AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 8: Joe Bergeron #24 of the Texas Longhorns scores a touchdown against the University of New Mexico Lobos on September 8, 2012 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
In a hostile environment, the Rebels will present the Longhorns with many of the same types of challenges they will need to overcome when Big 12 play starts.
Texas is fortunate that the new Head Coach at Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze, has a Big 12 mindset. He hired defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to bring the 4-2-5 defense to Oxford while he's bringing the no-huddle offense as an equalizer to all that "SEC speed" that southern coaches have to deal with.
After a week in which Texas faced the modern version of the Wishbone offense, they will certainly benefit from facing a team that will employ the same strategies and schemes that they'll begin to encounter in a brutal opening stretch of conference play.
Considering that Oklahoma has two bye weeks before the Red River Shootout, it will benefit Texas to have a chance to practice schemes that will be relevant when conference play begins.
Wyoming provided that as well, and tested the Longhorns defense with motion, changing formations, and alignments in order to try and create breakdowns that lead to big plays. Ultimately they went down because Texas avoided giving up too many big plays and used pressure to create turnovers and build momentum.
New Mexico tried to create opportunities with an offense built around punishing the defense for every choice they make. They went down because Texas kept their safeties back and Phillips and Vaccaro had the speed to erase mistakes made by the young front vs the option. Some of the principles of this game will remain relevant for the team, but the schemes will not.
No-huddle teams like Ole Miss (or half a dozen Big 12 foes) try to create big plays by catching a defense out of position due to their fast pace. As Manny Diaz has put it: they ask you otherwise easy questions in rapid succession hoping to catch you thinking and not reacting.
The key with no-huddle offenses is that they need to do something dangerously well, or else they risk running multiple three-and-outs and leaving their defense on the field for most of the game. Either an explosive skill player who can house a short pass or a run where the defense is caught out-leveraged, or a QB who can punish a defense for every miss step.
With this Rebel offense it's the QB, Bo Wallace, who makes things go. He's the leading rusher with 135 yards and has thrown for another 438. Dedicated recruitniks might recall that Texas considered bringing him to Texas this year from his junior college but Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss managed to secure him.
Unfortunately for Wallace, both by design and by necessity, the Texas defense he now has to face is very hard on QB-centric offenses whether they huddle before plays or not. The emphasis by Texas on hitting opponents with negative plays is especially difficult for no-huddle offenses because they slow down the pace and momentum.
Diaz will test Wallace with his Fire Zones and ask him to make plays in the running game or the passing game while eluding heavy pressure, finding defenders unexpectedly in running lanes, and discerning disguised coverages. If Wallace isn't able to hit Texas with big passing plays against that pressure, the Ole Miss offense will fail to get points on the board.
This will be another big test for the young Texas linebacker corp in getting their fronts set correctly against a quick paced offense. Better to make a mistake here than against OU or WVU.
On the other side, Ole Miss' aggressive 4-2-5 defense will be instructive in how Texas handles blitzes and pressure from the more athletic defenses on the schedule. The Ole Miss defense is inexperienced and learning a new scheme, but they are still talented and a step above many of the defenses in the Big 12.
Last year, aggressive defenses attacked Texas with outside pressures, which the Longhorns struggled to counter. The Texas run-n-screen offense attacks the perimeter, but this defensive approach can turn these plays into losses. Ole Miss will provide a test to see if Texas can punish an aggressive perimeter attack by throwing passes into the seam or running the ball up the middle.
The middle of the Ole Miss defense is anchored by a 248 pound middle linebacker named Mike Marry and a pair of solid defensive tackles, while the outside linebackers are only about 200 pounds apiece. Speed on the edge and power inside, much like Texas has on their defense.
David Ash will need to recognize when the Rebs are bringing pressure and make throws to punish blitzes or audible and save plays from disastrous results. Texas tight ends and fullbacks will also have an opportunity to demonstrate their growth by physically imposing their will against the smaller Ole Miss outside linebackers and ends. With time, they should be able to push around the Ole Miss defense with sustained drives and a healthy portion of Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown.
This is a game that last year's Texas squad would have struggled to win at this point. On the road against a talented opponent playing in front of 60,000 well-liquored SEC fans is one of the more hostile environments the Longhorns will face this year.
If Ole Miss lands a big shot and races back to the line to run another play, or the Reb defense lands a big sack from a blitz on Ash, Texas will get a nice taste of what they can expect from the Red River shootout, or road games against KSU or OSU. This is their last chance to overcome adversity against an overmatched opponent before the conference schedule hits them with the 2 best teams in the league.
They should cover a 10.5 point spread by stifling the no-huddle, getting some turnovers, and keeping the Ole Miss defense on the field for 35 minutes until they break down and start yield rushing yards in chunks. Then the real fun begins with a trip to Stillwater.