Sunday Hangover: Toasting Texas

Miss any of Saturday's action? Get the storylines and implications every Sunday morning with a shot of humor, two of vermouth and a pot full of what's suspected to be either coffee or the pureed remnants of Missouri's season.

Between Texas' billboard of a win over Oklahoma and its Saturday night mauling of Missouri, Mack Brown found time for a small ceremony.

He buried Oklahoma.

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Not the team, although Saturday's loss did everything but toss dirt and pick out a headstone for the Sooners' BCS hopes, but the Longhorns' Red River win over OU. Brown packed a game ball and press clippings beneath the practice field just to ensure the win remained properly entombed in history and not at the forefront of his player's minds.

As it turned out, it was a hangover cure John Daly would've been proud of.

And as it turned out Saturday night, that small ceremony was just practice. The real burial came when the Longhorns scored on five consecutive possessions out of the gate and put the Tigers six-feet under before you could find the beer man.

The cannon thundered every time the Longhorns put the scoreboard operator to work and, by the end, there was enough gun fire to make you think the Russians had snuck past Sarah Palin's house and rumbled into Austin. Texas 56, Missouri 31.

Take notes, Bob Stoops. Watch the tape, Pete Carroll. Pay attention, aspiring members of the Cincinnati Bengals-slash-Hamilton-County-legal system. This is how a beating is properly administered.

But the most frightening thing about top-ranked Texas seven games into the season isn't the Missouri manhandling, or Brian Orakpo storming upfield like he's taking an enemy hill -- though the 6-foot-4, 260-pound city block on wheels has probably made more than one quarterback decide to buckle down on their communications major. It's not a Longhorn defense that's more dangerous than a night out with Pacman Jones. It's not even Colt McCoy's Rolex accuracy.

The most frightening part of Texas is something no other national contender can claim.They're getting better.

And not just a little better. Since the Longhorns rolled into Boulder, Colo., they've grown from a team with talent and lots to prove to a tough blue-collar unit you don't want to meet in a back alley or on the football field.

While Texas is climbing, the rest of college football's elite are in the midst of a nose-dive.

The last time No. 2 Alabama played an impressive game, you could still buy a tank of gas and half a sandwich with the money in your 401(k). Since the Tide's win over Georgia Sept. 27, they've squeaked by Kentucky and barely missed out on a whole heaping of Ole Misery against the Rebels. And to leap from bad to worse, star defensive tackle Terrence Cody is injured. No. 3 Penn State needed a second-half comeback against a struggling Michigan team that last week lost to MAC also-ran Toledo, an embarrassing loss even for a conference that is to embarrassing losses what Britney Spears' underwear shots -- as in frequent and high profile. Oklahoma's offense is still a July 4 fireworks show, but the Sooners' defense has melted down since losing star middle linebacker Ryan Reynolds. OU let Texas march all over the field after Reynolds' injury last week and gave up 491 yards against Kansas this week.

And USC might have hammered Washington State 69-0, but, last time we checked, the Cougars were already losing to the bye week, 35-0

But Texas is only getting better with time.

"This team has a chance to be special if they continue to work and continue to get better," Brown said after the win. "The thing we are seeing in college football each week is that if you don't bring you're a game, you're going to get beat."

In the first four games, quarterback Colt McCoy led the team in rushing three times, almost by default as Foswhitt Whittaker went down with injury and Vondrell McGee and Cody Johnson both proved ineffective as featured backs. In the last three games, Chris Ogbonnaya has taken the ground game by the 'Horns. The slimmed-down senior rushed for 263 yards on 37 carries, a 7.1 yard-per-carry average, against Colorado, Texas and Missouri. And Whittaker, the only player other than McCoy to lead the Longhorns in rushing in the first four games, is on the road back after carrying the ball twice for 20 yards late in the fourth quarter.

The Longhorn passing game is diversifying. Last week, Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby caught 20 of 28 passes as Texas dumped Oklahoma. This week, the duo still caught 15, but another 15 went elsewhere. Freshman Malcolm Williams made the catch of the game when he pulled down a pass from between a pair of Missouri defensive backs for his first collegiate touchdown to give Texas a 21-0 lead. Brandon Collins, who, like Ogbonnaya caught six passes Saturday, has emerged as a viable third threat. After catching no more than two passes in any game this season, Collins brought down three last week then doubled that total this week.

If the dangers of a two-read passing game weren't clear to Texas beforehand, all the Longhorns had to do was look across the field. Missouri's Chase Daniels' reads went about as deep as Lindsay Lohan's political musings, checking Jeremy Maclin then Chase Coffman, then lathering, rinsing and repeating until a Texas lineman escorted him out of bounds or somewhere a few inches deep into the Austin ground.

But McCoy's receiving corp is growing faster than Iowa's arrest tally.

"They are getting better every day, and that's a compliment to [wide receivers coach] Bobby Kennedy," Brown said. "They just seem to be so much better than they were at the first of the year because they are so much more comfortable."

Defensively, the Longhorns are fourth in the nation in sacks despite registering just one sack in the first two games, a huge turnaround from last year's squad that finished 54th in the nation. A series of injuries and the team's focus on stopping the run kept the Longhorns on their side of the ball in 2007. But Saturday, they brought down Missouri's Daniel twice and generally had him running like he was late for a bus.

"Chase does a great job of getting rid of the ball when needed," Orakpo said. "We did a great job with just rushing three or four guys. We played relentlessly. .... I thought we did a great job of trying to disrupt him and to get him out of his rhythm."

Orakpo was right. Daniel managed to get the ball away, but he barely had time to recite his social security number before someone tossed him to the ground.

But the Longhorns haven't sacrificed their brick wall defense against the run. Their rush-stoppers have steadily improved from 35th in the nation to second. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp might seem like the type of guy to put you in the hospital on the field, and then help your grandmother across the street to see you after the game, but the man runs one heck of a fine defense. Watching Muschamp's defense stunt linebackers in the gaps then pull out is like watching a safe-cracker work his way through a lock, waiting for each tumbler to fall into place before the Longhorns slam through a wide-open gap. The Longhorns have been able to generate pressure with three- and four-man rushes and have all but eliminate rushing yardage on first or second down.

But this is college football and there's always reason to be concerned, not the least of which is the fact that somehow, under the cover of darkness, the Big 12 switched places with the Arena Football League. For all Texas' mind- and calculator-boggling offensive statistics, the Longhorns are compiling those numbers against teams riding the defensive short bus. The league's highest-rated defense is Oklahoma at 34, which just came within a lag putt of giving up 500 yards to Kansas. Missouri is 100th, nine spots behind 1-6 Kent State. Half the conference is ranked 66th and below.

And all the yardage the secondary is yielding, 275 yards per game, stands out like a stick figure in a Renoir. Only Ohio State in 2002 has won a national title since 2000 with a similar secondary, though even the Buckeyes surrendered just 243 yards per game. But if the Longhorns outscored the Sooners, who exactly is going to provide more of a challenge?

But say this for the boys in burnt orange, for all the uncertainty in college football, the one thing that's for sure is that the Longhorns are still getting better and another burial service is on the way.




The Big 16

Find out who the nation's top teams are each week as we rank the best 16 and set up something heretofore unheard of in college football, a play... wait for it... off. At season's end, the top 16 will compete in two brackets -- the Fairburn, Ga. division, ancestral home of Hangover mancrush Eric Berry, and the erstwhile Fort Myers, Fla. division, ancestral home of the pizza bagel.

  • 1. Texas Longhorns: Texas is in the middle of its first ever four-game stretch against ranked teams, but the key for Mack Brown's team will be to continue to develop its offensive weapons. The Longhorns have enough firepower to overwhelm a conference that treats defense like a plate of broccoli, but will need a third receiving threat in January.
  • 2. Alabama Crimson Tide: The Tide seemed to have developed a knack for playing a first half Bear Bryant would applaud and a second half that would make the legendary coach twirl in his grave, by which he'd probably gain more yards than the Alabama team in the second half.
  • 3. Penn State Nittany Lions: Beat Ohio State next week and Joe Paterno won't need his glasses to see how close the national title game is.
  • 4. Oklahoma Sooners: The Sooners do more by the second quarter than most teams do all Saturday. Sam Bradford's crew ran up 97 offensive plays, overshadowing a defense in need of repair since Ryan Reynold's season-ending injury.
  • 5. Florida Gators: The Gators start the bye week by scoring another 14 points on LSU.
  • 6. USC: It took the dullest play-calling Pete Carroll could muster and everything short of lifting Washington State's offense and carrying them into the end zone for Southern Cal to avoid racking up a cholesterol count of a score against Washington State. How bad were the Cougars? They didn't move the ball past midfield once. Even Tommy Tuberville probably had to look away.
  • 7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders tacked on 14 fourth-quarter points to make the final score lopsided against Texas A&M, but averaging 40 points per game against the Aggies and Nebraska is a borderline Auburn moment for Mike Leach's club.
  • 8. Georgia Bulldogs: Are we ranking the Bulldogs too low? Maybe, but the parts of this team have been greater than the sum of the whole most of the season.
  • 9. Oklahoma State: There's no hangover here as the Cowboys handle Baylor. If there's cause for concern, however, it's that Dez Bryant caught 11 of Zac Robinson's 13 completions. Chase Daniel can tell you what happens with a limited number of reads against Texas.
  • 10. Ohio State Buckeyes: The Terrelle and Beanie Show is finally in tune, but it's seniors James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins that have the most on the line next week against Penn State in what amounts to a heavy referendum on the duo's careers.
  • 11. LSU Tigers: The Tigers' win over South Carolina wasn't exactly a game for Les Miles' scrap book, but pickings are slim after the top 10.
  • 12. Utah Utes: Are the Utes the 12th best team in the nation? Probably not, but no one else is leaping up to grab the spot. Solve TCU's brutal defense Thursday and we'll more than happily endorse these guys.
  • 13. TCU Horned Frogs: Gary Patterson's team did what it does best Thursday night, using it's top-ranked defense to grind an opponent into a fine powder.
  • 14. Boise State Broncos: The mid-major invasion is on. The Broncos' best credential may be a tight win over an Oregon team that was one bad hit away from using its mascot at quarterback, but they've at least beaten everyone in front of them relatively soundly. And if needed, Ian Johnson could knit a BCS national championship trophy.
  • 15. South Florida Bulls: Last week's loss to Pitt will hurt even more if the Bulls run the table in the Big East.
  • 16. Missouri Tigers: Sure, the Tigers were hammered by Texas and lost to Oklahoma State, but which other team should be here? But which unranked team would you pick over them? Maryland, which has lost to Middle Tennessee State and was waxed 31-0 by Virginia? Virginia Tech? Pitt? We'd like to rank Tulsa, but the Golden Hurricane is just as bad defensively as Missouri without the excuse of playing Texas.

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