"The tight end position is critical with regards to what we can do in the grand scheme of things," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. "We don't have the kind of guy right now that we've become accustomed to who can stretch the field and put Two-Deep zones in a bind. We've got to find a way to do that, whether with personnel groupings or different play-calls."
The TE position came up big on both sides of the ball in last year's Red River Rivalry. Jermichael Finley set a school record for most yards by a TE (149), Meanwhile, Sooner TE Jermaine Gresham accounted for both of Oklahoma's first-half TDs in a game that was knotted 14-all at intermission. The 2007 All-Big 12 honoree is a fast, physical specimen who'll some day be playing Sundays. Texas' young secondary is growing up fast, but Gresham represents the biggest challenge for the Longhorn pass defense this side of Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree.
Irby was Texas' third-leading receiver prior to his knee injury against Rice but, other than max-protection, no one expects Texas' TEs to be significantly involved in the passing game the remainder of the season. The most glaring example of Blaine Irby's absence was the ball that slid through TE Peter Ullman's hands Saturday and into Colorado LCB Cha'pelle Brown's mitts. It set up CU at the Texas 27, leading to the Buffaloes' only TD of the evening against UT's first-team defense.
Ullman, a fifth-year senior, has teamed with position-journeyman Greg Smith when Texas went with a two-TE set. Both are lauded as hard-working and upstanding young men, but there are no healthy bodies on campus the caliber of Irby, let alone former lettermen David Thomas and Bo Scaife.
"We don't have the production we need from our two-tight end formations," head coach Mack Brown said, "and there's really no one else for us to go to."
A third receiver would help. Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley have combined for more than 57 percent of Texas' 1,369 yards through the air this season. RB Chris Ogbonnaya is the only other Longhorn with 100+ yards receiving (244) through five contests. Malcolm Williams, Brandon Collins and James Kirkendoll remain bunched together as the third option. The three youngsters have combined for 167 yards, but Kirkendoll has 80 of them.
"They've done some good things," Davis said, "but there's still battling to see who gets on the field the most. I feel OK at that area."
But is OK good enough to beat OK-U?
Even without Irby, the Horns have taken care of business in the Red Zone, tallying 23 TDs on 26 trips inside the 20 and Texas will be countering with a QB who is No. 4 nationally in pass efficiency and the nation's No. 6 scoring offense (47.2 ppg). We'll find out Saturday when the Horns and Sooners kick-off at 11 a.m.