COLT MCCOY DIDN'Tget the license plate of the Kansas State linebacker who on Nov.¬†11single-handedly altered the trajectory of the Longhorns' 2006 season. "Itwasn't a cheap shot," says McCoy, the Texas quarterback and Big¬†12Offensive Freshman of the Year. "He just hit me right." The hard tacklecaused nerve damage in the passer's neck, knocking him out of the game in thefirst quarter and setting up the Longhorns for a 45-42 loss. It was the Horns'second defeat of the season, which took them out of the national title pictureand underlined McCoy's importance to the team.
The untestedsuccessor to Vince Young, McCoy didn't show much in his first big game, a 24-7loss to Ohio State on Sept.¬†9, in large part because his coaches reinedhim in. But once he was cut loose, the kid tore up opposing secondaries; hefinished with 2,570 passing yards and 29 touchdowns (tying the NCAA mark for afreshman). He spent the off-season intensively rehabbing his injured wing andin preseason practice has never looked better.
McCoy will be mosteffective if Texas can reignite a running game that flagged in '06. Though theyfielded one of most talented lines in the nation, the Horns averaged less thanfour yards a carry in six of their last eight games, and the team's streak of1,000-yard rushers ended at 11 seasons. This year the line must replace bothguards and the center, and the feature back is Jamaal Charles, a huge talentwho averaged 7.4 yards a carry as a freshman for the national champs in '05.Last season, however, he started only one game, taking a backseat to seniorSelvin Young, who played tougher and fumbled less.
True, Young andCharles combined for 1,422 yards and 14 TDs, but the offense was incapable ofbreaking long runs. The dropoff from '05 was due, in part, to the coaches'decision to stick with the shotgun-based, zone-read option offense that VinceYoung directed with such virtuosity. While McCoy is a more accurate passer thanhis predecessor, he is not the running threat Young was. Still, the Longhornswill stick with their beloved zone-read and hope that the line can gelquickly.
Another problemarea is the secondary. Despite sending three defensive backs to the NFL(Michael Griffin and Aaron Ross were the 19th and 20th picks, respectively),Texas ranked 99th in the nation in pass defense in '06. Conservative lastseason under co-coordinator Gene Chizik (now the coach at Iowa State), Texaswill blitz more under longtime co-coordinator Duane Akina, who will calldefenses for the first time in '07. Akina, who is also the secondary coach,will work with a talented but unproven batch of backs.
The team's earlyschedule allows for a gentle learning curve: Three of the Longhorns' first fouropponents are Arkansas State, Central Florida and Rice. The fourth, TCU onSept.¬†8 in Austin, is the most intriguing of Texas's nonconference foes.The Horned Frogs would love to be this year's Boise State, and an upset oftheir old Southwest Conference nemesis would put them on track to bust the BCS."They're going to be all kind of fired up," McCoy says. "That gameis their Super Bowl."
But the Longhornshave lofty aspirations of their own.
CONFERENCE: Big 12
COACH: Mack Brown
2006 RECORD: 10-3
(6-2 in Big 12)
FINAL AP RANK: 13
Offense 6, Defense 6
DT Frank Okam (Sr.)
Anchor of stoutest run defense in the conference
WR Limas Sweed (Sr.)
Top receiver caught 46 passes for 801 yards
LT Tony Hills (Sr.)
Will protect QB's blind side for second straightyear
Sept. 1 ARKANSAS STATE
15 at Central Florida
29 KANSAS STATE
Oct. 6 Oklahoma*
13 at Iowa State
20 at Baylor
Nov. 3 at Oklahoma State
10 TEXAS TECH
23 at Texas A&M
* In Dallas
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The Longhorns will stick with their zone-read and hopethat the line can gel quickly.
McCoy had 29 touchdown passes in '06.
The Longhorns hope Charles can be the runner he was in 2005, when he averaged7.4 yards a carry.
JAMES D. SMITH/icon smi (mascot)