From Texas’ perspective, this is something akin to a mini-Super Bowl just because of what happened last season. That BYU loss changed the whole program. —Brian Davis
AUSTIN, Texas — BYU travels to take on a very motivated Texas team this Saturday in Austin. It's no secret Longhorn players were embarrassed by what happened in Provo a year ago and have long anticipated a rematch.
So what exactly will BYU be facing in Austin? We caught up with Brian Davis, who covers the Longhorns for the Austin-Statesman, and asked him five questions to gain better insight.
1. How motivated is Texas for this game in light of last year's game in Provo? How is this Texas team different than the team BYU faced a year ago?
Well, considering that it’s the only game they’ve talked about all offseason long, I would say it’s fairly important. First-year coach Charlie Strong made cutups for every player on the roster this spring and had one-on-one meetings in his office. Most clips were 10-15 plays long and, unfortunately for the players, there were a lot of clips from the BYU game. “Is this who you really are?” as a player, Strong asked them. Needless to say, it stung.
Under Strong, the Longhorns have talked for eight months about being a tougher defense, a better tackling defense, too. Missed tackles were a big reason why Taysom Hill ran all over the Horns last year. In the season opener against North Texas, the Longhorns allowed only 94 yards, 15 of those coming through the air. So far, so good, it appears.
2. Texas has incurred a lot of recent injuries to major players. How will these injuries affect the team and who are the guys expected to step in and perform?
This team couldn’t afford to lose two players on offense; quarterback David Ash and center Dominic Espinosa. Ash suffered headaches and dizziness late Saturday after the North Texas game and was ruled out for BYU. There are multiple in-state columnists now calling for Ash to give up football completely.
Backup Tyrone Swoopes, who looked very unpolished last season, will start against BYU. Espinosa made his 40th career start last weekend. Now, the most experienced lineman has less than a dozen starts. Backup Jake Raulerson will likely start at center.
3. Talk about Texas on offense. What type of system does it run and who are the primary playmakers?
In some respects, it doesn’t matter whether Ash or Swoopes serves as the triggerman. Strong wants this to be a run-oriented, physical offense. He wants to highlight running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, two talented runners. Brown statistically gets better as the game goes on.
Gray once set the Texas high school rushing record. The coaches wanted Ash, and now Swoopes, to simply “manage the game.” That means when defenses walk a safety up in the box, the QB better be able to read that and make adjustments. When blitzes come off the corner, just find your quick hot read. They’re not asking Swoopes to throw 50 times and make a multitude of reads. Hand the ball off, complete some bootleg passes and move the chains.
4. Same question on defense. What type of system and who are the primary playmakers?
There are three major playmakers on defense; defensive end Cedric Reed, linebacker Jordan Hicks and cornerback Quandre Diggs. Reed had 10 sacks last season and is easily the primary pass rusher. However, the defensive line is the overall strength of the team. Tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond “Tank” Jackson are solid in the middle, and Shiro Davis is proving capable at the other end. Hicks missed most of last season with an Achilles injury. He had one of the team’s four interceptions in the season opener.
Steve Edmond and Peter Jinkens are also solid on the second level. The secondary was a big question mark coming into the season, but Diggs has enough confidence for everybody. They are rotating Adrian Colbert, freshman Jason Hall and former walk-on Dylan Haines at free safety.
5. How does Texas regard BYU as an opponent? What are the keys to overturning last year's result?
From Texas’ perspective, this is something akin to a mini-Super Bowl just because of what happened last season. That BYU loss changed the whole program. Many here believe that game was the one that got former coach Mack Brown fired. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was indeed fired the next morning. Veteran players were embarrassed in a way they haven’t been in years. That’s why I believe this game is all about pride, from Texas’ point of view.
And if I’m a BYU Cougar, you want to come out and prove that last year was no joke. Bronco Mendenhall wants to join the Big 12, huh? My guess is he’ll want to spank one of the league’s premier teams to prove his point that BYU does belong.