September 5, 2008

Give Will Muschamp the Jason Garrett treatment

A little disclaimer to start off this week's Fourth-and-Inches: I may have completely lost my mind.

I drove to Dallas Thursday to speak to the Salesmanship Club - the group that puts on the Byron Nelson Golf Classic - and it strikes me as I'm listening to a conversation about Jason Garrett, the Cowboys' offensive coordinator.

Mack Brown and DeLoss Dodds need to start figuring out the budget for next year so that Will Muschamp gets Jason Garrett status. Double his salary, even if it means the coordinators are not paid the same. Promise him the job when Mack moves on. If Mack were to slide into the athletic director's role in a few years, you'd still have Mack and Muschamp presiding over everything. But do whatever it takes to keep Muschamp around.

Go ahead, fire up the posts that say I'm completely nuts. Tell me to save it until after the Oklahoma and Missouri games. Or until mid-January. I understand. But I'm also convinced. I've been around some great head coaches - Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells - and some not-so-great head coaches (no need to name names but Bill Callahan and Dave Wannstedt just seemed to slip out).

Muschamp has it. I've been saying for months that Muschamp is the next Bob Stoops. I think Muschamp is having the same effect on this year's team that Vince Young had on his teammates. Everyone takes it up a notch. Confidence soars. Players start to overachieve.

Muschamp not only preaches a blue collar attitude. He lives it. Picture this defense if Brown hadn't brought Muschamp in.

Dick Tomey once told me, "My job as a coach is to take players where they can't take themselves." That is Muschamp.

Here's what linebacker Jared Norton had to say this week.

"It's a new year, a new way of doing things," Norton said. "Everything's been different. Coach Brown has been different. Everyone's been different. Coach Brown has been more intense. During two-a-days we did a lot more contact. Last year, we didn't do as much contact. That may have affected the tackling. It's been a more aggressive attitude from all the coaching staff."

When I asked where the new, more aggressive attitude was coming from, Norton said, "From Muschamp and (Major) Applewhite."

It's early. I get that. Lots of games. Lots of adversity ahead. Let's see how everyone handles it.

Mack Brown has called Muschamp "a rising star," but he's also been tapping the brakes a little bit.

"You all want it to be about one guy," Brown said after the Florida Atlantic game. "It's not. Four guys did a great job preparing that defense."

On Monday, Brown was asked if Muschamp was the best defensive coordinator in the country.

"He was obviously the best one for us to hire," Brown said. "He's tough, he's smart, he lines them up right. What he did that was difficult is meshing with the three other coaches. He manages staff well."

Of course, everyone was talking about the cut on Muschamp's face this week.

"He had a little scrape on his face," Mack said. "The sideline is emotional."

Muschamp does nothing to draw attention to himself. In fact, during the postgame press conference last Saturday, a reporter asked Brian Orakpo what it was like executing "Will Muschamp's defense?"

Muschamp snapped, "It's Texas' defense."

Yet another reason to give him the Jason Garrett treatment.

On to the questions …

Q: Is Captain Blood making any changes in the starting lineup for UTEP other than Lamarr Houston?


BROWN: Doubtful. But it's clear Muschamp is a big Jared Norton fan as a lot of us are (and were last year). Norton is still bracketed with Rashad Bobino at MLB. Norton got 40 snaps at MLB last weekend, and Bobino got 36. (Bobino also played some at weak side linebacker.) Listen to Muschamp this week on Norton, "He's a physical football player. He's a tough, hard-nosed kid. He's got great explosion and power. He's instinctive, tough. And he's worked extremely hard in this fall camp. I was pleased with his play Saturday. I think he's got good leadership ability. He's an intelligent kid and he enjoys playing the game." That's the one position it wouldn't shock me if Norton walked out first.

Q: Just how damaging to the Horns was Ryan Perrilloux's last-second change to go to LSU? I thought it was extremely damaging in that numerous multiple class top QBs decided not to come here and compete against him. Agree?


BROWN: I'm sure Geoff, Jason or Gerry will jump in here. But I'm not sure about that. Texas offered Colt McCoy, Ryan Perrilloux and Mark Sanchez (now at USC) the same day. Perrilloux said he was coming and didn't. McCoy obviously came. And Sanchez always seemed more interested in USC. Quarterbacks at that time were still thinking Vince Young might be at Texas for two years instead of just one. We will find out how good Jevan Snead is this year at Ole Miss. Mitch Mustain was a kid Texas recruited. He's done nothing but bounce around. Matthew Stafford always wanted to go to Georgia. Ryan Mallet has bounced around. The recruitment of Perrilloux didn't even affect UT's pursuit of Chase Daniel because Texas didn't think of offering him until it was too late. And it was Colt McCoy who scared off Snead and John Brantley. Somebody help me here, but it seemed like losing Perrilloux didn't cost Texas another quarterback as much as it cost Texas the pure dual threat guy to replace VY in the shotgun option. And now everyone breathes a sigh of relief that Perrilloux never came and that Crazy Legs McCoy is averaging 8.6 yards per carry. I could be wrong, but that's my recollection.

Q: What should we expect from UTEP on both offense and defense from the game. Obviously they played quite poorly against a less-than-stellar opponent in Buffalo, but will the fact that UTEP plays a different defense create difficulties for our offense? What offensive weapons should we look for from the Miners on Saturday? Are they a high-flying, spread offense or should we expect a slow-down, running offense that we will match up well against? Should we be worried about a let-down with the game being so late? AM I BEING TOO WORRIED?!?!


BROWN: UTEP will spread it out some. Sophomore QB Trevor Vittatoe threw for 25 touchdowns last season with only seven interceptions and has a favorite target in WR Jeff Moturi (6-0, 180), a first-team All Conference USA selection last season. UTEP's center Robby Felix and K Jose Martinez are also first-team All-CUSA. Running back Terrell Jackson averaged 5.2 yards per carry last season. So their offense can score points. UTEP hung with Texas Tech the last two years before the Red Raiders pulled away late. The defense will blitz from every angle, but that will allow Colt McCoy to find one-on-one matchups as long as the line is holding up. To me, this game is more a test of the offensive line than anything, because UTEP will blitz between 75 and 80 percent of the time.

Q: After one week, other than the obvious (Clemson), who looks better/worse in the Big12 and nationally than preseason expectations?


BROWN: It's so hard after one week because so many teams are playing blueberry muffins. To me, Texas Tech looked worse than expected thanks to a defense giving up more than 300 yards and 24 points to Eastern Washington. Tech also had 18 penalties. Missouri's defense wasn't as good as I thought it would be, giving up 42 points to Illinois. UCLA was obviously better than I thought. The Bruins' defense was stout when it needed to be. Louisville is awful. Texas A&M is awful. Michigan is awful. I thought Michigan State would be better than its showing against Cal. One thing is clear, the ACC is horrible. My prediction of Wake Forest-North Carolina in the title game is looking good. And anyone who thinks USC's win over Virginia was impressive needs to put the flask down. Virginia blows with a capital B.

Q: Can you explain FAU's "slide blocking" and how this affected our D-line's ability to get to the passer, if at all? How do defenses counter slide blocking? Thanks.


BROWN: Slide blocking means they slide the quarterback to one side or the other so the line, a running back and tight end can wall off most of the defense. With one and sometimes two tight ends and or a running back staying in to block, FAU often had seven blockers to face a four or five-man rush. Early on, Will Muschamp tried to blitz to get pressure, but FAU's line was doing a good job of picking it up and Rusty Smith burned Texas on third down. So Muschamp stopped bringing pressure and double-covered WR Cortez Gent. As the game wore on, Texas was able to get pressure with a four-man rush by rotating fresh bodies against FAU's tired O-line.

Q: What do you think about the defensive line play in the opener against FAU? It seemed to me that we did not get enough pressure on the QB. Should I buy into the theory that we are saving our blitzes and only showing a vanilla defense against teams that we should beat easily? Do you think Muschamp was pleased with the pass rush? I expected to see more of Sam Acho during the game, but only noticed him in the 2nd half. I thought Melton was the most effective rusher all night, which was a surprise to me. Who or what stood out in your mind from the first game, and what do you expect to see against UTEP?


BROWN: I thought the pass rush was not bad. Smith was getting flushed as the game wore on. I know there were no sacks, but Henry Melton, Aaron Lewis, Brian Orakpo and Lamarr Houston did a nice job. I, too, would expect to see a little more Sam Acho and Eddie Jones this week. Muschamp wants improvement in the pass rush, but he was happy with the ability to disrupt FAU's quarterback as the game wore on last week.

Q: Since Mack has no doubt told Muschamp that his defense is already being scouted by OU, do you think he's saving his more "exotic" blitz packages for Dallas or do you get the impression he really doesn't give a crap what they see?


BROWN: Muschamp is only going to show what he has to to get control of a game. He said Texas barely showed anything on defense last week. So he has saved quite a bit. But it's hard to blitz great quarterbacks. So more than anything, it's about winning one-on-one battles up front. Texas will see plenty of those against OU and Missouri and will have to win them and get pressure with four most of the time.

Q: Why do folks get upset when Colt runs for 103 yards? They treat it like those yards don't count and those yards don't set us up for the next set of downs. 2) From what I've read, most people think the offensive line did a great job. Pass protection was incredible. Can you explain why there wasn't more yardage gained by the running backs in designed running plays? 3) We didn't have any turnovers on Saturday. But, the two non-fumbles were too close for comfort. Also, Colt should of had one pass intercepted but it was dropped. Have we solved our turnover issue?


BROWN: Now, it's to the point where coaches don't want Colt to leave the pocket quite so quickly. Greg Davis said Colt got a negative grade on his TD pass to Jordan Shipley because he left the pocket and if he would have stayed in, he would have had an easier TD throw to Chris Ogbonnaya. But anyone who saw the last half of last season knows how important Colt's legs are to this offense. Those yards count, and Colt running the ball is a big part of its success. People need to get used to seeing Colt running around. As for the protection, it was very good against a very bad defense. Vondrell McGee averaged 5.2 yards per carry and Colt averaged 8.6 ypc. They did most of the work with the first team. The other backs didn't have as good a night, but they were running behind the backup units. Overall, though, Texas ran for 232 yards and a 5 ypc average. You'll take that most every Saturday. The guy with home-run capability should be back in the lineup this week - Fozzy Whittaker. McGee is a straight-line runner. Whittaker can make guys miss and break it. He will give Texas another shot at explosive plays in the run game. I wouldn't say Texas has solved its turnover issue. Again, that was a mediocre defense at best. Better defenses are coming.

Q: Can our DT rotation carry us to a 10-win season?


BROWN: If Roy Miller, Lamarr Houston and Aaron Lewis can stay healthy and UT's depth at end can get some pressure, then the DT rotation should be a strength and a reason why Texas could reach 10 wins. The concern will come in October against a team like Oklahoma, which has a veteran offensive line and a lots of talent at the skill positions. If Texas' defensive tackles and line can't get pressure, then a young secondary is left alone to fend for itself. But I don't see Texas DT rotation as a concern as long as people stay healthy.

Q: I thought the tackling in the secondary in the first half last week was (to say the least) disappointing, and was my greatest cause for concern coming out of the game. It looks like we shored things up in the second half, but I was wondering whether there was anything we were doing in fall practice (i.e. getting guys to the ball carrier/receiver but not delivering the blow) that might have contributed to the problem, or whether it was just an off day.


BROWN: Just an off day and as you said, the tackling got better as the game wore on. Earl Thomas and Curtis Brown had big misses. There were eight missed tackles with the starters in the game - five in the first half. Will Muschamp swears it's all correctable. Texas hit a ton in the spring and fall camp, so it's just guys playing with confidence and being in the right position. That should come with experience.

Q: Given your love of Jared Norton, I was wondering if you think this is possible. Could Mack's staunch allegiance to seniors - Derry and Killebrew last year, Bobino this year - is it possible that Norton actually possesses All-American talent but just has been totally handcuffed by limited playing time? I am a diehard Longhorn fan but it just kills me to see such obviously superior talented players such as Norton and Keenan Robinson and Aaron Williams sit behind less talented guys because Mack has this Monk-like paranoia about inexperience. It is clear you feel that way about Norton, are there other guys you feel that way about?


BROWN: Norton is starting to get more time on the field at middle because I think Muschamp sees him as a guy who will eventually play on Sundays. On defense, I don't worry about it as much because Muschamp will get his best players on the field. Right now, Brian Orakpo needs time to show what he can do. But Sam Acho needs some reps. Melton and Eddie Jones should both get some time. And the young players at corner got some time against Florida Atlantic and should continue to get some time. If the young ones start to play better than the older ones, Muschamp will give them more time. My concern last year was that a player like Erick Jackson at safety was allowed to keep playing well into the season even though he had little production. Why weren't Earl Thomas, Ben Wells or Christian Scott given a look then? The days of worrying about if the right players on the field should be over now that Muschamp and Applewhite are here and Mack seems convinced getting young players on the field is the best way to go. Proof? Eighteen freshmen played last Saturday - including eight true freshmen. Thanks for the questions and keep them coming.

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