Keys to the Game: UCLA

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FIX SPECIAL TEAMS

If the Longhorns want to hang with UCLA, their special teams have to improve. Texas’ special teams performance was mediocre against North Texas and wretched against BYU. 

Junior kicker Nick Rose is 1-of-3 on the season despite all his attempts coming from 43 yards or less. His 43-yard try that would have put the Longhorns ahead early in the first quarter against BYU was not even close to the right post. Rose has to improve if Texas wants to win close games against ranked opponents.

The return game has been another huge weakness for the Longhorns. Junior wide receiver Marcus Johnson fumbled once against BYU, and his decision to run laterally, rather than take a touchback, pinned the Longhorns deep in their own territory. Head coach Charlie Strong should have no qualms about replacing Johnson if he cannot perform against UCLA. 

Kick coverage has been solid, but if the Longhorns let erratic kicking and shoddy returns define their special teams, ranked opponents like the Bruins will pounce on the mistakes and make life miserable for Texas. 

DISCIPLINE IN THE FRONT SEVEN

No one doubts the talent on the Longhorn defensive line. Senior defensive end Cedric Reed is bound for the NFL, and the interior tandem of senior Desmond Jackson and junior Malcom Brown swallows up anyone who dares run down the middle. 

The defensive line even got decent pressure against BYU as evidenced by the six sacks recorded by the team. 

However, against mobile quarterbacks like BYU junior Taysom Hill and Brett Hundley, UCLA’s junior Heisman candidate, undisciplined pressure leads to gaping running lanes. When the Longhorn outside pass rushers got up field too quickly, Hill took off running and turned potential sacks into first downs. 

Since last year’s contest against BYU, the linebacking corps has failed miserably in containing all three aspects of the read option. Last week, the quick pass, the quarterback keeper and the outside run all seemed to produce first downs with no resistance. 

A better quarterback in Hundley, and Paul Perkins, a speedy sophomore running back, can make the lack of discipline painfully obvious for a second-straight week. 

The outside pass rush will be helpful against pass-happy teams like Texas Tech, but against mobile quarterbacks, the Longhorns are best off staying conservative with their blitzes and focusing on containing the quarterback.  

TURN SWOOPES LOOSE

Strong hoped to ease Swoopes into the starting gig with the help of some conservative west-coast passing, supported by runs from junior Johnathan Gray and senior Malcolm Brown.  

But, BYU’s defense responded to Texas’ offensive game plan by loading the box and sitting on short routes. 

UCLA’s defense has struggled against two unranked opponents. Virginia hung around into the fourth quarter, and Memphis picked up 469 yards in a 35-point effort. Another conservative game plan may keep Swoopes from making mistakes, but it also puts less pressure on the Bruins’
weak defense. 

The Longhorns can cross their fingers and hope the offensive line improves enough to make the conservative approach viable, or they can shoot for a win by taking advantage of Swoopes’ top-flight arm by bringing back the deep passing game. 

Swoopes has the ability to drive the ball downfield and return Johnson to relevance. More importantly, however, the threat of a deep passing game should push the UCLA safeties further away from the line of scrimmage and prevent them from loading up on short passes and run plays.