Thursday, October 14, 2010
Longhorns prepping to stop T-Magic's ride
By David Ubben
UCLA's Kevin Prince faked a handoff to the right, shuffled left and took off for the end zone from 40 yards away during the Bruins' win at Texas in September. Texas knows it'll see plenty more of that this Saturday -- just much, much faster.
Texas faces No. 5 Nebraska in Lincoln, and leaving with a win starts with stopping Taylor Martinez, who went from freshman phenom to Heisman candidate with 241 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in a 48-13 win over Kansas State on the road last week.
Taylor Martinez leads the NCAA in runs of more than 20 yards with 12 this season -- one ahead of Michigan's Denard Robinson and two ahead of Oregon's LaMichael James.
"They looked unbelievable," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "I think they’re as good as anybody in the country right now and have a chance to win all the games and play for a national championship. They were super on defense last year and everybody knew that. But they did not have the explosive plays on offense, and Taylor brings them unbelievable plays."
But, contrary to popular opinion inside Nebraska state lines, stopping Martinez isn't impossible. The freshman forced too many plays against South Dakota State in his third start, finishing without a rushing touchdown and with a pair of interceptions. He stopped himself that day. The Longhorns would like to be the first to do it themselves. Fixing the problems that surfaced against UCLA would be a good start.
"They both run the power, they both run the option. There’s probably a lot of similarities," Brown said, "which doesn’t look good for us."
Said defensive tackle Sam Acho: "He’s such a fast quarterback, he’s got so much speed, so we have to make sure we’re sound in our gaps, make plays and finish off tackles."
Texas didn't do that against UCLA, giving up 264 rushing yards in the 34-12 loss to the Bruins. And nobody's denying that Saturday, against a Nebraska rushing offense that ranks second in the nation in yards per game and averages almost a yard per carry more than any other offense, will be a much tougher test. Martinez has a pair of talented backs -- Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu -- who will line up behind and beside him, but his speed and deceptive ball fake are what's added the explosive component to the 2010 version of Nebraska's offense.
"Every time he touches the ball, he’s got a chance to score, and he’s got amazing composure for a freshman," Brown said, later comparing him to Vince Young, who rushed for 1,000 yards and passed for 3,000 more during Texas' 2005 national championship season. "I’m just very, very impressed."
Consider also that Nebraska ranks second nationally in total rushing yardage, while sitting in 37th in total carries through five games.
That dangerous offense has scored 17 touchdowns with drives of five plays or less, including four in the win over Kansas State. But like Martinez's one rough outing, Texas says its day against UCLA was self-inflicted as well.
"What we took away from that game is making sure that if we handle our responsibilities, do what we’re supposed to do as a defense, we’ll be fine," Acho said. "How we play is on us. We determine how well or how poorly we play."