's most recent home loss -- the team has charged to a nation-best 20-game home winning streak since then. The Horned Frogs won't be intimidated, considering they have won three of their last four games in Norman and have a seven-game winning streak of their own, tied for third-best in the nation. TCU leads the nation in rush defense and will be a tough matchup against the Sooners' mammoth offensive front. TCU QB Andy Dalton will need to make some downfield plays, something he hasn't done much of this season. Look for the Sooners' superior talent to win this one and make it a runaway late.

Oklahoma State 44, Troy 31 -- After losing at Troy last season, the Cowboys will be ready to play in the rematch. They should be better prepared as their balanced offensive attack, which has hung half a hundred on each of its last two opponents, will keep humming along. Troy looked good in flashes against Ohio State, but could find a bigger defensive challenge this week in trying to keep the Cowboys' multi-faceted offense in check. Look for another big game from Oklahoma State TB Kendall Hunter and WR Dez Bryant, who was shut out in his most recent game after producing nine catches the previous week.

Texas 45, Arkansas 14 -- This one won't be much of a matchup between the two storied former Southwest Conference rivals. The Longhorns' emerging defense will make life miserable for Arkansas QB Casey Dick. Alabama gashed the Razorbacks for 9.4 yards per carry last week, providing a nice recipe for Texas' backfield-by-committee of Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya. And Texas QB Colt McCoy will have a chance to boost his Heisman candidacy with a big day against Arkansas' leaky pass defense. I'm wondering if Texas fans will be chanting "Big 12, Big 12" to celebrate a victory in this game after Arkansas fans chanted "SEC, SEC" following wins over Texas in two of the last three games of the series.

Texas A&M 24, Army 10 -- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman will be looking for his first victory at Kyle Field after opening the season with back-to-back losses, the first time that's happened since 1972. The Aggies' quarterback rotation remains iffy after both Stephen McGee and Jerrod Johnson missed practice this week due to sprained shoulders. The Aggies shouldn't get too much of a test from an Army team that has been outscored 85-20 this season and has lost nine of its last 10 games on the road. Even the offensively challenged Aggies should be able to move the ball on the Black Knights, providing a grind-it-out victory.

My predictions last week: 7-2 (77.8 percent)

My predictions for the season: 38-3 (92.7 percent)

What Houston's arrest means for Texas

August, 31, 2008
8/31/08
5:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Mack Brown will have a difficult decision deciding what kind of punishment to hand out after starting DT Lamarr Houston's arrest early Sunday morning.

Houston was charged with drunken driving after he was involved in a two-car accident in Austin in the wee hours of Sunday morning -- only a short time after he started in the Longhorns' impressive 52-10 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

Houston's important role on the team will test Brown's intention of "zero tolerance" around his program after six Longhorn players were arrested in a four-month period last summer.

Since then, Brown has placed former running backs coach Ken Rucker in the role of director of high school relations and player development. His major aim has been to keep the Longhorns out of off-field trouble, and he's been successful so far with no arrests since the spree last summer before Saturday night.

Among those arrested last summer included linebacker Sergio Kindle and defensive end Henry Melton, who were both arrested on drunken driving charges. Both were suspended for the first three games of the 2007 season before they were reinstated.

A three-game penalty would idle Houston for the rest of the Longhorns' nonconference games. It would bench him from this week's game against UTEP and upcoming games against Arkansas and Rice, but have him back for the Longhorns' Oct. 4 conference opener at Colorado.

Houston's role is vitally important for a Longhorns team that desperately needs a pass rush to help protect a young secondary starting freshmen safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas. The safeties had an uneven first game, missing several tackles and allowing FAU QB Rusty Smith to torch them for 151 passing yards in the first quarter.

Texas allowed 102 yards in the air during the rest of the game. The defensive improvement was particularly noticeable in the second half when the Longhorns allowed the Owls to produce only 53 total yards on 26 snaps.

If Houston can't play, his likely replacement would be Aaron Lewis, a senior who appeared in 11 games and started seven at defensive end last season.

The move of Lewis and Houston, also a converted defensive end, was made by new Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to boost the speed and athleticism of the interior of the Longhorns' defensive front. The Longhorns failed to notch a sack against Smith Saturday night.

And with challenges with strong-armed quarterbacks like UTEP's Trevor Vittatoe, Arkansas' Casey Dick and Rice's Chase Clement looming, the young secondary could be tested in upcoming weeks without a consistent pass rush.

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