The New Mexico Lobos come in to Austin flying high after scoring 66 points last weekend and running for 350 yards — against Southern University, a Division 2 football team. That's like the high school varsity taking on the freshmen team. Nevertheless, the Lobos won only one game last season, so being undefeated is a big deal. It won't last long.
Let's just say Texas will have a great opportunity to get their younger players a lot of experience on Saturday.
So what does a die-hard fan do when the game is not particularly competitive? Enjoy the tailgate!
This will be the last home game for three weeks, so with all due respect to the football team, this is the week to get your party on. The tailgate culture at Texas has grown exponentially over the last 10 years, and if you haven't truly committed to tailgating before a Longhorn game, this is the game since there is little danger of the home team falling flat.
But, channeling my inner Mack Brown here: make sure you go ahead and stagger to the game. First of all, you need to support the team, and second, you will see not just the coming out party for Texas star running back of the future, Johnathan Gray, you will also see the famed triple option offense run by the Lobos.
"We go from a team last week [Wyoming] that lined up with no backs about a third of the game," explains Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, "to a team that when the ball is snapped will have three backs in some way, shape or form in the backfield, so you couldn't be going from one end of the spectrum any further to the other."
"All of a sudden we've gone from [coaching against] four and five wideouts on defense, to coaching against a triple option that looks like the modern day version of the wishbone," adds Brown. "It will be a week of discipline and assignment football that our defense will really have to try to figure out."
The triple option is fun to watch: three running backs going every which way, fake hand-offs, dive plays, and the occasional long bomb to keep the defensive backs honest.
The triple option was the starting point for the old wishbone, which was invented at the University of Texas. Emory Ballard was the offensive coordinator at Texas under the legend, Coach Darrell K. Royal. Back in 1967, Royal and Ballard invented and installed the wishbone offense and changed the college game, and it won Texas a couple of National Championships.
Still, the Texas defense lines up pretty well against New Mexico's triple option. With Alex Okafior and Jackson Jeffcoat at end and Chris Whaley playing great at tackle, the Texas defensive line should be able to clog the holes in the middle.
If the Texas linebackers do their jobs, it should be a great day for the defense; shut outs are hard, but entirely possible. Last week the defense gave up a couple of big plays, one an 80-yard touchdown pass. Look for the Texas defense to be a little ticked off about that.
On offense, Texas will have the pleasure of experimenting with the first team and trying out some younger guys. This is where Johnathan Gray, the most coveted freshman running back in the country comes in. After running just five times last week against a decent Wyoming team, he will get the ball a lot more Saturday. He's a tough runner who is light on his feet and cuts hard.
Gray will be fun to watch, and in a few years, if he is the Heisman hopeful so many believe he can be, you can say 'I saw him when.'
"He will get more involved," promises offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "The nice thing about where Johnathan is at right now is he is a very good football player who has two guys that have experience in front of him with Joe [Bergeron] and Malcolm [Brown]. We don’t have to throw him in the fire. He can go out there and let those guys do their deal and we can get him in on some specific plays that he has prepared for throughout the week."
The offense played well last week, and quarterback David Ash looked confident and threw with accuracy and authority. The Longhorns want to throw the ball deep more often so you may see them open it up a bit more against New Mexico. Make no mistake, this is a team that will win or lose by running the ball, but the ability to throw downfield is necessary if they want to keep a defense from cheating against the run.
Texas will win, big, the oddsmakers put the spread at 38 points. While winning the game is as close to a given as there can be, there are some things to watch for, harbingers of things to come.
What to watch for
- Johnathan Gray. Let's hope he gets the ball 10 - 15 times, just to see what he can do with it. Texas has a great stable of running backs, so this could be fun.
- Throwing the ball deep more often. "I think you have to go get more explosive plays in the passing game, said Brown. "And continuing to keep the other team from having explosive plays on defense. I mean, those were the two things that probably hurt us the most [last week]."
- Defending the run. The Longhorns must hold the line of scrimmage against the Lobos triple option, and they would love to keep the team below 150 yards rushing. Mack Brown described the New Mexico offense as though it really concerned him, maybe it does. "The thing you can't do with an option offense like they're going to run, is you can't let them keep the ball. They could go for five fourth downs to keep the ball away from you on Saturday night. We just can't allow that to happen."
- A defensive shut out. The defense is frankly unhappy about the way they played against Wyoming. This an inferior opponent that runs the ball hard. The Texas defense wants to make a statement.
See you at the tailgate.
Texas Longhorns vs. New Mexico Lobos
Time: 7 p.m. - Darrell K. Royal — Texas Memorial Stadium
Television: The Longhorn Network
Radio: KVET-FM 98.1 / KVET-AM 1300
Honored: This is Alumni band and Cheerleader weekend. Longhorn legend and Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell is named honorary captain and will take the field before the coin toss.
Once again Grande Communications and The Longhorn Network will showcase a public viewing of the game at Republic Square Park (400 Guadalupe Street) that starts at 6 p.m.