Cory Mccartney
Thursday October 16th, 2008

Breaking down a huge Big 12 showdown in Austin.

1. Now the pressure is officially on Texas. The Longhorns managed to largely stay under the radar before knocking off then-No. 1 Oklahoma last weekend. But after rising from No. 5 to their first regular season top ranking since 1984, they won't be sneaking up on anyone now.

Bevo's wearing the bull's eye and is in the midst of a six-week run that would be grueling for a team just trying to stay in a division race, let alone the national title hunt. No. 11 Missouri will be the second of five currently ranked opponents in the next six weeks.

"We do have a difficult schedule but it may be good for this team," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "They're going to have to keep their foot on the pedal and they understand they cannot slip."

After an emotional win against one of their biggest rivals, you have to wonder whether the Longhorns can maintain that same level of intensity, especially on defense, where they made their biggest statement against the Sooners. The Texas D limited a team that had been scoring nearly 50 points a game to 35, including 14 in the second half. But if they're going to defend that No. 1 ranking, the 'Horns will need an equally impressive performance against a Tigers offense that's third in the nation in scoring (48.3 points per game) and total offense (549.7 yards per game).

2. Chase Daniel's Heisman hopes -- and the Tigers' national title dreams --- hang in the balance. The margin of error is now even smaller for Missouri and its quarterback after last weekend's home loss to Oklahoma State, but luckily the Tigers get an immediate shot at redemption.

Daniel took a tumble on most Heisman lists after last weekend. He passed for 390 yards and a touchdown, but threw three costly interceptions. After four pick-free games, Daniel had his highest interception total since an Oct. 28, 2006 loss to the Sooners. But all could be forgotten if he can regain his form against a Texas defense that had two big picks of Sam Bradford but still allowed 387 yards and five touchdowns through the air. The 'Horns rank 109th nationally in pass defense, giving up 267.8 ypg on the season.

Likewise, the Tigers badly need a win to climb back into the national title hunt. At 5-1 and 1-1 in the Big 12 North, they're already a game behind division leader Kansas and can't afford another effort like last week -- when their high-scoring offense was held to 23 points -- if they want to play their way into the Big 12 title game.

3. On offense, it's all about balance -- even in the Big 12. Last week, the Longhorns called 35 passing plays and 35 running plays and outrushed the Sooners 161-48. The Tigers threw 52 times and ran 18 times and were outgained 187-64 by Oklahoma State in rush yards.

Yes, even in a conference where the aerial attacks get all the publicity, you still have to run the ball.

Missouri absolutely needs to get Derrick Washington going if it's going to have any shot of pulling off the upset. He's averaging 6.8 yards per carry, but rushing yards have been hard to come by against the 'Horns, who are third nationally, giving up 51.2 yards per game and 1.9 yards per carry. Despite that dominance, the Tigers' ability to spread things out in the passing game could open up some running lanes. If it doesn't, Daniel could be getting a little bit more up close and personal with Brian Orakpo (7 1/2 sacks) than he'd like.

The Longhorns' ground game is underrated. While McCoy continues to lead the team with 348 yards running the zone read, the last two weeks Chris Ogbonnaya has topped the 'Horns with 71 yards vs. Colorado and 127 against the Sooners. Texas' running game is deep, with five players with at least 31 carries, and averages 191.8 yards per contest. The 'Horns will face a Mizzou D that up until last week had given up over 84 yards in just one game. (Of course, a lot of that has to do with teams needing to throw the ball to play catchup with the Tigers' high-scoring offense.) If the 'Horns establish that balance again, they'll keep Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and Co. on the sideline.

What makes the Longhorns' offense so tough to defend? I asked an assistant coach of one of their opponents for his impressions of the Texas attack. Here's what he had to say:

"[The key is] just disruption and trying to change coverages on [McCoy] and make him have to think, because when he doesn't have to think and he knows where to go with the football, he does a great job of doing that and he's done that all season. One of the reasons why we were able to stay with them for a while was because we tried to trick him with smoke and mirrors.

"Everybody says he's not the sexy quarterback choice, but I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country because he gets rid of the football and he has great speed for a quarterback. He can make plays with his legs and he doesn't put the ball in danger. He does what he has to do to win the football game, but at the same time he's very talented. He's got a great arm, he's accurate and I think he's a sharp kid and he keeps them out of negative plays with his legs.

"[McCoy] has had a couple times when he's rushed for over 100 yards and people have just sit back in zones and everybody dropped back, they didn't do a good job with the pass rush and he scrambled and got 17-, 18-yard runs. But [his leading Texas in rushing] a little misleading because their backs are terrific."

"[The receivers] just discourage you from playing man-to-man coverage or man-free or any kind of man because they just beat man coverage and they've got great ball skills and they can catch tough passes and they've got great speed, especially [Jordan] Shipley. Along with having great speed like he does, he runs great routes and it makes it real hard for defensive backs to cover him. They've got two great receivers and they've got a great quarterback and they know how to attack zones and they know how to attack man coverage."

Texas 35, Missouri 24. Brown may have been more comfortable playing the role of underdog, saying the No. 1 ranking may be too much too soon for his 'Horns. But it could be just the lift they need. After a draining victory, playing with that target, especially in Austin where Texas has lost just twice in the past four seasons, should be enough to keep them safe atop the rankings -- for at least another week.

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