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September 12, 2012

Ole Miss presents a different challenge for UT

A lot has been made by the media and Texas fans about Malcolm Brown's limited carries against New Mexico (Brown ran the ball only twice). Team members don't seem to care.

Mack Brown said on Monday that several plays were called for Brown, but it just happened that David Ash saw something he liked with the defense and he correctly checked into another call.

Co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Major Applewhite said the limited touches certainly weren't by design, and Brown wasn't phased one bit. Applewhite referenced a similar situation during Ricky Williams' Heisman season as an example of elite players putting the team first. Williams rushed for a mere 90 yards against Oklahoma State late in the season, but Texas held on for a 37-34 win.

"He said, 'Major, I don't care, as long as we win the game.' That ultimately showed what kind of football player he was, and I think the guys fed off that story and understand it," Applewhite said. "I'm telling you ... I am fortunate to have good people in my room. They are not attached to that kind of stuff. As long as we're singing 'Texas Fight' in the locker room, it is not big to them."

Applewhite said the coaches do talk about getting certain guys more touches, or even fewer touches, but the bottom line is that wins come first and the number of carries can change dramatically from the gameplan depending on how a game unfolds.

--- Applewhite said a silver lining can actually be found when guys as mature as Malcolm Brown and Marquise Goodwin (two catches against New Mexico) show maturity despite their limited roles in certain games. The coaches used both guys as positive examples for the rest of the team this week.

"Coach Brown had both of those guys break down the team on Tuesday after practice and said, 'We are becoming a team. We have older guys, and even younger guys like Malcolm understanding the team concept.' Marquise Goodwin blocks his butt down field, Malcolm plays 22 plays, blocks, does whatever he has to do whether we check out or throw a screen away from him. He is not whining or complaining," Applewhite said. That's what you have to have ... It is ultimately a team game, and I think we do a good job of it from the get-go when it comes to recruiting.

--- Earlier this week, safety Kenny Vaccaro shrugged off the idea of the SEC playing a more physical brand of football than the rest of the country. Vaccaro, of course, hits about as hard as anyone in college football.

I asked defensive backs coach Duane Akina if the talk of having to play more physical this week is overblown, or if it is something the coaches have stressed in practice.

"I think it's overblown," Akina said. "I have been here now for 12 years, another place for 15 prior to that. I have been doing this for 30 years and we've got one way to play. We know what it should look like when we look at the tape of ourselves.

"I think where I stand and knowing the standards that we have here in our room as a defense and with the good defenses that we have had here, I like the level of physical play that we are at right now. We will just let our games talk for us."

--- Vaccaro didn't necessarily turn in a bunch of highlight-reel plays in the win over New Mexico, but the coaches have said it was one of the team's performances in terms of staying within the defensive game plan and making sure the team's other players were lined up properly against the Lobos' triple option attack.

"I would say that I have had a lot of outstanding safeties here, and I would put Kenny Vaccaro in there with the best ones I've had. I'm talking about the Michael Huffs, the Michael Griffins and the Earl Thomases," Akina said. "I think if I can put him in that light, it speaks for itself.

"I think it's overlooked quite a bit," Akina said of Vaccaro's play against New Mexico that didn't show up in the stat book. "This last game, I don't think a lot of people appreciated how well he played. We've all seen Kenny blitz and make some outstanding plays blitzing and physical plays. But this was a game where Kenny really showed he can play with eye discipline. Many times ... his job was if something broke, he'd tackle it for a 16-yard gain. And he showed great maturity and patience that way.

"Obviously, he's a great player on defense and we'll keep finding ways to utilize him at the point of attack, but I also think he showed to everybody in the room that he is a team player, that he'll do his job even when it is just capping something off on top when it was someone else's job to make the big play. I think tremendous growth and that's why he's one of the best defensive backs in the country."

--- Saturday night will be UT's first road game of the year, but it also comes from an opponent who plays in a conference that dominates the media headlines. Applewhite said the Texas players are aware of the hype the SEC receives, and he said he won't be surprised if the Longhorns have a little extra motivation in the locker room when playing Ole Miss, but he said that element goes out the window once the ball is kicked.

"I'm sure to some extent," Applewhite said when asked if players care what conference an opponent is from. "You'd have to ask them personally, but I think to some extent they do just because some of the hype and the things they read and see. I am sure there is something in the back of their head.

"Ultimately, when the ball snaps and you set your pads, it's an opponent. They don't care whether we are from the Big 12 or not, they are trying to beat us. Once you start playing, kids are kid and they're just trying to beat the opponent."

--- Akina said Ole Miss should provide the toughest hurdle that the UT defense has faced this season. Behind JUCO transfer QB Bo Wallace, The Rebels have put up 77 points in their first two games, and Akina expects Ole Miss to challenge Texas both on the ground and in the air.

"There are different challenges here once again. The offense can get a little more vertical. I think this corps of receivers is probably the best group of receivers we have seen," Akina said. "The quarterback once again is very active. He can move around, he do a lot of things. Anytime anyone can put up the numbers that they have generated offensively so far this year, it gets your attention."

Wallace's versatility can make it tough for a defense to stack the line of scrimmage or fall back into a lot of pass sets, and he's capable of moving the chains with his legs if Texas doesn't maintain good eye discipline.

"It injects another running back into their offense," Akina said of Wallace's mobility. "All defensive coaches are getting used to this type of athlete playing quarterback now, in the professional level too.

"I see a guy that has been very active. He has kept them out of really negative plays. He has turned some potentially negative plays into positive plays for them. He has thrown a very good completion rate and when there have been shots downfield to hit, he has hit them. I think he is going to be a good challenge for us right now on the road in a real hostile environment."

A lot has been made of New Mexico's ability to convert third downs in the first half of last week's game, but Akina said the team's only focus is on keeping points off the scoreboard.

"It was a little frustrating on our part, but when you keep a team to zero, I don't think we can overreact," he said. "If they score zero again this week, we'll be happy, no matter how many yards they get or how many first downs. The game is still about points."


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