October 23, 2008

UT's success could hinge on young players

Sophomore receiver Brandon Collins is now getting more and more of the blitz-beating, hot routes that Jordan Shipley used to get, freeing Shipley to get down field.

Sophomore cornerback Chykie Brown is no longer talking out loud to himself to calm the nerves that consumed him in his first start against Florida Atlantic.

And after dropping a deep pass on the sideline against Oklahoma - thrown high enough so only he could catch it - redshirt freshman Malcolm Williams sent a text message to Colt McCoy requesting some one-on-one work on high passes after practice last week.


Against Missouri last Saturday, the work paid off in a 32-yard touchdown catch in which Williams had to get NASA liftoff and extend every bit of his 6-3, 218-pound frame between two safeties to put Texas up 21-0 on the way to routing the Tigers.

"I think Malcolm had the chance to make a great play against OU," McCoy said. "I threw to him down the sideline, he bobbled it and dropped it. This week during practice, he shoots me a text and said, 'Throw me some high balls. Let me work on it.'

"So we threw some extra balls and, boom, he makes the amazing catch this week. Maybe that extra work helped, maybe it didn't. Maybe it was destined to happen. But it has to boost his confidence, and Malcolm needs to keep coming along."


Greg Davis is hoping the plays made by Collins, Williams and freshman Dan Buckner, who had a 51-yard, catch-and-run score against Missouri, could end up having the same effect Limas Sweed's catch at Ohio State had in 2005.

"Those plays give Colt more confidence to spread the ball around," Davis said. "It gives me more confidence to get them more involved. It's something we've been needing, and it will become more apparent as it goes on."

For Williams, his lone catch of the Missouri game was his first career touchdown and just his seventh reception of the season - his first since the Rice game in Week 3.

"It helps my confidence a lot because I haven't caught that many passes," Williams said. "But it's more of a group thing. As long as the group is doing good, I think everything is going to be all right."


Welcome to the Texas youth movement that has emerged over the last few weeks and could signal some serious upside for the already top-ranked Longhorns heading into Saturday's showdown with No. 7 Oklahoma State.

"It's going to be a real good offense if the young guys can keep making plays," said Collins, who has increasingly become McCoy's safety valve on third down, none bigger than a 38-yard catch-and-run on third-and-6 from the Texas 22 in the first quarter against Missouri.

"We know Quan and Ship are going to continue to make plays. So the sky's the limit," Collins said.


For awhile it looked like it would be too much to ask of Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley to keep making play after play in the passing game. Or for Colt McCoy to have to throw into tiny windows against tight coverage because every defense knew Cosby and Shipley were the only two receiving threats on the team.

"Some of the throws Colt had to make against Oklahoma were unbelievable," Mack Brown said. "There was a throw to Quan on our boundary on third down that he turned up field for eight yards, and the coverage was perfect. But Colt threw it low and away, where only Quan could get it - really the only place the pass could be completed. Quan made a great catch, and the drive stayed alive."


Collins said after that OU game he told himself it was time for someone to step up and give Cosby, Shipley and McCoy a little help.

"I was thinking someone needs to step up - me, Malcolm (Williams), James (Kirkendoll), somebody, so we could make it a more diverse offense," Collins said. "I thought, 'Why can't it be me?'"

That's the exact same attitude Chykie Brown took coming into this season at cornerback.

"I came into this spring with the mindframe to get a starting job because I was tired of watching from the sideline," said Brown, who redshirted in 2006 and played mostly on special teams in 2007.


Will Muschamp took one look at Brown's 6-1, 185-pound frame with the longest arms since Quentin Jammer and Cedric Griffin and said, "We need to get him ready."

Brown, a solid tackler who has a sack to go with six pass breakups, needed a stiff reminder from secondary coach Duane Akina that his time had come - even though senior Ryan Palmer and junior Deon Beasley were ahead of him on the depth chart after last season.

Brown had built a reputation as the class clown of the secondary. In fact, it was Brown who came up with the hand-waving gesture in front of the facemask that the secondary has adopted this season after a big play. ("We're reminding everyone that teams weren't supposed to be able to see us because we were such a young secondary," Brown said.)

Akina told him it was time to quit going for laughs and start going for interceptions.

"Chykie's really developed," Akina said. "He was always a great athlete. But I've said before, this game isn't about great athletes, it's about great football players. And Chykie has started to develop and taken a much more mature attitude to the game and not just be the little brother or the class clown. You don't want to lose that side of him, but to progress in this game, you have to take it like a job."


Chykie got the message.

"Coach Akina would tell me there is a time to play and a time to be serious," Chykie said. "He told me to keep my personality because it's a great thing to have. But he said, 'I want you to take the game on the field as a business, a job, because we're trying to win a national championship.'"

So there was Chykie on the field against Florida Atlantic, starting at left cornerback, in front of 98,000 fans at Royal-Memorial Stadium, so nervous he was talking to himself.

"I said, 'I can't believe it. I'm here. I'm doing it,'" Brown said. "I think I had an OK game, but it wasn't as good as I could do because I was still shaky and nervous. Now it's slowing down, and it's all coming to me."


Brown proved he was the real deal on the first play of the Colorado game, when Buffaloes quarterback Cody Hawkins went deep down the middle on a pass intended for Josh Smith, only to be batted away by Brown.

"I didn't think they were going to come at me on the first play," Brown said. "Usually, teams open with a run. But they tested me with the first shot of the game, and I was ready for it."

Muschamp often walks up to Brown before a game and says, "Are you going to give me a chance to blitz or do I have to play zone?"

"I always say, 'Call a blitz, because I'm ready to play man,'" Brown said. "I like playing for Coach Muschamp because I like to play man and be pressed up.

"The future that came in and is coming in, it's athletes all over," Brown added. "Curtis (Brown) is a big corner and a great athlete. He's fast and can jump. The whole secondary is athletes. We came up and got in the playbook together. We all caught onto Coach Muschamp's defense. He likes what we're doing, so we're behind him 100 percent."


Collins, Williams, Chykie Brown as well as cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams and running backs Fozzy Whittaker, Vondrell McGee and Cody Johnson have all made plays recently that portend good things for the Longhorns.

Perhaps no one will be under more duress Saturday against Oklahoma State than freshmen safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas, who will have to help stuff the nation's fifth-best rushing attack (283 yards per game) and two of the best pass-catchers in college football (WR Dez Bryant and TE Brandon Pettigrew).

"They've had tough moments," Mack Brown said of his safeties. "They're not where they want to be yet. We're still giving up more stuff back there than we want to with what we want to accomplish. We're not hiding them. With youth, it limits some of the calls we'd normally make and some of the disguises."


Muschamp said he's been able to add some calls for the safeties each week.

"We've been able to do a little more each week and put a little more on them at the line of scrimmage - whether it's a set or a receiver location that they are able to check and make different coverage calls for us," Muschamp said.

So while there is still a long way to go with a roster that has 21 freshmen or sophomores in the two-deep, there is guarded optimism that key players are growing up and could mean the difference in Texas' success this season.

"Our young players are working hard," McCoy said. "They are unselfish and want to win just like the seniors on the team. And we will need them going forward."

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