Commentary

Texas, OU unbeaten ahead of Red River

Originally Published: October 3, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

Through the first month of the 2011 season, Texas' road to recovery couldn't have gone much better.

The No. 11 Longhorns routed an overmatched opponent (34-9 over Rice), won a close game (17-16 over BYU) and avenged two of their losses from 2010 (49-20 at UCLA and 37-14 at Iowa State). All in all, Texas coach Mack Brown has to be happy with where his team currently sits after last season's forgettable 5-7 campaign.

"It's really big to be 4-0," Brown said. "I'm sure a lot of people wouldn't have thought five weeks ago we would've been 4-0 right now. Guys are playing with a lot of confidence. We know a lot more about us now than we did when we started the season."

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Stephen Mally/Icon SMITexas' turn to a two-QB system featuring David Ash and Case McCoy has reinvigorated the Longhorn attack.

Apparently, the No. 3 Sooners don't know very much about the Longhorns, though. When OU linebacker Travis Lewis was asked about Texas freshman quarterback David Ash after the Sooners' 62-6 rout of Ball State on Saturday, Lewis threw up his arms.

"Who's that?" Lewis said, when asked about Ash by The Oklahoman on Saturday.

Added OU linebacker Corey Nelson: "I don't know who he is."

OU's players apparently hadn't yet watched much film of the Longhorns, but Sooners defensive coordinator Brent Venables told The Oklahoman that he is well aware of Ash and sophomore Case McCoy, who are rotating at quarterback.

"David Ash is very talented," Venables said. "We know about him and our players are going to know what we know."

While these don't appear to be the same Longhorns of 2010, Saturday's game against OU in the Red River Rivalry offers a Texas-sized measuring stick to gauge their progress.

Saturday's game will be the 10th time in the last 11 years that both the Longhorns and Sooners are ranked (OU wasn't ranked in 2005) entering the game, but it's only the second time in the last seven seasons that both teams will enter the Cotton Bowl in Dallas with unbeaten records.

"Four and 0 gives us great momentum," Brown said. "They are obviously one of the best, if not the best [team] in the country right now. We have got a lot of work to do. But our guys are excited about playing."

Brown revamped his coaching staff after last season by hiring five new assistants, including offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, and the Longhorns have eliminated many of the mistakes that plagued them in 2010.

After Texas ranked No. 116 nationally in turnover margin last year, it's ranked No. 7 among FBS teams at plus-6 (UT has gained 11 turnovers and lost five) this season. The Longhorns are averaging 206 rushing yards per game -- compared to 150.5 in 2010 -- and they're allowing only one sack per game.

"Ultimately, we would like to look at this year like it's a change and setting a new foundation," UT tailback Fozzy Whittaker said.

After junior Garrett Gilbert was benched in the second quarter of the BYU game, Ash and McCoy have played pretty well while rotating under center. They've combined to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions. McCoy, the younger brother of former UT star and current Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, has attempted about twice as many passes (37) as Ash (19).

"The guys are growing up each week," Brown said. "They've had two weeks now to prepare so they'll have to do the same in Dallas next week. But [Harsin] is doing a good job with them and he's rotating them in and out, and I thought the big plays [against Iowa State] were tremendous again and I think they'll just keep getting better and better."

Beating OU would obviously affirm that the Longhorns are back to where they were before last season's stunning collapse. In last year's 28-20 loss to the then-No. 8 Sooners in Dallas, the Longhorns had two turnovers and helped the Sooners keep long scoring drives alive with big mistakes. Three of OU's four scoring drives were extended by UT penalties on third down. UT also had a fumble recovery in the red zone wiped out by another penalty.

The loss knocked the Longhorns out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time in 10 years, which was the longest such streak in the country at the time.

Texas was back in the AP poll at the start of the season. Beating the Sooners would affirm that the Longhorns deserve to be there.

The Sooners scored 38 points or more in three of their first four games this season and rank No. 5 nationally in passing with 377.8 yards per game.

"I feel good that we've made good progress," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "I feel good that the players aren't [overjoyed] about anything. They know there is more to come and they are anticipating that. They know we need to keep getting better in some areas. I feel they are in a good spot. They are always excited about this game, everybody is. So they'll work hard this week to get ready for it."

On The Mark

• Clemson hasn't won an ACC championship since 1991 because it often couldn't handle its success. The Tigers have gotten off to fast starts in the past, only to implode in the second half of the season. But after the Tigers became the first ACC team to defeat ranked opponents in three consecutive games -- over then-No. 21 Auburn, No. 11 Florida State and No. 11 Virginia Tech -- they seem a little more confident about sustaining their success.

[+] EnlargeSMU Celebration
AP Photo/Matt StrasenSMU improved to 4-1 for the first time since 1986 after the Mustangs beat TCU, ending the Horned Frogs' 22-game home winning streak in the process.

"The leadership on this team won't allow us to get a big head and think we've arrived," tight end Dwayne Allen said. "The leadership does a great job of getting us hungry for more."

• Illinois and Northwestern have been fighting a turf war over which college team is Chicago's favorite, but the Illini proved on Saturday they're at least the state's best team. Illinois overcame an 18-point deficit in the second half to defeat the Wildcats 35-31 to improve to 5-0 for the first time since 1951. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for a 1-yard touchdown with only 13 seconds to play. Receiver A.J. Jenkins caught 12 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns, breaking school single-game records for receptions and receiving yards.

• It has been a long time coming for SMU, which upset No. 20 TCU 40-33 in overtime on Saturday night. The victory was only SMU's second over a ranked opponent since the school revived its football program in 1989. The Mustangs' first victory over a ranked opponent was a 21-10 upset of No. 22 TCU on Sept. 10, 2005.

This time, SMU fans actually stormed the field at TCU's Amon Carter Stadium. The Mustangs blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, but quarterback J.J. McDermott threw a 19-yard touchdown to Jeremy Johnson in overtime to win the game. The loss ended TCU's 22-game home winning streak, the longest in school history.

• West Virginia couldn't run the ball in its first four games, which had to be driving offensive guru Dana Holgorsen mad. But the Mountaineers found a solution in freshman Dustin Garrison, who ran for 291 yards with two touchdowns in a 55-10 rout of Bowling Green. Garrison, from Pearland, Texas, had 233 yards in the first half. His total was the second-highest in a game in school history.

"If you look at 16 games on his high school film last year, it's like that," Holgorsen said. "He's used to 200-yard games. The more you give it to him and the more he plays, the better he gets."

Garrison's total in his first start was only 15 yards shy of the Mountaineers' rushing total in their first four games combined.

• It might be time to add LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu to the Heisman Trophy watch list. The sophomore from New Orleans did it again against Kentucky, stripping Wildcats quarterback Maxwell Smith of the ball and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown in the Tigers' 35-7 rout. In 18 games at LSU, Mathieu has forced a school-record nine fumbles, recovered five fumbles and intercepted three passes.

Off The Mark

• Illinois coach Ron Zook said he'll handle any punishment for linebacker Jonathan Brown, who was caught on tape kneeing the groin area of Northwestern offensive lineman Patrick Ward during Saturday's game. It was Brown's second personal foul of the game. He looked both ways to make sure an official wasn't looking before committing the second infraction. Did he think the TV cameras were off, too?

"You get into a game like this and there's a lot of talking and pushing on both sides," Zook told reporters on Sunday. "I can guarantee you'll never see that again. He knows better than that. I'm going to deal with it."

At least Brown offered an apology on Twitter: "I wanna apologize to my coaches, fans and family for the way I acted yesterday. I acted out of charecter [sic] and it was embarrassing and it won't happen again."

• Georgia finally seems to be gaining some momentum after a forgettable 0-2 start, winning its last three games, including a 24-10 win over Mississippi State on Saturday. That's what makes linebacker Cornelius Washington's situation even worse. Washington will miss UGA's next two games -- Saturday at Tennessee and Oct. 15 at Vanderbilt -- after he was arrested early Sunday and charged with DUI and speeding.

[+] EnlargeNavy/Airforce
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireNavy was left feeling aggrieved after losing to Air Force in overtime.

Police in Commerce, Ga., stopped Washington's car after he was caught driving 92 mph in a 55 mph zone. Washington leads the Bulldogs with 3½ sacks and was coming off his best game.

"He's sick," UGA coach Mark Richt told reporters on Sunday. "He feels awful. He knows he let the team down, let his coaches down."

Georgia was already playing without its best linebacker, injured Alec Ogletree.

• Air Force and Navy played a memorable game in Annapolis, Md., on Saturday, but it will likely be remembered most for a controversial call at the end. The Midshipmen wiped out an 11-point deficit in the final 2½ minutes of regulation with a field goal, a successful onside kick, and then a touchdown and two-point conversion with 19 seconds to play.

In overtime, Navy converted a fourth-and-1 from the Air Force 3, and then quarterback Kriss Proctor ran for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Midshipmen a 34-28 lead. But Proctor was penalized for an unsportsmanlike penalty after his touchdown, backing up Navy's point-after attempt 15 yards. The Falcons blocked Jon Teague's conversion attempt from 35 yards.

Air Force won the game 35-34 on quarterback Tim Jefferson's 1-yard touchdown run and Parker Herrington's successful PAT.

Referee Mike Defee said Proctor "got in the face of an Air Force player right after the play."

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was steaming mad.

"That's a tough call to make," Niumatalolo said. "I would hope the referees would have said something like, 'Settle down,' in that situation. It's too critical a call to make. I hope those guys can sleep well tonight."

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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