Texas football: No. 15 Longhorns looking to be national contenders again
Michael Thomas, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Texas is looking to get back in the business of winning — and if all goes well for the Longhorns, perhaps contending for a national title.
After posting records of 5-7, 8-5 and 9-4 the past three seasons and essentially turning into an average Big 12 team, Longhorns coach Mack Brown found himself fielding questions about his job security. This is the same Mack Brown that guided Texas to its first national championship in 35 years back in 2005, and restored glory to the legendary program.
Then came the three down seasons as the Longhorns were plagued by coaching instability, poor quarterback play and recruiting blunders.
But Brown believes his team, which has 19 returning starters from last year, is well-equipped to compete as a national contender again.
That’s why the No. 15 Longhorns are taking nothing for granted as they invade LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) to face BYU.
Despite the Cougars’ poor offensive performance in their season-opener, Brown said BYU is much better than it showed in a 19-16 setback at Virginia.
“The team that played Virginia Saturday night is not the one we'll see,” he said. “They had a two-hour lightning delay, and then it was an absolute downpour the second half. Virginia was able to block a punt and do some things that it's very difficult to play, and sometimes the best team doesn't win under those circumstances.”
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz agreed.
"Certainly BYU has a very good football team. We know they're very dangerous,” Diaz said. “They'll be a little bit like a wounded animal. We'll get a better version of BYU than what we saw on tape from the Virginia game. A lot of very unusual circumstances. The field was like a quagmire for the second half of that game. Hard to put a lot of stock in their performance on Saturday. We know they've got some really good players. They've got an up-tempo, fast-paced offense that will be eager to show they're better than how they presented themselves week one."
Coming off a 56-7 trouncing of New Mexico State last weekend at home, the Longhorns are a little wary of playing in Provo.
"They're tough at home,” said Brown. “They've won 88.9 percent of their home games in the last seven years. They're 40-5. They've got great atmosphere, so that should be fun for our guys."
And there’s the altitude of 4,630 feet. During the offseason, Texas players trained by wearing silicone masks designed to imitate the effects of high-altitude training. Brown said his team is ready for the elevation.
“The only issue I’ve ever had was when we went to Wyoming (in 2009),” he said. “It was an issue, and we didn’t plan on it being one. So we didn’t want to go to Provo and not talk about it and not be prepared more.”
Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks said he doesn’t expect the altitude to make an impact in the game.
“We’re playing two-deep at every position,” he said. “I think that gives us an advantage. We’re not worried about that.”
The Longhorns got the 2013 season off to a strong start last Saturday, setting a school record by rolling up 715 yards of total offense.
Texas boasts playmakers all over the field, including quarterback David Ash, who threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 91 yards last week. He became the first player in school history to have a run and a pass for 50-plus yards in the same game.
Daje Johnson recorded 139 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns. Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley, Jalen Overstreet and Malcolm Brown are other big-play weapons in Texas’ arsenal.
“They’re skilled, they’re athletic and they’re fast,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “They’re Texas players.”
How do the Cougars plan to slow down the up-tempo Longhorn offense?
“Keep them in front,” said defensive coordinator Nick Howell. “Tackle them, don’t let them get around us, don’t let them get over the top. That’s our plan. We’re going to stay true to what we do.”
“They definitely have talented players,” said BYU defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna. “Their skill positions are really good. But throughout the week, coach Mendenhall prepares us pretty well. It’s a big game for us.”
And it’s a big game for Texas, too.
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