UT offensive lineman Zach Shackelford talks to a teammate during the first Spring practice at Denius Fields on Monday March 7, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Horns’ offensive line provides building blocks for an upset

Posted August 30th, 2016

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Texas can beat Notre Dame by beating Notre Dame where it matters.

In the trenches.

While we have spent most of this summer discussing the pros and cons of various quarterback options, Texas’ most experienced offensive unit has to be ready for whichever QB gets the call.

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Whether you like senior Tyrone Swoopes or freshman Shane Buechele, the real story of the opener will come down to whether the offensive line can get healthy in time to get after a Notre Dame front that’s a bit thin.  If they can push around the Irish, the Longhorns can open the season in electric fashion.

“I’m fired up,” said Longhorns guard Kent Perkins. “Me and my boys are ready because we have something to prove.”
Perkins, the lone senior up front, has quietly had a solid college career, but he has never been known  to lead in a vocal fashion. That is, until this past week when he asked coach Charlie Strong if he could address the team.

“My coaches always tell me I have a lot of teammates that look up to me and I have that respect factor and that leadership factor,” Perkins said. ” I’ve always been a quiet dude, but I’ve been a guy that handled my business and I did the things I needed to do. I had a feeling that I needed to go up and say something to the team.”

So what did you say, Perk?

“I basically told the guys that we could do this this year,”

While the defense remains the biggest question mark inside Bellmont, Perkins, Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe and Tristan Nickelson shouldn’t be blown away by the moment on Sunday night. The crew has played in a combined 60 college games, with 45 starts. Perkins has started 20 of those contests.

If Strong has his way, Swoopes and Buechele will enjoy tremendous protection this fall while running backs Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman enjoy plenty of running lanes provided by experienced run blockers.

History often repeats itself, and the Horns are hoping to revisit the 2006 season.  Remember that Sunday afternoon 10 years ago when Vince Young announced he was leaving school early to turn pro?

The Horns, fresh off that BCS championship victory over the Southern Cal Trojans, were hit with the reality that the defense of their title would come with a new quarterback under center. Redshirt freshman Colt McCoy eventually beat out Jevan Snead for the starting job, starting what turned out to be one of the most successful quarterback careers in college football history.

Colt was a talented cat, but he would be the first to say he benefited from being surrounded by tons of experience on that 2006 offense. Remember that:

  •  Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young split time at running back.
  • Billy Pittman, Quan Cosby, Jordan Shipley and Limas Sweed lined up as receivers.
  • A redshirt freshman by the name of Jermichael Finley played tight end.

Starting to get the picture?  Yep, long before he left college as the winningest quarterback in history,  McCoy spent his first season as a starter piloting an overpowered offense that featured a number of players who went on to the NFL.

Most importantly, McCoy also was blessed with gobs of talent up front, which allowed him to settle nicely into his new role. When the most experienced players on an offense are the linemen, things are much easier for a young quarterback because he knows there will be time to figure things out. McCoy’s first season as the Longhorns’ starter was spent behind Justin Blalock, Tony Hills, Kasey Studdard, and Lyle Sendlein, who ended up playing a combined 308 NFL games.

The current Horns quarterback should be comforted by knowing there are enough weapons to make good things happen this fall.  The potential to control the line of scrimmage is a big reason the Horns have a fighting chance to pull off this upset Sunday.

If they can win up front, they will win on the scoreboard.

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