Commentary

UT's O-line aims to improve

Originally Published: January 6, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The Texas offensive line has four players with a combined 134 starts, three fifth-year players who could win their second national championship ring, two players who made first team All-American or All-Big 12, and one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad game.

[+] EnlargeNdamkong Suh
James D. Smith/Icon SMITexas' offensive line had no answer for Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in the Big 12 title game.

"The worst thing as a football coach is for you to lose a game or play poorly and have an off week," Texas offensive line coach Mac McWhorter said. "And now, to not play very well and have an off month, that hasn't been very fun."

You may remember the Longhorns offensive linemen. They are the players whom Nebraska All-American defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh shoved aside in the Big 12 championship game. The Huskers sacked Texas quarterback Colt McCoy nine times. Suh sacked him 4½ times by himself.

Texas hasn't played a game since.

By the way, No. 2 Texas won the game 13-12 to claim the conference title, and earned a place in the Citi BCS National Championship Game on Thursday night against No. 1 Alabama. That's "by the way," because if you're a Longhorns offensive linemen, pretty much all you've heard about for a month is how much money you made for Suh.

He will shake NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's hand very early in the 2010 NFL draft. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy vote, and won the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award and just about every other award save for Miss Nebraska.

"I think what it displays is that football is really a team game," Texas fifth-year center Chris Hall said. "Obviously, the offensive line, we didn't have our best game. And you know what? Special teams and defense made a stand, and the team won."

If Hall and his teammates thought any other way, they would never be able to get out of a three-point stance again.

"We got in, looked at the film. Obviously, it wasn't the prettiest," Hall said. "Learned from our mistakes, and then, we started working on Alabama. That's all you can do. We're not going to get to play Nebraska again."

Fifth-year senior left tackle Adam Ulatoski said the line had gone through the Nebraska video to make corrections. He watched it again by himself. Sometimes, he said, the Longhorns played poorly. Sometimes they tried to do what coaches preach never to do -- another player's job. But that can happen when a game isn't going well.

"Some of it was being overaggressive, trying to help too much," Ulatoski said. "We'd knock each other off blocks."

And now comes the Crimson Tide, a defense with three All-Americans, including the tackle not named Suh. Senior Terrence Cody, at 6-foot-5, 354 pounds, is one inch and 54 pounds larger than his All-American teammate.

"Cody's a great player," Ulatoski said. "He's just a load up front. He takes up double teams and he takes up a lot of blocks. He really helps the linebackers. Suh [likes to] read, get off and go make a play, where Cody's going to take up some blocks up front and free up some linebackers so they can make plays."

The Alabama players have watched plenty of video of the Texas offensive line. Linebacker Cory Reamer sounded a note of reason.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Cody
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe challenge for the Longhorns' O-line doesn't get any easier (or smaller) with Alabama's Terrence Cody lined up on the other side.

"You can't really judge an offensive line by what happens in one game," Reamer said.

"They look sound to me," said sophomore end Marcell Dareus, who led the Alabama defense with 6½ sacks. "They play under control, all five of them on the same page. When they slide, or veer to the right, nobody is sliding in and making plays."

Cody gave a less measured answer.

"Well, you have your games and you have your good games," Cody said. "It also comes down to game plan and schemes. [Nebraska] probably saw something in the offense that they could take advantage of. That's what they did. They dominated up front, got a lot of pressure on Colt McCoy and stopped the run."

Is there anything Cody can take from what he saw?

"We saw that you can get a lot of pressure up the middle," he said.

Alabama is more likely to bring pressure from a variety of angles. Thirteen Tide defenders had at least half a sack. That included four linemen, six linebackers and three defensive backs. All-American corner Javier Arenas tied for second on the team with five.

If the Texas offensive line stops Alabama, the imprint that Suh made will begin to fade across the country. The Longhorns linemen refuse to accept the notion that they might play with redemption in mind.

"You know what? We really don't need negative motivation to go win a national championship," Ulatoski said. "We have the national championship right in front of us. One game to go play and go win it, so that's our focus."

McWhorter sounded as if he would take a kick in his players' butts wherever he could get it.

"There's enough motivation in playing for a national championship," he said. "Then, when you add the factor of, 'Hey, man, we didn't hold up our end of it. We've got to step up and make sure we get that done,' that's a little more motivation."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com