Dallas Colleges: Blake Gideon

Breaking down spring camp: Texas

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
2:00
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video

Another spring camp is opening, and it's time to take a closer look. Today, the Texas Longhorns get started.

Schedule: Practice starts today leading up to the spring game on April 1. Practices are closed to fans and media, though the team will have two open practices, a change from last year, when all 15 practices were closed.

What's new: Not much, as opposed to last year, when the answer was "almost everything." The Longhorns' staff all returned for 2012 after Mack Brown shook up his staff and replaced six assistant coaches after going 5-7 in 2010. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have to replace defensive leaders Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Keenan Robinson, but the offense returns 10 starters, including both quarterbacks, David Ash and Case McCoy.

New faces: Quarterback Connor Brewer joins the fold, but the biggest news may have been a shift in recruiting philosophy with new assistants on staff with SEC ties. The Longhorns took a junior college signee for the first time since 2002. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels came from Georgia last season and will have offensive tackle Donald Hawkins from Mississippi to work with. Meanwhile, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis (Alabama) will work with Brandon Moore from Alabama.

Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Jordan Hicks. The Ohio native and No. 1 linebacker in the 2010 class made 55 tackles last season, but without Robinson and Acho, it's Hicks' time in Austin this year. Look out for a big year, and that starts this spring. He's battled through a broken foot, but if he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder who has added 20 pounds since leaving high school.

Don't forget about: Receiver Mike Davis. He was the team's top target this time last year, but had a slightly disappointing sophomore season and Jaxon Shipley surpassed him as the Longhorns' top receiver. Davis is very talented, though. He and Shipley could both be stars, but don't rule out Davis surging this spring. He turned the coaching staff's collective head last year.

Breaking out: Quandre Diggs was part of the freshman invasion at Texas last year, and he could have made a case for being the best freshman in the Big 12. He's a shutdown corner ready to become a star. In a league with the type of offensive talent the Big 12 has, his skills are invaluable. Don't rule out the sophomore cracking the All-America team next year.

All eyes on: Texas' quarterback battle. Texas will be best off if Ash asserts himself and boxes out McCoy with a strong spring, but there's no guarantee that happens. Ash's physical attributes (size, speed, arm strength) give him a much higher upside than his counterpart, but for now they amount to just that: upside. The two had comparable numbers in 2011 and neither was solid. Will we see separation this spring?


We'll start taking a look at what each program in the Big 12 needs to deal with during the offseason, whether it be in the spring, summer or fall preseason camp. Maybe all three! Who knows?

Next up: The Texas Longhorns.

Invest in David Ash. Texas will bring on another true freshman this spring, Connor Brewer. The Longhorns have already been down that road. Ash is the most physically gifted of the Longhorns' quarterbacks, and that gives him the most upside. He's been in the program just one calendar year, and he got hardly any practice reps last spring and in the preseason while Texas was trying to prepare Garrett Gilbert to bounce back. If you ask me, forget competition with Case McCoy. Get Ash tons of reps and get him ready to take over in 2012. They'll be better off for it.

Find new defensive leadership. Leadership was one of the Longhorns' downfalls in 2010 after Colt McCoy left. Without Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Blake Gideon, the Longhorns have a huge hole once again. Who's going to take over? Senior Kenny Vaccaro's probably the most talented player returning for the Horns, closely followed by junior-to-be Jackson Jeffcoat. What about Alex Okafor, the senior up front? Somebody's got to take hold of this team.

Figure out how the running backs will be used. Texas' backfield next year's going to be real crowded. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron return, and Johnathan Gray, the nation's No. 1 running back and No. 2 prospect overall, will join them. All three could probably start for most teams in the Big 12, if not the country. The Longhorns need to utilize that strength, along with a maturing offensive line. Will offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin debut some new formations to get them on the field? Maybe a Wishbone redux? Copycatting Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's "Backs" or "Diamond" formation? Who takes over for Fozzy Whittaker in the Wildcat formation? Who gets the lion's share of the carries for these Horns? All are questions that have to be answered over the next seven months.

More offseason to-do lists.

Big 12 gets 7 to East-West Shrine Game

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
2:00
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Seven Big 12 players will take part in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Tysyn Hartman, S, Kansas State
  • Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor
  • Blake Gideon, S, Texas
  • Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri
  • Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas
  • Cody Johnson, FB, Texas
  • David Snow, OL, Texas

Good to hear from each of these guys, who have all been extremely productive over their careers. Traditionally, the Senior Bowl the following week is a more prestigious display, but all seven of these guys will get valuable exposure in front of NFL scouts.

We'll see who takes advantage and improves their draft stock.

You can see the full roster here.

Texas has its plan to contain Griffin

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
11:26
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas knows Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is going to let it fly. Repeatedly.

But the Longhorns also believe they know how to keep those throws from turning into long touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeAshton Dorsey, Kheeston Randall, Emmanuel Acho, and Keenan Robinson
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas' defense has had success stopping mobile quarterbacks this season.
“The way our defense and coverage is structured, it is big-play proof because there is always going to be a safety overlapping,” safety Blake Gideon said. “There are a lot of eyes on the ball. If a few tackles are broken we always have a chance to get the guy on the ground.”

Which is why, in the passing game at least, Texas has not given up a touchdown pass of 20 or more yards. The Longhorns are the only team in the FBS that can say that.

“We always say the worst thing that can happen if we don’t give up big plays is that they end up in the red zone, and red zone defense, that's just a mindset,” Gideon said. “That's a toughness thing and obviously we prove ourselves on wanting to be the toughest team.”

Griffin does present a few more problems than the average quarterback. With that in mind, Texas will deploy a few other things to try and disrupt his flow.

“You gotta rattle a guy like that,” linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. “You have to get after him from the jump. You have to make sure he feels our presence. That's really the starting point.”

Texas does that with its myriad defensive fronts and blitz schemes. The Longhorns have more than 180 of the latter. But they will have to be judicious in deploying their blitzes. Griffin is adept at slipping through tackles, and if he makes the player blitzing miss, he will have plenty of room to run.

Running is exactly what Texas doesn’t want Griffin, or ay dual-threat quarterback, to do.

“You have to make them one dimensional,” Acho said. “You have to be able to stop their run and make them into a pocket passer. When they're a pocket passer then they become essentially the same as every other quarterback. But that's much easier said than done.”

Texas was successful turning Kansas State’s Collin Klein into a one-dimensional player by getting a solid outside rush from the ends. That kept Klein in the pocket and allowed the defensive tackles and linebacker to clog any of his running lanes. Klein finished with four yards on 26 attempts. He had averaged 101 yards per game.

Griffin is a better athlete than Klein. He’s not as tough, but is a much smoother runner. Still, the same principles will apply. Where the worry comes into play, is that unlike Klein, Griffin has learned to throw on the run. That forces the defensive backs to hold their coverages longer.

“We have to cover twice because he is going to scramble out of the pocket,” safety Keny Vaccaro said. “Now that he has developed his passing game when he scrambles out of the pocket he is going to look downfield and try to make the play. In the Oklahoma game right at the end he could of took off but he just made the great throw.”

Texas will have to use a mix of zone and man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Against Texas A&M, they were able to go with more man coverage with Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom.

But if they play man, and Baylor sends three or four guys 40 yards down the field, that leaves a huge gap for Griffin to exploit with his legs. Now, the Longhorns could deploy a spy on Griffin, but that isn’t possible on every play.

“They are so dynamic as far as how they spread the field and where they place their people around,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “If you try to spy them, you will have more spies than the CIA. You can't all spy. Someone has got to go play.”

And someone has to figure out how to stop Griffin.

Saying goodbye to two great Big 12 rivalries

November, 23, 2011
11/23/11
10:00
AM CT
Jerrod JohnsonAaron M. Sprecher/Getty ImagesAfter their 118th meeting, Texas A&M is running away from Texas to the SEC.

Texas says, "Sorry, our schedule's booked up."

Turner Gill says the rivalry belongs in the Big 12.

Thursday night, Texas and Texas A&M will play for the 118th time. Only two rivalries have been played more.

It might be the last time. It will be the last time for the foreseeable future.

On Saturday, Missouri and Kansas will meet for the 119th time. Minnesota and Wisconsin are the only teams that have met on more occasions.

Realignment will claim two more victims upon Missouri and Texas A&M's exits to the SEC: Two of the nation's best rivalries.

"It’ll be difficult to ignore. Everybody knows what’s out there," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "It’s all part of it. I think there’s enough things on the table to motivate them. It’s certainly something everybody’s aware of."

That includes players. Here's thoughts from a few that grew up around the rivalry think about the rivalries' existence and ending.

Additional reporting by Carter Strickland of HornsNation.

What's your best memory in this rivalry, whether you played in the game or watched it?

Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M: Growing up as a Longhorn, I just remember how intense these games were. It didn't matter, the rankings didn't play a factor. Every game was just a battle. It was hard-nosed football. So much tradition involved in the game, and that's the main thing.

Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas: Most recently, the one in '08 when Todd Reesing hit Kerry Meier at the end to win the game. I was redshirting, but I was at the game and it was just a crazy, crazy game. One of the better games I've witnessed.

There's quite a bit of hatred between the two schools going back to the Civil War and the battles between the Jayhawkers and Missouri. There's just a lot of hatred between the two schools.

T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri: The one in '07, the big one, was when I started watching because (former MU corner) Carl Gettis was playing and he was my high school teammate. Everybody knows what kind of game that was. That was kind of the start of, when both teams had great seasons, they started calling it the Border Showdown. That was a big game and a fight for No. 1. We got that safety in the end zone on Todd Reesing, and in 2008 they came back and got us, and thats how rivalry's supposed to be, back and forth like that. The '09 game was great, too. We had to win on a last-second field goal.

Are you for or against Texas A&M leaving for the SEC?

Blake Gideon, S, Texas: Against.

Does it matter that they're leaving?

Gideon: It doesn’t matter to me. This is my last year playing them anyway. It’s definitely one of those deals kind of like Nebraska last year that we want to send them off the right way. At Missouri we failed to do that this year.

What did you think when you heard it was probably ending?

Hawkinson: It's something that's gone on for a ton of years now, I'm not even sure how many. Obviously, it's disappointing. I wish it could go on, but we wish them well. It's something I feel like should stay in the Big 12, and they're going to the SEC, so, it's something they're going to just have to deal with if they're not in the Big 12 anymore.

Moe: I don't have any control over that. As far as players go, I think both sides would love to play each other. I can't speak for the administration. I think the administration over there keeps saying it's done if you're not going to be in the Big 12 anymore, but I'm sure players on both sides would love to continue the rivalry and we hope to do that.

Swope: There's so much tradition and history involved, it's going to be tough not to see Texas on the schedule, but it's a fun game. We're going to enjoy this one and we want to go out the right way.

Where you're from [Gilmer, Texas], are there a lot of Aggies?

David Snow, OL, Texas: Let’s just be honest — I’m the only one in my top 10 percent that came here. Everybody else is at A&M. Once they went to the dark side, I haven’t really stayed in that much contact with them. Changing my phone number and stuff.

Is there more pressure to win because it is the last one?

Snow: We have a lot of pressure every week to win, hell we’re Texas. You don’t expect to lose and you don’t want to lose.

Would you call it a nasty rivalry?

Snow: Yeah. I mean certain things happen there. When you hate two people certain cheap shots go on, especially on the other side. Never by us.



What's this rivalry mean to you?

Swope: It's a very personal game for me. I've got a lot of friends that are graduated from Texas or at Texas right now. Growing up in Austin, growing up a Longhorns fan, it's going to be real personal. My dad graduated from Texas. I have friends that go to school there and friends that are players for the other team.

Hawkinson: It's a great sense of pride for not only the university, but for the state of Kansas. It'd be a huge win not only for the university, but for the people that live in Kansas.

Moe: I didn't watch a whole lot of college football growing up, but when I did, it was Missouri-Kansas. It's a pretty special thing. It's been so close. It's almost tied up for the 100-something years we've been playing. It's just fun and something you look forward to. It doesn't matter if either team is bowl-eligible. We might have both gone winless and this game would still be special. It goes back to the Civil War days when it was a lot more serious than it is now.



What will you miss most about it?

Hawkinson: Getting prepared. The week leading up to it, this week, guys come in to practice and they're already excited. It's kind of an easy week to get pumped up for and practice hard for. Especially going up and playing at Arrowhead, it's a great environment, especially with two teams playing against each other with all the hatred toward each other. All that leading up to the game and one you get to the game, just playing in that atmosphere.

Swope: All the tradition and the history in this game. It goes back to the Bonfire and how big this game is and how much history it holds. It's one of those things. Everyone pulls tickets for this game. It's on Thanksgiving. It's a very traditional game being played and they've been doing it for so long, I think I'm just going to miss almost everything about the game.

Moe: If I miss a year of it, that's pretty sad. It's your rival. We had Nebraska, we lost them and we had Kansas. Those were our two big rivals. Now, of course, we'll move to the SEC and we'll kind of have A&M maybe as our new rival or whatever, but I don't know if it's ever going to be the same without Kansas because it has such deep roots, especially the guys on the team from Kansas City. They live in the war zone over there and it's pretty special to them.

I did my best to answer your questions. I've been more or less banned from speaking about Kansas this year, so I couldn't have a whole lot of fun.

Texas rallying around Fozzy Whittaker

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
9:37
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Fozzy Whittaker brought Blake Gideon to tears.

That’s his effect. More than anything that emotion showed what Whittaker has meant to Texas football. It also showed how much Whittaker, who suffered a season-ending knee injury, would be missed.

[+] EnlargeFozzy Whittaker
AP Photo/Eric GayFozzy Whittaker had found a variety of ways to contribute to the Longhorns offense.
“He would lay down in the street for any one of us,” Gideon said. “The type of guy that he is … the type of character that Fozzy has and what he will do for anyone one of us, that just shows you the type of person he is and why all of us think so much of him.”

Whittaker is in their thoughts now because he can no longer be on the field with them. The senior leader, who had made every right step this season, made one ill-fated cut and went down in against Missouri.

“You don’t understand why he gets hit all year and on this play he didn’t get touched,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He planted his foot and his knee went.”

“I felt it,” Whittaker said. “I just knew the way I planted, just feeling my knee buckle in and then kind of reposition itself back out it was kind of a nasty feeling.”

He didn’t blame the turf. He didn’t blame anyone. Whittaker had his mom, Gloria, come down to the locker room from the stands, place her hands on his knee and together they prayed about it.

A day later, it was Whittaker consoling his coach and his teammates. Typical Fozzy.

“Here he is picking up the 60-year-old who just lost some football game when his knee is torn up, and he'll have to have an operation, and he said, ‘Hey, let's go in there. We've got to beat Kansas State. Let's pick these guys up and let's move forward and see what we can do. I'll be fine. They're fixing these things better than ever before,’” Brown said.

That’s the thing about Whittaker, he has been there to pick the entire team up all year. In the two games when Texas needed a burst, there was Whittaker, who had never returned kicks before, going 100-plus yards for touchdowns.

When Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron needed someone to lean on, someone to help them find their way through the offense, there was Whittaker not just offering advice, but giving them carries, sharing the spotlight that should have been his.

On Monday, when he should have been depressed, angry, emotional, there was Whittaker maneuvering an orange scooter, knee wrapped and braced, smile plastered on his face, talking about a future in football administration, how he has six more hours to go to get his masters, saying don’t worry he’ll be fine.

“I'm not really the type to appear as immobilized as it seems,” he said with a nod to the scooter.

No he is not. Whittaker is someone, who regardless of what has been thrown in front of him, is always on the go. Life for him is not full of obstacles, but challenges. This is just the next one.

“I'm not really worried about Fozzy,” tight end Blaine Irby said. “I know that it sucks that he has had such a great career here, especially his senior year here, he really came out. But he's going to fine. Fozzy is a very strong individual and he's going to get through it.”

But can the team get through the last three games without Fozzy?

“It’s like you lose part of your heart and your soul,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.

Diaz coaches defense. He doesn’t sit in on offensive meetings. He hasn’t been up close to see Whittaker bond with the freshmen. He is on the other side of the practice field from the offense most days, not even glancing at what is happening with the offense. And still he knows. He knows how much Whittaker meant to Texas.

They all know. And so too does Whittaker, which is why he has put on a brave face. He knows that this team, fragile as it is at this time, still needs him.

“I will still be out there with them,” Whittaker said. “I won’t be on the field obviously. I will be on the sidelines and they are going to make sure that I am still here and I'm still part of the team.

He never was one to fade. And now, because of him, his teammates are refusing to fade away as well.

“We have a cause in Fozzy,” guard Mason Walters said. “I am going to go out there and play my guts out for him.”

Scary trip ahead for Oklahoma State

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
1:30
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So what if Halloween was last week?

Tell that to the ghosts roaming around Texas Tech's Jones AT&T Stadium these days.

Back in 2007, there was a woozy Sam Bradford of Oklahoma sidelined with a concussion on the game's opening drive. National title hopes? Gone.

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Trey Fallon and Landry Locker of ESPN Dallas are joined by Justin Wilmeth of O-State Illustrated to discuss Oklahoma State's tough game against Kansas State, Brandon Weeden's lack of national attention and whether or not Tech presents any problems for the Pokes.

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A year later? An easy interception inexplicably slid through the hands of Texas' Blake Gideon. A play later, an ill-advised, unnecessary throw by Graham Harrell somehow became one of the most famous plays in college football history.

Beware the winds of West Texas, Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys travel there on Saturday, to the place where two Big 12 national title runs have been buried. The Cowboys will go there with the intention of preventing a third.

Gundy's players watch the weekly BCS rankings get unveiled, and this week, they saw themselves at No. 2, higher than any team in Oklahoma State history and firmly in control of their postseason destination.

"They’re being told that they’re having a great year and everywhere you go, it’s ‘Make sure you keep it going’ and this and that," said coach Mike Gundy.

The odds say Oklahoma State will. The Cowboys enter as 17-point favorites over this particular band of Red Raiders that haven't wrecked much in recent weeks.

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireMike Gundy is keeping his team's focus squarely on upset-minded Texas Tech.
"There’s examples every Saturday, and just speaking for our staff, we’re able to use examples of teams that, on paper or people thought may have had a better team, but for whatever reason, they didn’t play as well that Saturday and didn’t win," Gundy said. "Because of that, you have to stay focused and understand the importance of preparation going into each game."

The Cowboys won't have to look far for inspiration. Texas Tech is just 1-4 in its past five games, and its past two losses have come by 32 and 34 points.

Its one win?

Tech made it count. The Red Raiders raced to a 31-7 lead and beat Oklahoma, who entered the game as 28-point favorites. Oh, and they hadn't lost at home since 2005 or in a home conference game since 2001, concurrent streaks of 39 and 32 games.

Oklahoma State should -- should -- win on Saturday. Last year's win in Lubbock was Oklahoma State's first since 1944.

Whether it does or doesn't do it again is likely up to the superior team.

"We just have to stay focused, absorb information in meetings and have good practices on Wednesday and Thursday," Gundy said.

So how does that happen?

"There’s not really anything other than trying to keep them in the moment and in the right frame of mind so they can stay focused on what’s important here and not get caught up in all the hype outside the program," Gundy said.

We'll find out on Saturday if the Cowboys did it. Iowa State awaits a week later, and win that one?

Bedlam.

Ugly reality hits hard for Longhorns

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
5:28
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DALLAS -- It got so bad in the second half, even Bevo had to look away.

The Longhorns' signature steer spent most of the third quarter behind the end zone with his horns pointed at the slowly draining Texas side of the 96,009 fans in the Cotton Bowl.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/Mike Fuentes"Can't have five turnovers and win games," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
This was a forgettable stop on this 2011 Longhorns Revival Tour, a season-long crusade to erase the memories of a 5-7 season in 2010.

Oklahoma didn't hit 60 points, but that was about the only positive for Texas, whose 55-17 beatdown did not, at least to my knowledge, come complete with Sooner Schooner tracks along the back of the Longhorns' white pants and burnt orange uniforms.

"I thought they tried," said Texas coach Mack Brown, whose 38-point loss is the third-worst ever suffered in his tenure at Texas. The other two were delivered in 2000 and 2003 on the same field from the same team by 49 and 52 points.

As for what went wrong? Well, where to start?

Three turnovers for touchdowns seems as good a place as any to start digging into this performance, which stunk only slightly less than the gifts Bevo leaves behind on the way to his artificial turf mat behind the end zone.

"Can't have five turnovers and win games," Brown said.

No worries. They didn't.

Demontre Hurst kicked off the party in the end zone with a 55-yard interception return to put Oklahoma up 27-3 in the second quarter.

Any halftime locker room dramatics didn't follow Texas onto the field. Frank Alexander sacked Case McCoy and forced a fumble, which David King casually picked up and strolled 19 yards into the end zone to make it 41-10 early in the third quarter.

"They were just out there flying to the ball, playing faster than us," said Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker, one of the bright spots for the Longhorns on Saturday. Whittaker ran hard all day, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown and carrying the ball six times for 43 yards.

"It's one of those things where you just have to stand back and give them credit for doing what they do best," he said.

Saturday was 60 minutes of reality setting in for Texas: It might be better than it was last year, but Texas needs some high-quality binoculars to get a glimpse of the national elite.

The Longhorns' No. 11 ranking was gone sometime in the second quarter, at some point between one of Landry Jones' 23 completions, 305 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.

"They've got all the athletes and stats for a reason," said Texas safety Blake Gideon.

Texas' offense? The only offensive touchdown of the day came with 2:31 left to play and the Longhorns trailing 55-10.

Texas had a great opportunity with a 1st-and-10 at Oklahoma's 14-yard line late in the third quarter.

Then came a bad snap. Then David Ash got sacked by speedy Tony Jefferson, who intercepted Ash earlier, too.

Then Ash got sacked by Ronnell Lewis, who forced a fumble and ... "Hey, how'd we end up with a 4th-and-49 on our own side of the field?"

Games like this, in raucous environments against very, very good teams, expose inexperience. Texas didn't have much covered when it was all over.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Mike FuentesRonnell Lewis sacks Texas quarterback David Ash, forcing a fumble.
"We mixed it up. We played man, we played some zone, we mixed up some man zones," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "[Jones] knew where to go with the ball, he knew how to manage the play, he took what was there when it was there."

Diaz, despite Oklahoma's assertions after the game, said the youth of his cornerbacks wasn't to blame.

"Defending the run and defending the pass is an 11-man job," Diaz said.

Official numbers are sketchy, but the 11 men Texas put out on the field weren't getting much of a job done against an offense that the Longhorns couldn't compliment enough after the game.

"I can see why they're No. 1 in the country," Brown said, later noting that the coaches kept the Sooners at No. 1 while the media polls slipped the Sooners to No. 3, behind Alabama and LSU.

Wherever Texas falls in the polls after Saturday's forgettable turn at the State Fair of Texas, it'll be far, far behind Oklahoma.

And just like every Saturday, for this one, Bevo had the most enjoyable seat in the house.

Cyclones' best chance to beat Texas: Jantz

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
10:33
AM CT
Aided by an unforgettable name and knack for making legendary plays, Steele Jantz has become one of the Cyclones' most talked-about players with just three games on his résumé.

It's warranted, and if Iowa State is going to upset Texas on Saturday, Jantz will be the reason why.

"You can talk leadership, moxie, you can talk all those thing, but his production when those games have been on the line?" Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "He’s delivered throwing the ball and he’s delivered running the ball."

[+] EnlargeIowa State's Steele Jantz
David Butler II/US PRESSWIRESteele Jantz has passed for 666 yards and six touchdowns with six interceptions in leading Iowa State to a 3-0 record.
In all three games this season, Jantz has engineered fourth-quarter comebacks, including a quarterback sneak in the final seconds against Northern Iowa and two key fourth-down conversions in an overtime win over Iowa.

"For myself and the team, we’re glad we’re 3-0, but it’s been a learning process," Jantz said.

In a road win over Connecticut, Jantz began the game by throwing interceptions on three of his first four pass attempts, and Iowa State fell behind 10-0. Making matters worse, Jantz suffered a sprained foot that he said limited him to about 60 percent for the game's remainder.

After the rough start, he didn't have another turnover and helped the Cyclones reach 3-0 for the first time since 2005.

"I’m proud that we won and I’m proud of our team for pulling through in all those games," Jantz said. "I know I have a long way to go, so I’m more focused on improving and eliminating the mistakes that I make."

He may do that eventually, but he's already proven a handful for defenses even when he's not trailing in the fourth quarter. On the season, he's thrown for 666 yards and six touchdowns.

He's also run for 112 yards and a pair of scores.

"If you get a guy that you have to worry about his legs also, you have to commit another guy to the rush or spying him that can be tough on your coverage," said Texas safety Blake Gideon. "He poses a threat and it’s going to be tough for us."

The Longhorns defense enters Saturday's game ranked second in the Big 12 in total defense and the league's best in pass defense.

"He’s a confident guy. He’s confident in his ability and he’s confident in his understanding of the offense," Gideon said. "You can tell he spent time with his receivers in the summer and in the offseason. Their timing routes are good, they’re tough to defend. We’re going to have to make sure we can rattle him someway and be able to get in his head and make sure he doesn’t get comfortable in the pocket."

The Longhorns might be able to take advantage of that confidence with the most talented secondary Jantz will have seen so far this season.

"He’s turned the ball over too many times," Rhoads said of Jantz, who has six interceptions this year. "He’s made a higher number than we would like of poor decisions. He’s made great decisions and he’s made some spectacular plays. I would say at this point he’s inconsistent. Certainly not unusual for a first-time starter at this level, coming off a successful junior college career."

Saturday may be Jantz's national coming-out party if he knocks off the Longhorns and gets Iowa State to 4-0 and just two wins from their second bowl appearance in three years under Rhoads. He's good enough to beat Texas already.

And with his career sitting at just three games old, he's only going to get better.

"As he plays more games and keeps doing the things that he’s doing, he’s going to understand better why he should make this decision over that decision, why he can stay in the pocket and not feel like he has to push himself out of it," Rhoads said. "His fundamentals and technique have been pretty good, but he’s gotta improve that like everybody else on the team."

Texas, Iowa State again meet at crossroads

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
11:15
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Iowa State and Texas met at a crossroads a year ago. Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads notched a second tenure-defining win, beating the Longhorns for the first time in program history.

It came on the Longhorns home field a week after Texas beat undefeated, then-No. 5 Nebraska on its home field.

Against Iowa State, the Longhorns hit what coach Mack Brown called the worst moment of a season full of awful moments. Rock bottom, if you will, followed by a memorable rant from Brown that foreshadowed the offseason coaching overhaul.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireMack Brown called last season's loss to Iowa State the worst moment in a season of awful moments.
"You can't trust your team and you can't trust your coaches ... They're not getting (players) ready to go," he said after the loss, which Texas trailed 28-6 in the fourth quarter of a game it lost 28-21.

It was the first of five consecutive conference losses to close the season.

"They’re just a very good team and they took it to us last year. They hit us in the mouth from the start, so we better sure we’re ready to play," said Texas safety Blake Gideon.

A year later, both teams are trending upward. Both teams are 3-0 entering their conference opener.

And both are at another crossroads. Where each goes from here could be decided on Saturday.

"We want to win every game, but for this being the conference opener, we want to start 1-0," Gideon said. "We want to set the stage for a great year and want to be able to start on the right foot. It would be huge for us."

Win Saturday, and Texas is a rivalry game win over Oklahoma away from announcing itself as a factor on the national stage once again after 2010's 5-7 embarrassment.

But lose? All of a sudden, upcoming dates with a pair of top 5 teams in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State make 3-3 a very real and very undesirable option in Austin.

"There’s definitely a different feel around the building starting conference," Gideon said.

Rhoads added another benchmark win earlier this season, beating rival Iowa in overtime.

After going on the road to beat UConn, Rhoads has a chance to notch another legendary win and likely launch his 4-0 team into the top 25.

"Those guys have shown they can win close games and go compete on the road and they protect their house very well," Gideon said.

This week, the Cyclones will have plenty of help. The school had never had a sold out game before this season, athletic director Jamie Pollard said Tuesday. This season, the Cyclones already have three.

The school record for attendance through three games was around 154,000, Pollard said.

This week, the Cyclones are expected to top the 166,000 mark.

The first two games came against in-state competition. Now, it's a marquee opponent. Each win this season for the Cyclones has featured a fourth-quarter comeback.

Saturday, we'll see if there's more thrilling theater waiting at Jack Trice Stadium.

"It shows maturity of their team and how they’re going to keep fighting to the end," Gideon said. "It will be important for us to match their intensity."

Another Shipley making noise for Texas

September, 9, 2011
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Jaxon Shipley has been around Texas' campus for quite awhile.

So has coach Mack Brown.

Of course, when Shipley first got there, he was rolling down the hills surrounding the practice field. He later graduated to sliding down the hill on cardboard.

Give Shipley a break, though. That was back when big brother Jordan Shipley was practicing and he was "watching."

Now, it's Jaxon Shipley's turn, and he's making noise early in his career.

[+] EnlargeTexas' Jaxon Shipley
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas freshman Jaxon Shipley caught two passes for 54 yards, including this TD in Week 1.
"He’s come in mature beyond his years and he hasn’t been overwhelmed by whatever, the fanfare, the moment, 100,000 people in the stands, he just hasn’t been overwhelmed," said senior safety Blake Gideon.

The result? Shipley became the first true freshman receiver to catch a touchdown pass in a season opener in Texas history. He caught a pass from John Harris on a trick play for his 36-yard touchdown and added another 18-yard catch to finish with 54 yards.

Shipley won the team's offensive MVP award for the game, and Brown had a tough time remembering the last freshman to do so in his first game.

"During 7-on-7 stuff this summer he was hopping in there with the first group very quickly and did a good job, so you know, I knew from the start he was going to be a good player," said junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert. "He really shined the other night."

Gilbert loved what he saw during the summer, but he didn't get to see much of Shipley during the spring. Despite graduating high school early, he decided to spend the spring semester working with the player that he may never stop being compared to: his brother, Jordan Shipley.

Brown called the decision "smart." Shipley's academics were in order and he didn't need to enroll at Texas early. He had a sore knee, too. Jordan Shipley was locked out by the NFL and planned to get married in the spring.

"This gave him a chance to spend more time with his brother than he’ll probably ever get again," Brown said. "He said he could spend all spring working on their route running together, so it made sense to me."

The comparisons are obvious, and far from forced.

Both can "run forever" Brown said, noting that Shipley stood out in Sunday's conditioning workout after the win over Rice. Brown credits having a father as a coach, and, of course, the work with his brother.

"The way they run looks similar and they both run very good routes," Gilbert said. "Jordan is doing it at the highest level right now ... and I’m sure he taught his little brother some of that stuff."

Jaxon Shipley hasn't encountered any of the injuries that kept Jordan on campus for six seasons, but his potential? Undeniable.

"He’s a great young cat," said linebacker Keenan Robinson. "He’s a guy that’s shown me a lot in camp. He hardly ever drops the ball in practice. He’s a guy that’s following in the right footsteps. He could be as good or better than his brother was. He’s definitely that. He definitely has a chance to put up big numbers, and I expect him to possibly be a freshman All-American this season."

That's a long way from sliding down a grass hill during Longhorns' practices.

Young backs providing spark for Longhorns

September, 7, 2011
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas had 18 true freshmen play in its 34-9 win against Rice last week.

The team in college football closest to that number? Defending national champion Auburn, with 13.

The Longhorns added efforts from seven more redshirt freshmen, but there's no question about the fresh face that drew the most attention in Week 1.

Running back Malcolm Brown didn't play in the first half, but had 16 carries for 86 yards in the second half -- both game highs -- with his longest runs drawing a rise out of the 101,624 in attendance.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas true freshman Malcolm Brown had 86 yards on 16 second half carries in his college debut.
"As a freshman, you get 80 yards rushing? That’s pretty good," said linebacker Keenan Robinson.

It is, and Brown's debut showed promise of what may come. He came to Texas as the nation's No. 7 overall recruit and No. 2 running back.

The hope for Longhorns' fans? That Brown becomes "The Next Great Texas Running Back" along the lines of Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson or Jamaal Charles.

"Everybody has their 'Welcome to college football' moment. Nobody is exempt from that, so the thing about Malcolm, and really the whole freshman class, is they’ve done a great job of coming in, keeping their mouth shut and going to work," said senior safety Blake Gideon. "They’ve put aside whatever kind of recruiting stars they had and whatever kind of hype they had, because in the end, it’s just hype. They’ve really worked their tails off this summer and this camp, and now we’re going to see who’s producing."

Brown produced in Week 1, but for now, he's just a co-backup behind Fozzy Whittaker and sharing a spot on the depth chart with fellow true freshman Joe Bergeron, who came to Austin with a whole lot less fanfare. And for now, Brown has 86 career yards, a couple short of Williams' 6,592 in his four years at Texas.

"He’s a guy that’s learned to study his playbook really well, and he’s been coachable," Robinson said. "He’s got great examples in front of him [Whittaker and fullback Cody Johnson]. It’s great to have guys in front of you that will coach you and lead you and teach you what you need to do in practice. All through fall camp, he did really well, and now he got a chance in a game and shined."

That wasn't before his "Welcome to college football" moment, which was, admittedly, quite tame. Gideon chuckled thinking back to the first days of summer workouts with new strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, offering only a couple scant details.

"Summer workouts in college are going to be different than summer workouts in high school," he said. "Whenever you’re running with Bennie out there in the heat, it’s definitely going to get your mind right."

Mack Brown helped Bergeron and Malcolm Brown get some time by putting them in a smaller amount packages, and Brown was even further behind after missing 10 days of fall camp with a sore hamstring.

"Probably freshman running back is one of the hardest places to play on a football team, especially when you have that many packages," Mack Brown said.

But early on, the signs are good for Malcolm Brown.

"I thought he did really well. He had good vision, he had good ball security and he ran the ball with some power," Mack Brown said.

Whatever it took, and apparently it wasn't much, Brown's mind sounds like it's right where it needs to be as he tackles his first year of college football.

Before last week's game Whittaker calmed his freshmen position mates by telling them to block out the 101,000 cheering them on and the brand-new surroundings and "just run like you did in high school."

So far, it looks like they're doing it.

"Hopefully they’ll be a big factor for us and be able to be a spark for us," Whittaker said. "Those young guys, they’re going to have a big significant role for us, and just seeing the way that they’ve played, it’s very encouraging."

Will Texas rebound in 2011? How far?

August, 25, 2011
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Texas is easily the wildest card in the Big 12 deck this season, but how do you see the Longhorns faring in 2010?

The defense returns six starters, and is the strength of the team, despite losing Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams to the NFL. The team's safeties, Kenny Vaccaro, Christian Scott and Blake Gideon are solid, though Scott will be sidelined the first three games because of a suspension.

The front seven is loaded with potential, and the Longhorns have two of the best linebackers in the league, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are exciting defensive ends offsetting Kheeston Randall, one of the league's best overall linemen.

Offensively, well, the Longhorns have a lot to prove. They're the only Big 12 team left that doesn't know its starting quarterback for the opening weekend. Eight starters from last year's offense return, but some of the team's biggest hype is coming from players new to campus.

Running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley showed up to campus this summer, but quarterback David Ash impressed coaches after enrolling early this spring.

The offensive line will have to be better, especially if any of those three will have success. Shipley should add some solid playmaking ability to a receiving corps depleted with the losses of Marquise Goodwin (Olympic track qualifying) and Malcolm Williams (personal issues), who won't be with the team this year. Mike Davis will likely be the team's go-to receiver, at least to start the season.

So how do the Longhorns stack up?

Thoughts on the media's All-Big 12 team

July, 19, 2011
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The Big 12 has released its All-Big 12 preseason team as voted on by the media, including yours truly.

Here's my ballot, for reference.

And here's the preseason team, in all its glory.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Bryce Brown, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Selections by team: Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (4), Texas A&M (4), Missouri (3), Texas (3), Iowa State (2), Kansas State (1)

And a few thoughts:
  • Generally, I agree with most of the selections. Nothing was really shocking. Brandon Weeden vs. Landry Jones is pretty close to a coin flip, and let's not act surprised that the quarterback from the bigger program got the nod. Perception is reality, even if the numbers are so, so close. Jones has the Heisman hype coming into the season, certainly more than Weeden, based on little more than the possibility his team runs the table.
  • Running back is going to get a lot of attention, but let's not get riled up. This is going to sound bad, but believe me when I say I don't mean it to: Bryce Brown's selection is more an indictment of the returning talent at running back in the Big 12 than an endorsement of the hype surrounding Brown, who isn't even the clear-cut starter at K-State just yet. Here's what I wrote when I posted my ballot earlier this month. "The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for James Sims, Eric Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team!" Well, there you go. For the record, I voted for Christine Michael, and still feel good about it.
  • Finch and Brown tied for votes, giving the Big 12 three running backs. There weren't three spots on the ballot. And it also explains how Malcolm Brown got Newcomer of the Year and Bryce Brown got first-team All-Big 12 running back, despite both being newcomers. It's a little confusing, I suppose, and maybe not everyone did it, but my guess is a lot of ballots had Finch as the first-team running back and Malcolm Brown as the Newcomer of the Year. Not all that surprising.
  • I originally had Luke Joeckel on my ballot, but took him off for Missouri's Elvis Fisher. I think Joeckel will end up being better, and maybe even by the end of this year, but right now, Fisher is the better lineman, and that's how I define the ballot. Perhaps others see it differently. There's no concrete rubric for this.
  • I'm not very surprised to see Ronnell Lewis and Blake Gideon grab spots on the team, though I voted for Tony Jerod-Eddie and Trent Hunter in those spots on my ballot. Second safety and defensive line were pretty tough for me to fill out. Neither spot is very deep in this league, and both Lewis and Gideon have two of the biggest names, which matters in a media vote.
  • Quite a huge gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the league. The Sooners had a lot of guys on my ballot that were close, but five more selections than anyone else in the league? That's impressive, and if ballot deadlines had been after Jamell Fleming's reinstatement, Oklahoma might have had 10 guys on the team. My ballot had Oklahoma State leading the way with seven selections, followed by Texas A&M with six and Oklahoma with five. My ballot also only had six teams represented. The media's Bryce Brown vote put Kansas State on the board, making it seven teams represented on the official team.

Assessing the contenders: Texas

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
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Heading into the season, I see five teams in the Big 12 with a realistic chance to win the league. I'll be breaking them down in order (which won't be the same as my post-spring power rankings) of their chances to leave the season with the Big 12 title.

No. 1 on the list was the favorite: Oklahoma.

No. 2 was Texas A&M.

Oklahoma State came in at No. 3.

No. 4? Missouri.

And now, we'll tackle the fifth and final team that I could realistically see winning the Big 12.

And yes, it's the team racking up good will from its conference brethren at a record rate.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesGarrett Gilbert struggled in his first season as a full-time starter, throwing 17 interceptions to just 10 touchdowns.
Why the Longhorns will win the Big 12

1. They're Texas. You've heard it before, and cliche or not, it isn't meaningless. "They're Texas" simply means the Longhorns aren't short on athletes. Defensively, that was true even last year. Offensively, did Texas recruit a handful of guys that either a) haven't panned out or b) haven't fit into the offensive scheme well? The answer to that was pretty obvious after Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley checked out for the NFL. But Texas has the athletes on defense, and 2010 struggles aside, the potential for big years is there for running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Mike Davis. If Garrett Gilbert can bounce back from last year, or whoever Texas puts out there at quarterback plays well, and the offensive line can at least be decent, Texas will look radically different.

2. Last year's team was a lot better than 5-7. Mack Brown has repeatedly emphasized it, but he's not blowing smoke. Combine two simple stats from last year and Texas likely would have won 7-8 games. In 2009, when Texas went to the national title game, it turned the ball over 28 times and forced 37 turnovers. Last year, it turned the ball over just two additional times, totaling 30. The Longhorns, though, forced just 18 turnovers, including a big drop from 25 interceptions in 2009 to just eight in 2010. That margin put the Horns ahead of just three teams in all of college football. There's a lot of reasons for the drop in forced interceptions (not leading games and forcing teams to pass, weak pass rush, etc.) but there's no way that number will be as low in 2011. Manny Diaz's defense has emphasized forcing turnovers since Day 1, including pre-practice drills the Longhorns hadn't previously done. Additionally, Texas lost four games by one possession, and a couple bounces of the ball could have landed the Longhorns in the postseason, making the chasm between last year's last-place finish in the Big 12 South and a first-place finish in the Big 12 this year look much less imposing.

3. There's a renewed sense of purpose. Texas restocked its staff with rising talents in the coaching profession and guys eager to make a name for themselves. Additionally, Mack Brown has lauded his team's offseason efforts, no doubt aided by having to stare at the garish 5-7 record in 2010 next to all those double-digit totals for almost a decade before them. You're crazy if you don't think that's major motivation for a team that should have good leadership behind guys like Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Fozzy Whittaker. That will manifest itself on the field.

Why the Longhorns won't win the Big 12

1. There isn't enough offensive production. For now, Texas has an underwhelming offensive line to block for a corps of running backs with two seniors who have never topped 600 yards in a season. Much-hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown won't join the team until fall camp, though he's on campus this summer. Texas has no receivers who have ever topped 550 yards in a single season or caught more than two touchdown passes in any given year. And there's an uncertain quarterback competition between three guys with no meaningful career snaps and another with 12 starts, 17 picks and just 10 touchdowns. Not exactly the recipe for a Big 12 champ.

2. The list of contenders is deeper than most years. This isn't your favorite college football-glossing fan's Big 12, which hinges on the Red River Rivalry every year. Texas can't hope to best Oklahoma in Dallas and cruise to a Big 12 title. If Texas does knock of OU, it's still going to have to beat Oklahoma State, Texas A&M (in College Station, by the way) and Missouri (in Columbia). If it can't do that, or at least finish with 1-2 losses, the Longhorns won't have a chance. There is zero chance the Big 12 champion will have three losses.

3. Players won't have either new system down in time. We haven't seen much from Texas, outside of its spring game, but this postgame quote from Diaz, the new defensive coordinator, definitely raised my eyebrows: "We are a defense that has to do everything right to be successful, and on the plays when 11 guys lock in and do their job, we are hard to move against. But we still have very little margin of error when we don't play within our technique or we don't play within our assignments." So what, pray tell, happens when all 11 guys aren't doing everything right? It's reasonable to suggest that in a new system, that might happen, and combined with the offensive issues we discussed earlier, 2011 could be another tough year for Texas. Of course, if things do come together and that potential becomes production, Texas might end up back on top of the Big 12.

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