Big 12: Texas Longhorns

Film review: Swoopes takes next step

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
9:30
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Calling Tyrone Swoopes the quarterback of Texas' future still feels premature. But the quarterback of Texas' present is not what some Texas fans have cynically feared.

Back in December, when Swoopes floundered against Oregon in an Alamo Bowl cameo, it seemed his development was destined to be a long, multi-year project for whomever became his next quarterback coach. Or maybe, with his size, he'd someday make a great tight end.

He won't have to hear those backhanded comments any more. Not at the rate of growth he's displayed since being handed the keys to Texas' offense on Sept. 1. In the second start of his career, against a top-15 foe under the bright AT&T Stadium lights, Swoopes offered proof not only that he can handle pressure, but that his passing abilities are steadily improving.

Here are four throws Swoopes made Saturday, all on scoring drives, that showed what he can do when he has a little confidence.

1. Moving the feet and the defense
Situation:
Second-and-21, 2nd quarter
Play: 15-yard completion to Jacorey Warrick to UCLA 48

There's a fundamental misunderstanding about Swoopes when you throw around the word "dual-threat." Yes, he can run. He cannot run like Vince Young. Not when he's 245 pounds. Swoopes is still learning this today, that he can't dance around much on runs and keepers because he doesn't have big-time speed and defenders close quick.

But co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson has done a nice job of finding ways to put Swoopes' feet to use. On this play, after a 15-yard clipping penalty put Texas off-schedule, Swoopes took the snap at the left hash and rolled out all the way to the right hash, scanning the field throughout. The rollout put UCLA's linebackers, particularly the exceptional Myles Jack, in conflict.

Once Jack had drifted far enough over to account for the possibility Swoopes might tuck and run, the quarterback fired a 15-yard bullet to Warrick that set Texas up for a third-down conversion and kept a TD drive alive.

2. A laser under pressure
Situation: Third-and-6, 2nd quarter
Play: 8-yard completion to Jaxon Shipley to UCLA 40

On the very next play, another sharp decision. Right after the snap, UCLA's Deon Hollins Jr. easily got around Texas right tackle Kent Perkins and went right after Swoopes, forcing the quarterback to scramble back and right. Just as Hollins was 1 yard from the takedown, Swoopes chucked a pass off his back foot that was as good as it gets, a 22-yard laser that Shipley and only Shipley could catch.

Texas moved the chains, Charlie Strong fist-pumped toward his quarterback and the "Swoooopes" chants began.

3. Best play of young career
Situation:
Fourth-and-8, 2nd quarter
Play: 33-yard completion to John Harris to UCLA 5.

Texas elects to go for it from UCLA's 33 and the Bruins responded by dropping eight in coverage and rushing three. Unsurprisingly, that pass rush still got into the backfield when a double-blocked Anthony Wallace pressured Swoopes from behind. Swoopes rolled right and threw on the run into a small window to Harris for the 33-yard pickup into the red zone. Through two starts, almost one-third of Swoopes' passing yards have come on throws outside the pocket.

Harris gets a lot of credit here. He broke on his route and took off toward the sideline when he saw Swoopes on the move. Then he climbed the ladder to catch the pass in front of Ishmael Adams and hold on. This one had Texas in the end zone four plays later and had Strong jumping, dancing, shouting and fist-pumping on the sideline.

4. The potential game-winner
Situation:
Second-and-goal, 4th quarter
Play: 8-yard pass to Harris for touchdown

On the lone third-down situation of Texas' masterful 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go ahead, Swoopes hit Harris on an out cut for a 6-yard gain. He went to him again to finish the drive in similar fashion.

This is just a textbook solid throw, a three-step drop and a fastball into one-on-one coverage just as Harris turned back to Swoopes. Another perfect out cut to beat UCLA's Jalen Ortiz rewarded with a precisely-located pass. With 5:13 left, the go-ahead score couldn't been the game-winner. But Swoopes would have to take the field again, and his misfire to Marcus Johnson on a slant on fourth down sealed the defeat.

But if the once-raw passer can make these throws now, the future looks brighter -- especially with two more weeks to improve before Texas takes the field again.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
1:00
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Not many new commitments to break down this time around in our weekly check-in on Big 12 recruiting, but that doesn't mean these coaching staffs haven't been busy. Here's the latest on who's taking visits and who's impressing so far in their senior seasons:

BAYLOR
Total commits:
12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Blake Lynch is making the Bears look awfully smart for accepting his early commitment in 2013. The Gilmer, Texas, four-star athlete wowed this weekend against Tatum with 93 rushing yards, 115 receiving yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score. He played quarterback as a junior but has transitioned into a true offensive weapon since transferring to Gilmer.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: No commitments came in this weekend, but it'll be interesting to see how Iowa State's last-second win over Iowa impacts their in-state recruiting battles going forward. For example, could that win and some positive momentum help ISU's chances with 2016 linemen John Raridon and Jake Heinrich? No doubt Paul Rhoads and his coaches will be talking about that game for the next year while recruiting.

KANSAS
Total commits:
13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: KU has not landed a new commitment in almost a month and a half, and a blowout loss to Duke isn't going to help its efforts on the trail much either. One commit whose season is off to a nice start: three-star RB Taylor Martin has racked up 323 rushing yards and seven TDs this year at Fort Worth (Texas) Dunbar.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: A Thursday night game, no matter how gigantic the opponent, isn't necessarily ideal for bringing in a bunch of official visitors. K-State is reportedly expecting to have three-star RB Alex Barnes and junior college DT Deonte Reynolds in the house when Auburn comes to the The Little Apple. Both are taking midweek official visits, and they're critical targets for the Wildcats on what should be a pressure-packed week.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits:
13
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Sooners hosted their biggest official visit weekend of the season and secured two pledges Saturday, from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. and junior college lineman Jamal Danley. The long-awaited pregame commitment from Sunderland was huge, but so was getting ESPN 300 studs Keisean Lucier-South, Kendall Sheffield, Ricky DeBerry and Neville Gallimore and four-stars Kahlil Haughton and Anthony McKee on campus.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 12
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Pokes added to a promising offensive line class last week with 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Deya Mhiesen, a junior college lineman who can enroll in January. Mhiesen took an official visit to Baylor's season opener, then attended OSU's 40-23 win over Missouri State and decided to pull the trigger. He'll have three years of eligibility at OSU.

TCU
Total commits:
16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Horned Frogs had several commits in the stands Saturday for their 30-7 beatdown of Minnesota, including WR Jarrison Stewart and DT Joseph Broadnax, along with Baylor commit CB Ke'Shawn Somerville, DE Andrew Fitzgerald and several more intriguing recruits in the 2016 class.

TEXAS
Total commits: 15
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas hosted some big-time recruits at AT&T Stadium for its 20-17 loss to UCLA, including top ESPN 300 targets Malik Jefferson and Ryan Newsome, ESPN Junior 300 WR Reggie Hemphill and commits DeShon Elliott, Charles Omenihu and Connor Williams. Two attendees who could end up in this class: three-star center Tyler Moore and Purdue three-star cornerback commit Isaac Warren.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders were not able to get Tyron Johnson, the nation's No. 2 receiver prospect, in town this weekend for his official visit due to a scheduling conflict, but he's expected to make it out to Lubbock on Oct. 11 when Tech hosts West Virginia. Tech did have ESPN 300 QB signee Jarrett Stidham, four-star commit OG Conner Dyer and three-star DE Jalen Bates in attendance.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: With Oklahoma coming to town this weekend, expect a lot of talent on the West Virginia sideline before Saturday's big game. Among those reportedly expected to attend on official visits are ESPN 300 CB Jordan Whitehead and four-star ATH Tim Irvin.

Big 12 nonconference rewind

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:00
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The majority of the Big 12 enters a bye week with conference play right around the corner.

We're only three weeks into the season but plenty of things have changed. Preseason expectations are out the window and some dreams of breakout seasons have been shattered while other preconceived notions have been re-affirmed.

Here's a review of nonconference play in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
J.P. Wilson/Icon SportswireQuarterback Trevor Knight and a stubborn defense have teamed to make Oklahoma the Big 12's best.
Best team: Oklahoma. The Sooners have done nothing to lose their status as the Big 12 preseason favorite. Bob Stoops' squad has been dominant while reeling off three wins over Louisiana Tech (2-1), Tulsa (1-2) and Tennessee (2-1). Quarterback Trevor Knight has taken a clear step forward from his freshman production and the defense could end up among the best of the Stoops era. Baylor has been just as impressive but against lesser competition with its three opponents holding one FBS win (1-5) combined this season.

Biggest disappointment: Texas Tech. Wait, where are the Longhorns? Did you really expect more from Texas? More players have been kicked off the team (eight) than offensive touchdowns scored by Charlie Strong's team (seven). The Red Raiders are another story, however. Tech has never really looked outstanding at any point this season as penalties, turnovers and defensive struggles turning the Red Raiders' Big 12 title dreams into an early nightmare. Saturday's loss to Arkansas -- which included 438 rushing yards by the Razorbacks -- has Kliff Kingsbury looking for answers. Before the season Tech looked like a team that could catapult itself into the top 3 in the Big 12. Now it looks like a squad facing a fight to go bowling.

Big (offensive) man on campus: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett. Raise your hand if you had Trickett as the first Big 12 quarterback to eclipse 1,000 yards in 2014. He's been outstanding for the Mountaineers while leading the Big 12 in passing yards (1,224) and completion percentage (75.4). He's in the top 3 among FBS quarterbacks in both categories. He's the main reason WVU is emerging as the Big 12's surprise team after three games.

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIYou can't pin Texas' struggles on defensive tackle Malcom Brown, the Big 12's co-leader in sacks.
Big (defensive) man on campus: Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown. The junior defensive tackle is one of the few blameless Longhorns on the roster. He's been dominant as the Big 12's leader in sacks (3.5, tied with Iowa State's Cory Morrissey) and tackles for loss (seven). He has added 16 tackles and has forced a fumble for Strong's defense. In a league overflowing with defensive talent -- like OU's Eric Striker and Baylor's Shawn Oakman -- Brown is second to none.

Fab freshman: Baylor receiver KD Cannon. The ESPN 300 receiver has no idea what it feels like to go into the halftime locker room without a touchdown catch. Cannon has made an amazing impact with an FBS-high 471 receiving yards in his first three games as a college receiver. The true freshman has 14 receptions, an average of 33.6 yards per catch, and five touchdowns. All-Big 12 receiver Antwan Goodley's biggest competition for the conference's most explosive receiver could be sitting alongside him in the receivers' room.

Newcomer to know: Oklahoma State athlete Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer burst upon the scene with 278 all-purpose yards against Florida State as he buzzed around the turf in Arlington, Texas, while giving Seminoles defenders fits throughout the loss. His production has dropped significantly in OSU's last two games (24 touches for 154 yards) but it's clear the Cowboys are trying to save their top playmaker for their toughest games.

Best performance: It was the only Big 12 Conference game in the first three weeks but Kansas State doesn't escape Iowa State's upset bid without quarterback Jake Waters. Trailing 28-26 with 3:01 left, the senior led the Wildcats on a seven-play, 80-yard march to win the game. Waters accounted for 74 of KSU's 80 yards on the drive including an 8-yard touchdown run. KSU won 32-28.

Worst performance: Kansas laid an egg in its 41-3 loss to Duke last weekend. The Jayhawks opened the season with plenty of hope for a new and improved offense but, after gaining 457 yards in their season opener, KU took a clear step backward with 297 yards including 97 through the air against Duke. To make matters worse, the Jayhawks allowed Blue Devil freshman running back Shaun Wilson to rush for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Back to the drawing board.

Dream dashed: It was disappointing to see Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage lost for the season with an ACL injury just minutes into the Cyclones' first game. The junior spent the offseason working on becoming more consistent and had the talent to be one of the Big 12's top receivers in 2014. Now he has to wait until next season with an eye on becoming the Big 12 comeback player of the year when he returns to the field in 2015.

Best stat: TCU has held opponents without a first down or touchdown on 60 percent of its drives. In two games, the Horned Frogs have defended 30 total drives and 18 of those drives have ended without a first down including seven of Minnesota's 15 drives last weekend. Gary Patterson's defense is one reason the Horned Frogs cannot be overlooked when Big 12 play reaches high gear next month.

Best quote: "I haven't talked to [kicker] Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is but other than that I'm doing the hands-off approach." -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen after Lambert's game-winning kick to beat Maryland 40-37 last weekend.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
9:30
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 3 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: West Virginia. The Mountaineers paid regional rival Maryland back for last year’s 37-0 beating with a dramatic 40-37 victory on a game-winning field goal as time expired. Truthfully, the Terrapins were fortunate just to be in the game. West Virginia jumped to a 28-6 lead and could have routed the Terrapins had it not self-destructed several times on Maryland’s side of the field. Still, the Mountaineers once again moved the ball at will. Clint Trickett was dishing out dimes. Mario Alford and Kevin White were producing plays. And a certain field-goal kicker, who I’ll get to later, came through in the clutch.

Disappointment of the week: Texas Tech. Something I was thinking about over the weekend: Had it not been for the sparkling win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, what would the perception of the Red Raiders be right now? Outside that Arizona State win, Tech hasn’t played a clean game since losing 38-30 at Oklahoma on Oct. 26 of last year. Meanwhile, Arkansas ran right at the Tech defense Saturday, and there was nothing the Red Raiders could do. The offense behind Davis Webb hasn’t been crisp enough to overcome all the deficiencies defensively. Given how difficult the back end of the schedule is again, the concern level in Lubbock should be high.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Trickett and White. If the season ended today, the three All-Big 12 receivers would be K.D. Cannon, Sterling Shepard and White, who is now second in the country (behind Cannon) in receiving. And if the season ended today, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year would be Trickett, who threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Maryland. The Trickett-to-White pass-catching combo has been nothing short of awesome so far this season.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Paul Dawson. TCU’s senior linebacker led the purple crushing of the Minnesota offense in a 30-7 win over the Gophers. Dawson finished with 15 tackles, including four for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Overall, the Horned Frogs forced five turnovers and limited Minnesota to just 268 yards of offense.

[+] EnlargeCole Netten
Charlie Neibergall/Associated PressCole Netten connected on a last-second field goal to give Iowa State a big win over in-state rival Iowa.
Special-teams players of the week: Josh Lambert (West Virginia) and Cole Netten (Iowa State). Field-goal kicking seems to have become a lost art in college football. But Lambert and Netten turned back the clock with their heroics in delivering game-winning field goals that beat Maryland and Iowa, respectively. Netten’s was a 42-yarder, while Lambert connected from 47 yards out. Both kicks resulted in massive wins for their teams.

Play of the week (other than the Lambert and Netten field goals): Late in the second quarter with the game knotted at 3-3, Texas elected to go for it facing fourth-and-8 at the UCLA 38-yard line. And in the biggest play of his young career, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes rolled out and delivered a 33-yard strike to John Harris. Three plays later, Swoopes hit M.J. McFarland for a touchdown to give Texas a 10-3 lead and all the momentum heading into halftime.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight has two 300-yard passing games in his career, and both have come against SEC opponents. Knight threw for 348 yards in last season's Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and he passed for 308 yards in Oklahoma’s 34-10 win Saturday over Tennessee.

Quote of the week: “I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus, and we are going to keep it that way. I know his name and who he is, but other than that, I'm taking the hands-off approach.” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, when asked what he said to Lambert before the game-winning kick. Holgorsen added he likes only special-teams coach Joe DeForest talking to his kicker.

Big 12 morning links

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:00
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Bummer again for Robert Griffin III. It hasn't been a good year for former Big 12 quarterbacks.
  • In this story in the Kansas City Star, Kellis Robinett detailed how Kansas State is being careful about giving Auburn too much respect. No doubt Auburn is a great team. The Tigers are explosive offensively in Gus Malzahn's offense. But K-State is to be respected, too. This is a team that has lost once in its past nine games -- and that was to an Oklahoma program currently ranked fourth in the country. The Wildcats should respect Auburn. But they should also realize they are good enough to win Thursday night, too.
  • West Virginia showed grit that had been missing in the recent past in a 40-37 win against Maryland, wrote the Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza. The Mountaineers lost several tight games last season, which fueled their first losing season in a dozen years. And even though West Virginia played Alabama tough, mistakes in the fourth quarter ultimately prevented the Mountaineers from pulling the upset. The Maryland win wasn't without mistakes. West Virginia made six scoreless trips inside Maryland’s 40. But when the Mountaineers had to make plays with the game on the line, they did. That will serve them well the rest of the season, and this weekend in a massive clash with Oklahoma.
  • Even though the Longhorns fell 20-17 to UCLA, sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes made strides, according to the Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis. Before the UCLA game, I had serious doubts about the potential of Swoopes as Texas' long-term answer at quarterback. I'm still to be convinced. But like Davis, I could finally see the potential that Jaxon Shipley and the Texas coaching staff had been raving about from behind the scenes. That said, the road doesn't get any easier for the Longhorns or Swoopes. After an open week and Kansas, Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma await.
  • An Iowa State program that had once forged a reputation under coach Paul Rhoads of winning big games got back to its roots in a 20-17 victory against Iowa, wrote the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse. Early in the Rhoads era, the Cyclones indeed had developed a rep as a giant-killer. But that had waned a bit in the past couple of the years, because of Iowa State's inability to close the deal in close games, including the narrow loss to Kansas State the week before. The Iowa victory should give this program plenty of confidence for the rest of the season, which could be a scary thought for some of the league's top teams.
  • The TCU defense overwhelmed Minnesota in a 30-7 win, but the offense still needs work, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. The biggest issue seemed to be third-down offense. TCU converted only twice on 12 third-down attempts. If they want to emerge into a Big 12 title contender, the Horned Frogs will have to clean that up. But, as the Gophers found out, TCU appears to have another Big 12 championship-caliber defense. If the offense can continue to make progress, this could be a team to keep an eye on.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
8:00
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Overall, it was a good weekend for the Big 12.

Texas showed some fight, Oklahoma and Baylor cruised, and West Virginia continued to impress. Thursday night's matchup with Auburn looms large for Kansas State while a bye week comes at the perfect time for Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas

Best of the visits: Big 12

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:05
PM ET
Last week was an atrocious week, results wise, for the Big Ten, and college football fans were wondering if the Big 12 would be next in line to suffer a similar week from top to bottom. Turned out, the week wasn’t as bad as some anticipated.

Seven of the 10 conference teams played against Power 5 opponents, and Oklahoma, TCU, West Virginia and Iowa State all walked away as winners. Additionally, Oklahoma State beat a UTSA team that is earning its stripes with each week.

Oklahoma’s game against Tennessee may have been the most anticipated throughout the conference. The Sooners hosted a large group of recruits and ultimately landed two big-time commits in ESPN 300 DB Will Sunderland Jr. and highly touted junior college OT Jamal Danley.
While the Sooners added to their 2015 class, their performance against Tennessee also aided in garnering added interest from the 2016 class. ESPN Junior 300 QB Shane Buechele was in Norman and took to Twitter to show his love for the environment. TCU scored a win against Minnesota, and three-star DT Joseph Broadnax was one of the athletes in attendance. Broadnax also is being courted by Baylor, North Texas and several other schools, but he's been a solid Horned Frogs commit since February. AT&T Stadium was the host of a competitive affair between Texas and UCLA. The event featured several visitors. One of the most popular was ESPN 300 LB Malik Jefferson, who not only took time to take pictures with multiple fans ... ... but also had one of the best seats in the house. Texas didn't get the win, but it still has the support of two important commits on the defensive side in ESPN 300 DB DeShon Elliott and three-star DE Charles Omenihu both were in attendance letting fans know their commitments are strong.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Five plays. Two minutes of football. That’s the difference.

That’s how quickly Texas’ gut-check triumph became gut-punching torture. A No. 12-ranked UCLA team was all but finished. Had those five plays gone as planned, the Longhorns walk out of AT&T Stadium with their first huge victory under Charlie Strong.

The result of those four plays -- UCLA 20, Texas 17 -- left them devastated.

[+] EnlargeJordan Payton
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJordan Payton's 33-yard touchdown reception capped a five-play stretch that doomed Texas to a 20-17 loss to UCLA and a 1-2 record.
“We had that game right there,” Texas receiver John Harris said. “It hurts everybody in the locker room. It was a hard loss. The heartbreak is there. That hurts. It hurts bad.”

What makes the torment feel so much more raw was the fact that, with 4:17 left in the ballgame, they were celebrating a victory that felt almost assured.

When Steve Edmond stripped running back Jordon James and little-used defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. fell on it at the Texas 25, the party was on. That was it. The first turnover of the ballgame went Texas’ way. The signature victory was so close.

Tyrone Swoopes and the Texas offense took the field and got back to work with a 5-yard run from Malcolm Brown on first down.

And then, for reasons they’d later regret, they reverted back to the hurry-up pace that had, just moments earlier, helped spur an 80-yard, 10-play touchdown drive. The clock was rolling.

“We probably could’ve slowed it down a little and milked the clock,” Harris said. “I think we were still high emotion after the big touchdown. I don’t think we really grasped what was going on at that point in time.”

Brown’s next run lost 5 yards. And then Swoopes, on third-and-10, couldn’t connect with go-to receiver Harris.

Three plays. No yards gained. Only 1 minute, 11 seconds taken off the clock. Then Texas moved back to the 20 on a false start by safety Josh Turner, playing in his first game post-suspension.

While that’s not an ideal turn, not for a coach that preaches toughness and a team that knows it has to win with its run game, it’s still survivable.

Will Russ’ punt soared 58 yards. Ishmael Adams sped down the left sideline, past a crushing block by linebacker Cameron Judge. He bounced off a hit from Russ and picked up an extra 11 yards for a 45-yard return down to the 33.

And then, just as Charlie Strong and his defensive coordinator suspected, UCLA took the field knowing it was time to take the big shot.

“They ran double moves, wheel routes, fake bubble gos throughout the ballgame,” Texas DC Vance Bedford said. “For the most part we did a good job with it. Until that last play.”

Jerry Neuheisel, the backup quarterback the Longhorns were more than happy to face, sold it to perfection. When he pump-faked with 3:05 left, and Texas corner Duke Thomas bit on the faked bubble screen, Texas was finished. Jordan Payton had Thomas beat by 4 yards when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown.

“He knew he should’ve stayed on top,” Bedford said. “After the fact, it’s always tough. I feel for the young man. He played his tail off.”

And so did Texas. Its four-quarter battle felt so even and, briefly, so winnable. Edmond made the strip at 10:15 p.m. CT. Payton was in the end zone at 10:18.

“It’s about finishing,” Strong said. “When you have those opportunities, you’ve got to take advantage of them. The good teams take advantage of the opportunities."

The story before that five-play swing was of a Texas team that rallied from embarrassment, with a young quarterback enjoying breakthrough moments and a hard-nosed defense saving the day against a Bruins team missing its Heisman-contending star.

This should've been Texas storming out of AT&T Stadium as don't-bet-against-us underdogs with renewed pride.

Not Saturday. Not yet. Instead, it's another painful ending, a familiar 1-2 record and a feeling that being this close only makes it hurt worse.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:45
AM ET
Here's what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 3:

1. TCU and West Virginia might finally be finding their stride in the Big 12: Being in the Big 12 has been rough on the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers. In their first two years in the league, each went 11-14 overall. But with impressive performances Saturday, both are showing signs they are finally turning the corner. The Mountaineers racked up 33 first downs and almost 700 yards in a 40-37 win over Maryland, which was able to stay in the game only through the grace of West Virginia's three turnovers in the red zone. TCU completely manhandled Minnesota and picked off Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner three times on the way to an easy 30-7 victory. The Horned Frogs appear to be formidable on defense again, and TCU’s new offensive scheme has been generating more points. Meanwhile, West Virginia might have the two most improved players in the entire conference in quarterback Clint Trickett, who is completing 75 percent of his passes, and wideout Kevin White, who already has 460 yards receiving. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs still have to prove themselves in league play. But their performances through the nonconference suggest they'll give Big 12 foes a run for their money.

[+] EnlargeJulian Wilson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJulian Wilson returned an interception 100 yards in Oklahoma's win over Tennessee.
 2. Oklahoma’s secondary is no joke: Everyone knew how deep and talented the Sooners’ front seven was coming into this season. The secondary, however, seemed to be a question mark. But in a 34-10 win over the Volunteers, Oklahoma’s defensive backs were dominant, delivering three game-changing plays among them. In the first quarter, Quentin Hayes came on a safety blitz and forced and recovered a fumble. In the third quarter, cornerback Zack Sanchez came up with an acrobatic interception in the end zone (his fifth pick in six games). And in the fourth quarter, cornerback Julian Wilson delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a tipped interception and returning it 100 yards for a game-clinching touchdown. After the game, coach Bob Stoops lauded this group. “They’re playing really well,” he said. “They’re not making mistakes. They’re challenging, competing for balls. They’re making big plays. Maybe as good a three-game stretch we may have had.” That’s high praise for this Oklahoma secondary. But the way it's playing, it's well deserved.

3. The league has some unshakable kickers: Two Big 12 kickers had the chance to produce winning field goals in the final seconds of their games. And both kickers delivered. First, Josh Lambert drilled a 47-yarder as time expired to give West Virginia a monumental victory over regional rival Maryland. Then, Iowa State’s Cole Netten connected on a 42-yard attempt with two seconds remaining to lift Iowa State to a 20-17 win over in-state rival Iowa. Netten actually misfired on his first try at the game-winner, but the Hawkeyes had called timeout first. Netten shook off that miss and came back and delivered in a moment he’ll remember awhile. Field goal kicking in the college game has become a lost art. But from Oklahoma’s Michael Hunnicutt to TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom, the Big 12 is loaded with talented place-kickers. In Lambert and Netten, the league has a couple of clutch ones, too.

4. Texas Tech’s run defense seems hopeless: Coach Kliff Kingsbury signed four junior college defensive linemen during the offseason to try to shore up what was the league’s worst run defense last fall. But in a disheartening 49-28 loss to Arkansas, the Red Raiders’ run defense looked worse than ever. The Razorbacks obliterated Tech in the trenches, rolling up 438 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while averaging 6.4 yards per carry. As a result, Arkansas dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for more than 40 of the game’s 60 minutes while keeping Tech QB Davis Webb on the sideline and out of rhythm. “They lined up and pounded us,” Kingsbury said. “We just didn’t have an answer.” The Red Raiders might not face a rushing attack like Arkansas’ until Oklahoma visits Lubbock in November. But it might not take a powerful rushing offense like Arkansas’ to exploit what has been a shaky Texas Tech defense that has yet to stop anybody through three games.

5. Texas still has some fight: There were few reasons to believe the Longhorns could hang around with UCLA after their dismal performance last week against BYU. But behind an inspired effort from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas had UCLA on the ropes until backup QB Jerry Neuheisel tossed a 33-yard go-ahead touchdown with three minutes remaining. The Longhorns lost the game 20-17 and still have various issues, such as getting the coin toss right. But this was a performance they can build off. Although he couldn’t lead them on a game-winning drive, Swoopes was solid in his second career start, completing 24 of 34 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. And unlike last week, the Longhorns didn’t lie down when things didn’t go their way. After a disastrous start in 2013, Texas bounced back to have a decent season. This team showed on Saturday it could do the same.

Big 12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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In Week 3 of Big 12 action, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will take on the SEC; West Virginia, TCU and Iowa State will challenge the Big Ten; Kansas will go on the road in the ACC; and Texas will attempt to bounce back against the Pac-12.

How the league fares in those seven games against Power 5 conference opponents will be the major storyline today in the Big 12:

West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET (Big Ten Network): The Terrapins slaughtered West Virginia 37-0 last season. The Mountaineers, however, didn’t have quarterback Clint Trickett in that game. Trickett ranks fourth nationally with a 75.3 completion percentage, and his favorite target, Kevin White, is tied for fourth in the country with 19 receptions.

Arkansas at Texas Tech, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC): After starting fast last year, the Red Raiders are off to a sluggish beginning in Kliff Kingsbury’s second season. Only Oregon State has committed more penalties than the Red Raiders, who have 25 through two games. These two old Southwest Conference foes have met 35 times, but haven’t played since 1991.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Collins (55), Brandon Scheriff (68) and Dominic Alvis
Reese Strickland/USA Today SportsIowa State has a chance to get its season on track and win back the Cy-Hawk Trophy on Saturday.
Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN): Iowa All-American left tackle Brandon Scherff is out for the Cy-Hawk series with an undisclosed knee injury. The Hawkeyes had struggled to move the ball with Scherff in narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State.

Kansas at Duke, 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Regional Sports Network): Kansas hasn’t won a road game since beating UTEP in El Paso the second week of the 2009 season. The Jayhawks’ 34 points last week, however, tied the highest scoring total of the Charlie Weis era, and their 6.3 yards per play against Southeast Missouri State was the program’s best game average in three years.

Minnesota at TCU, 4 p.m. ET (FS1): The Gophers are one of the only Big Ten teams off to a positive start, but injuries have piled up. Minnesota is hopeful quarterback Mitch Leidner will be able to go after injuring his knee against Middle Tennessee last weekend.

UTSA at Oklahoma State, 7 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Regional): Quarterback Daxx Garman is expected to make his first career start after taking his first competitive snap in five years during last week’s win over Missouri State. The Roadrunners are still looking for the program’s first win over a Power 5 conference opponent.

Texas vs. No. 12 UCLA (Arlington, Texas), 8 p.m. ET (FOX): The Longhorns were woeful on both sides of the ball in a 41-7 loss to BYU last weekend, and this doesn’t have the look of a favorable matchup. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Texas has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards (777) in the FBS to opposing QBs since the start of last season. Excluding sacks, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has run for the sixth-most yards by a quarterback (1,057) during the same span.

Tennessee at No. 4 Oklahoma, 8 p.m. ET (ABC): This is the first regular-season matchup between these teams, which are in the top 10 in the FBS in all-time wins. Recent history, however, favors the Sooners. Bob Stoops is 88-5 at home with Oklahoma, while Tennessee hasn’t won three games to begin a season since 2004.

Mailbag: Big weekend for the Big 12

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
5:30
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In today’s Twitter mailbag, we mostly discuss the monster upcoming weekend for the Big 12, which takes on seven opponents from Power 5 conferences. To the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: You're referencing an NFL.com report this week that suggested Bob Stoops would be a hot commodity for NFL coaching jobs after the season. Anything is possible. But my thinking is that if Stoops wanted to leave, he would have been gone already. Over the years, he has resisted overtures from the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida (twice) and the Denver Broncos. If he's turning those kind of jobs down, what job out there would he take? The Dallas Cowboys? Maybe. But my money would be on Stoops retiring as the coach at Oklahoma.

Trotter: I would place the Big 12 behind the SEC and Pac-12. But a strong case could be made for the league as the third-best conference, especially with a successful weekend that includes games against seven Power 5 conference opponents.

Trotter: I have them ranked exactly the same. There has been a lot of hype with Samaje Perine, and rightfully so. But I think Keith Ford is the best all-around back.

Trotter: I'm not sure he's going to be able to do anything this season to completely calm the fan base. After all the injuries, suspensions and dismissals, this roster has been completely ravaged. I think Texas is staring down the barrel of a 2-4 start, which, before the season, would have seemed like a worst-case scenario. I will be interested to see, though, if Texas can make improvement over the second half of the season. That would bode well for 2015, which is when the pressure will begin to mount on Strong and his staff.

Trotter: At blue-chip programs like Texas, the switch can flip quickly. Oklahoma was in worse shape in 1998 than Texas is now. And the Sooners won a national title two years later. The Longhorns could be a top-10 team as soon as next season. But first, they're going to have to find an answer at quarterback, which has plagued this program since Colt McCoy was behind center.

Trotter: Probably not. It's not like Minnesota is Michigan State. And there are too many other teams ahead in the polls. But a win would definitely snag the Frogs more votes.

Trotter: When did Minnesota become the bastion of college football? This would be a very solid win for TCU. But the Gophers were picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the Big Ten West.

Trotter: Write a letter to your affiliated Big 12 athletic director and president. Because right now, none of them have given any indication they are interested in expansion.

Trotter: Oh, maybe a little. But you have to remember, this was a league that teetered on the edge of extinction for a couple of years. The Big 12 is enjoying this newfound stability as well as the money it's raking in with these new TV contracts. What is the motivation for them to expand?

Trotter: Assuming that J.W. Walsh is out for the year -- and I've been told that he is -- I think they have to. The Cowboys don't want to be in a situation where Daxx Garman gets injured, and they have to bring in Mason Rudolph in a critical moment with him having zero college experience. Plus, playing Rudolph will give them a chance to determine whether he might be the quarterback of the future. They could always come back and redshirt him next season when Walsh returns to the fray.

Trotter: This would be a huge win for the Mountaineers. But I don't think it would be enough to push them into the Top 25. A win against Oklahoma the following week would do it.

Trotter: I like Matt Wallerstedt's ploy of using more players. If you are lacking in standouts, at least keep the players you do have fresh for the fourth quarter when stops are at a premium. Personnel wise, the Red Raiders need their JUCO additions to start making bigger impacts. That would give the defense a boost.

Trotter: It's possible. Oklahoma losing to Tennessee would really be the only stunner. Maryland, Minnesota, UCLA, Arkansas, UTSA, Duke, Iowa are all more than capable of defeating their Big 12 counterparts..

Although we're just two weeks into the 2014 season, go-to targets are starting to emerge across the Big 12. West Virginia's Kevin White looks like he could fill a playmaking void and Texas Tech's Bradley Marquez has stepped his play up in his final season.

Here's a closer look at the Big 12's leading receivers in several key stats, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information.

[+] EnlargeKevin White, Bradley Sylve
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia's Kevin White has been targeted more than any other Big 12 receiver.
Total targets

  1. Kevin White, West Virginia, 26
  2. Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 21
  3. John Harris, Texas, 20
  4. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 19
  5. (Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 18

It’s clear White has developed a high level of trust with quarterback Clint Trickett and the Mountaineers are trying to get the ball in the hands of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior. … Texas’ John Harris is the surprise name on the list as he has emerged as a go-to target in a struggling Longhorns attack. … As Iowa State searches for someone to replace Quenton Bundrage, no Cyclone has double-digit targets through two games.

Yards per target

  1. Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 32.6
  2. Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State, 20.8
  3. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 16.7
  4. KD Cannon, Baylor, 15.4
  5. Nick Harwell, Kansas, 14.9

TCU has only played one game, but it would be a surprise if Listenbee is not a major part of the offense. He proved to be a legitimate deep threat in the Horned Frogs' season opener two weeks ago, and that skill will make quarterback Trevone Boykin and his dynamic running ability even more lethal. … Shepard’s appearance on this list shows the Sooners plan to use him to keep defenses honest while they attempt to establish a physical running game.

Yards after catch

  1. Kevin White, West Virginia, 147
  2. Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 103
  3. Brandon Sheperd, Oklahoma State, 98
  4. Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma, 92
  5. Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech, 87

White is starting to fulfill the hype that accompanied him when he arrived as a junior college transfer before the 2013 season. He combines terrific size with run-after-catch ability. He’ll be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors if he remains consistent. … Seeing Marquez, not Grant, lead the Red Raiders in yards after the catch is a surprise, but it shows his versatility and overall importance to Tech’s passing game.

Third-down receptions

  1. Davion Hall, Baylor, 6
  2. Kevin White, West Virginia, 4
  3. John Harris, Texas, 4
  4. Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech, 4
  5. Five receivers tied with 3

Hall has a high third-down reception rate but only three of his six receptions have resulted in first down conversions. The Bears have made a point to get him the ball in space, with 7 of his 11 receptions coming within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. … It’s early, but Harris, White and Marquez appear to have separated themselves as go-to receivers in their offenses.

Percentage of receptions for a first down or touchdown

  1. Nick Harwell, Kansas, 100 percent
  2. Kolby Listenbee, TCU, 100 percent
  3. Ja'Juan Story, TCU, 100 percent
  4. KD Cannon, Baylor, 87.5 percent
  5. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State, 85.7 percent

Harwell was solid in his first game as a Jayhawk with four receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll be a major part of KU’s offense. … Listenbee and Story have five receptions combined so it remains to be seen if their ability to make key plays continues throughout the season. … Lockett should be a staple on this list with his ability to change games each time he touches the ball.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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video
After a quiet week, the Big 12 is expected to have a monster week with top recruits spread throughout Texas and Oklahoma. September was expected to be a big month for recruiting within the conference, and it can jump start during or immediately after the weekend games.

Look for these three games to draw players:

Tennessee at Oklahoma

Like father, UCLA lineman is back home

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
4:00
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Caleb Benenoch has a secret he’s hesitant to share with his UCLA teammates: When UCLA marched into his home state in 2010 and stunned Texas, 34-12, he couldn’t handle it.

“I don’t know if the guys know this,” Benenoch said, “but I actually cried.”

Back then, he was a sophomore at Seven Lakes High in Katy, Texas. Today, Benenoch is UCLA’s sophomore starting right tackle. He can’t wait to face the Texas program he'd sworn he’d always love, no matter where he went to college.

Benenoch is expecting as many as 30 family members and friends at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Saturday night when the No. 12 Bruins meet a Texas team that, considering its current offensive line woes, could have definitely used him. And Benenoch hopes, somewhere in Nigeria, his father is watching.

The lineman’s road to Los Angeles and to this game wasn’t exactly conventional. Benenoch is the son of Nigerian ministers and emigrated with his family to the United States when he was 8. He started playing football at 9 by accident – his mother thought she’d signed him up for fútbol.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Benenoch
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsUCLA sophomore Caleb Benenoch will take on the team he loved as a child on Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
While Esther Benenoch raised four children in Katy, her husband remained in Nigeria. David Benenoch is the founder and bishop of The Communion Church, a Pentecostal service started in 1989 and headquartered in Lagos.

“It takes a very strong family. It’s not easy to do,” Benenoch said of the distance separating his kin. “I know for them it’s not easy to do, and I appreciate them a lot.”

His father’s work takes him all over Africa and Europe, with regular stops back in Katy. Growing up, Caleb went to Nigeria during a few summer breaks for one-month visits.

In 2010, before his sophomore year, he came back from Nigeria measuring 6-foot-5 and tipping the scales at 300 pounds, to the bewilderment of his coaches and buddies.

“Everybody was saying, ‘Did you eat the kids back there?’” Benenoch said.

Once he hit that growth spurt, football became easier. He put on 20 more pounds and they all starting calling him “Bear.” When his brother, Josh Benenoch, walked on to play defensive back at Baylor in 2011, Caleb couldn’t wait for his turn. He’d told friends that, one day, Mack Brown would walk into their high school and recruit him.

His father kept up with calls and video chats, but didn’t know much about football. When Caleb did get to show off his game tapes, he usually had some explaining to do. Dad didn't understand why the big boys play up front.

“He’d always ask me, ‘Why aren’t you the one carrying the ball? Why aren’t you the one passing the ball? Why aren’t you scoring?’” Benenoch said. "After the games, you see all the dads line up, win or loss. I didn’t have that. That drove me to work harder."

This was new territory for the Benenoch family, especially when Caleb’s recruitment began. Michigan State offered a scholarship after his junior season, so he committed early without ever visiting. Then Brown made a push.

At a Texas camp in June, Brown extended an offer and his staff successfully persuaded Benenoch to reopen his recruitment. In the months that followed, he seemed a lock to end up a Longhorn.

“People don’t say no to UT very often,” Benenoch said that summer. “I love UT. I’ve loved them since I was little. I’ll love them regardless of whether I go there or not.”

Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas A&M all made strong pushes that fall, but a November official visit to UCLA swayed him in a way he never anticipated. Another factor that quietly weighed heavily: Rival coaches convinced him Brown wasn’t going to be in Austin much longer. Benenoch didn’t enjoy watching the coaching shakeup from afar this winter.

“I wasn’t happy it turned out the way it did. He’s a great guy, a great coach and I didn’t want him to leave,” Benenoch said of Brown. “It was very crazy for me, because I grew up watching him and he was the guy I wanted to play for.”

UCLA coaches weren’t lying, either, when they promised immediate playing time. Benenoch started nine games as a freshman last season – one play briefly went viral for this punch against USC – and has settled into the right tackle job.

This Texas game has been circled on his calendar ever since his December 2012 commitment.

“This is one of the reasons I picked UCLA,” he said. “Going back and beating those guys would be a lot of fun.”

So much has changed for Benenoch in the past few years, but one thing hasn’t: His father still hasn’t attended one of his games.

Benenoch sends his father photos and videos. The faraway minister has caught a few UCLA games on TV. Maybe he’ll get a chance to watch this one, a prime-time game on a big stage, his son taking the field against their once-beloved Longhorns.

"Hopefully he'll come to one before I graduate," Benenoch said. "I know he's really happy for me. And I think he understands how big a deal playing tackle is now."

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