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Five storylines: Texas Longhorns

9/6/2012

Storylines for the Longhorns as they face New Mexico on Saturday:

1. Rushing attack

For all the talk about getting the ball downfield and explosive plays in the passing game, the run game might be the key to a convincing victory for Texas. In Mack Brown’s tenure, when the Longhorns out-rush their opponents by 200 or more yards they are 35-0. When they are out-rushed they are 21-31.

New Mexico is a team that almost exclusively runs the ball. The Lobos had just 10 pass attempts in Week 1. They rushed for 327 yards.

Now while it might seem that Texas is set up to get out-rushed, that might not be the case. The Lobos allowed 247 rushing yards per game last season, 119th out of 120 FBS teams. What’s more, from 2009 to 2011 New Mexico allowed 107 rushing touchdowns. That's six more than any other FBS team in that span.

2. Turnovers

Look for Texas to be more aggressive in going after the ball in the runners’ hands. The Longhorns failed to gain a fumble in the opener, and that has been a point of emphasis throughout practice this week. With New Mexico willing to pitch the ball, Texas should get the opportunity to disrupt some of the exchanges.

3. Kicking game

Anthony Fera is doubtful for Texas. And Brown seems to be doubting Nick Jordan. There is good reason for that. Jordan, a freshman, missed on field goals of 44 and 46 yards in the opener. There was also a missed extra point, but that had more to do with the snap and hold than the kick.

Brown opened up the competition for kicker this week. Nick Rose, who handled the kickoffs against Wyoming, is battling Jordan. Rose has been kicking for just two years but showed he had a powerful leg against the Cowboys.

This game should not come down to a crucial field goal, but Texas would like to find a reliable kicker in case Fera’s leg injury lingers into the start of the Big 12 season.

4. Communication breakdowns

New Mexico’s offense forces a defense to be sound in its assignments and to be able to communicate the calls on each play. That was a problem for Texas against Wyoming. So too was the youth at linebacker when it came to communicating. This week Texas has worked to get that fixed.

"When I was younger I didn’t talk confidently and loud because when you talk loudly you’re confident," said safety Kenny Vaccaro. "You know what you’re doing. So basically, we need to be loud. And make sure our hand signals are right. We’ve got it. It will be fine."

5. Tackling dummies

In the wake of allowing an 82-yard pass play that could have been stopped for 10 yards or fewer with sound tackling, the Longhorns have put more emphasis on wrapping up this week. New Mexico’s runners do have the ability to shed the initial contact, so what Texas wants is for the play to be strung out so that the tacklers can be in place. Or for the player who makes initial contact to slow the runner enough that another defender can arrive and finish off the tackle.