Part of that, certainly, is coach speak. But the Mountaineers are no doubt explosive. Just how explosive will be further revealed Saturday night in Austin. The Longhorns aren’t Texas Tech, the nation’s defensive leader this far. But they’re not Baylor, either.
“They are similar in their production to what we were in 2005, and what USC was with their two Heisman winners,” Brown said, comparing the 2012 WVU team to UT’s last national title team with quarterback Vince Young and USC’s uber-talented squads with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Bush’s Heisman was vacated.
“I have been down (to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s office) a few times and he’s hiding under his desk,” Brown said. “They are just sick. They are really trying to figure out how to slow them down. You’re not going to stop them, you just have to figure out how to slow them down. You have to keep them in front of you and not give up the big play.”
While there are a few legit statements in there, any sickness UT has is largely self-inflicted. This is a team with the top recruiting class in the country last year according to Scout.com, and one with very talented athletes all over the field. But it’s also one that allowed 576 balanced yards (301 passing, 275 rushing) and was forced to muster a last-minute rally to win 41-36 against an Oklahoma State squad that operates similarly to WVU on offense.
There are game-planning advantages for both sides regarding last week’s games. West Virginia gets a glimpse into how Texas might defend the spread, Air Raid attack. And because the contest was tight to the end, the ‘Horns likely revealed some blitz packages and front seven pressure it otherwise would not have. Texas gets to defend a similar offense two consecutive weeks, and it figures to improve some with game experience and another week of drills. Brown said the closeness of West Virginia’s staff and those at Oklahoma State – Holgorsen coached at OSU just two seasons ago, while DC Joe DeForest was at OSU last year – would figure to create some advice from the current Cowboy staff to WVU. That is prevalent in coaching circles, as is playing similar offenses two straight weeks, so how much either side gains is somewhat unknown.
The biggest issue for both defenses is tackling. Brown said Texas missed a dozen tackles on seven plays. It’s become an epidemic in college football, partially because of a lack of fundamentals or trying for the big hit as opposed to wrap tackling, and partially because opposing athletes are playing more in space, and thus have more room to avoid defenders.
“People are playing with great skill in space,” Brown said. “We just have to try and slow it down this weekend. There’s a lot of people trying to strip (the ball) and not just knock the guy down. It’s across the country and its affecting us now. We have enough video now of guys who continue to miss tackles. We have to start playing other guys if guys can’t tackle. We’ll give up 70 this week if we don’t tackle well. They can put up huge numbers easy and fast.”
Texas, which went 5-7 in 2010 and 8-5 in 2011, is looking for its tenth 10-win season in 12 years after starting 4-0. The Longhorns are much more experienced at quarterback, with true sophomore David Ash flashing that ability in the late drive against Oklahoma State, and a trio of returning starters at receiver with some big play ability. Marquise Goodwin was an All-American long jumper and Jaxon Shipley, younger brother of former UT wideout and current Cincinnati Bengal Jordan. The Longhorns also return four starting offensive lineman and three solid backs.
“We have tried to be balanced and stay with our plan,” Brown said. “We are older and more mature at quarterback. We are older and healthier at receiver. That’s all helping us. And we are blocking downfield better. You look at all three receivers, they have helped us so much. They are very unselfish. They have caught the balls when they have been thrown to them. One of the reasons we are playing better is all three of those receivers have really stepped forward.”
Brown, as one would expect, was asked about Geno Smith. And, as one would expect, the raise followed. “He is probably ahead of the curve Robert Griffin set last year,” said Brown, who last faced WVU as North Carolina’s head coach in the 1997 Gator Bowl, a 20-13 UNC win featuring the nation’s best two defenses. “He has to be the favorite for the Heisman. He doesn’t make mistakes and he’s smart. … As good as their (past) quarterbacks have been, he is playing as good as anyone there has been. He has done an unbelievable job handling the Heisman stuff. It’s a difficult thing to do and he seems unphased by it. He has three of the best receivers I have seen. They have absolutely no weaknesses.”
The 15th-year Texas head coach also praised Holgorsen and his development as a coach. ““We have watched him and watched that offense grow,” Brown said. “They are not exactly the same, but very, very similar,” Brown said of WVU and OSU. “Their receivers are unbelievable. They have a huge offensive line. This is as good an offensive team as we have seen. They are unbelievable.”
Brown, who Tweeted that he expected “the West Virginia game to be the most electric crowd we have ever had at Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium,” said he thought Mountaineer fans would really enjoy the trip, and all that surrounds Texas hospitality.
“We are so excited about West Virginia being in the league, and I want to welcome all the West Virginia fans to Austin this weekend,” Brown said. “They bring so much to the league. I think West Virginia fans will like our stadium and our environment and our fans treat people well, so I think they’ll like it.”