Success in fantasy football isn’t about being the smartest or having the most research, it’s about being bold. It’s about having the guts to make the right moves at the right time. It’s about answering the door when opportunity comes knocking. After Week 1 starts this Thursday, the pieces will start to move quickly, so be prepared. Here are a few players to buy low and to sell high prior to — or immediately following — Week 1.
Matthew Stafford – Stafford is currently being drafted as the eighth to 10th quarterback in most fantasy leagues, based on last season in which he threw for 4,967 yards. Something is wrong there. Any quarterback throwing for around 5,000 yards each of the last two years should be a top five fantasy quarterback. His 20-to-17 touchdown to interception ratio leaves definite room for improvement, but given the Lions’ pass-happy offense, as well as the addition of Reggie Bush as a backfield pass-catching option, expect Stafford’s touchdown numbers to eclipse the 30 mark and flirt with 40.
T.Y. Hilton – A standout rookie receiver last year, who had 861 yards and seven touchdowns. He features sub-4.40 speed and precision route running. He is currently listed behind Darrius Heyward-Bey on the Colt’s depth chart, but expect that to change quickly. A brilliant preseason will yield great dividends for Hilton, so trade for him before he becomes a household name early on.
Danny Woodhead – Guess who quietly became a top-25 fantasy running back last year sitting behind both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in New England: Danny Woodhead. Believe it. Don’t be scared that he is listed behind Ronnie Brown on the Chargers' depth chart. Woodhead will see immediate action in third down situations and will be the first in line to receive the bulk of the carries once Ryan Matthews almost assuredly goes down with an injury by halftime of Week 1. Woodhead currently carries an extremely low price in the fantasy market and could be influential down the road.
Justin Blackmon – The easiest and smartest choice as a buy low candidate, Blackmon’s stock has dropped dramatically due to a four-game suspension to begin the season. But take a step back. Were you really thinking of starting Blackmon in the first four weeks of your season? I bet not. Blackmon showed flashes of brilliance last year, so grab him in your league before he returns from suspension. A mid-year breakout for Blackmon would not shock at all, and he can be had for next to nothing.
Dwayne Bowe – Is a monster. Bowe has three 1,000-yard seasons in his six-year tenure in the NFL. He also turned heads in 2010 with a 1,162-yard, 15-touchdown season. His success was despite terrible quarterback play in Kansas City. Now with the perpetually underrated Alex Smith at the helm in Kansas City, and no other wide receiver talent to be found, expect Bowe to be — at the worst — a top-15 wide receiver. Possibly even a top five option by the end of 2013.
Alfred Morris – By all accounts, Morris’ 2012 season was an anomaly, but for some reason, some Morris supporters believe that this effort is repeatable. Don’t buy it. The change to a zone-blocking scheme may not be kind to Morris, and I don’t like holding a running back who is known as only a two-down back. In the end, I’d rather have Matt Forte, Steven Jackson or Maurice Jones-Drew. It would be easier to make that move now rather than later in the season.
Eric Decker/Wes Welker – Fact: Peyton Manning is the most accurate and intelligent quarterback in the NFL. Fact: The Broncos will have the most potent passing attack in the league. Fact: Welker and Decker will both suffer in this offense. Demaryius Thomas is the only receiver physically capable of standing out in the offense, leaving Decker and Welker to cannibalize each other’s production. By year’s end, neither will be a top-15 wide receiver simply because there are not enough targets to go around. Expect both to be solid, but be smart and trade out of them before their stock drops.
Deangelo Williams – He might be the most frustrating fantasy player in the NFL. As soon as I gave up hope on him last year, he posted a 220-yard, two-touchdown effort to close out the season. Now, Jonathan Stewart is on the Physically Unable to Perform list — meaning he is out for at least the first six weeks of the season — so Williams will spearhead the rushing attack in Carolina. Although he is a solid play in the short term, look for him to return to his frustratingly inconsistent form by mid-season. Save yourself the trouble and trade for a more consistent, long-term option when you can.
Julio Jones - Don’t get me wrong, Jones is a fantastic receiver. I just don’t buy into the idea that he is a top five receiver in the league. He is often out-paced by an older and more consistent Roddy White, who is being drafted about 10 picks later than him. Jones is great, but I’d rather have Larry Fitzgerald or even Andre Johnson, and with some good old fashion negotiating, you may be able to milk Jones’ hype for even more.
Cecil Shorts – Shorts is a flash in the pan – nothing more, nothing less. He will have a solid four weeks while Blackmon is out, and then slip slowly into relative fantasy obscurity. Blackmon is bigger, faster and more physical, and it will start to show this season. Shorts won’t post 1,000 yards and he won’t have more than six touchdowns. Trade him while there are still some people that think he will.
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy talks on his headset as he watches from the sidelines in the fourth quarter of the game against Louisiana-Lafayette in Stillwater, Oka. on Sept. 15. Oklahoma state won, 65-24.
Oklahoma State’s game against Texas on Saturday will be a measuring stick for OSU coach Mike Gundy and the program he’s built.
Sometimes it’s an overused term, but in this case it fits. Oklahoma State’s football team was hit hard by graduation after the 2011 season, losing two first-round NFL draft picks in Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The Cowboys also lost defensive captain Markelle Martin in the fourth round and both of the team’s starting defensive ends.
Since the departures, Gundy has constantly had to answer two questions: Will he reload or rebuild, and who is his quarterback?
The latter was announced at the end of spring practices when freshman Wes Lunt won the starting job. His 6-foot-4 frame and electric arm was exactly what Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken wanted for Weeden’s replacement.
Lunt’s play this season was initially strong, and included him breaking the Big 12 single-game passing record for a freshman against Arizona when he threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns. It seemed as though Gundy had answered both of the offseason questions with ease — at least until the first quarter of the Louisiana-Lafayette game.
Lunt was tackled as he rolled to his right and remained on the turf while grabbing at his knee in obvious pain.
Just like that, the second question came back into play. Will the Cowboys reload, or will they rebuild?
Gundy has said several times that his goal is to have a two-deep depth chart, a situation that would provide flawless transitions between the starter and backup in an injury situation.
It’s a recruiting plan much like Texas coach Mack Brown has in place, though Oklahoma State doesn’t quite have the power that the Longhorns have in their offseason acquisitions.
“There’s a number of advantages in playing or coaching for Texas,” Gundy said. “If you started writing down the big-time guys they’ve had, you’d take up an entire notebook ... We’re starting to get into that geographical region more than we have in the past, but we’re obviously not on their level.”
But Gundy is moving in the right direction, and it showed two weeks ago when former Denton Guyer quarterback J.W. Walsh lined up behind center in Lunt’s absence.
Walsh, a redshirt-freshman, torched the Ragin’ Cajun defense for 420 total yards, which was good for the eighth-best single-game total in Oklahoma State history.
The backup looked strong but it was also against La.-Lafaeyette, who’s obviously not a Big 12-quality football team.
Now, Walsh faces a bear of a challenge in a Texas defense that boasts two of the best defensive ends in the nation in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, and the talent doesn’t stop there. The Longhorn secondary is just as loaded, and is so athletic that they play man defense a majority of the time. That game plan is something that has given OSU some trouble against the Longhorns in their last two match ups.
“This will be a good test for both of us to find out where we’re really at, at least in my opinion,” Gundy said. “I don’t know that we’ll play anybody that will be as athletic as these guys.”
This game will show where Gundy stands. Is he where he wants his program to be, a two-deep football team capable of sustaining their level of play even when the injury-bug bites? Or is the team still trying to get there, trying their hardest to rebuild after the mortar of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was removed from their brick wall?
Saturday’s match up against the best defense in the Big 12 will tell you all you need to know.
When comparing Luck to Griffin Robert Griffin III, it’s easy to overlook Luck’s athleticism. But the Stanford product ran the fourth-best 40-yard-dash among quarterbacks, turned in the fifth-best vertical leap and had the furthest broad jump. He’s much, much more athletic than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Luck’s arm and touch could eventually put him in that upper-echelon of NFL quarterbacks, though: he ranked seventh in the NCAA with a 71.3 completion percentage, sixth with 8.7 yards per attempt and tied for fifth with a touchdown percentage of 9.2 — meaning for every 100 passes he attempted, roughly 10 of them were for touchdowns. But will he have anybody besides Reggie Wayne to throw to in Indy?
Bear with me here, but I like the Heisman Winner from Baylor better than I do Luck. In those aforementioned passing metrics, RG3 ranks better than Luck — third in completion percentage, first in yards per attempt, a tie with Luck in touchdown percentage and also a interception percentage that ranked among the best in the country (1.5, good for 12th). Luck, on the other hand, threw an interception 2.5 percent of the time he put the ball in the air — 46th in the country.
It really is arguable that Griffin III is a better passing prospect than Luck. It’s unarguable that he’s a better athlete (best 40 time of any QB, best vertical leap), one who put up whopping rushing numbers in college with 2,943 total yards and 10 games of triple-digit yardage in essentially three seasons.
One last stat: his passer-efficiency rating in 2011 was the second best ever.
USC tackle Matt Kalil has been penciled in at this spot since the combine, but it won’t be too surprising if the Vikings elect to go with this year’s best cornerback. In a division where you’re facing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler (not to mention, Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings and Brandon Marshall) twice a year, you need to be able to stop the pass.
Offensive tackles aren't full-proof options, either. Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Trent Williams are recent examples of top-10 tackles whose teams (St. Louis, Jacksonville and Washington, respectively) rank among the worst in the league (32nd, 28th, 26th, also respectively). Take Claiborne and give yourself a secondary to build on.
Montario Hardesty, Greg Little, Ben Watson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Josh Cribbs, Chris Ogbonnaya…I don’t care who your quarterback is, or who you’ve got on the offensive line; you’re not winning many games with that core of skill players. That’s why the Browns have to get the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Cleveland traded down last year (and drafted a defensive tackle, Phil Taylor, at 21) in order to stockpile picks. Those picks need to be used to help give a quarterback — for now it’s Colt McCoy — a prayer at winning games in the AFC North. Richardson steps in and starts from day one.
With Claiborne and Richardson off the board, the Bucs have to reach a bit here to get a cornerback, but it’s a major position of need. Ronde Barber has very little left in the tank and the troubled Aqib Talib is being shopped.
From 2010 to 2011, Blackmon scored 38 touchdowns and hauled in 232 passes. His 3,304 receiving yards might be a byproduct of a system, but that’s insane no matter how you slice it (as is his ypc average of 14.6). He’s neither the fastest nor the tallest receiver in this draft, yet he is far and away the most productive and should immediately become Sam Bradford’s top target.
7. Jacksonville Jaguars — Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
Since 2008, the Jags have chosen in the top 10 every year. And with little results to show for it: Derrick Harvey busted, Monroe has provided little semblance of a building block, Blaine Gabbert could be a disaster. The pick of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu is actually the best so far — and even that is saying something. So this pick needs to be right, and when you’re facing that kind of pressure, you take the best player available, regardless of need. Kalil, a potential franchise left tackle, is just that.
Here’s what I don’t like about Tannehill: He has only 20 games at quarterback under his belt and he was perhaps the main culprit in A&M’s choke job of 2011.
Here’s what I do like: He’s a confident, stand-up type of guy with an above-average arm.
Here’s what I hate: His 61.6 completion percentage last season, his seven yards per attempt, his 2.8 interception percentage.
And here’s what I love: He was sacked only nine times last year, so I know the former wide receiver can avoid the pressures of the Jets, Patriots and the newly-revamped pass rush of the Bills in the AFC East, and he can throw on the run. When a play breaks down, or when a receiver just can’t get open — with Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, this could happen quite often — Tannehill can make things happen with his feet.
Look, Tannehill is the ultimate project quarterback. But the Dolphins can afford to be patient. Matt Moore is a serviceable option and it’s not like the team is about to challenge New England or New York for the division. He’s worth the risk here at 8.
With Cam Newton and Steve Smith doing their thing on offense, it’s time for Carolina to shore up things on the other side of the ball. The NFL’s seventh-worst rushing defense would be buoyed by the addition of Cox, who had five sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season.
Despite the offseason signing of Mario Williams, there’s still work to be done to improve Buffalo’s D, which ranked 28th in total defense and 30th in run defense. Kuechly, who led the NCAA in tackles last season, gives the Bills one of the best front sevens in the league. Offensive help — mainly, receiver — can come in the later rounds.
Probably a reach here. Then again, they said the same thing about Jason Pierre-Paul at No. 15 a few seasons ago. The Seahawks put up pedestrian sack numbers in 2011 (33, for a sack percentage of 5.7). Coples never put up huge numbers at UNC, but it’s his potential — a 4.7 40 time at 6-foot-6 and 284 lbs. — that has Seattle pulling the trigger.
The Cowboys have taken three defensive backs in the first round the last decade — safety Roy Williams in 2002 and cornerbacks Terence Newman in 2003 and Mike Jenkins in 2008. Barron becomes No. 4 here and it’s easy to believe he could be better than any of the three.
Philly chose a guard with its first-round pick a year ago, but it’s been a long time since it used such a high pick on an offensive tackle — 1998 ,to be exact. With left tackle Jason Peters possibly out for the season, now seems as good a time as any to break the streak.
For a team that’s made the AFC Championship game two of the last three years, the Jets sure do have a lot of holes. The “ground and pound” offense hasn’t gone anywhere behind Shonn Greene (22nd in team rushing last season), the passing game is in a state of disillusion (21st) and the Jets finished in the red in takeaways. But dangling Poe in front of Rex Ryan — who loves taking on defensive projects — is just too tantalizing.
With a boatload of draft picks after dealing Carson Palmer to the Raiders midseason, there’s plenty of time later on for the Bengals to make a sexier choice, possibly at corner or receiver. Take the draft’s best guard prospect off the boards.
What is it that has caused the Chargers to fall short so often? Among other things, the team failed to establish the run it its six-game losing streak in the middle of last year, posting a paltry 98 yards per game. You’ve got a capable runner in Ryan Mathews, now give him somebody to run behind.
Unless the plan is to turn Jay Cutler into David Carr, it’s high time to improve the offensive line. Stick Glenn at right tackle and hope last year’s top pick, Gabe Carimi, is healthy enough to play a full season at left. Then bid adieu to J’Marcus Webb and Lance Louis, the weak links of a unit that allowed 49 sacks in 2011.
In a division that will one day be run by Andrew Luck, it’s imperative to have somebody who can get after the passer. Upshaw (8.5 sacks last season) can put his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 defensive set or play upright in a 3-4.
Randle is just the kind of deep threat the Browns need to stretch the field, and clear out the box for fellow rookie Trent Richardson. His 17.3 yards per reception ranked among the top 20 in the nation a year ago.
Character issues, schmaracter issues. When you can get this kind of talent this late in the first round, and fill a need while doing it, you take a risk. (Jenkins was dismissed by the Florida Gators after a myriad of drug problems and he’s fathered four children with three different women.) If Jenkins can stay out of trouble — granted, a big if — he can help the Lions.
It has been a game of musical chairs at the right guard position for Steelers, where Darnell Stapleton, Ramon Foster and Trai Essex have been used as temporary replacements until a franchise-type player comes along. In the rugged AFC North, with Ben Roethlisberger feeling the heat, here’s the opportunity to grab a long-term starter.
Those who didn’t flip the channel in between Tim Tebow’s series on offense most likely noticed Denver’s glaring weakness. In eight losses, the Broncos gave up an average of 150 rushing yards a game. Peyton Manning won’t be nearly as effective if he’s sitting on the sidelines watching the opposition run at will.
It’s a choice here between Wright or Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech. Because Houston needs somebody to step in opposite Andre Johnson immediately, the best bet is it’s the uber-productive Wright (one touchdown in every seven catches last season) over a raw talent like Hill.
Last year’s sack leader (16) winds up on a team that has twice seen, firsthand, what an effective pass rush can really do (the New York Giants of 2007, 2011). There's a hole to fill, too, with Mark Anderson signing with the Bills.
Like Clay Matthews, McClellin is a bit of a late-bloomer who’s just now starting to pick up steam. Funny timing. Green Bay is in desperate need of a pass-rushing ‘backer to draw some attention away from Mr. Matthews.
This pick might fall into the hands of a team trying to trade up for Brandon Weeden. Among the contenders, Cleveland has the most to offer in terms of draft picks (Nos. 37 and 67). If not, Patriots should go defense again.
One minor cost of the Giants winning the Super Bowl in Feb. was that two of their tight ends, Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum, suffered knee injuries that could cause them to miss the entire 2012 season. Fleener averaged about 20 yards a catch in his final year at Stanford and also hauled in 10 touchdowns.
Brandon Weeden, Senior QB:
After tossing the pigskin 367 yards in the air last week, the Texas pass defense doesn’t catch a break this week with Weeden coming to Austin. The 28-year-old senior has experience to spare and enough arm strength to make every pass seem like a casual flick. He threw for a season-low 288 yards against Kansas on 24 of 28 passing. He threw five touchdown passes against the Jayhawks and has 15 on the season. He does have six interceptions this year, but all of those came in the first three games of the season, with half of them coming in game one against Louisiana-Lafayette. Last year, he had one of his three 400-plus yard games against Texas, passing for 409 in Austin.
Justin Blackmon, Junior WR:
The Cowboy’s have began to form a bit of a reputation for producing NFL talent at receiver. Following Dez Bryant, Blackmon won the Biletnikoff award last year as a redshirt junior. Along with being named the best receiver in the country, he was a unanimous all-American and received Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. He lit up Texas last season, catching 145 yards on just nine receptions, including a 67-yard catch and run in second quarter. He had at least 100 receiving yards in 12 games last year, and has three so far this year. Against the young Texas corners, he has a chance to have a big game on Saturday.
Joseph Randle, Sophomore RB:
With so much attention being paid to the Oklahoma State passing attack, Randle has quietly put together a good season having rushed for almost 500 yards so far. His 484 yards this season is already higher than his entire season total last year at 452. After rushing for 378 yards in the first three games, he has been held to 106 in his last two, including just 23 against Kansas. He may be the most important “X-factor” in the game this weekend. With the Texas defense preoccupied with stopping the high-powered Cowboy’s passing attack, he could take advantage of the lack of attention to get some yards on the ground against the Longhorns.
Quarterback: Oklahoma State has the definite edge in this game under center. Texas saw some improvement after switching to the two-quarterback system, but that system was abused last week by Oklahoma. David Ash threw two interceptions, and Case McCoy was sacked and fumbled twice, with one of each of those turnovers being returned for scores. Meanwhile, Brandon Weeden is averaging almost 380 yards per game through the air, and although he has thrown six interceptions this season, none of those have come in the last two games. He has completed 80 percent of his passes during the last two games and has completed 79 percent of his passes since the first game of the season, where he completed a paltry 61 percent.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Running Back: Oklahoma State has a strong running game, but it is by no means a dominant attack. The Cowboys have been outrushed in each of their two conference games and were held to 46 yards rushing against Texas A&M. The strength of the Texas offense had been the rushing game going into last week’s butchering. Texas gained 153 yards rushing against the Sooners but lost 117 yards for a net total of only 36. The Cowboys will be looking to pass first, so most of their rushing yards will be supplemental, but Texas has to establish the run in order to have a chance to win the game. Texas has a little more talent at the position and will be relying on it to win.
Wide Receiver: A week after facing one of the best receiver tandems in the conference, Texas will now face one of the best receivers in the nation. Justin Blackmon is the primary target on the Cowboys’ offense. He has caught for more than 100 yards in three games this season including receiving for 128 and 121 yards in tight games against Arizona and Texas A&M, respectively, and 13 percent of his catches have gone for touchdowns. Texas’ one consistent target this season has been true freshman Jaxon Shipley. Last week, he caught nine balls for 89 yards and the only offensive touchdown for the Longhorns. He is the only consistent target on the team with Mike Davis having an inexcusable turnover against Oklahoma. Blackmon alone gives the Cowboys the edge in this one, but Oklahoma State has had at least one 100-yard receiver in three games this season, and two against Texas A&M.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Offensive Line: Last week, the Sooners spent as much time in the Texas backfield as the Longhorns did. The Texas offensive line gave up eight sacks against Oklahoma and an additional seven quarterback hurries. The Sooners turned all that pressure into four turnovers, and 117 yards for loss. Kansas was only able to get one sack, and one QB hurry on Weeden as he passed for almost 300 yards. The Cowboys averaged 3.9 yards per carry against Kansas and are only averaging 3.1 yards per carry over the last three games. If Texas is going to pull the upset this weekend, then the offensive line has to do a significantly better job than it did last week because the Oklahoma State line is going to give Weeden ample time to throw.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Defensive Line: While Oklahoma was able to set up base camp in the Texas backfield, the Longhorn defensive line was not able to get any pressure on Landry Jones. It only recorded two hurries and one sack against Oklahoma. Oklahoma State’s line fared a little better against the Jayhawks, with 3.5 sacks and a hurry, but gave up 4.6 yards per carry to the Kansas running backs. The one bright spot from the Red River Rivalry was that Texas was able to limit Oklahoma to just 86 yards rushing and didn’t let through a lot of runs up the middle. Neither team will be taking in a dominant defensive line, but the Cowboys may have little more going for them in pass rushing, though Texas is a little better at defending the run.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Linebackers: Texas’ linebackers were only able to muster up 13 tackles against Oklahoma, with most of the work being done by the defensive backs. The most troubling stat is that the linebackers combined for one quarterback hurry and no sacks. Most of the blitzes done by the linebackers got stopped at the line of scrimmage and could not apply pressure on the quarterback. Oklahoma State’s linebackers are solid but don’t make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage, nor do they account for a lot of sacks. They are a decent group but none of them are exceptional. A backup, Tyler Johnson, led the team in tackles last week with seven. Texas has more talent at the position but it has to start producing, especially on blitzes in order for the team to have success.
Secondary: Texas’ secondary got torched by Landry Jones and the Oklahoma receivers, but some of that may be on a defensive front seven that was not able to get any pressure on Jones. But the defensive backs were only able to get their hands on three balls for pass breakups and no interceptions. They made a lot of tackles, but there were too many instances of Oklahoma receivers running open down the field and too many poor angles taken by the entire backfield. The Cowboy’s secondary has picked off 10 passes this season, with most of those coming in the last three games, including three in the comeback win against Texas A&M. Texas’ corners are young, but talented, but the OSU defensive backs have a lot more experience, and have been more consistent at getting their hands on passes.
Advantage: Oklahoma State
Special Teams: Texas hasn’t gotten much out of its punt return units this season, but its kick return game came alive against the Sooners. Texas racked up 248 return yards on nine returns averaging more than 27 yards per return. Fozzy Whitaker had a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, and D.J. Monroe had a 90-yard kick returned called back on a penalty that would have given the Longhorns more than 330 yards on kick returns for the day. Oklahoma State averaged 18.5 yards per return on four kicks, and was a perfect 10-10 on PAT’s against Kansas. If the game is close, Texas’ newfound advantage in special teams could mean the difference in this game.
Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith, left, celebrates his touchdown against Kansas. The Cowboys have quietly built one of the big 12's best teams.
Somewhere above the Red River, lives a top-10 team, one with a Heisman contender at quarterback, the nation’s most dangerous receiver and an offense that moves so fast it —
OK, I’ll save you from the whole “Ha! Made you think it’s Oklahoma and then it turns out to be Oklahoma State!!” thing because the Cowboys are clearly the focal point of this issue.
So let’s get right to it with this question: How did we get here? How is OSU better than Texas?
Luck’s a good place to start with it. Its quarterback, Brandon Weeden, joined the program as a walk-on after spending time in the New York Yankees’ minor league organization. Its best receiver and Biletnikoff recipient, Justin Blackmon, was considered the 91st-best wide receiver coming out of high school.
Nintey-first. Wow. So it’s luck for the Cowboys that some of their biggest starts are bypassed by the bigger programs — Texas didn’t offer Dez Bryant — and head to Stillwater instead.
But luck’s only so much of it. OSU and head coach Mike Gundy have proven very successful at developing major talent. Far better at it, I must say, than Texas. Here, we tend to spend the season asking, “What happened to that guy?”
There, at OSU, they wonder, “Where did we get this guy?”
The Cowboys have churned out NFL running backs, guys like Tatum Bell and Kendall Hunter. They’ve had a ton of talent at the wide receiver position, with Bryant and Adarius Bowman and Rashaaan Woods and now Blackmon. Former tight end Brandon Pettigrew is now starting with the Lions.
Has OSU produced better talent than the Longhorns? Historically, no But now, there’s better talent in the orange and black than there is in the orange and white.
The ‘Pokes will win Saturday, even though there’s no way Texas will play as poorly on offense as it did against the Sooners. I’m not sure the defense will be able to contain the Cowboys’ high-speed, high-skill passing attack, a Heisman contender at quarterback, the nation’s most dangerous receiver and an offense that moves so fast it just might be faster than Oklahoma.
The Texas secondary cannot catch a break.
Last week they went up against one of the best trios of receivers in the country, Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds of Oklahoma. Now the defense gets the pleasure of going up against the talented receiver in college, and a projected top-five pick in the NFL draft this year, Justin Blackmon.
Blackmon is a physical specimen at wide out. His 6-foot-1, 211-pounds frame is strong enough to outmuscle any corner he comes up against, and it is athletic enough to out-jump every corner in FBS.
But what really separates him from the other receivers the college game is his elite ability to run the ball after the catch. When he brings down the ball he immediately turns into a running back and an elusive one at that. He makes cuts in tight spaces and is strong enough to shrug off any corner or safety that tries to make an arm tackle.
But it’s not only the people in the secondary that respect Blackmon’s ability. Other receivers, such as Texas freshman Jaxon Shipley, do too.
“He’s incredible,” Shipley said. “He is one of those guys who is a ball hawk. He is going to go up and get the ball. I have watched him for the last couple of years. He’s one of those truly great receivers.”
Shipley has watched him from home the last couple of seasons in high school, but the Texas secondary has seen him up close and personal the last two years and not with good results.
In 2009, in Blackmon’s freshman year, Texas did a decent job of controlling his playmaking ability, holding him to only 38 yards and a touchdown. Then, in his sophomore campaign, he made the Texas defense look silly going for 145 yards and a score. Perhaps even more impressively, he did that against former Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, who was an early second-round pick in the 2010 draft.
“He’s as good as I’ve ever seen because he’s so physical,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Last year, Aaron Williams plays the fade as well as it can be played, and he reaches above him and catches the ball with his big, strong body and hands and just runs off and leaves him for about a 60, 70-yard touchdown.”
Williams wasn’t the only corner that Blackmon dismantled in his sophomore campaign, he did it to every school and secondary he came against. Blackmon went for more than 100 yards in all 12 games he played on his way to a 1,782-yard season and a Blietnikoff award for being the best receiver in college football.
Blackmon hasn’t slowed down much off of last season’s pace in 2011 either, he’s already caught 534 yards and six touchdowns this year, while routinely seeing double teams.
Blackmon is also key to their offense in other ways besides his outstanding catching skills. He gives defensive coordinators fits because he mandates more than one player to cover him at all times, which frees up the other receivers for one-on-one coverage and will usually keep eight men out of the box to help the running game.
The threat of Blackmon is constant, and the Cowboys have used it to their fullest advantage on offense.
The attention paid to him is one of the main reasons the Cowboys have the No. 1 offense in the country, averaging 51.4 points a game.
Texas will certainly pay plenty of attention to him when the Cowboys head into Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon. They might even have a corner and a safety meet him when he gets off the plane on Friday, so they don’t lose track of him at all in Austin.
Cornerback Carrington Byndom tries to pull down an Oklahoma receiver. The secondary will take on another Heisman-caliber quarterback this week.
Defensive backs have short memories. That will come in handy this week.
The Longhorns don’t have any time to sulk over last week’s implosion against Oklahoma. Not with the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation coming to town on Saturday.
Texas entered the OU game with the country’s seventh-best pass defense. They left the Cotton Bowl ranked No. 55. If Oklahoma and Landry Jones were good, Oklahoma State and Brandon Weeden
“They’re throwing it as good as anyone in the country,” said head coach Mack Brown. “This offense might be better than the one we just played. This one’s the real deal.”
For the second-straight week, the Longhorns will face a top-five passing offense manned by a top flight signal-caller.
“We’re playing two Heisman candidates back to back here at quarterback,” Brown said.
The young Longhorns cornerbacks underwent a trial by fire last week against Jones and his talented group of Sooners receivers. And it won’t get any easier this week against Weeden and elite wide out Justin Blackmon. Still, sophomore starter Carrington Byndom says the secondary is up to the challenge.
“We’re ready to show that last week was just our fault in the back end and we’re going to step it up and bring our game to another level,” Byndum said. “We pride ourselves on being good in the back end. We’re just going back to basics and we’re going to play our game.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says it takes more than just a good defensive backfield to have success against the pass. It takes 11 players, from the front seven to the deep safety.
If the Longhorns want to slow down the Cowboys aerial attack, they must limit the running game first.
“Then we can squarely focus on hammering the pass, hammering the quarterback, making him unsure of his reads,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “We need to make the quarterback feel uncomfortable and that way we can force turnovers, force interceptions, force him to hold the ball. And maybe somebody can come up from behind him and slap the ball out and get a fumble.”
But to do that, Texas must find a way to pressure Weeden. It’s been a struggle this season for the Longhorns to get sacks and disrupt the quarterback’s timing.
Texas has just six sacks through five games. An inconsistent pass rush has hindered the sack totals. The onus isn’t squarely on the defensive line or front seven, though.
“When we get a great rush going, we have to have great coverage in the back end,” said senior linebacker Emmanuel Acho. “And when we have great coverage in the back end, that allows us to get a great rush going. It’s a total collective effort.”
The Longhorns struggled in coverage against the Sooners, partly because of poor communication. The speed of the game also factored in. The Cowboys call plays at a blistering pace, meaning the defensive backs must be clear on their assignments against a no-huddle look.
If Texas has breakdowns in pass coverage like it did against Oklahoma, they will pay a similar price in this game.
“If you do things 85-percent right against a quarterback like this, it is punished,” Diaz said.
Blackmon and the rest of the Cowboys receivers are going to get their catches. The Longhorns understand this. Oklahoma State throws for over 431 yards per game, so the yards will come. Texas just needs to limit the explosive plays that swing momentum and put points on the board.
The Longhorns will have to tackle better than they did a week ago, though, in order to reduce OSU’s game-breakers. Blackmon is the type who can take a swing pass for six points from anywhere on the field.
“We need to tackle well once they do catch the ball,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “You can’t let a team like that get extra yardage. You can’t let them catch and run. That’s always going to be a stress for us.”
Few teams face prolific offenses like these on consecutive weeks. But the Longhorns aren’t complaining.
They’ve moved on. The last game was a forgettable one for the secondary. And they’re pretty good at wiping the slate clean.
They’ll have a shot at redemption Saturday and another chance to prove their worth against a record-setting offense.
“It’s another challenge for us and one we’re looking forward to,” Byndum said.
Carrington Byndom and the rest of the Texas defensive backs will take on one of the nation's best quarterbacks, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, only a week after the Cotton Bowl.
It was disheartening enough to get pounded by nearly 40 points, especially at the hands of a hated rival. But to see that your next opponent is up 56-7 at halftime?
“That’s a morale booster,” head coach Mack Brown joked. “I didn’t even show the players. Let’s wait until tomorrow and let them see how much they’re scoring.”
While Oklahoma crushed Texas, 55-17, Saturday, Oklahoma State was busy pounding Kansas, 70-28. The Jayhawks scored the game’s first touchdown before the Cowboys scored 56 unanswered points before halftime. The Longhorns had trouble containing a Sooners passing attack that saw Landry Jones throw for 367 yards and three touchdowns and will have their hands full with an Oklahoma State offense that scores a nation’s best 51.4 points per game.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” Brown said. “If we’d have gotten beat 7-6 or 45-44, we’d have felt better but we’d still be 4-1. At the end of the day, a loss is a loss.”
Jones, along with wideouts Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, had their way with a Texas secondary that entered the Red River Rivalry as the Big 12’s best pass defense. Now, quarterback Brandon Weeden, who’s completing over 75 percent of his throws, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon, last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, are set to come to Austin this weekend. Oklahoma State could very well present the Longhorns defensive backs with an even tougher challenge than the one it faced at the Cotton Bowl this past Saturday.
“If you would have asked me Friday night before the game if this was going to happen, I would’ve said ‘no’ because we prepared and we prepared so well,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “[Oklahoma State] is probably just as good as or better than OU on offense. We’re going to focus on hammering the pass, hammering the quarterback and making him unsure of his reads. We didn’t do that well Saturday.”
Texas’ quarterbacks, on the other hand, are coming off their worst individual performances of the season. Case McCoy and David Ash each committed their first two turnovers of the year and got sacked a combined seven times. With another top 10 team on the horizon, the thought of relying on one field general to take all of the snaps rather than the current two-quarterback system has been floated around. For now, there is still an “or” between McCoy’s and Ash’s names on the depth chart.
“We’re always looking each week for the best 11 guys to put out there,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “We’re trying to get guys to separate throughout practice. The quarterback position is no different.”
Despite the lopsided defeat, there is some reason for hope. Under Brown, Texas has never lost a game immediately following the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns are 6-8 against Oklahoma since Brown, who was OU’s offensive coordinator in 1984, took over as head coach in 1998 but are a perfect 14-0 in contests right after they face the Sooners.
“I realized, after coaching at OU, how hard it is to coach the week before OU and the week after,” Brown said. “We made a really conscious effort to not talk about it the week before and to put it to bed really quickly, win or lose, immediately afterwards because it’s such an emotional game and it means so much to everybody.”
Excluding the Cowboys’ 37-14 win over Arizona in its second contest, they haven’t allowed less than 28 points in a game this year. Oklahoma State’s defense is mediocre at best as it’s in the bottom half of the country in scoring and rushing defense and 103rd in pass defense. After taking on an athletic and experienced Oklahoma defense, Texas’ offense should be much more productive this week.
Then again, a lockdown defense isn’t a luxury a team that’s capable of putting up 70 points necessarily needs. But if the Longhorns give up anything close to the 55 they gave up to Oklahoma, they won’t have much of a chance to beat Oklahoma State.
Printed on October 11, 2011 as: Oklahoma State's Weeden, Blackmon to test secondary yet again
5 things we learned
The young Longhorns cornerbacks were abused by the Oklahoma receivers on Saturday, allowing 367 passing yards — 305 in the first half — and three touchdowns. The Sooners veteran wideouts took a relatively inexperienced unit to school at the Cotton Bowl as OU quarterback Landry Jones was at his surgical best. The Longhorns knew what to expect — a heavy dose of Ryan Broyles — but still couldn’t stop it. Broyles finished with nine catches for 122 yards and a score and found holes in the secondary with ease. Texas looked confused at times, and the Sooners seemed to have an open receiver on every play. The Longhorns will have to shore up their pass defense quickly with Oklahoma State’s high-powered attack rolling into Austin this Saturday. If things stay the same, it could be another rough afternoon for Texas.
Texas allowed a season-high eight sacks against the Sooners and were manhandled up front. The Longhorns failed to pick up the Oklahoma blitz, leaving defenders free to wreak havoc in the backfield. And it wasn’t just one side, it was the entire line — five different Sooners recorded a sack.
The offensive line was unable to hold up the OU pass rush, which prevented the trick plays from developing. The Longhorns said they needed to block for at least eight seconds to set up Bryan Harsin’s gadget plays. That simply didn’t happen. Texas will need to improve its protection against the blitz, or they will see a steady diet of it for the foreseeable future.
The Longhorns tackled poorly from the start on Saturday as Oklahoma ball carriers bounced off one defender after the next. The disappointing thing for the coaching staff, though, is that it’s been a recurring problem. The first man to the ball rarely made the tackle, and the Longhorns often whiffed on attempts. While the secondary missed the most tackles, the entire defense had trouble getting the Sooners to the ground. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said part of the issue rests on who Texas was tackling. This week, they’ll face OSU receiver Justin Blackmon, a physical presence who racks up yards after the catch. If the Longhorns don’t improve their tackling, Blackmon could have a field day.
While the sophomore quarterback burst onto the scene in crunch time against Brigham Young, McCoy came back down to earth against Oklahoma. McCoy was just nine of 16 for 116 yards. He held on to the ball too long and was dropped for three sacks, one of which caused a fumble. McCoy had been able to dance out of trouble against Iowa State and UCLA, but the Sooners pass rush wouldn’t let him out of their sights. He also struggled to get the ball downfield. McCoy took the first snap for the third straight game, but it could have been his last.
Harsin’s play calling was solid through the first four games, but the Longhorns couldn’t find the magic against the Sooners. Oklahoma was clearly prepared for Texas and its gadget plays and wasn’t fooled by anything. Harsin made a name for himself with the Statue of Liberty play in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, when his Boise State squad shocked the Sooners. However, OU got the last laugh on Saturday. The Sooners blew up the slow developing trick plays with good pressure up front, and the Longhorns were never able to catch the defense off guard. Harsin will have a new package for the Oklahoma State game but will need to get decent protection for his tricks to pan out.
Printed on October 10, 2011: "UT's offensive line, secondary struggle against Oklahoma"