Big 12 Preview: Texas

Texas Press Reports —

AUSTIN, Tex. — Offseason in the Texas football universe is usually
all about optimism. Texas being Texas, the sins of previous
disappointing seasons eventually give way to preseason hype and the
cautious optimism that this will be the year the Longhorns get back into
national title contentions, or at least a BCS bowl.

But with the start of preseason practice, the time comes where the
proof is in the pads. The Longhorns open the season ranked No. 15 by
Associated Press.

“Now we've gotta shut up and do it,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

Of course, Brown shares that optimism. “We have improved. Anybody
that knows anything about football would say we've got a better chance
going into this season than we did two years ago. Or last year,” Brown
said. “And if nothing more for the fact that we have two older
quarterbacks that have played a lot. So those things help you as much as
anything.”

What did not help in 2012 was the defense. The Longhorns struggled on
that side of the ball with both injuries and ineffectiveness, and the
key to success in 2013 will be whether Manny Diaz can lead his crew to
more success against the league's top offenses.

After giving up 48 points to West Virginia, 63 to Oklahoma, 50 to
Baylor and 42 to Kansas State, the Texas fans will be looking to see
signs that things will be different this time around.

“On defense you've got to reestablish your confidence, especially against the run,” Brown said.

The defensive staff and players took a beating last year and some of
it rightfully so. And as they got through midseason, it improved at the
end of the year. What we've gotta do is make sure we can play defense
against the best offenses in this league. And that's something that's
been difficult for people to do. But defenses need to catch up with the
offenses in this league some.”

Texas returns experience everywhere in the lineup, which makes
preseason hopes of Big 12 contention realistic. But the Longhorns aren't
the deepest team in the world, as Texas fans found out a year ago when
injuries to Jordan Hicks and Jackson Jeffcoat derailed the defense.
There's not much margin for error, and if David Ash or Johnathan Gray go
down, the Longhorns will have a hard time competing for the conference
crown.

Quarterback David Ash worked his way into the starting lineup as a
freshman and won the job for good as a sophomore, but while he's made
progress he's struggled against better teams. This is the first
offseason he hasn't had to spend the preseason splitting reps, however,
and the staff is expecting him to continue to progress as a junior. If
he doesn't, Case McCoy is still there, looking over his shoulder.

The player most affected by the transfer of reserve quarterback
Connor Brewer was redshirt freshman Jalen Overstreet. Overstreet, who
previously saw most of his practice work as a running back and wide
receiver, now also becomes the Longhorns fourth-string quarterback and
got work under center as well.

However, he began the fall working exclusively at running back, as the Longhorns only have three tailbacks on the roster.

At receiver, Texas is looking for a breakout year from Daje Johnson.
The coaches have long been enamored of Johnson's speed and athleticism,
but haven't been able to figure out how to get him involved in the
offense. He's been moved into the slot this Fall and will also see time
at tailback, so he could take over the speedy Marquise Goodwin role as
matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

A newcomer who is expected to help the offense immediately is
offensive tackle Desmond Harrison. The junior college transfer should
crack a starting lineup that returns all five starters if he can get on
the field fast enough. Harrison missed early practices in August as the
school worked out some academic issues, but he's talented enough to be
an All-Big 12 performer before he finishes his career in Texas.

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Texas
opens with what should be an easy win over New Mexico State, but the
danger zone starts in a hurry after that. The Longhorns travel to BYU,
then play a couple of home games against Ole Miss and Kansas State. The
Wildcats closed the season with a 42-24 victory over the Longhorns a
year ago and has won the last five games between the squads. Texas last
beat Kansas State in 2003, when it won 24-20.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: For Texas to
be the best, it has to beat the best. More specifically, it has to stop
the best offenses in the Big 12, which it hasn't been able to do over
the past couple of years. It also needs more from the quarterback
position. David Ash was solid as a sophomore, but seemed to make his few
mistakes at the worst possible times. The Longhorns passing attack is
going to have to be more aggressive at attacking defenses if it hopes to
take the next step this season, but it can't hurt that Ash goes into
this season more secure in the starting job than he has ever been in the
past.

AREAS OF CONCERN: Texas only
has three scholarship tailbacks on the roster, which would be less of a
worry if Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron hadn't struggled with injuries
throughout their Texas careers.

But the big worry for the Longhorns comes on the defensive end, where
the Longhorns have struggled to stop top teams under Manny Diaz. Texas
returns nine starters, but few of them have shown the consistency that
the Longhorns will need to get back into the top 10.