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November 10, 2009

The Breakdown Part II - Baylor Week

1. Sophomore linebacker Keenan Robinson has been one of the pleasant surprises on defense this season.

Robinson, UT's fourth-leading tackler (41 tackles), said he's having so much fun he doesn't care if the Longhorns' offense goes three-and-out because he wants to get back on the field to make a play.

"I don't see it as pressure (trying to stay undefeated)," Robinson said. "On the defensive side of the ball, we just go out there and have fun. Every week is time to go out there and have fun. We practice hard. Every week, is our chance to showcase our ability and have fun.

"When I got my first start this season, I was telling (Roddrick) Muckelroy, 'This is fun. I want the offense to go three and out so I can get back out there again and make some more plays.' It's just fun knowing you've got a bunch of guys around you who are all in and willing to put their bodies on the line for the team and know that everyone's going to be in their right spot and not have any busts."

Robinson was one of those out front blocking for Curtis Brown on his interception return against Oklahoma State.

"Whenever one of my teammates gets a turnover with a chance to score, I'm always going to look for someone to block and help lead the way," Robinson said. "I feel on defense, we're headhunters whenever someone gets a chance to score."

Robinson wore No. 10 as a freshman in 2007 (while he was redshirting), but it was retired before the 2008 season (because it belonged to VY). Now, Robinson wears No. 1.

"They said it was bold for me to pick that number (10)," Robinson laughed. "I wasn't thinking No. 10 because of VY. I just picked a lower number because they say it makes you look slimmer and faster."

Even though Robinson's got great speed, he doesn't want to be known for his sideline-to sideline striking ability.

"In high school, one of my strengths was playing sideline to sideline, but in college things are more downhill," Robinson said. "You've got to be able to stop the power, stop the counter and stuff like that. Not as much stopping the speed option or stopping the speed sweep. Really, I pride myself more in stopping the head-on runs, not just running people down from behind."

Robinson said he and Emmanuel Acho take pride in helping fill the void left when Jared Norton was lost to a shoulder injury.

"Jared was my roommate last year," Robinson said. "I thought, 'Wow, this is going to be tough.' But we've got Dustin Earnest and Emmanuel Acho stepping up, and Coach Muschamp does a great job of cross-training so we're prepared if someone gets injured."

Muschamp said Robinson took the next step as a player in the off-season by spending more time in the weight room and film room.

"I really thought Keenan was going to be a good player for us this year, and he's certainly played well," Will Muschamp said. "After last season, we sat down and said, 'You've got to get stronger in your upper and lower body. You've got to get more punch and power at the point of attack to take on the blocks and physical teams we have to face in this league.'

"He's done all that, and he's always been a guy who can run and accelerate and finish. He's got God-given ability to do that. And then to approach the game on the mental side and work on not just what we do but what the offense does, to study tendencies, he does that.

"That's why he's taken the next step as a player this season in my opinion. He's got an awful lot of ability, lot of instincts. On top of that, he's improved the intangible areas and worked hard to become a better player. And he's got a tough side to him. He's a tough kid.

"He's played really well. He's a sophomore. We expect big things of him Saturday. And I know based on his parents he'll continue to work and progress and become a really good player."


2. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Baylor freshman quarterback Nick Florence's 427-yard passing performance last week caught the Tigers off-guard in the Bears' 40-32 upset in Columbia.

"Obviously he played well," Pinkel said. "In watching the film, he had not played like that at all in the previous weeks. He was hot. He made plays. We did not respond well defensively.

"It was certainly a courageous effort on his part. And you can't argue with what he accomplished. He made some plays with his feet. He bought some time. But I thought he did an excellent job."

Pinkel said his team really struggled with Baylor's speed in the open field.

"You want to play well and play your best game. You can get beat playing your best game, and I'm responsible for having our team ready to play and defensively we didn't play well. You give them credit. We had 18 missed tackles, and we didn't respond very well. That's on me."


3. Jordan Shipley, who is starting to get Biletnikoff Award questions, said the running game will probably be the key to the offense's continued success.

"The coaches have made a big push for consistent runs and getting 4 yards," Shipley said. "The other day, they were taking the run away so we focused on the passing game. But we feel like if we can run the ball well, we can do everything well."

Shipley said the leadership on the team is very strong.

"The great thing about this team is I do feel like we have great leaders," Shipley said. "This team is made up of guys who are really invested in this deal, they do extra and are vocal. The main thing is keeping everyone focused each week. If we get the opportunity to play football at a place like Texas, we should never have an off game.

"We don't have a bunch of guys who are vocal all the time, but we have good seniors like Charlie Tanner, Chris Hall, Colt McCoy, Lamarr Houston and Sergio (Kindle). Those guys are great leaders and extremely vocal and keep everyone on the right track."

The offense is taking more chances in the vertical passing game lately.

"I think we did stretch the field a little bit more (last week)," Shipley said. "I think the main thing is the running game opens up everything else. If we run it well, we'll stretch the field more. The receivers have done a lot better job blocking downfield and the offensive line has done a great job of protecting Colt."

Shipley has moved around more from outside to inside, and only a couple teams have assigned one defender to him at all times, including Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox. He said he doesn't care if he breaks Kwame Cavil's records of 100 receptions set in 1999 or Cavil's 1,188 receiving yards mark set in 1999. (Shipley has 75 catches for 1,050 yards).

"I don't care," he said. "I just want to catch as many as the team needs me to. I came back for this season to have a chance at a really successful year for the team. That's all that matters to me."

But what about winning the Biletnikoff Award?

"I think that would be a huge testament to our offense as a whole," Shipley said. "The biggest thing is you have to have a lot of guys contributing, otherwise they can take one player away immediately. That would be a huge testament to our other receivers and our running backs. You can't win an award like that without the other guys. But right now I'm just focused on this football team and winning games."

Even in his sixth year at Texas, Shipley said he's having more fun than ever.

"One of the things really good teams do is to make it a point to have fun because there's not a lot of people who are getting to do what we're doing right now," Shipley said. "You have to enjoy it and have fun playing. For the seniors, we only have a few games left, so we're trying to have fun out there and I think it shows when we're out there."


4. Mack Brown gave credit to Will Muschamp for teaching the defense to do a much better job of disguising coverages and pressure packages this season.

"We were much simpler in the secondary last year because we couldn't disguise," Brown said. "One of the reasons I hired Will is because the NFL has better quarterbacks and more experienced quarterbacks than we have in college.

" They play the same teams week in and week out. And to me the Will Muschamps and Greg Robinsons who have been in the NFL disguise better than a lot of the college guys who haven't because that's what they had to do to make it. If you can't disguise against Peyton Manning, you're going to get ripped.

"So as I see it, we can pressure better, cover better because we're more talented in the back end, more experienced, stronger and understand the defense better. But we are doing a much better job of disguising.

"We can show eight in the box and then play a zone or zone blitz. We're more into the defensive package than we were a year ago, and we're tackling better. We had some space plays last year where we didn't tackle well. We missed seven tackles on Saturday (against UCF) but we're not missing many tackles in space right now."


5. Greg Davis said the offense is trying to stretch the field more.

"We're trying to challenge the field a little bit more," Davis said. "A lot of the short things we do, there's a run called and we don't like the look, so we flip it outside. But we're trying to be a little more conscious of getting the ball vertical and play-action has helped that.

"In playing with a tight end, you pick up your play-action a little bit more than you do when you're playing with 10 personnel."


6. Art Briles said he thinks his freshman quarterback is starting to get more comfortable.

"He's been really solid the last few weeks as far as placement of the ball and what's been going on in practice," Briles said. "So with the increased reps, his confidence and anticipation skills have gotten better. It was a good deal that (the Missouri performance) happened. But surprised? I don't think so. Just glad we got the expected outcome."

Briles said the challenge for Florence Saturday against Texas is to maintain his consistency.

"No one can ever predict the future, but we felt pretty good the last two or three weeks about his development and guys rallying around him," Briles said. "So I think that's as critical a factor as anything else. Our guys are starting to play really well for each other, so that's a good sign."

I asked Briles what stood out to him about the Longhorns.

"They're very confident, very mature, very talented. Well-coached. Well-schemed," Briles said. "A lot of confidence, and that's why they're where they're at."

Baylor is 4-5 with games left against Texas, at Texas A&M and home against Texas Tech. Briles said bowl eligibility is still very much a goal.

"The win against Missouri certainly puts us in position," Briles said. "We're just working one day at a time, one play at a time. But at least now we're in position to where we can make that a reality, so it helps us from that standpoint."

Briles said his players learned a lot from winning at Missouri last week, especially in the aftermath of losing quarterback Robert Griffin earlier this season.

"We just kept grinding and playing for each other on both sides of the ball," Briles said. "In the second half, we were going to continue to play fast and with a lot of effort. That helped us. But I think the best part was we just felt good about what was happening on both sides of the ball and special teams, and that created momentum and confidence. That's what carried us through.

"It was a good win for our university and our program. Regardless of everything that transpired , it was a win that validated some of the practice methods and belief methods we go through. Our guys got to feel a little bit of the fruits of their labor.

The last two games (against Nebraska and Missouri), Baylor's defense has only given up three second-half points.

"Our guys keep fighting, keep believing and grinding," Briles said. "You can't play on emotion all the time. You gotta play on ability, belief and intelligence. That's what we try to bring it down to."


7. Senior DT Ben Alexander may have had to wait his turn to get on the field, but he said, "I'm just happy to be on this ride, contributing."

"That's how it is when you come to a place like Texas," Alexander said. "Before me, everyone had to wait their turn. Roy Miller, Rod Wright. They all had to wait their turn. I had to wait mine. Roy was a great player. He's making an impact in the NFL. He had a sack (Sunday for Tampa Bay in a win over Green Bay). Now, I'm just trying to make plays. I'm just happy to be on this ride, contributing."

Alexander has dropped from 325 pounds to 298 by eating better. But Alexander said, "You have to have one day where you can just smash and treat yourself." Alexander said that day last week was Sunday, when he and Sergio Kindle went out for wings and stuffed their faces.

Alexander echoed the thoughts of others, who say the defense is having so much fun on the field, they look forward to every opportunity the players get, even sudden change.

"Whenever we're called, we just want a chance," Alexander said. "If we have an interception go against our offense and the other team is on the 1-yard-line, we just want a chance to make a play and stop whoever we have to play."

Alexander said the offense and defense are constantly encouraging each other in the locker room at halftime or walking in and out of meeting rooms.

"Everyone's always got something to say," Alexander said. "We'll say, 'What's up O? I see you Uli (Ulatoski).' They'll say, 'What's up defense? Come on make a play.' We're just motivating each other. This team is really together."

When I asked Alexander if the Texas defense was dominant, he said, "I feel like we're cohesive and play together. We still have flaws, but I feel like when everyone does their job and runs the defense as it's called, it works."

Alexander is roommates with Lamarr Houston. Their apartment is often where several members of the defense gather to watch football or hang out.

"We live on the first floor, so the floors are nice and sturdy," Alexander said, referring to the weight of the apartment's occupants.


8. Ben Alexander came up with one of the funniest descriptions of a type of player that I've heard in a long time. When I asked him about LB Keenan Robinson, here's what Alexander said:

"I wouldn't say he's a shiny pants kind of guy,"
Alexander said. "He comes downhill and he's a hard hitter and a hard worker. He's got some style points, but he's a hard worker. The opposite of shiny pants would be blue collar.

"Keenan makes some hits in practice. He's always coming downhill. He's a good guy, a really cool guy. He's always smiling and joking and a cool person to be around. I've hung out with him more this year. Our defense is real cohesive."

Safe to say you don't want to be known as a "shiny pants kind of guy."


9. Sergio Kindle said when he yells his voice goes high-pitch, like Mike Tyson (at least that's what Brian Orakpo used to tell Kindle).

"So when I need to get something across to the guys, I gather 'em up real close, where I can talk at a normal level," Kindle said laughing.


10. Kindle said he had to run a little smack on a Central Florida player who "said something inappropriate" to him.

"He said something I can't repeat, but I just had to let him know that he was the one who had to fly home with this loss,'" Kindle said. "I told him, 'That flight was not going to be fun.'"

Kindle said LB Jared Norton probably talks more than anyone on the team.

"Jared will tell a joke and if no one laughs, he'll just keep telling it until someone acknowledges him," Kindle said. "Sometimes it ends up being funny. But after a while, you're like, 'OK, that's enough.'"


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