Texas Preview


The day Old Blues have been waiting for for years is finally here – an opportunity to get payback for the 2004 Rose Bowl fiasco. Texas and Cal will meet on December 28th in San Diego in the Holiday Bowl.

Though both teams are down and come in with 7-5 records, the stakes are plenty high. Texas is among the most talented teams in the nation top-to-bottom, and Cal is fairly talented itself and figures to benefit from a ‘homefield’ Qualcomm Stadium packed with unusually motivated Cal faithful.

Texas Offense:
Texas’ offense doesn’t resemble what the nation is used to out of Austin. Quarterback play in particular struggled all year, with starter Garrett Gilbert (son of a former Cal QB, a Cal recruit and someone who performed admirably in Colt McCoy’s stead against Alabama in the title game 2 years ago) ended up losing favor and falling behind David Ash and Case McCoy, who have platooned all year.

The reason that the platoon is still going is that neither has proven to be an elite passer yet. McCoy – the younger brother of Colt – is completing 61% of his passes for a total of 1045 yards and 7 TDs against 4 interceptions. David Ash’s numbers are slightly worse – 56% completion rate and 3 TDs against 8 picks. Ash’s rushing numbers are better (65 attempts for 103 yards), but neither has been effective rushing the ball either. By all accounts, McCoy is a playmaker in the vein of his brother, but just not on the same level.

Running game:
The running game is the strength of the Longhorn offense, but tailed off at the end of the year as its main components struggled to stay healthy. Malcolm Brown leads the unit, averaging 4.5 yards on 159 carries, including 5 TDs. Brown has everything – 215 pounds, explosive speed, and finds way to make plays.

He is supplemented by Forrest Whitaker (66 carries, 386 yards, and 6 TDs) and Joe Bergeron (69 for 454 and 5 TDs). Whittaker has struggled to stay healthy, and hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded him out of high school. Bergeron – more of a fullback/h-back type – is a physical presence.

Wide Receivers:
Mike Davis (6’2″, 185) and Jaxon Shipley (Jordan’s brother – 6’1″ 180) headline the unit. Davis has great hands, great speed, and good size, and has 45 catches for 609 yards and a TD on the year. Shipley has come on strong, finishing the year with 40 catches for 593 yards and 3 TDs. Shipley is a tenacious, smart receiver who just finds a way to get open.

Behind them is the 5’9″, 175 pound Marquise Goodwin, who has 30 catches for 372 yards and a TD. He is an athletic dynamo with great speed and leaping ability. DJ Grant and Blaine Erby add 6 TDs from the TE position.

The Texas Defensive Line is anchored by DE Jackson Jeffcoat, and possesses extreme depth (particularly at DT). Jeffcoat is an elite athlete, and has 6 sacks and 58 tackles, both of which lead the DL. On the other side, Texas has Alex Okafor, who has 6 sacks of his own. He isn’t the athlete Jeffcoat is, but he’s very effective – they have 27 TFLs between them.

In the middle, Texas has a wealth of bodies but will rely on Ashton Dorsey and Kheeston Randall mostly. Both have good size (295 pounds), and each has 4 TFLs ont he year. Randall is good at the nose – improving from a pass-rusher first to an excellent all-around lineman, demanding double teams and making life better on the rest of the line. Dorsey has good size and quickness and is a good complement to Dorsey.

The Longhorn linebacker corps is led by Emmanuel Acho, Jordan Hicks and Keenan Robinson. Acho mans the middle flanked by Hicks and Robinson. Robinson (6’2″, 235) is exceptionally versatile, possessing good size and effective against both the run and the pass – though he isn’t an elite athlete. Acho is similarly flexible, but at 6’2″, 240 is a force in the middle with the speed to go sideline to sideline. Hicks only goes about 225, but is a big hitter and is blessed with incredible athleticism. Acho leads the group with 109 tackles, followed by Robinson with 90.

Defensive Backs:
The unit is ‘headlined’ by Blake Gideon, who has (perhaps unfairly) earned a less-than-stellar rep among Longhorn fans as a guy whose mistakes have directly led to a number of Texas losses. He is a senior who leads the DB unit in tackles with 68 along with 2 interceptions.

At the other safety spot is the 6’1″, 215 pound Kenny Vacaro, who also has 68 tackles and a pick. He has great size, is a huge hitter, and has elite speed – the total package.

The corner spots are manned by Adrian Phillips and Quandre Diggs. Phillips (5’11”, 199) has good size, is a sure tackler, and has good speed as well, and has 2 picks on the year. Diggs – a freshman – is similarly sized, going 5’10”, 192, and leading the team with 3 picks. This unit has speed, playmaking and tackling ability all the way around.

Special Teams:
Diggs handles punt returns, averaging 22.6 on 8 returns. He also has 17 kick returns for 324 yards, though Whittaker has been even more effective with 10 for 424 yards and 2 TDs.

Justin Tucker handles the entire kicking game. On punts he is averaging 38 a pop, averages just under 65 yards net with a 18% touchback rate on kickoffs. As a placekicker he’s made 17 of 20 FGs and made all 41 PATs.

Biggest Advantage vs. Cal:
Defensive speed and depth. Texas has speed at every level, and the defensive front in particular could challenge Cal’s offensive line. The speed in the back end is also daunting – every one of the Longhorn defensive backs have shown they can make plays, and Maynard will have to be smart and efficient witht he ball.

Biggest Disadvantage vs Cal:
Offense. At the same time, Texas’ offense should struggle against Cal. Cal’s strength has been rush defense, and should have the horses to slow Texas’ run offense – even if they are healthy by Wednesday. Texas’ struggles at QB means the defensive backfield should have opportunities to make plays on the ball.

Heart says Cal, brain says Texas. Going with heart – Cal by 72 points. Happy Holidays!