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  1. Texas (1-1, 0-0) will travel to Los Angeles on Saturday to take on USC (2-0, 1-0). The Trojans enter the game coming off an impressive win against Stanford, 42-24. Let’s take a look at what USC has on defense and special teams: Defensive Line The USC defense will operate out a 3-4 look. The nose tackle position is held down by former junior college standout Josh Fatu. Fatu has already recorded 2 tackles for loss and a sack in 2017. The end positions are occupied by Rasheem Green and Malik Dorton. Green was an honorable mention All-PAC 12 member in 2016 and had an excellent game last week against Stanford. Right tackles Tristan Nickelson and Denzel Okafor will draw the task of having to try to slow down Green, who possesses the speed and strength to give the offensive line fits. Dorton has a quiet first few games of the year, only totaling 3 tackles and having no sacks or tackles for loss. Stanford had pretty good success running to Dorton’s side of the line, and with Connor Williams matched up against him on Saturday, it may be smart for Texas to replicate that plan. Linebacker Inside linebacker Cameron Smith is widely considered to be the top player on the Trojan defense. Smith was a second team All-Pac 12 member in 2016 and is one of the top run defenders in the entire country. He is the team leader in tackles with 14 to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss. Beside him is fellow inside linebacker John Houston Jr. The sophomore has 9 tackles on the year to go along with a quarterback hurry. If Texas wants to establish the run game, they will have to find a way to get bodies on Smith and Houston, who both shoot gaps well and have high football IQ’s. The two outside linebackers for USC each serve a different purpose for the Trojan defense. Senior Uchenna Nwosu is seen as an athletic linebacker who the Trojans can rely on in pass coverage and to handle athletes out in space. Nwosu has 9 tackles and a tackle for loss on the season, and will play a vital role in defending the screen game that Texas has utilized through the first two games. Porter Gustin would the starter at the other outside linebacker spot, but Gustin is every questionable for Saturday with a toe injury. The 6’5, 255 pound junior was the named honorable mention All-Pac 12 in 2016, when he lead the team in tackles for loss with 13 and also collected 5.5 sacks. Texas would catch an extreme break if Gustin is unable to play, and sophomore Connor Murphy would likely start in his place. Murphy has seen limited playing time this season, recording 6 tackles. Defensive Back In 2016, Adoree’ Jackson took home the Jim Thorpe award for the top defensive back in the country. Despite Jackson’s departure to the NFL, another defensive back on the Trojans was named to the Jim Thorpe award watch list prior to the 2017 season. Junior Iman Marshall is the top cornerback on the roster, and for good reason. Marshall is in his 3rd season as a starter and has 6 career interceptions. Collin Johnson will again draw a tough corner and will most likely be bracketed by a safety for the third straight game. Opposite of Marshall, the other starting corner is sophomore Jack Jones. Jones had a great game against Stanford a week ago, recording 6 tackles. The Trojans boast a solid safety pairing that is led by senior Chris Hawkins. The 2016 honorable mention All-Pac 12 member has 24 career starts. Hawkins brings a lot of versatility to the USC secondary, having started games at both safety positions and at corner. Marvell Tell III is the starter at the other safety spot and has recorded USC’s only interception through 2 games. Converted wide receiver Ajene Harris will play nickel when the Trojans choose to employ an extra DB. Texas will bring in the most talented receiving group that the Trojans have faced so far this season. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck will need to try to create matchup problems against a USC secondary that has length and plays with good discipline. Wide receivers Reggie Hemphill Mapps, Armanti Foreman and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey will need to find way to get open to help alleviate some of the double coverage Collin Johnson will be facing. Special Teams Interestingly, the Trojans have yet to attempt a field goal in 2017. Redshirt freshman Michael Brown and true freshman Chase McGrath competed for the field goal duties throughout fall camp. Brown tore his ACL in last weeks game and will miss the remainder of the season. This leaves McGrath has the only player left at kicker. The walk on is a perfect 13 for 13 on extra points, but it remains to be seen what he will look like when USC is forced to attempt a field goal. Junior Reid Budrovich is in his first year as the starting punter and is averaging close to 50 yards per punt. Budrovich has had 2 punts land inside the 20. Velus Jones Jr. and Jack Jones serve as the primary kick returners.Velus Jones has returned 2 kicks for total of 61 yards, while Jack Jones has 2 returns for 14 yards. Texas has been vulnerable to long kickoff returns so far this year and USC will have the opportunity to exploit a shaky coverage unit. On punts, Ajene Harris handles the returns. Harris has only had 1 returnable attempt, a 15 yard return against Western Michigan. The Longhorns can not afford to give USC points off of special teams if they have any hope of pulling an upset on Saturday.
  2. By Jameson McCausland The Texas Longhorns throttled the San Jose Spartans 56-0 on Saturday at Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium to give Tom Herman his first win as head coach at Texas. Let’s take a look at how the Texas defense and special teams graded in shutout win. Defensive Line The entire defensive line held the point of attack well. Unlike last week, the linebackers were able to make the plays that the defensive line was opening up. Poona Ford had a very solid game and was a constant presence in the San Jose State backfield. Chris Nelson and Malcolm Roach had good games at the end positions, but both still need to work on not letting the QB break containment. Roach has still yet to record a sack this season, but his biggest improvement has been playing the run well. Behind the starting 3, Charles Omenihu had another quality game and junior college transfer Jamari Chisholm had a tackle for loss. Texas will need Omenihu, Chisholm and freshman Ta’quon Graham to continue to develop and give the defense 10-15 quality snaps as they face more high powered offenses in the future. Grade: B+ Linebacker After receiving a D- grade a week ago, the entire linebacker unit took a step forward in week 2. A lot of the improvements seen can be chalked up to overall better fundamentals, but some of it was going against a San Jose State offense that was way in over its head. Malik Jefferson played perhaps his best game in nearly 2 years. His 4th and 1 stop is the perfect example of not thinking too much and just using his athleticism to make plays. Jefferson was credited with 7 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Anthony Wheeler also did a much better job of plugging run holes and finished the game with 5 tackles. The most pleasant surprise of the game was the play of junior college transfer Gary Johnson. After only playing on special teams in week 1, Johnson flashed several times on Saturday. He had a tackle for loss his first possession and was all over the field when defending the run. Texas went with a 4-2-5 look on multiple occasions, with Johnson and Jefferson manning the two linebacker spots. The duo allows Texas to get the two most athletic linebackers on the roster in the game at the same time. Naashon Hughes had a very quiet game, but did his job and does not seem in danger of losing his starting spot. Breckyn Hager and Jeff McCulloch did not get many opportunities to pin their ears back and rush the passer. San Jose State only had 52 total plays and Texas was not forced to go to their primary pass rush package as often as week 1. Hager and McCulloch will both play big roles going forward in helping slow down the passing attacks of USC and big 12 opponents. Grade: B Defensive Back Texas was lucky that Bailey Gaither did not bring his hands to Austin. Twice Gaither got behind the defensive backs and could have scored. Both times the ball hit off his finger tips. Brandon Jones and Kris Boyd continue to vulnerable against pump fakes. Jones showed improvements in taking better angles and helping out in run support, but must improve on providing good pass coverage over the top. Deshon Elliott looked a lot better than he did week 1. Elliott seemed play under control and understood what he was doing in coverage. Holton Hill has been the best defensive player on the roster through 2 weeks of play. Hill added another interception returned for a touchdown, giving him 3 for his career. It’s safe to say that Hill has rebounded from whatever off the field problems he had in 2016. One player I would like to see more of his Jason Hall. The senior safety forced a fumble on special teams and has extensive starting experience. Hall may not have the speed and athleticism that Jones and Elliott posses, but he has a history of defending the run game solidly. Hill’s pick 6 and shutting out a team benefited the defensive back’s grade, but the performance was not as good as it seemed on paper. Cornerbacks coach Jason Washington and safeties coach Craig Naviar need to find out what is still confusing their position groups, and get it quickly corrected. Facing Sam Darnold, Jesse Ertz, Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph in 4 of the next 5 games is not a good recipe for success if you can not defend the pass. Grade: C Special Teams Through 2 games, Texas is 0-3 on field goal attempts. Kicker Joshua Rowland missed his only attempt on Saturday, a 42-yarder that went wide right. The blocking looked more solid on field goals and Rowland seemed to get more air under the ball, but overall Texas may just have to start going it if a field goal attempt is greater than 40 yards. Armanti Foreman muffed his first punt return of the game, but fortunately Texas recovered the muff. Reggie Hemphill Mapps is the more talented punt returner and will see the bulk of the returns going forward. Tom Herman was quick to point out in his postgame press conference that the kickoff coverage has to improve. Bailey Gaither had a 39 yard return and it is the second week in a row where coverage problems have arisen on kickoffs. A more talented returner is going to take one all the way back if Texas can not fix the gaping holes they are allowing blockers to create. It is not good when your kicker is credited with a tackle in a game. Michael Dickson averaged 45 yards on 3 punt attempts and is weapon that Texas will have if they get into a field position battle in a game down the road. Grade: C
  3. We’re a day away from seeing the 2012 University of Texas Longhorn football team run through the white smoke as they trot onto the field to kick off the season against Wyoming. Much hype, anticipation, and questions have been placed on the offensive side of the ball, mainly the quarterback position. But one of the more refreshing topics to look forward to this off-season has been not just how the defense will play this fall, but how well they will play and how nasty this unit can be. I’ll say it now, and I’m sure many of you will agree, but the Longhorns should have the best defense in the Big 12 this season and one that could fight to be the best in the nation. It’s a defense that returns 8 starters and has crazy athleticism and above average depth all across the board. Let’s break it down though. Defense Defensive Backs Starters: Just try to throw the ball against this secondary. Seriously, I dare you. Mack and his staff have done it again by assembling arguably the best defensive backfield in the country. Starting corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom, and starting safeties Adrian Phillips and Kenny Vaccarro could all be playing on Sunday when they each leave the 40 Acres. Last year all these players played well but I fully expect them to improve their 12 total interceptions from last year to closer to 20 this season. The one guy I really want to watch early in the season in Adrian Phillips. I truly think he has the talent and skills to have a season that could be very similar to Earl Thomas as far as interceptions and big plays. I know, I know Kenny Vaccarro is also a beast roaming the field back there, but Phillips actually has the better coverage skills than Vaccarro. Regardless, every one of these starters have the ability to match up with any receiver in the country and give them trouble. Reserves: Mykell Thompson and Josh Turner lead the reserve unit that also currently includes freshman Duke Thomas and sophomore Sheroid Evans. Other than the freshman Thomas, all of the reserves have seen some game action and add to the strength of the entire defensive backfield. Defensive Ends Starters: The two names that come to mind first are senior Alex Okafor and junior Jackson Jeffcoat. These two combined for 14 sacks and 60 solo tackles last season as both made huge individual improvements from the previous season. But neither have hit their full potential yet and either one could very well end up as the top defensive end in the country. They are both that good. Reserves: Backing up Jeffcoat and Okafor are Reggie Wilson and Cedric Reed. These two athletes are both talented but have very limited game experience. Their lack of game play contributes to the main weakness of the defense, which is inexperience. But I’ve liked the moves I’ve seen Wilson make on the field in his limited play and I actually feel pretty good about both these guys as reserves to the two studs on the outside. Defensive Tackles Starters: When I think of defensive tackles from UT I think back to the days of Casey Hampton, Frank Okam, and the other big mammoths from years ago. What was once a strong position for UT has been in a funk recently. I say funk because the position wasn’t necessarily a bad one but was a weird one that seemed to be patched up rather than fixed. There were tackles that ended up leaving the team, tackles who didn’t ever give nearly enough effort, and tackles that simply didn’t pan out. But with the help of Juco Transfer Brandon Moore the defensive tackle position is already in a better place now than where it was late last season. Both Brandon Moore and former running back Chris Whaley (Mack has gotten good at this conversion…) are locked in as the starters for Saturdays game. I’m excited to see what type of craziness these two can create in Wyoming’s backfield as both have shown the ability to push opposing linemen around and get into the offensive backfield this off-season. Reserves: For the first time in a long time the Horns actually have good depth at defensive tackle. Both Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey have seen game action. Add those two guys with 5-star freshman Malcolm Brown and that gives UT one of the best defensive tackle reserve units in the country. All three of these guys could be big time starters next year and beyond. Linebackers Starters: Led by junior Jordan Hicks, the LB core has a ton of talent. And it’s time for Hicks to put all of it together and make the next step in his play. He had just 30 solo tackles last season, compared to Emmanuel Acho’s 61 and Keenan Robinson’s 52. With both of those two guys heading to the NFL Hicks should have more opportunities to show why he was so highly recruited out of high school. But as talented as this LB unit is, it has a lot of inexperience as well. Other than Jordan Hicks no other linebacker has seen any extensive playing time, if any at all. That doesn’t worry me though. The other starters, Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs, have been tearing it up in practice all summer long. And on top of that Cobbs was poised to make a difference last season as a sophomore who was supposed to be the fourth linebacker in the rotation on game days before his season ending injury last year. This is a unit who does have to prove itself, but they shouldn’t having any trouble doing so. Reserves: Currently sophomores Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson are locked in as the back ups to the three starters, with Thompson as the reserve at MLB and WLB. Once again these are guys with immense talent but lack any game experience. If any of the starters were to go down we may see some growing pains for a few games but I fully expect both of these players to contribute each game as well off the bench. This defense is full of talent all across the board. There are players at each level of the defense who could emerge as the best at their position in the country. But Manny Diaz will have to get these players to create more turnovers and big plays than they did last season if they want to live up to all the pre-season hype. If I was a betting man I’d go all in with Diaz and this defense, though. Special Teams Kicking/punting: What was once a big question mark and potential weakness after the departure of current starting kicker for the Baltimore Ravens Justin Tucker, Mack Brown was able to work his magic once again and recruit one of the top kickers in the country away from Penn State to play for his Horns this fall. Though he is currently injured and may miss a couple of games, Anthony Fera is undoubtedly a huge get for the Horns, as he alone could end up being the difference in a couple of games this season. In his absence freshman Nick Jordan will handle the kicking duties. But even if Nick does well while Fera is out, expect Fera to be inserted as the starter once he returns. Though Fera is capable of punting as well, I actually don’t expect him to hold any of those responsibilities once healthy, unless there is some special need for him. Duke transfer Alex King is listed as the current starter and I bet he remains there for the entire season if he kicks well. Kick Return/Punt Return: The starting punt returner is Quandre Diggs, and his back up is Jaxon Shipley. Both guys are dangerous and can take it to the house on any kick. The starting kick returners are D.J. Monroe and Mykell Thompson. I personally prefer Marquis Goodwin over both of those guys, but maybe D.J. Monroe will finally make a name for himself this season… On top of the kicking game and return game I’m also excited and interested to see if the special teams unit can block some punts and kicks. Having a great special team unit means being great all around. In the return game, kicking game, and blocking punts/kicks. This is exactly what Mack wants to achieve this season. “What we’re trying to do, we’re trying to have the best special teams we’ve ever had,†Brown has said. “We’d like to lead the country, and you’ve got to put your best players out there to do that. And if every time they punt to us we’ve got a chance to block it or return it for a touchdown, that gives us a chance to win a tight ballgame.†This quote is very important for this team since they may have some struggles on offense. Both the defense and the special teams have the potential to be the best in the country. It’s great to see buzz and potential back for the team on defense and special teams. What’s sad is that the potential and greatness of the defense and special teams could be hindered and wasted by the lack luster offensive play, specifically of that by the quarterbacks. But hey, if SEC teams can win a national championship with incredible defenses, great special teams, dominant running backs, and average quarterbacks, then UT can as well. Is it Saturday yet?

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