Here is what I’m NOT worried about come Tuesday’s late kickoff:
1) Motivation. As recent history tells us, and the current title-bestowing system dictates, a highly-ranked college football team left out of the College Football Playoff may not be motivated to play in their New Years 6 bowl game. Feeling slighted, or that anything less than the CFP is meaningless, some teams treat the game as an exhibition, some players treat the game as a possible hindrance to their post-college plans, and some coaches are happy to have maxed out their contract bonus structure.
But I think the Bulldogs are anxious to play. Anxious to prove they did belong in the CFP. Anxious to hit someone other than their own teammates, which they’ve done over the past 3+ weeks. And anxious to create the off-season narrative of their making.
2) Earl Campbell ain’t showing up in their backfield. Texas just isn’t a great rushing team. A lot of that may be from the fact they play in a conference that fields a secondary fresh from the intramural fields. But they still run a lot – moreso than they attempt the forward pass. They’re just not that great at it. This is much more about the offensive line that head Horn Tom Herman hasn’t yet lassoed into Austin, than it is about the quality of the rock-toters.
Only once this season did UT (snicker) cross the 200 yard mark on the ground (vs. Tulsa). They managed 111 yards against Kansas State. Seven games they ran more than 40 times, and only five times did this result in an average greater than 4 yards per carry. Their 2nd most productive runner was quarterback Sam Ehlinger. And even though he attempted double-digit rushes in seven games, only 3 times did he cross 50 yards, with a high of 72 yards. This was against Oklahoma – and I think most of us have an opinion on Oklahoma’s ability to stop the run.
3) Bright Lights, Big City. In case you haven’t noticed it, the University of Georgia has been in the spotlight quite a bit the last couple of seasons. A couple of SEC Championship games, two handfuls of nationally-televised regular season games in hostile venues, a certain Rose Bowl, and even a National Championship. Kirby Smart and his staff know how to focus a team, free of distractions, and keep the main thing the main thing.
Texas, other than a premature exclamation and a Big 12 championship game that no one really watched, is going into the Big Easy with a Big Challenge. And one not faced by many of these Longhorns, nor their hotshot coach as the man in charge. The boys in Red and Black will be ready – I’m not sure about the ones wearing a discolored mix of yellow, red, and brown.
We have a deeper team, more talent, and a more successful resume’ with which to bolster our chances of victory. Now forgive me, as I was weaned at the nipple of Larry Munson’s scratch on AM radio, so here’s what I am worried about in the Sugar Bowl:
1) Tall, rangy wide-outs. Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson are a dynamic duo on the outside for Tom Herman’s wide-open offense. Johnson is the 2nd leading receiver for Texas, and at 14.5 yards per reception, he’s been good for about 80 yards per game.
Like Johnson, Humphrey is a junior but leads all receivers and is much more of an all-around threat. He’s catching over 6 balls per contest, has 9 TDs catching the ball, and at 6’4” and 225 lbs is already catching the eye of NFL teams (Johnson is 6’6”). He returns kicks, and even has thrown 3 passes this season (one for a touchdown). So he tallies about 100 yards a game with the ball and is the biggest threat. With Deandre Baker sitting on the sidelines, these receivers are sure to be matchups the Longhorns look to exploit.
2) We’re facing another Genius. One of those we sent into early retirement in November (Good night, Jowls). But this one has a recent tendency to actually win football games.
Did you know Texas Head Coach Tom Herman is a member of Mensa? I saw it on the internet so it must be true. There’s no questioning his offensive mind though. He has led or contributed to school record setting offenses at almost every stop in his career. And he’s got some hardware to prove it, winning a big upset over FSU (when they were decent) in the Peach Bowl while coaching Houston, and developing a system at Ohio State that allowed the 3rd string quarterback to lead the Buckeyes to a national championship. He’s like Lincoln Riley, but without the aw-shucks charm. He’s fiery, and he knows how to put points on the board.
3) This is a storied program, hungry for validation. It was a bit early for Joe Tessitore to proclaim that Texas was “back”, though I think we can say they are knocking on the door. The 9-3 season, winning against a heavily favored Oklahoma, and don’t expect Texas to lose to Maryland every season. (And to be honest, Maryland is an improving squad).
Tom Herman is recruiting well, signing the #13 class, and he is finally getting his type of players to fit his system. There might not be much defense in the Big 12, but playing in the conference championship shows that UT can defend on occasion, and score when they need to. They’ve had 15 or so practices to prepare, and Herman can scheme.
What worries you about facing 5th winningest program in college football history? Leave them in the comments below, and as always…