• Texas ready to run up-tempo offense, Mack Brown wants 80-plus plays per game in 2013

    DALLAS – The Longhorns are a little late to the party but they will be among the many Big 12 teams using an up-tempo offense this season.

    With a new playcaller in Major Applewhite comes a new offensive approach, meaning less time in between snaps and more touches to go around. This bodes well for a Texas team featuring five returning starters on the offensive line, a seasoned quarterback in junior David Ash and plenty of skill position players coming back.

    “David is ready to go up tempo now with the offense. He’s in command. He’s very confident. He knows what we want,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We didn’t change the names of the plays. We didn’t change the plays as much when Major took over.”

    The Longhorns began implementing the up-tempo offense this spring and Brown said he hopes to have the offense running at an even faster pace by the time they open the season against New Mexico State Aug. 31.

    After averaging 68.5 offensive plays per game last season – the fewest in the Big 12 – Brown wants to be running at least 80 plays per game this year. Most teams in the conference, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, have been using up-tempo offenses for a while now.

    “When you’re happy to win a game 56-50, things have changed,” Brown said, referring to Texas’ victory over Baylor last year. “Do you walk oiut made at your defense or happy with your offense? You walk out happy you won and that’s it.”

    Now that Texas has joined the club, the Longhorns defense will see an up-tempo offense every day in practice, instead of just on Saturdays this fall. Brown recalled a moment from Texas’ 45-35 win over Oklahoma in 2008 when he and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp were caught not being able to get playcalls relayed to players in time.

    “The ball was being snapped and they’re running 20 yards, and they’re still looking at the wristbands,” Brown said. “Will and I decided to throw out all the calls, play base defense and let’s play because we’re standing around looking.”

    The rise of up-tempo offenses in college football has drawn criticism, most notably from Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who are concerned defensive players are at a higher risk of injury. Several Big 12 coaches disagree with their SEC colleagues.

    “I’d tell them to get over it because it’s not going to change,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “There’s a lot of teams doing that for a reason… It’s going to the NFL, for crying out loud. Don’t see it changing any time soon. So you’d better learn to adapt to it.”

    “It would be a huge mistake for somebody to be convinced that would have in any form or fashion or reason to cause any injury,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said. “There’s not as many collisions compared to putting everybody together tight and ramming everybody up in there and being a pile. So I certainly don’t agree with that. I think it’s great for college football.”

  • Jake Heaps ready, eager to take over under center for Jayhawks

    DALLAS – Unlike most of the other teams in the Big 12, Kansas did not have a potent passing attack last season. The Jayhaws were one of three FBS teams to complete fewer than half of their throws in 2012, the others being Southern Miss and Army.

    First-year head coach Charlie Weis brought in Dayne Crist, who transferred from Notre Dame, where Weis originally recruited him as the Jayhawks limped to a 1-11 record. They beat FCS squad South Dakota State in the season opener and lost their final 11 games, following up their lone win by falling victim to a game-winning field goal in a loss to Rice the next week.

    Crist and backup Michael Cummings combined to throw seven touchdowns and 13 interceptions. An effective running game spearheaded by James Sims and Tony Pierson wasn’t enough.

    “Last year, every team we played knew we were going to run the ball,” linebacker Ben Heeney said. “They knew that’s what we were going to do because we couldn’t pass it last year.”

    All Jake Heaps could do was watch.

    “It was excruciating,” Heaps, who transferred to Kansas from BYU in 2011, said. “It was really hard to not be able to help my teammates out and battle with them. As a competitor and a guy that loves the game of football, it was hard for me… It was the best and worst thing for me. It was the best thing to happen for me but the worst thing in the moment.

    While sitting out in 2012, Heaps couldn’t contribute on Saturdays but helped Kansas prepare for opponents by torching the first-team defense as the scout-team quarterback. Now the Jayhawks are hoping Heaps will have similar success against opponents this upcoming season.

    “He was tearing us up sometimes,” Heeney admitted. “He would make a walk-on freshman receiver look like a Heisman Trophy candidate. He would just put the ball right on the money. Guys would catch the ball. Jake last year would tear our defense apart, using scout team receivers. I’m just excited to see what he’ll do in real games now.”

    Heaps was the top quarterback coming out of high school in 2010, according to rivals.com, He passed for 3,768 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 57 percent of his passes in two seasons with BYU before being replaced as the team’s starting quarterback and deciding to transfer to Kansas. He was forced to sit out in 2012, per NCAA transfer rules.

    “You can either take it easy because you know you’re not going to play that year or you can get better. That’s what I chose to do,” Heaps said. “The moment I set foot on campus I just approached myself like I was the starting quarterback.”

    One of two quarterbacks representing their teams at Big 12 Media Days, the other being  Texas’ David Ash, Heaps will finally get that chance to be a starting quarterback again. 

  • Players voice opinion on O'Bannon lawsuit against NCAA

    DALLAS – Count Kansas State linebacker Tre Walker among those strongly in support of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA, which challenges whether EA should be allowed to use college athletes’ likenesses in video games without compensating them.

    The NCAA ended its contract with EA, possibly marking the end of the popular NCAA Football franchise. NCAA Football 13 sold nearly 2 million copies last year.

    “What goes around comes around and I’m so happy someone decided to sue the NCAA,” Walker said. “They think just because they give us a full ride scholarship that we should be thankful for them taking money from us that we earn every day. Without us, the NCAA wouldn’t have a job.”

    “We play in the game that causes revenue,” Walker continued. “The NCAA makes millions and millions of dollars for that. We go to bowl games. The players don’t get paid for that. The school gets paid for that. They think just because we get new suits and new cleats and all that stuff that we should be satisfied but it’s blood, sweat and tears – we go back to our hometowns and college towns and work our behinds off to play 12 games a season.”

    When playing NCAA Football 14, there is a “QB #14” on Texas’ roster that most would perceive to be Longhorns quarterback David Ash. “LB #50” on Kansas State’s roster is seemingly meant to be Walker.

    “It’s not about disrespecting anybody but it’s about telling the truth,” Walker said. “They can’t sit there and say nobody knows it’s us. What if we got in trouble or something and we got nothing but the jersey and the number, then, in the court of law, and try to say that’s not you. At the end of it, you can’t sit there and use that against us and say they’re not making money off us when they really are.”

    Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney plays for the rival Jayhawks but agrees with Walker. The O’Bannon lawsuit is seeking class action status and, if it does, it could dramatically affect the economic landscape in college athletics.

    “They’re using us,” Heeney said. “The NFL gets paid for being on there so we should be the same… We basically have a full-time job being a student-athlete. It’s 40 hours a week working out, lifting, everything. We don’t really have the luxury of other stduents getting a job and maintaining that job… You’re getting paid to do this. This is the prime of your career. Why can’t I get paid for being in the prime of mine?”

    Others, like TCU safety Sam Carter, could care less about the legislation facing the NCAA regarding likenesses in video games. Although Carter does admit to boosting up the rating of TCU’s “S #17” to 99 overall, the game’s highest rating, when he plays NCAA Football 14.

    “I’m 99 in my heart,” Carter joked. “I don’t really have anything to say about [the lawsuit] because it’s not affecting me in any way. I’m excited that I’m getting to play the sport and I’m enjoying every bit of it. They’ve been doing it for years so I’m not going to be the one trying to change that.”

    Walker, when asked about a $2,000 stipend for student-athletes, an initiative supported by some administrators and coaches, including Texas head coach Mack Brown, was more outspoken. 

    “I would love to see that,” Walker said. “I think it’s nothing but fair. If you think about how much money we get paid to live where we live, some of our rents is $600 a month. When you take a $740 check plus rent, even with a $500 rent, after utilities, you have nothing to show for it. No money. Without some of these food plans with the school, we’d have nothing. We’d be starving. That’s terrible. I’m tired of it.”

  • Texas Tech players relating easily with new, young head coach Kliff Kingsbury

    DALLAS – Kliff Kingsbury left Texas Tech in 2002 as the program’s all-time leading passer. In the 11 years since, Kingsbury was passed by Graham Harrell but was hired by his alma mater as head coach. At 33 years old, he is the youngest FBS head coach.

    “We try to relate to our players to the way they think,” Kingsbury said. “Anything that can grab their attention is what we’re going to do, whether that’s a playlist at practice or a memo. We want to do things that grab their attention.”

    Kingsbury did just that when he left his team a note a couple months ago advising his team to focus less on playing video games and more on preparing for the upcoming season.

    “We advise you to be active over the break as you will need to be ready to work onc June rolls around,” the note began. “Sitting at the house playing COD/2K13/Madden against 12 year olds online doesn’t suffice as activity even if you claim to ‘wreck shop’. #BOOM #ComeAtMe #WreckEm”

    His players took the note to heart.

    “That’s the truth,” wide receiver Eric Ward said. “You’re hear to play football. You’re here to win football games. You can’t win football games by playing Call of Duty and doing irrelevant things that don’t contribute to your success on the football field. I’m 100 percent behind that statement.”

    Defensive end Kerry Hyder admitted to spending a fair amount of time this offseason playing video games but acknowledged that he put in the necessary work as Kingsbury’s message hit home.

    “It was just funny because you knew what guys were planning on doing for the whole break,” Hyder said. “It’s cool that he’s in tuned with what we’re ding. He knew what guys were planning on doing. It was a joke It was cool… He’s all about business and getting stuff done. Things have changed. It is more relaxed and more ‘swagged’ out but the discipline hasn’t changed. He’s in charge and he lets us know that.”

  • Big 12 players, coaches recall experiences playing Texas last season

    DALLAS – The Longhorns went 3-2 against the five teams showcased at the Omni Hotel in Dallas Monday. They beat Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas Tech by an average of six points while falling to TCU and Kansas State in their final two regular season games in 2012.

    Various players at Big 12 Media Days recalled their experiences playing – or watching their team play – against Texas last year.

    The Longhorns beat last-place Kansas, 21-17, in Lawrence last season, thanks to a Case McCoy touchdown pass with 12 seconds left.

    “I was happy for [Texas head coach] Mack [Brown]. I was miserable for me. I took nothing positive from it,” Jayhawks head coach Charlie Weis said of the defeat. “You give up a touchdown pass with [12] seconds to go, when you give up a 4th-and-9 completion from your own territory, when on first down you have a ball thrown right to the corner you don’t intercept it, okay.”

    Texas also escaped with a road win in Stillwater earlier last season, beating Oklahoma State, 41-36, following a last-minute touchdown run by Joe Bergeron, who came close to fumbling as he crossed the goal line on the game-clinching score.

    “We feel like we got messed over in that game but we let it go,” Cowboys wide receiver Josh Stewart said. “We got another game coming up this year and we’re playing knowing what we’ve got to do to get that feeling that we’re on top. They probably have that feeling now because they beat us but we plan on changing that.”

    “We definitely learned a lot from that game last year,” linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “We hurt ourselves in some areas of that game last year.”

    Texas did not come out on top in another close game when TCU visited Austin last Thanksgiving, the Horned Frogs’ first game on the holiday since 1928. The Longhorns were seven-point favorites but committed four turnovers and, despite outgaining TCU, fell, 20-13.

    “I remember that we won,” All-American defensive back Jason Verrett. “That’s the only memory I want to have of any game we play.”

    “We won,” running back Waymon James, who was out with a knee injury, said. “I just remember being on the sideline wanting to play. Can’t. My teammates out there so excited because it’s Texas. A great feeling after that game, everybody thinks players from Texas are all that but they’re not.”

    “I got the interception at the end of the game, saw the defensive line get pressure,” safety Sam Carter said. “I saw Jason’s interception. There’s a lot of things I remember about the game because the game was on Thanksgiving. A lot of people I knew were there. A lot of people were saying we couldn’t beat Texas. It was just an exciting game.”

    Texas didn’t take advantage of a chance to spoil Kansas State’s chances at winning a Big 12 title, losing to the Wildcats, 42-24, as Case McCoy, playing in place of an injured David Ash, threw for 314 yards while completing 17 straight passes at one point but throwing two costly interceptions. 

    “It was bittersweet not being able to be on the field but seeing us win the whole thing. I want to do that again this year,” Wildcats linebacker Tre Walker, who was injured at the time, said. “Texas sometimes lets their name get them in a pickle but the biggest thing is we fight like we have something to prove. We don’t have the players but, at the end of the day, we fight. If it comes down to it, we’ll roll our sleeves up and get with it.”