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Preseason Preview: BYU vs. Texas

20 July 2014 Brett Richins
BYU travels to Texas on Sept. 7. The Cougars lead the overall series 3-1.

BYU travels to Texas on Sept. 6. The Cougars lead the overall series 3-1.

This contest is a rematch from last season’s game in Provo that was dominated by BYU 40-21.

The Cougars set a school record, trampling the Longhorns for 550 yards on the ground, including 259 by quarterback Taysom Hill. It was also the most yards given up on the ground in the proud history of Texas football.

BYU leads the all-time series between the two schools 3-1 and has outscored the Longhorns by an average score of 31-15 in those four games. The lone Texas victory in the series came in Austin three years ago when the Horns came back in the second half for a 17-16 win.

This is a game that been circled on the schedule of both programs for several months now.

Texas wants to exorcise the demons from last season’s game. The shellacking the Longhorns suffered resulted in the firing of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz the next day and all but sealed the fate of head coach Mack Brown, who was forced to step down at season’s end.

BYU wants to prove that last year was no fluke, and a victory in Austin could set the table for the Cougars to potentially run the table and make some noise on a national level in the first year of the college football playoff era.

Texas hired former Louisville coach Charlie Strong to replace Brown and bring a blue collar work ethic to the program. The Longhorns certainly have talent, but they have been criticized as being soft the past few seasons. One of Strong’s big jobs has been to instill his team with toughness and a create desire to play with an attitude.

BYU Offense vs. Texas Defense

Hill and the Cougar offense had a hey day last season, thanks in part to the fact that the Longhorn defenders couldn’t tackle and were routinely out of position. They simply had no answer that night and appeared completely inept.

New defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has the job of getting his defense ready for BYU’s go-fast, go-hard attack this season. Bedford is a Texas alum and came with Strong from Louisville where he served as the defensive coordinator for the Cardinals the past four seasons.

A key for the new DC is to find some answers along a defensive front line that loses three starters. There’s a good amount of talent up front, just not a ton of experience. Malcolm Brown (6-4, 320 Jr.) is an NFL-caliber talent at defensive tackle in the Texas 4-3 defense and should be a solid candidate for All-Big 12 honors this season.

Defensive end Cedric Reed (6-6, 271 Sr.) is another player who has the talent to play at the next level, but he has yet to approach his full potential. Both Reed and Brown saw significant action against BYU last year and were manhandled by the Cougars’ makeshift offensive line.

The problem for Texas is that the BYU O-line is expected to be improved this season, putting the onus on the Longhorn front four to come together quickly and play much better than they did last year.

The strength of the defense is expected to be at linebacker where middle linebacker Steve Edmond (6-3, 253 Sr.) leads the way as a two-time All-Big 12 performer. The bad news is that Edmond, along with outside linebacker Jordan Hicks (6-2, 244 Sr.), may not be available against BYU. The two players reportedly accepted a meal from an agent and are likely to miss the first game of the year against North Texas and perhaps the game against the Cougars.

Peter Jinkens (6-1, 230 Jr.) and Tim Cole (6-2, 232 So.) are the expected to be key players at the outside backer spots. Jenkins was a part-time starter last season as a sophomore, while Cole saw action in 11 games as a redshirt freshman. All of the linebackers will have to play much better this time around if they hope to slow down BYU’s read option attack.

Cornerback Quandre Diggs (5-10, 204 Sr.) will be expected to be the senior leader in the secondary. Diggs is an outstanding athlete who was an all-conference player last year and led the Longhorns with 10 pass break ups. Duke Thomas (5-11, 182 Jr.) started 10 games opposite Diggs and came up with an interception against BYU last year. The No. 3 CB looks to be Bryson Echols (5-10 185 So.), who was a key special teams player as a freshman.

The question marks in the defensive backfield are at the safety positions where projected starters Josh Turner (6-0, 179 Sr.) and Mykkele Thompson (6-2, 183 Sr.) lack the size needed in run support against a team like BYU. Turner was a reserve last year who had five tackles against the Cougars, while Thompson started that night and was forced to make eight stops from his free safety spot.

Texas enjoyed an athletic edge over the Cougar receivers last year, but that may not be the case in 2014. An infusion of speed at wide receiver at BYU may prevent Texas from loading the box in an effort to slow down Hill, Jamaal Williams and Paul Lasike on the ground.

Given that Hill has worked hard to improve himself as a passer this offseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cougars test the Longhorns deep in an effort to keep them honest and keep the running lanes open. In addition to the added speed on the outside, the BYU receivers will enjoy a considerable size advantage against the Texas corners with the likes of Mitch Mathews (6-6, 206 Jr.), Nick Kurtz (6-6, 205 Jr.), Ross Apo (6-3, 207 Sr.), Jordan Leslie (6-3, 210) and Mike Davis (6-2, 180 So.) on the field.

Though the Cougars will be improved on offense don’t expect them to roll up another 600-plus yards. Many of problems the Longhorns experienced in last year’s game were the result of a lack of discipline. That will change under the new coaching staff.

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BYU Defense vs. Texas Offense

The Cougars controlled both lines of scrimmage in 2013. Defensively they held Texas to just 132 yards on the ground and battered quarterback David Ash (6-3, 227 Jr.) in the pocket, eventually knocking him out of the game in the fourth quarter.

New offensive coordinator and O-line coach Joe Wickline will have his work cut out for him after the Longhorns lost three all-conference offensive lineman to graduation. Wickline comes to Austin after serving as the offensive line coach at Florida and Oklahoma State and has a reputation of whipping offensive lines into shape.

Center Dominic Espinosa (6-4, 300 Sr.) is the anchor and leader of an offensive line that will be replacing its entire left side. Espinosa has started all 39 games that he has played in during his career. The left tackle position is expected to be manned by Kent Perkins (6-5, 325 So.), assuming he comes back healthy from knee surgery. He was a reserve last season and played in six games as a true freshman.

The right tackle should be manned by Kennedy Estelle (6-7, 285 Jr.), who started eight games after Josh Cochran went down with a season-ending injury. Right guard Taylor Doyle (605, 300 Jr.) stepped up in the spring and looks to continue his quest to be the starter next to Estelle. Doyle has zero starting experience and has played in just two games during his career in Austin.

Sedrick Flowers (6-3, 317 Jr.) will be the likely starter at left guard when BYU comes to town on Sept. 6. Flowers started just one game last year, but saw action in all 13 games as a reserve offensive lineman. Next to Espinoza, he’s may be the best bet on the offensive line to garner post-season honors.

Though Wickline comes from an OSU program that employs a wide open attack, the Longhorns are expected to rely a good deal on the running game in an effort to protect the oft-injured and much-maligned Ash at quarterback.

Malcolm Brown (6-0, 228 Sr.) and Jonathan Gray (5-11, 210 Jr.) combine to create one of the better running back tandems in the country.

Gray has just been cleared to participate in workouts after tearing his Achilles tendon in a win at West Virginia late last season. Though he’s had a remarkably fast recovery, it remains to be seen just how much of his former speed and quickness he’ll regain by the first week of September. He was the leading rusher for Texas in last year’s game, carrying the ball 13 times for 90 yards. Brown rushed for a team best 904 yards in 2013, but managed just 15 yards on three carries in Provo.

Short yardage back Joe Bergeron (6-1, 232 Sr.) is also expect to return after being in Strong’s doghouse earlier this year. He has totaled 25 rushing touchdowns during his career and scored the Horns only rushing TD in the game at BYU last season.

The hope is that the offensive line can come together quick enough to open holes for their talented backs and thereby take pressure off of Ash, who missed much of spring camp after breaking his foot. The junior suffered a concussion against BYU and then was knocked out for the season three games later at Kansas State.

Because of a lack of depth at quarterback, it’s imperative that Texas keeps Ash upright and healthy. Gone to graduation is Case McCoy, leaving little-used sophomore Tyrone Swoops (6-4, 241 So.) and incoming freshman Jerrod Heard (6-2, 196 Fr.) as teams primary depth at QB.

Ash has completed 63 percent of his passes during his career for 4,372 yards, 30 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He’ll be without speedy wide receiver Mike Davis this season. Davis hauled in two long balls from Ash for touchdowns against BYU last year and ended up signing with the Oakland Raiders this past spring.

The projected starters at wide receivers this season are Jaxon Shipley (6-1, 193 S.) and Kendall Sanders (6-0, 190 Jr.). Shipley will be the go-to-guy after amassing 1,993 career receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

Daje Johnson (5-10, 180 Jr.) and Jacorey Warrick (5-10, 174 So.) bring a great deal of speed and elusiveness to the receiving corps. Johnson was injured early in last year’s contest at BYU and sat out most of the game. He’s a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball, and as he did last year, he may see some carries out of the backfield.

The tight end spot will be manned by Geoff Swaim, who is an excellent blocker but not much of a threat as a receiver. He caught just three passes for 14 yards in 2013.

The BYU secondary should be better prepared to deal with the Longhorn’s speed on the edge in 2014. Therefore the outcome of this game may hinge on how fast the inexperienced Texas offensive line comes together against a BYU front seven that should be formidable once again despite the loss of star linebacker Kyle Van Noy.

If Texas fails to move the ball on the ground, it could be a long day for Ash as he becomes reacquainted with Alani Fua and Bronson Kaufusi. Fua terrorized the Texas QBs last season and Kaufusi made a number of plays in the backfield. When he’s not being pressured by BYU’s towering outside linebackers, he’ll have the task of trying to throw over them.

Special Teams

The Longhorns lose All-American place kicker and punter Alex Fera, leaving a huge hole to fill on special teams. Nick Jordan was the starting placekicker for most of the 2012 season and will likely be the starter when all is said and done. The punting job, however, may not be sorted out until well into fall camp.

Daje Johnson, Shipley and Diggs handled most of punt return duties last year, with Shipley turning in the best average at 13.5 yards per return. Kick returns were primarily handled by Johnson and Sanders, with Sanders leading the way with a 23.8 yard average.

The Bottom Line

There’s been considerable talk about Texas potentially looking past BYU this season to its game with UCLA the following week.

Don’t count on it.

The Cougars embarrassed the Longhorns last year and you can bet the the players wearing burnt orange will be fully focused and ready to go. However, the reality is that they might not be the best team on the field once again.

Most will view the hometown team as the favorite, but a closer look at this match up gives the edge to the Cougars. The BYU skill players on the edge will match up better athletically than they did last year and Hill should be more efficient in the passing game.

Taysom completed just nine of 26 passes for 129 yards and an interception in last season’s game. Expect him to improve on those numbers and keep Texas from loading up to stop the run.

If the offensive line fails to come together quickly, it could spell doom for Ash and the Texas offense against Bronco Mendenhall and his reloaded defense. The Longhorn’s only real threat last year was going deep down the sideline. Those passes won’t be as open this year with the return to health of BYU corners Jordan Johnson and Trent Trammell.

This will be a closer game than last year because it will be played in front of 100,00 Longhorn fans at Memorial Stadium, but the BYU is still the better team and gets out of Austin with a win.

Preseason Prognostication: BYU 24 Texas 17

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