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Crossfire Q&A: Texas

The game against Texas this week has given us the chance to collaborate with one of the best sites in the business, as we welcome GhostofBigRoy from  Burnt Orange Nation here to RMN to give us a better idea of what to expect from the Texas Longhorns on Saturday.

RMN: Before the season, my colleague Bill said he expected a regression from Colt McCoy's numbers, and the stats so far seem to have vindicated him in many respects. What's been the difference between Colt '08 v. Colt '09?

BON: It's not a simple answer, so I'll go ahead and divide it into a couple of points. First, the major change is defensive adjustments. OU blitzed a lot during the first half and so did Wyoming at times, but most teams have sat with two deep safeties and forced Texas to complete passes underneath.

Last season, Texas did that well and could move methodically down the field with the controlled passing game, but the failure to do so this year relates to the second factor, which is the loss of Quan Cosby and Brandon Collins, two players McCoy relied on to complete third-down passes, in the case of Cosby also the hitch passes that he could turn into solid gains and Collins as his hot receivers on blitzes. McCoy has not established that level of comfort with the current receivers, who have struggled to create separation and, frankly, McCoy didn't help much early in the season because he was uncharacteristically inaccurate at points early in the year.

Those struggles have passed now, but the bottom line is that the receiving corps, notably John Chiles and James Kirkendoll, has been a disappointment overall and defenses have caught up with the Texas offense unveiled last season against Oklahoma, particularly in defending the crossing routes Texas used to convert many third downs last season and either disguising coverages to confuse McCoy's pre-snap reads or also using their coverage look to manipulate his read into something easily defensible.

RMN: The Texas defense is giving up an absurdly low 3.6 yards per play, tied for tops in the nation. How is the credit divided here? Has Texas amassed enough talent that schemes don't matter, or does Will "Boom" Muschamp get a lion's share of the credit too?

BON: Dividing the credit equally doesn't seem to be fair to the job that Will Muschamp has done at Texas. The recruiting has played a big part of it - guys like Sergio Kindle and Eddie Jones were the bluest of blue chips coming out of high school, but the staff did an excellent job identifying underrated talents like Roddrick Muckelroy, from a school East Texas school, and the Acho brothers, who played at a private school in Dallas. Don't underestimate, then, the collective recruiting the staff has done.

There is a ton of talent on that defense and none of those players were recruited by Muschamp. That being said, what Muschamp has turned this defense into is completely of his own creation, particularly Kindle, who was unbelievably lost in the shuffle during his first two years on campus - Muschamp took his talent and maximized it in a way the previous defensive coordinators had not. The previous coaches wanted to make him into a linebacker who could drop into coverage. Muschamp unleashed him on opposing quarterbacks because he recognized that Kindle is best served playing downhill, the skill that made him so highly regarded coming out of high school in the first place. In that way, Kindle is perhaps a perfect example of the overall effect Muschamp has had - players are now in a position to succeed and they are doing so.

RMN: The benching of James Kirkendoll isn't much of a surprise after his Zidane-esque headbutt in Dallas, but what gives on the benching of John Chiles (who looks like a freak athlete) and Dan Buckner (who I thought was a mismatch nightmare and one of UT's biggest weapons)? Is Texas deep enough at receiver that it really doesn't matter, or is Mack Brown just trying to send a quick message?

BON: The issue for Chiles is simple - he hasn't been producing and can't consistently get separation in his routes. Unfortunately, whatever athleticism he has, and it was certainly of great repute coming to Texas, it just hasn't translated onto the field for whatever reason. As for Buckner, Mack Brown said that he's concerned about his knee, but really Buckner is going to lose some snaps to Greg Smith because the coaching staff seems to desire a greater emphasis on the running game. That's the short answer. If anyone is interested in the treatise I wrote about the issue, it's here.

Basically, the answer to your question is both. Brown is trying to send a message (if it's a message to Buckner it's to block better), but the main thing to take from this is that the coaching staff finally decided it was time to let talented players like true freshman and two-time Junior Olympic long-jump champion Marquise Goodwin, who can certainly create separation with his blend of incredible speed and ability to get into and out of cuts, and Malcolm Williams, the star of last year's Tech game who has had trouble getting into the field this season, reportedly because of a combination of dropped balls and less-than-ideal work ethic at times in practice.

RMN: Can ANY team expect to run on Texas this year, much less a Missouri team that's been struggling on the ground all season?

BON: Looking down the line, Oklahoma State is a concern because they racked up more than 200 yards last year against a unit that didn't get run on much, just like this current one, and Alabama and Florida are both concerns, for slightly different reasons in a possible national championship game appearance. Other than that, the flat answer is no. Texas has given up 29 yards rushing in the last four games. Muschamp puts a big emphasis on stopping the running game on first and second downs to create tough situations for the offense, but still manages not to give up many big plays in the passing game on early downs. Missouri will have an extremely difficult time running the football against Texas, I don't think there's any doubt about that.

RMN: Seeing what you've seen this season, if you were the opponent (in this case, Mizzou), how would you go about attacking the Texas defense? How would you defend the Texas offense?

BON: Can I pass on trying to formulate a plan to attack the Texas defense? Thinking about this question makes me extremely glad that the Longhorns won't ever have to face a Muschamp-coached defense. Teams haven't had much success at all this season doing much of anything. Colorado had success on two touchdowns isolating a tight end on a linebacker in coverage, but Muschamp adjusts so quickly I'm not sure he's going to allow that to happen again and I don't know anything about Missouri having a threat in that aspect of the game like the two excellent tight ends they've had recently.

Other than that, Tech had some success with double moves against Chykie and Curtis Brown, but on one of the plays I'm thinking of with Chykie giving up a touchdown, Muschamp blamed the blitz not getting there fast enough. In fact, if Texas sends a couple blitzers and the Mizzou line can hold for a second, Gabbert could be able to find something downfield and that is probably their best chance for a big play. Really though, other than a couple breakdowns in concentration by Chykie, the secondary hasn't given up much this season, a huge change from last year. As for as defending the Texas offense, I think I would blitz some on early downs to try to get the Longhorns behind the chains and then sit back in coverage in obvious passing situations and keep everything in front. In my opinion, that's pretty much the book on the Texas offense, but it may be changing now with an increased emphasis on the running game and downfield passing off of play action. If I'm an opposing defensive coordinator, though, I would just play by the book until Texas proves that it can run the ball consistently.

RMN:  Bonus -- Should we hide our women and children when Sergio Kindle lines up across from the Missouri offensive line?

BON: Kindle is a beast, but I'm not going to predict any serious threats to the health of Blaine Gabbert just because the two times I've done that this season, Kindle was effective, but had relatively quiet games in terms of massive, Taylor Potts-like hits on the quarterback. Don't get me wrong, it's safe to say that Tiger fans should be afraid of Kindle, but with the way that the rest of the Texas defense is playing right now, it's really the whole unit that should be downright terrifying.