• Cowboys get trounced by avenged Ryan, Saints

    Giving up 432 yards in an NFL game is considered bad, but being outgained by 432 yards in an NFL game is, well, atrocious. 

    The Dallas Cowboys managed to be atrocious and all its synonyms Sunday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome as they were torched by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints 49-17.

    Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was fired by the Cowboys in the offseason, is in laughter after this one. Meanwhile, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones might want to file a complaint to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell accusing Ryan and the Saints of bullying. Here are five reasons why.

     

    1. The Saints set an NFL record by gaining 40 first downs. The Cowboys, on the other hand, ended up with 43 total plays to go with just nine first downs. In other words, the Cowboys made the Saints look like the Baylor Bears out there.

    2. Sunday night’s game marked the fourth time this season the Cowboys defense has allowed more than 500 yards, one game away from an NFL single-season record.

    3. The Cowboys defense allowed running back Mark Ingram to rush for his first 100-yard performance in his pro career.

    4. The Cowboys defense allowed 626 total yards, which set a franchise record, breaking the mark set two weeks ago against the Detroit Lions when it gave up 623.

    5. The first pass attempt to Cowboys star wide receiver Dez Bryant didn’t come until 33 minutes into the game, and the first and only catch by Bryant occurred a long 44 minutes into the game. The Saints shut Bryant and the passing game down, as quarterback Tony Romo only threw for 128 yards.

     

    Yikes. 

    Don’t the Cowboys watch the “NFL GameDay Morning” show like I do when they wake up on Sunday? Marshall Faulk, a pro football hall of famer and current NFL Network analyst, said Sunday morning that the Saints would throw for 400 yards, rush for 150 yards and score 50 points against the Cowboys. Clearly, the Cowboys wanted to make Faulk look like a psychic, as they almost fulfilled his bold prediction.

    It gets worse.

    The Cowboys lost linebackers Sean Lee and Justin Durant to hamstring injuries during the game. The banged-up defense is already without defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, defensive end Anthony Spencer and defensive backs J.J. Wilcox and Morris Claiborne. Moreover, defensive end DeMarcus Ware is in and out of games.

    To add insult to injury for the Cowboys, their former defensive coordinator has turned the Saints defense around, a unit that is the one of the most improved in the league. 

    Maybe Ryan wasn’t so bad after all.

    In the meantime, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his defense are one of the least feared in the entire league, especially with all of the injuries it is suffering.

    I was never one to question the hire of Kiffin because of how dominant his Tampa Bay defense was back in the early 2000s with Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks and others. After this loss, though, it is starting to make me scratch my head.

    Kiffin’s Cowboys defense this season has now allowed a record-breaking amount of yards twice in three games, and in 2012, his USC defense allowed a school record 730 yards to Oregon.

    The Cowboys could be in trouble.

    And now for the good news. Cowboys fans can save some heartache because they do not have to watch their team next week.

    The Cowboys face a much-needed bye week, as they need the rest and, more importantly, to figure out how to be consistent. One week, the Cowboys could look great and click on all cylinders. The other week, the team may look like one of the worst in the league. 

    Despite all of the bad the Cowboys are dealing with to go along with a mediocre 5-5 record, they are still tied for first place in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles. 

    However, this team looked defeated after crawling out of New Orleans on Sunday night. 

    We will just have to see if the Cowboys can get it together during their time off this week and bounce back in Week 12 when they head to the MetLife Stadium to face the division foe New York Giants. 

    The NFC East is wide open, from top to bottom. Even the Giants and Washington Redskins still have a shot at being crowned the division champion by the end of the regular season.

    The Cowboys have six games remaining on the schedule, three of which are against division teams the Oakland Raiders, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The last two games of the season are on the road against the Redskins, ending with a finale at home against the Eagles. 

    It looks like this could come down to the last game of the season for the Cowboys, yet again. An 8-8 record seems likely to get a playoff spot to represent the division, but the Cowboys are no longer the only team that has a shot at achieving that record. Simply put, the Cowboys are going to struggle to try and make the playoffs for another year.

  • Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker does the Terio in celebration

    Last Sunday, after nailing a game-winning 46-yard field goal in overtime to help the Ravens beat the Bengals, former Longhorn Justin Tucker celebrated how anyone in his position should.

    He did the Terio.

    Watch and enjoy.

    Tucker continues to be clutch in his second year in the NFL. And as Texas fans remember, he hit plenty of last-minute kicks for the Longhorns as well.

    And if you haven’t caught up on the Terio craze, stop what you’re doing and watch this video.  Now.

  • Tweet on, sports fans: Mobile connectivity to improve at Darrel K Royal Stadium

    AT&T has some good news for Longhorn fans as it has enhanced its mobile connectivity on the 40 Acres campus and at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

    The wireless company recently completed a 4G LTE upgrade of its Distributed Antenna System (DAS) on campus and in DKR, leading to an “improved delivery of mobile content and more consistent download and upload data speeds,” AT&T said in a press release.

    So what does this mean?

    It means that your “Saban 2014” and “Put Swoopes in” tweets will now get delivered even faster and mom and dad can now receive your “I’m just gonna stay in tonight” texts even quicker as you leave to go to a party.

    AT&T said that calls would become more reliable; the amount of traffic the network can hold will increase while improving network consistency.

    How does it work?

    The way the new DAS system works is simple. Let’s say Vince Young is watching his former team play on a Saturday night at DKR and wants to send a tweet. Without the DAS system, his text will get sent to the nearby cell tower, which is overloaded with fans telling their friends Vince Young is right in front of them. Young’s text won’t be able to go through and the twitter verse will never know what knowledge he meant to share.

    With the DAS system, the stadium is divided into sections, each with a specific antenna to coordinate mobile activity. When Young sends his tweet, it will go to the nearest antenna and will get sent without any traffic clogging it up.

    If you don’t go to football games, don’t worry! AT&T said the 4G LTE upgrade has been installed all around the campus and even the Frank Erwin Center. So with basketball season starting up, those “We need Kevin Durant back” tweets will be sent just as fast.

  • Texas working against history in its quest for Big 12 title

    This year marks the 16th and final season the BCS will be used to decide college football’s national champion.

    There have been six conferences – the Big East (now the AAC), ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-10 (now Pac-12) and Big 10 – whose champions have automatically earned a BCS bowl berth in the previous 15 seasons. 54 times (out of a possible 90) one of those six automatic-qualifying conferences placed four teams in the BCS standings.

    Three of those 54 times, a team won an automatic-qualifying conference despite not being one of at least four teams in its conference included in the BCS standings as late as November – the same situation Texas finds itself in now.

    The Longhorns have already accomplished something no other team has: start a season 5-0 in Big 12 play without cracking the Top 25 of the BCS standings. They are close, though. Texas received the most votes among unranked teams in the Associated Press, Harris and USA Today coaches’ polls.

    But, if Texas continues its torrid run and wins out, it will win its third conference championship under Mack Brown and become the fourth team to win a BCS automatic-qualifying conference despite being unranked when four other teams from its conference were included in the BCS standings this late in the season.

    “This will be the five most exciting weeks in the history of the Big 12,” Brown said. “A lot of people have some huge games coming up that will decide who wins the conference championship.”

    The other three – Kansas State (2003), Florida State (2005) and Virginia Tech (2008) – all have interesting stories. And, more importantly for Texas’ case, all have interesting similarities.

     

    The stories

    Five Big 12 teams (No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 12 Texas, No. 18 Nebraska, No. 19 Oklahoma State, No. 24 Missouri) were ranked in the BCS standings that were released Nov. 1, 2003. Kansas State, who lost three straight games earlier in the year, including its first two games in Big 12 play to Texas and Oklahoma State, was on the outside looking in.

    But, after starting the year 4-3, the Wildcats won their last seven games of the year. That streak included a 38-9 whipping of No. 17 Nebraska in Lincoln, which allowed Kansas State to earn a spot in the BCS Top 25 for the first time that year, and a convincing 35-7 win over No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.

    The Wildcats didn’t win another conference title until last season but, unlike Florida State in 2005, came out of nowhere to win the Big 12 in 2003.

    The Seminoles started the 2005 season 7-1, climbing as high as No. 9 in the BCS standings before falling out of the rankings altogether following a three-game losing streak to NC State, Clemson and Florida. That same week Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College and Georgia Tech were all ranked.

    But, since they started the season so well, Florida State still had a season-salvaging opportunity in the ACC Championship the following week and beat Virginia Tech to win the conference. That allowed us to enjoy one of the best bowl in recent memory – Penn State’s 26-23 triple-overtime win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl, the final meeting between Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.

    Three years later, a Virginia Tech team that was unranked in the BCS standings until the final day of November won the ACC. Even then, the eventual conference champion Hokies were just No. 25. North Carolina (No. 19), Georgia Tech (No. 20), Florida State (No. 22) and Maryland (No. 23) were all ranked on the first day of November.

    At an unimpressive 6-4, the Hokies needed to win their last two regular season games and for Miami to fall in its regular season finale against NC State to just get into the ACC title game. And that’s precisely what happened. Virginia Tech pummeled Boston College, 30-12, in the ACC Championship, before beating Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.

     

    The similarities

    There are three traits each of these three teams share with Texas – a longtime head coach, a lack of an elite passing attack and a particularly stingy defense.

    Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, Bowden and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer have spent a collective 95 years as a Division I head football coach, a number that could soon hit 100 since Snyder and Beamer are still coaching. With nearly three decades of head coaching experience under his belt, Texas’ Mack Brown fits right in.

    Another stark similarity between these three teams and Texas is that none of them had a great passing game. Ell Roberson had his finest season at Kansas State as a senior in 2003, throwing for 2,545 yards and 24 touchdowns but was also picked off 12 times and completed only 51.7 percent of his passes. Because he could run the ball so well (2,007 rushing yards over his last two years at Kansas State), it didn’t matter as much.

    Florida State won the ACC in 2005 despite having a quarterback in Drew Weatherford that threw as many touchdown passes as interceptions (18). In the Seminoles’ eight wins that year, Weatherford had 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions but threw only four touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in his team’s five losses.

    Virginia Tech won the ACC in 2008 despite getting only six touchdown passes all year – three from Sean Glennon, two from Tyrod Taylor and one from third-stringer Cory Holt.

    Like Texas, Virginia Tech in 2008 and Kansas State in 2003 relied heavily on its running game. Both the ’08 Hokies and ’03 Wildcats ran it about twice as many times as they threw it, an offensive approach similar to the one Brown and co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite have adopted – run the ball, run the ball the some more and utilize play-action to take the occasional shot downfield.

    “It’s just the way we have to be built to win games right now,” Applewhite said. “That’s what we are going to have to do and a lot of it has to do with quarterback depth. When you have a lot of depth or a lot of experience in that position, the last thing you want to do is find out how inexperienced you are.”

    Deep at just about every spot, Applewhite is right. Since David Ash’s head injury against Kansas State, his second of the year, has kept him out for the last four games, Texas has leaned on senior Case McCoy. His backup Tyrone Swoopes is far from being a polished passer and McCoy, while the Longhorns are rallying around him, is not a top-notch quarterback himself.

    The third thing the three aforementioned squads and this year’s Texas team have in common is a fierce and productive defense. ’03 Kansas State, ’05 Florida State and ’08 Virginia Tech were all in the Top 15 when it came to total defense.

    In non-conference play, the Longhorns are No. 116 in total defense this year. But, thanks to new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, they are No. 17 in total defense in conference play – an impressive feat considering the offensive juggernaut of a conference Texas is in.

    “There’s a confidence developing,” Robinson said. “Our fundamental techniques are starting to look cleaner. You never want to take that for granted, but my mind is that if we just keep working, we’re going to continue to improve because I think we have some very good football players. I think that, as they continue to work, they’re going to get even better.”

    With that said, Texas has yet to face either of the Big 12’s three highest-scoring offenses – Baylor (63.9, most in the FBS), Oklahoma State (40.5) and Texas Tech (39.1). The Longhorns still have a long ways to go and are trying to pull off a feat few have accomplished before, but, as Kansas State proved in 2003, Florida State in 2005 and Virginia Tech in 2008, it’s not an impossible task. 

  • Marcus Johnson coming through on third down for Longhorns

    Marcus Johnson has caught 10 passes this year. Nothing special. That’s something hundreds of FBS players have done this season. Dozens of Big 12 players have already accomplished the feat.

    But what makes Johnson’s 10 catches special is the fact that seven of them have come on third down. On those seven plays where Johnson has made a third-down grab, Texas has needed an average of more than 10 yards for a first down. Yet Johnson has managed to move the chains with six of those seven third-down catches.

    All three of Johnson’s catches so far during Texas’ game against TCU have come on third downs – all for first downs.

    With Texas already holding a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, Johnson hauled in a 12-yard pass on 3rd-and-8. Case McCoy fired incomplete to Johnathan Gray on the next play and Daje Johnson ran for no gain on the following play.

    That set up another magical third-down moment for Johnson, who broke free for a 65-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-10 to give Texas a 17-7 lead.

    A 3-hour, 6-minute lightning delay began shortly after that long touchdown catch by Johnson but that didn’t slow him down. On Texas’ first second-half possession, McCoy hit a streaking Johnson for 43 yards on 3rd-and-9. McCoy took another shot downfield in Johnson’s direction and drew a pass interference call on TCU’s Elisha Olabode.

    Malcolm Brown capped off that drive with his second three-yard touchdown run of the night, giving the Longhorns a 27-7 advantage early in the third quarter. 

    Johnson’s biggest catch of the year, however, likely came in Texas’ last game – a 36-20 drubbing of Oklahoma. The sophomore from League Springs made only reception in that game but made it count.

    A two-touchdown underdog, Texas took a 10-3 lead into the second quarter. On 3rd-and-11 from his won 41-yard line, McCoy unleashed a pass downfield off his back foot. It fell right in Johnson’s breadbasket for a 59-yard touchdown. That play broke the game open, giving the Longhorns a 17-7 lead and, more importantly, complete command of a game no one thought they would win.

    To recap – Johnson has made 10 catches this year. Seven have come on third down for 222 yards (31.7 yards per catch) and two touchdowns – both game-changers. The other three catches went for a mere 35 yards, none of them game-changers.

    Next time you see McCoy drop back on 3rd-and-long, keep an eye on Johnson. He’s done an excellent job this year of finding a soft spot in the defense and making plays when the Longhorns need him the most.

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