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After a poor week 2 performance against BYU, Texas played much better this week against a tough UCLA team. While the Longhorns didn't come away with a victory, the improvements from last week to this were evident in many areas of the team.
For the second consecutive week, Tyrone Swoopes started the game off hot as he completed 11 straight passes. The Longhorns seemed to move the ball a little better at times and Swoopes even used his legs more than he did against BYU. As was the case last week, Swoopes was not a main reason that Texas lost to UCLA. He showed good poise, especially in the TD drive that put Texas ahead with five minutes remaining.
Grade: B+ Tyrone Swoopes continues to impress and is slowly proving to the coaches that they can trust him more and more to open the playbook up.
The Texas Runningbacks played a better game last night than they did in week 2. Instead of constantly being stuffed at the line or in the backfield, the RBs were pushing forward for 4-6 yards after the first hit. Brown and Gray again were not called on often to catch the ball out of the backfield, but they weren't a liability either. They also did a good job of helping the line pass block and keep Swoopes off of the turf.
Grade: B Brown and Gray showed growth from week 2 to week 3 in many areas. The Horns will need to continue to see the two five stars improve for the offense to get better.
Both WRs and TEs played a better game at times. Marcus Johnson showed up and made several clutch catches, usually on hot slants, while Harris and Shipley continued to perform on a high level. The TEs, on the other hand, were again absent save for a two yard TD reception from MJ McFarland.
Grade: B- The WRs are doing what they're being asked. The mistakes were limited, but the late drop was still costly. The TEs did block well, but will need to be more of a factor for the offense to continue to improve.
There were times that the line looked like they did against BYU, failing to get a good push and having difficulty protecting the QB. But like every other position on offense, it was easy to see that the line showed improvement since last week. There were more running lanes and a better push in general for the runningbacks and the pass protection was again good enough for the QB to have time to make his throws.
Grade: C+ While the line still had their mistakes, they were limited and didn't seem to take points off the board. As the playbook continues to expand the line will need to prove that they can protect Swoopes longer than just a few seconds for short routes.
With Hundley out of the game after the first series, the defense had a prime opportunity to totally shut down the run and force UCLA to pass. Instead, the Bruins continued to run the read play even though Neuhiesel is a pocket passer with very little running skills. The line played well in the first half, helping to limit UCLA to just 3 points in the first half. But the third quarter problems popped up again, beginning with a 58 yard run on the first play of the third up the middle of the defense. The line made their fare share of plays, including another sack by Malcom Brown and a huge fumble recovery by Boyette.
Grade: C The line played well at times, but giving up 217 yards on the ground to a team without their starting dual threat QB is inexcusable when you have guys like M. Brown and Reed.
To the naked eye, Jordan Hicks played like a man on fire for most of the night. He really seemed to be flying around and involved or in the vicinity on nearly every tackle. Edmonds had his moments as well, including a huge strip late in the 4th. But, like the line, the LBs cannot allow the 217 rushing yards to a UCLA team without Hundley. That said, it was still a big improvement over last week's loss to BYU.
Grade: C+ The boys are improving, but they've got to do a better job of closing the gaps and stopping the run.
On one hand, the secondary played well and limited UCLA to short passes within 3-10 yards of the line for much of the evening. On the other hand, when the game was on the line, the Longhorns allowed a 33 yard game winning TD catch on a pump and go to a redshirt sophomore backup QB with little game experience. Texas defensive backs played well for much of the evening, not allowing the WRs to beat them long (until the end) and keeping the short passes from turning into big yards as missed tackles were limited for much of the evening.
Grade: B While the secondary gave up the big play, they covered well and forced UCLA to throw underneath for a majority of the night.
Will Russ is really starting to come into his own. Russ boomed kicks and had a career high 62 yard punt. Unfortunately, it was a big Russ punt that turned into a game changer when his punt cleared coverage and allowed Ishmael Adams to return the ball to the 33 with 3:00 left, which set up the game winner on the next play. Field goals were better, but there was absolutely nothing in both punt and kick returns available for Texas.
Grade: C- One bad punt coverage helped to cost the a Longhorns the game. You can never fault a punter for kicking the ball too far, but the coverage has to be better.
- Sep 14 2014 01:22 PM
- by Lukus Alderman
Each week of the season HornSports will take a look at the major storylines and games being played in the Big 12. This piece will pay particular attention to the games that have the most impact on Texas and the Horns' positioning in the conference. In Week 1, every team has a clean slate and the conference race hasn't even started. With that in mind, here are the major headlines from the Big 12 offseason:
The new Big 12 logo
While a new logo might not mean much, it retired a symbol of upheaval and instability that had 4 teams leave the conference and 2 teams added to the conference. With no substantial conference realignment talk this past offseason, it's was time for a new image and symbol to represent the Big 12.
Oklahoma adds DGB to the roster
The Sooners added the playmaker wide receiver after he was dismissed from Missouri after multiple arrests. The Sooners expected that Dorial Green-Beckham will be eligible to play this season. The NCAA decided otherwise and denied his waiver for immediate eligibility. It has yet to be determined if he will be back in Oklahoma in 2015.
Joe Mixon out for the 2014 season
Joe Mixon was involved in an offseason altercation at a Norman, OK establishment and has been suspended for the 2014 season. Mixon, a true freshman, will redshirt this season and get his legal affairs in order.
Baylor returns Bryce Petty
In a relatively weak quarterback draft class, many sports journalists believed that Bryce Petty would forgo his senior year and opt for the NFL Draft. He decided to stay in Waco. This helped Baylor's preseason perception and ranking.
Chris Flanagan's Preseason Big 12 Football Rankings
3. Kansas State
4. Oklahoma State
6. Texas Tech
7. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
The Oklahoma Sooners are the clear favorite this preseason much to the chagrin of Texas fans. Oklahoma has a very good defense, an improved quarterback and a great running attack. Baylor is the only team that on paper can challenge the Sooners this year. With their match-up not until November, the Big 12 race might well be decided on that game.
3-6 is a toss up. West Virginia and TCU will fight it out for 7th. Iowa State might challenge them but right now, it's unclear if they will. Kansas rounds out the list because no matter what they seem to do, they never can put it together.
Big 12 Game(s) of the Week for Week 1 (Time (CST), TV, Location):
West Virginia vs Alabama (2:30pm, ABC, Atlanta, GA)
Florida State vs. Oklahoma State (7:00pm, ABC, Arlington, TX)
Why are these games important?
Week 1 is always an important week of the football season. For most teams, it's a tune up game to see how much the team has improved from last season. The Big 12 will have two games against the AP preseason #1 and #2 to start the season. No one is expecting these two Big 12 teams to win. If one or both of those teams pull the upset, it will be huge to the perception of the Big 12. More than likely, neither of them will win the game. However, if both teams can keep it close, it will help the perception of the Big 12 as well. These Big 12 teams are representing the conference and if they do well, the Big 12 champion could secure themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Other Big 12 games (Time (CST), TV, Location)
North Dakota State vs Iowa State (11:00am, Cyclones.tv, Ames, IA)
Samford vs. TCU (6:00pm, Fox Sports Net, Fort Worth, TX)
Central Arkansas vs Texas Tech (6:00pm, Texas Tech TV on Fox, Lubbock, TX)
Louisiana Tech vs. Oklahoma (6:00pm, PPV, Norman, OK)
Stephen F. Austin vs. Kansas State (6:10pm, K-StateHD.TV, Manhattan, KS)
SMU vs. Baylor (Sunday August 31st @ 6:30pm, Fox Sports 1, Waco, TX)
- Aug 26 2014 09:57 AM
- by Chris Flanagan
When it comes time to talk about Texas football and the prospects of 2014, the storyline that most are fixated on is David Ash’s health. Ash’s injury concerns are most definitely problematic, but when fans preface season predictions with “Depending on Ash’s health…”, that is a disservice to the rest of the team.
In Part IV of the Texas team preview, HornSports will take an in-depth look at quarterbacks and offensive linemen, and examine just how important David Ash is this Fall.
Before looking at the signal callers and the guys up front, it’s important to reiterate that this team will play a ball control, defense-first style that is offensively based in a power run game. The importance of running backs, defense and special teams cannot be overstated when projecting how the Longhorns will fare this Fall.
Having said that, there is good reason that everyone focuses on quarterback play: especially in the college game, football has become quarterback-centric. Analysts far and wide are quick to point out how critical quarterback play is to championship football.
With such an emphasis on one player, the quarterback depth chart in Austin is lacking – and that might be too generous. Beyond Ash, there is a pair of raw athletes, neither with significant playing experience.
In fact, one player, Jerrod Heard, is a true freshman that has only been on campus for a month. When discussing Texas quarterbacks, whether or not Heard should redshirt is an extremely close 2nd to comments about Ash’s health, in terms of how frequently fans mention it.
In projecting the Texas signal callers, it’s appropriate first to talk about the offensive line. After all, David Ash touches the ball on every single play, but not until Dominic Espinosa snaps it to him.
Espinosa is the key to the o-line. As a Senior, Espinosa has improved steadily throughout his career. In a new offense (with a new OL coach), having a veteran presence to coordinate blocking schemes and make calls is invaluable. From that perspective, Espinosa is central to everything this offense is hoping to accomplish.
Even though he weighs in over 300 pounds, Espinosa has historically had difficulty handling powerful defensive tackles. At offensive guard, Kent Perkins and Sedrick Flowers will be charged with helping Espinosa handle the interior of the line.
For the Longhorns to be a successful downhill running team, Flowers, Espinosa and Perkins must prevent opposing teams from penetrating into the backfield. Texas running backs need to be making their first cut into a lane as opposed to being forced to make a cut around a defensive tackle. That half-second difference for a running back, for the offensive line, and for the defensive front 7, can make or break a play.
At tackle, Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle are charged with keeping Ash’s uniform clean and to keep defensive ends from crashing the party on the running attack. Harrison is a player that is being counted on for the line to be it’s best – Harrison’s size and athleticism make him a prototypical left tackle. Since coming to Austin from Contra Costa C.C., fans have been waiting for Harrison to emerge as the NFL prospect that the Texas line has been missing in recent years.
After playing as a reserve in 2013, Harrison has improved under Joe Wickline’s tutelage and is now slated to start at right tackle. If Harrison’s trajectory continues it’s trend, expect Wickline to move him to the left side of the line.
For all those positives and his potential, Harrison is currently suspended for the team’s first game and possibly longer. His absence provides valuable experience for Darius James, but for this team to execute their preferred style of offense, Harrison needs to be in the game and developing chemistry with the other starters along the line.
The impact of Co-offensive coordinator and OL coach Joe Wickline remains to be seen, but his presence is cause for optimism. While at Oklahoma State, Wickline developed a reputation as one of the nation’s best teachers of line play and he developed several highly regarded NFL draft picks. How readily Wickline is able to transform the existing roster from a team weakness to a strength can improve the entire offensive outlook for this Fall.
Wickline prefers versatility in linemen and does not typically platoon an entire 2nd unit at one time, both of which should be beneficial this season since depth on the line is a significant concern. Darius James and Jake Raulerson will both contribute heavily in rotation because of their ability to play multiple positions.
While the offensive line is entrenched in the success of the new Texas offense, there will be several points during the season when the Horns need their quarterback to step up and make a play. Whether it’s converting a third down pass to keep a drive alive, or throwing a touchdown that puts six on the board instead of a field goal, just like the other 10 positions on offense, there are specific things that Texas must get from quarterback play to be successful.
At the top of the depth chart is David Ash. Despite several years of experience, Texas fans are still unsure of what Ash can deliver on the field. From inconsistent play to debilitating injuries, Ash’s career, thus far, should only be labeled as “incomplete”.
Nevertheless, Ash enters the season 100% healthy and is unquestionably the best option on the depth chart. Ash has talked about mastering the complexities of Watson and Wickline’s pro-style offense and he represents the lone quarterback on the roster that provides the offensive staff with the ability to execute the entire playbook.
With underrated athleticism, Ash brings diversity to the offense with his ability to gain yards on the ground or to roll the pocket and throw on the run. Watson jokingly talked about reinforcing the importance of sliding rather than taking unnecessary hits to Ash; but it should be noted that neither he or Wickline have mentioned removing designed quarterback runs from the offense.
Head Coach Charlie Strong confirmed that Tyrone Swoopes will be David Ash’s backup. The burnt orange faithful have debated all Summer whether Swoopes or true freshman Jerrod Heard should be second string.
While Swoopes brings more athleticism to designed quarterback runs, he is not as developed as Ash is in terms of passing or his grasp of the offense. From a passing standpoint, Swoopes’ strong suit is the deep ball.
If Swoopes is forced into action, the Texas offense will depend even more on the running game and supplement it with deep passes to prevent the defense from crowding the line of scrimmage. Swoopes would also need to execute in the short, controlled passing game while most of the intermediate throws would be de-emphasized.
Behind Swoopes on the depth chart is Jerrod Heard. Much has been made of Heard’s vast potential, but the truth of the matter is that the Texas offense would be very limited with Heard at the helm.
While Heard adds even more explosion to the rushing attack, he’s even more inconsistent in the passing game than Swoopes. Whereas Swoopes can be depended on to throw consistently catch-able downfield passes and execute the short range attack, Heard’s inconsistency across all ranges of throws restricts playcalling, thereby giving advantage to the opposing defense.
While Ash remains healthy, redshirting Heard is a distinct possibility. Should Swoopes be thrust into service, how the coaches choose to provide Heard with meaningful experience will become a significant storyline.
Although there is no arguing the importance of Ash’s health, fans should think of progressing down the quarterback depth chart as an inversely proportional exercise to offensive line and running back play. In other words, if Swoopes sees the field, expect the line and backs to become even more central to the offense. That relationship multiplies exponentially when switching from Swoopes to Heard.
After years of quick strike offense and explosive plays, the 2014 offense is going to be less potent. However, less potent does not automatically equate to less effective.
Rather than needing to score 35 points to win a game, this offense is going to focus on possessing the football, keeping the defense off the field, limiting turnovers, and a power running game. Stylistically-speaking, it might not be fan friendly, but it complements the foundations of what the coaching staff is building.
From a positional standpoint, Texas is poised to execute the offense very well with it’s first string team. Depth, both at quarterback and on the offensive line would be significant hurdles to this team reaching goals on offense.
Just like every other team, the Longhorns will trot out eleven young men for their first offensive series of the season. Those players will be more than capable of executing the style of offense needed for this team’s success.
Regardless of that, fans throughout DKR will rehash concerns over David Ash’s health. After all, he’s the key to the season.
- Aug 29 2014 10:03 AM
- by Matt Cotcher
(streettopeschel) Any chance of an alternate uniform this year?
In a word, “No.” The farthest you might see the team deviate would be a hat tip to history (like the numbered helmets in 2013).
(echeese) So far in every practice clip I have seen, the DLs have been down in 3/4 point stances. I am curious if we are going to see the "amoeba" defense we saw CFS run vs Miami where none of the DL were down in stances but all rushed from a stand up position. . .
Charlie Strong puts more credence into the fundamentals of the game over schemes. With that in mind, and knowing that his team should beat UNT, Strong and Bedford have focused on teaching this squad how to play defense the way the coaches want it played.
We believe you’ll see some wrinkles, but not until the players have proven a mastery of fundamentals.
(UTPhil2006) Whats going on with Hartung's replacement?
As we told you before, it’s done – the hiring decision has been made. There are minor contractual issues that the parties are working through and that’s why it’s not public information yet.
(UTPhil2006) What seating capacity are we looking at when the SEZ is completed? Timeframe?
The project isn’t slated for completion until 2017. Since the timeframe is still so far into the future, officials aren’t talking specifics in terms of seating capacity yet.
(UTPhil2006) Super Bowl prediction?
McPhaul: Denver or Seattle
Cotcher: New England vs Green Bay
(Shevis Irons) After what has happened to tOSU and KU this week, what would be the plan if Texas lost "2" quarterbacks. Is there a player that could be moved to be a backup?
The important thing to understand when talking about moving down the quarterback depth chart is that the Texas offense would change (out of necessity). The offense would look different is Ash, Swoopes or Heard was forced to play an entire game. (Reads become simpler and designed quarterback runs increase as you move down the depth chart.)
If all three of those players were unable to play, the coaches would start Trey Holtz over Logan Vinklarek, today. They would not move a scholarship player to quarterback unless Holtz and Vinklarek were completely overwhelmed (and neither would be, so we’re told). Again, the offense would shift focus in this scenario with a ton of pressure placed on the OL and RB’s.
(drgilbert) Some members have posted videos of TOS at practice and interviewing the players. How close are we to getting to that level.
First, practice is closed to the media. If you’re seeing actual practice footage, it’s originally from texassports.com
Orangebloods.com has had a video camera at some of the player availabilities that all media attend. At this point, HornSports is reporting from those events instead of providing video. If video coverage is something that the membership emphasized a desire for, then that is something that the site would consider next season.
(MikeV73) Is wickline really calling the plays or is it mainly Watson ? Or am I asking the obvious? Party line is a "group effort" and all are involved. Still think this is all a ruse to avoid the Wickline buyout from ok state.
Watson will be the play caller. Wickline will be in constant communication with Watson via headset. The goal is to have Wickline help design the scheme (and plays) during the week and have Watson be attuned to that input before each game.
(MikeV73) Who will be the backup punter behind Russ? Do we have any true punters other than him or just our collection of unproven place kickers to shuttle in for punts as needed? Will Rose continue to handle knockoffs as well as place kicking? I hope, he seems to have a much stronger leg than our other options.
Redshirt freshman Mitchell Becker from League City (Clear Creek HS) is behind Will Russ. Nick Rose and Nick Jordan have focused on exclusively on kicking duties. Rose will be responsible for all kicking duties against North Texas.
(MikeV73) Tevin Jackson, what's his story?
Jackson has been plagued by health issues. If he stays healthy, look for Jackson to be a special teams standout. There at least a half dozen players ahead of Jackson on the overall LB depth chart, but that is more from a lack of practice time than a comment on Jackson ‘s talent.
(MikeV73) Heard Darius James mentioned in a thread for the first time all summer, is he poised for some playing time with or without the suspended guys in the fold?
Charlie Strong said Darius James or Marcus Hutchins will start in place of Desmond Harrison (suspension). We’re told it will be James.
Playing time in the opener is basically an audition for James. If he proves capable at OT, then Wickline has more flexibility on where he uses other reserves.
(CapnHook) Any update on Hammad's status?
Rami Hammad elected to transfer after meeting with coaches.
- Aug 23 2014 11:25 PM
- by Horn Sports
Now that we have looked at the different positions on the offensive line, it’s important to know how they work together. The most common type of run play in college football is a ‘Zone Run’ and one of the most advantageous aspects of this play is that it can be executed from any formation, versus any defense. The only time a team should audible out of a zone run is when the defense is overloaded, making them too vulnerable to the pass.
Before diving into Zone Combinations it’s important to understand the terminology that offenses use to identify defensive players. Defenders line up either on one of an offensive lineman’s shoulders or directly in front of him (also known as “Heads Up”) (fig 1).
These different defensive placements have corresponding numbers to help coaches and players recognize the defensive fronts. Each O-Line position is assigned an even number that correlates to the heads-up position of the defender. The other spaces on the offensive line follow a similar pattern on both sides (fig 2) (many teams like to use a tight end in their formations but for the purpose of this article we will only be discussing a five-man offensive line).
Most defenses align their ‘3 Technique’ on the same side as the running back to minimize the amount of ground linebackers have to cover (fig 3). In most instances, the linebackers will shift opposite of the defensive line to ‘balance’ the defense.
As you know from previous Chalk Talk articles, the first step of a successfully blocked play is identifying ‘Mike’ (the pivotal linebacker). Once done, the offensive line can then call the corresponding zone combinations; the first call will always be how or who should effectively block the Mike (fig 4).
Each team will have varying rules and will handle their calls slightly different, but all teams will first account for the Mike. The general rule that offensive linemen follow is that if you’re covered (in a zone run), that defender is yours and if you are uncovered, then you work with the lineman back-side of you (fig 5).
Zone combinations are broken into two different kinds, ‘front-side’ and ‘back-side’. The front-side refers to the side of the offensive formation to which the ball is intended to go. If the play is called to the left side of the offense the Left Tackle, Guard, and the Center would be considered ‘Front Side’.
The backside however, is the key to the success of the run. These combinations are most important because when running the zone, the backs are taught to “Read the Three” and react based upon how they play the block. In the ‘Gun’ formation the running back will almost always line up on the backside of the play in order to allow the QB to hand him the ball easily.
Generally front-side zone combinations are identified by three letter words and back-side combinations are identified by four letter words. For example, if the center and front-side guard are working together to block a ‘1 Technique’ [see fig 2] they would make a three letter call like “Cog” or “Cig” (Center and Guard). If the back-side tackle and guard are working together to block a ‘3 Technique’ [see fig 2] they would call a four letter word like “Grit” or “Goat” (Guard and Tackle).
For younger offensive lineman the concept of blocking just half of a defensive lineman seems foreign, but fortunately, there’s a ‘little’ tool that offensive line coaches use to teach a successful zone block called the Rae Crowther Sled.
--(yes… your High School Coach used this piece of equipment wrong)--
With extensive knowledge and a great Coach, an offensive-line can block a Zone Run against a three, four, or five man front. They can run the Zone with or without a tight end and they can run it with or without the read. The Zone is successfully executed with teamwork and great communication. An offensive line that has only one of these two skills will not be a successful blocking unit. Remember, there are no poor play calls… only poor blocking.
- Aug 22 2014 08:35 PM
- by Coleman Feeley
Head Coach Charlie Strong met with the media on Thursday afternoon. It was the final press conference during Fall camp. The only thing heard more often than a reference to the first game being only 9 days away was reporters that start every question with "Talk about..."
Compared to some of the more recent media events, Strong seemed relaxed and confident. There was a glimmer in his eye and he seemed genuinely eager when talking about the start of the season.
After weeks of endless questions about toughness and a lack of decals on helmets, Thursday's press conference was focused on football, the team, the upcoming practice schedule and depth chart/injury concerns. Strong seemed at ease talking about actual football topics compared to weeks of talking points about sleeping in a dorm room.
Opening with a few remarks about being pleased with the team's intensity during Thursday morning's practice, Strong quickly switched gears, referencing upcoming practices.
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
Strong spent a brief amount of time fielding questions about injuries and suspensions. Although the team will likely issue an official injury report next week prior to the North Texas game, Strong made it sound unlikely that Jaxon Shipley will play against UNT. Additionally, tight end Greg Daniels will not play after arthroscopic knee surgery.
Regarding the previously suspended players, Strong said he has not yet determined the length of their suspension. He also confirmed that offensive lineman Rami Hammad has elected to transfer.<br>
After declaring that the coaching staff had not made final decisions on starters at cornerback and safety, Strong rattled off who he plans to start at the other defensive positions:
DL - Shiro Davis, Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson, Cedric Reed
LB - Peter Jinkens, Steve Edmond, Jordan Hicks
DB - Quandre Diggs, Duke Thomas, Mykelle Thompson
Strong mentioned that both Jason Hall and Dylan Haines will see time at Safety. He did not mention the nickel back position even though it figures to be a defensive staple this season.
On offense, Strong was quick to praise both John Harris and Daje Johnson, While Johnson is one of the players suspended for the North Texas game, Strong commented that Johnson, "Has done everything we've asked him to do."
About Harris, Strong said, "[Harris] has had an unbelievable camp." Considering that quote came a day after the SID office selected Harris to be one of a handful of players made available to the media, the tea leaves are telling us that Harris could be a focal point of the offense. Toss in the fact that Harris is a Senior and all the ingredients are present for him to make a serious contribution this Fall.
Regarding the rest of the offense, Strong said that the coaches are still unsettled at wide receiver and have not decided who will start at tackle in place of Desmond Harrison (suspended). Strong mentioned that the coaches will start Darius James or Marcus Hutchins.
When projecting the starter at tackle for the game against North Texas, it's worth noting that Strong spent quite a few minutes talking about walk-ons and practice squad players. In addition to praising their hard work and dedication, the Texas Head Coach only mentioned three players that will participate - Dylan Haines (safey), Ty Templin (receiver) and Nate Boyer (deep snapper).
Other notable offensive positions mentioned include Tyrone Swoopes as 2nd string quarterback and Geoff Swaim as the starting tight end.
Both MJ McFarland and Andrew Beck were listed as backups at tight end. JUCO transfer Blake Whiteley was not discussed as an option.
- Aug 21 2014 03:48 PM
- by Matt Cotcher
When it comes time to project the 2014 season, Longhorn fans are quick to talk about David Ash’s health, offensive line play and a thin secondary. A closer examination reveals that there is a different area that has more questions than any other – special teams.
After more than a decade of dominance from the Texas special teams unit, fans probably take them for granted. Regardless, the truth is that the importance of special teams is vastly underrated.
The most memorable name in special teams from last season was Anthony Fera. The kicker and punter was praised and awarded (rightfully so) more than any other player on the team. Though Fera deserved recognition, little to nothing was said about the rest of the special teams (kickoff return, punt return, etc).
Absent Fera’s contributions in 2013, the special teams units have been a bleak area for the Longhorns in recent years. In 2013, Mack Brown stuck with his 2012 kick coverage coaches in Manny Diaz and Duane Akina even though that season was a sub-par year for the coverage units compared to those Texas had in prior years.
In addition to working with the defensive backs, Charlie Strong tabbed Chris Vaughn to take the lead on special teams. Vaughn has the daunting task to make Texas’ special teams a force to be reckoned with by starting from scratch when searching for returners.
With recent suspensions and dismissals forcing changes in the lineup for punt and kick returners this season, Coach Vaughn will rely on veterans to carry the torch and lead the team. Texas only averaged 20.1 yards per kick return last season, so Vaughn has challenged the team’s veterans to improve that number. Vaughn has Jaxon Shipley and Quadre Diggs as his punt returners, but has been quoted as saying he will make room for players who prove that they have the power to be a reliable returner.
Preseason projections have the Longhorns picked to battle through several close games, so special teams figures to play a very significant role throughout the Fall. Without breakout star Fera, punters and kickers have huge shoes to fill before the season begins.
Fans expect an extra point after a touchdown, and booming punts and kicks that pin opposing teams deep in their own territory. Coach Vaughn is having players fight for positions, and by doing so, he is finding out which players want to live up to fan expectations.
First Unit: Will Russ
Top Reserves: Senior Michael Davidson and redshirt freshman Mitchell Becker
Given that Anthony Fera’s performance on the field was both dependable and impressive, he is arguably the biggest loss from last year’s team. Will Russ, who was hindered by a back injury last spring, is tasked with replacing Fera at punter. Russ hasn’t seen much playing time, but unlike his two predecessors, Justin Tucker and Fera, Russ will not be used as a kicker. The separation of the positions puts less pressure on Russ and should allow him to focus on the task at hand.
The key purpose of a punter is to limit the opposing team’s field position. “Hidden yards” are a key metric for punters and punt coverage teams. One of Russ’ strengths is his consistency. During the spring game, Russ’ three punts averaged 43.3 yards with two inside the 20-yard line. Expectations for Russ aren’t extremely high, so he should have the opportunity to prove himself valuable without the pressure that comes with being a Texas punter.
First Unit: Nick Rose/Nick Jordan plus Will Russ as holder
Top Reserves: Junior Ben Pruitt and senior Michael Davidson
Coach Vaughn has Nick Rose and Nick Jordan competing for place kicker this season, and different publications have different answers on who’s winning the battle. Though Jordan didn’t have a chance to kick at all during the 2013 season, he was the backup for Fera in 2012. As a freshman, Jordan played in several games, but he only went 9 for 15 in field goal attempts. When Fera returned for the 2013 season, Jordan watched Fera from the sideline and hopefully took good notes. Rose, on the other hand, kicked the only live field goal during open practice last weekend.
Vaughn has praised both players, but Strong indicated to the media that Nick Rose is serving as kicker on the first team.
As we’ve seen multiple times in previous games, Texas relies heavily on the kicker to perform in all types of scenarios – from conference championship field goals to severe Midwestern weather. Even moreso than with punting, consistency is absolutely critical in the kicking game.
Both Tucker and Fera were models of dependability during their respective times on the team. As stated previously, separating the kicker’s position from the punting duties should provide for more focus for all involved.
The former walk-on (Rose) and the high school All American (Jordan) have both waited patiently for their opportunity to shine as the next heralded kicker for the Horns. Fans are hoping that both young men soaked up some of the moxie that Fera, Tucker and Lawrence left in the locker room.
Punt & Kick Returners
Punt Returners- Jaxon Shipley, Quandre Diggs
Kick Returners- Marcus Johnson, Duke Thomas
Punt Returners- Armanti Foreman
Kick Returners- Armanti Foreman, Jacorey Warrick
As stated above, Texas ranked as one of the worst kick return teams in the country last year (21.02 yard average – 72nd nationally). Junior Kendall Sanders’ dismissal directly impacted the depth at kick returner.
Marcus Johnson, who served as a kick returner last year, is slotted for one of the spots on returns this Fall. While Johnson isn’t an electric open field runner, his straight line speed is a plus (and on kick returns, the latter is more important than elusiveness).
With Johnson’s experience, Vaughn may be willing to gamble in the opener and pair him with a younger player like Jacorey Warrick or Armanti Foreman. The safer bet is that Duke Thomas will provide a steadier pairing to Johnson.
At punt returner, Vaughn will rely on Quandre Diggs against UNT. After the opener, the position is surrounded by question marks such as Jaxon Shipley’s health and Daje Johnson’s eligibility.
Johnson’s suspension (at least one game) will affect the Longhorns, but maybe not to the extent that it’s projected. Although Johnson is vividly remembered for his 85-yard punt return during the Oklahoma game last year, most fans have forgotten his lack of reliability on returns after the OU game. Johnson definitely presents a high risk/high reward choice for Vaughn (assuming his return to the team).
Whether it’s providing the offense with a short field, pinning an opponent deep for the defense, or converting on every opportunity to score points, special teams is poised to have a huge impact this year. If the special teams units perform to their greatest potential, it literally could mean getting a win in what would otherwise have been a loss. Between consistency and accuracy of the place kicker and punter, to the speed of a return, Texas has a lot to prove in its special teams. For this team, especially for this year, special teams must be special.
- Aug 19 2014 04:20 PM
- by Kylie Hopkins
The Oklahoma State Cowboys finished last season with a 10-3 record, ending an otherwise solid season with a close (and a bit controversial) 31-41 Cotton Bowl loss to former Big 12 foe, the Missouri Tigers.
Though the Cowboys are one of the league’s most consistent teams, finishing with at least nine wins in five of the last six seasons, this year could prove to be one of Mike Gundy’s most difficult in Stillwater, considering the team only returns nine starters. While most football fans don’t know what to expect from the Cowboys this season, they are a team that traditionally seems to do best when flying under the radar.
It won’t be easy, however, as the Cowboys open up the season in Arlington against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and the reigning National Champion FSU Seminoles. They end the season by traveling to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears, who are no doubt seeking revenge against OSU for ruining their National Title chances last year, as well as Norman, where they will face their in-state rival Oklahoma Sooners for the Bedlam Series.
Here’s a look at the 2014 Oklahoma State Cowboys...
A major concern on offense is that the Cowboys have to replace three of their top wide receivers, but, fortunately for them, they have an embarrassment of young talent at the position. They return three 200+yard receivers in sophomores Jhajuan Seales (who is expected to have a breakout season), Marcell Ateman, and junior Brandon Sheperd. Austin Hays, Blake Webb, Ra’Shaad Samples, C.J.Curry, and David Glidden, all of whom have some experience, return as well. Yet despite a logjam at the position, no one has made more noise this preseason than incoming freshman receiver, James Washington. He’s definitely one to keep an eye on.
Oklahoma State returns their leading rusher from last season, senior Desmond Roland (811 yards). Rennie Childs showed some promise last season as a true freshman, so he and Roland should provide a solid run game. Additionally, QB Walsh is a threat to use his legs, adding a dimension to the OSU rushing attack.
Incoming JUCO transfer, Tyreek Hill (whom many think could be the fastest player in college football this season and was named the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year) will be the player to watch this season for the Cowboys. If he lives up to expectations, he could become a huge part of the offense, both in the running as well as passing game.
The biggest question mark on offense, however, is the offensive line. While they return six offensive linemen, the Cowboys will have to replace 1st Team All-Big 12 guard, Parker Graham as well as position coach, Joe Wickline, widely regarded as the best OL coach in the country. It will be interesting to see how new OL coach Bob Connelly fares with Wickline’s talent.
Again, while the offense must replace multiple starters, there is no doubt they are incredibly talented on that side of the ball.
Key losses: Clint Chelf (QB), Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart (WRs)
Newcomers: Tyreek Hill (WR/RB), James Washington (WR)
While the Cowboys have never been known as a strong defensive team, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer had them playing solid defense against both the pass and the rush in his first season at OSU. However, the defense was even more gutted than the offense, and Spencer is dealing with the loss of many key players. The top two linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, as well as lead tackler Daytawion Lowe and last year’s top ten draft pick Justin Gilbert, are all gone this season.
Regardless, the team’s success in stopping the run should continue with six experienced players returning along the defensive line, including James Castleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Jimmy Bean. Additionally, Ogbah and Bean led the Cowboys in sacks last season.
Junior Ryan Simmons, who had 58 tackles last season, will be the leader of the linebacker corps. Junior Kris Catlin and sophomore Seth Jacobs, both of whom are expected to have big years, also return to the fold.
The secondary is the defense’s biggest question mark heading into the year – the Cowboys have to replace every starter from last year’s secondary. Fans are hoping that Josh Furman, a safety transfer from the University of Michigan, will provide the group with some experience that it is lacking. While he only started three games last year for the Wolverines, he is expected to immediately compete for a starting job.
Despite their youth, sophomores Miketavius Jones, Ahston Lampkin, Keven Peterson, Jordan Sterns, and Deric Robinson all saw some action on the field last season. Senior Larry Stephens, who suffered a game-ending injury in the first game of the season last year, is also expected back. So while there will likely be a bit of a drop-off due to a lack of experience, the Cowboys do have some young talent waiting to step up.
Key losses: Justin Gilbert (CB), Caleb Lavey, Shaun Lewis (LBs)
Newcomers: Josh Mabin (LB), Josh Furman (S)
Team will have a successful season if…
It doesn’t really matter who starts at quarterback, but for the team to have success, either Walsh or Garman will need to have a solid season for the Cowboys to continue to rack up points. If that happens and if the young group of wide receivers performs as expected, the Cowboys should continue to have one of the top offenses in the conference.
On the other side of the ball, the young secondary needs to step up and perform. Though some drop off is to be expected from such a young group, if the Cowboys’ defense is going to continue to grow under DC Glenn Spencer, they will need to consistently make plays to keep opposing offenses honest. Concerns in the defensive backfield, particularly in a pass-happy Big 12 (and undoubtedly against FSU) must be resolved early. If OSU can somehow pull off what would be an incredibly surprising upset in Arlington (the FSU game is at AT&T Stadium), that could set the Cowboys up for another nine-win season.
The key to the Texas game will be…
With the uncertainly revolving around a Texas program under a completely new regime, it’s hard to say how the Longhorns will fare against anyone this year. David Ash will need to take advantage of a young and somewhat inexperienced Cowboy secondary and Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray will need to run well enough to rack up enough yards to keep the OSU defense honest. Needless to say, this truly hinges on the Longhorn offense line and whether or not they are able to protect Ash and open up some holes for Brown and Gray. If the Texas offense can remain two-dimensional, Texas could have a big day against a young defense.
Defensively, the Longhorns will have to put some pressure on J.W. Walsh (or Garman) while keeping him contained. If they can shut down the running game and force Walsh to pass, they will stand a better chance of slowing down the high-powered Cowboy offense. If Garman lines up under center, Texas’ thin secondary could have some trouble with the Cowboy receivers, so fans need to hope that they remain healthy.
Winning in Stillwater is never easy, and with the game falling late in the season, both teams will have had time gel. It will definitely be an interesting match-up, particularly with the Longhorns bringing a brand new style of offense with them. Will this new Texas offense be able to put enough points up on the board? Will the defense be able to keep one of the highest-scoring teams in the last decade off the field? We will have to wait until mid-November to find out.
- Aug 22 2014 06:39 PM
- by Marian Hinton
Contributors: Matt Cotcher; Darrell McPhaul
Lukus Alderman - What is it that is setting guys like Taylor Doyle and Dylan Haines apart to the point that they are moving up from the scout team to finding a way into either the starting lineup or at least finding meaningful snaps?
There are multiple factors contributing to Doyle & Haines moving up the depth chart:
1) The previous staff (and scouts) misevaluated some guys.
2) Coach Strong is going to play the best players regardless of recruiting rankings or age.
3) Haines and Doyle are 3rd and 4th year players (respectively). With focus and dedication, players can make huge strides as they’re maturing physically.
4) They both play at a position of need. Coaches are giving everyone on the OL and at S a serious look. Credit Doyle and Haines for being ready to take advantage.
5) For Doyle, being 100% healthy is a big boost. It’s never been headline news, but he’s battled nagging injuries.
MikeV73 - Antwan Davis, is he looking like a player who can play significant time this year? Been following him since high school recruitment. Has speed, does he have coverage skills as well?
Davis is running second team and making plays. He’s been good enough that the coaches have given him a few looks with the 1st team grouping. At this point, there is little doubt that Davis will play – the question is how much?
He played both ways in high school and ran track – great athleticism. Expect him to be a standout on special teams (multiple units) while the rotation in the defensive backfield sorts itself out.
MikeV73 - Is the walk on JC transfer QB doing anything meaningful at practice? Seems that Heard has the skills to avoid a RS year (hate to say it, and hoping to RS him) and will play above this guy as needed. Fingers crossed for Ash to stay healthy and have a great season (or two counting next year with his medical RS). I think he can be a quality QB if healthy, has experience and a good arm.
Our reports have Trey Holtz taking the most snaps after the three scholarship quarterbacks. To your point, Heard has his moments but is understandably struggling with the speed of the game. Swoopes has been described to us as “James Brown-like in that he plays better in live game situations than a practice drill”. That makes it difficult for coaches to evaluate him.
MikeV73 - John Harris: does he still have stone hands or is he catching the ball in practice? Good size, upperclassman, hoping he brings it this season. Foreman looked sharp, quick, and polished in the few clips I saw on the news. Is he a slot guy, possession type guy, or deep route guy? All of the above?!
When Harris is fully concentrating, he catches everything in sight. How to make sure he is 100% engaged at all times is the battle. Especially with the dwindling depth at wideout, Harris is a player that the coaches are giving every opportunity to be a contributor.
As we’ve commented in other reports, Foreman looked good early. Like many true freshmen, he’s had a more difficult time as the intensity went up. When Strong talked about hitting the wall earlier this week, we’re told the freshmen were a focus of that message. This team needs contributions from the incoming class.
MikeV73 - JC TE Whiteley: any news on his abilities in practice this far? I remember his game clips as a tall high schooler destroying short Canadian football players. Seems to have good potential?
His high school stats and mix of blocking and receiving skills make Whitely an intriguing guy to keep as eye on. When he adjusts to DI competition, he will contribute. Until that happens, he’ll stay behind MJ McFarland and Geoff Swaim on the depth chart.
doc longhorn - Does Hornsports have a body at the practices and pressers - now that they are credentialed? If so, who is it?
Practices are closed to the media. To get reports, we’re talking to team and staff members.
At the press conferences and media events, Matt Cotcher is there as our representative. He’ll be in the press box during games and at post-game pressers as well.
doc longhorn - Any inside info on the suspensions - like how many games?
Some issues still need to be resolved. Until that happens, Coach Strong has not decided how many games suspended players will miss.
doc longhorn - Where do the Strong’s live - what part of town?
West of town.
doc longhorn - Is Strong’s wife active in community affairs?
The Strong’s chose a church and have been attending for several weeks. Notably, Pat Moorer is also attending the same church - no confirmation on if he smiles in church.
You can expect Vicki, Coach Strong’s wife, to get increasingly active around Austin as they continue to get settled and the kids are in school.
doc longhorn - Any prediction about which runner-up teams from the Big 12 and the SEC will play in their interconference bowl game?
Bob Bowlsby has done an excellent job of improving the Big 12’s bowl lineup. Top billing is the Sugar Bowl deal which features the Big 12 Champion vs the SEC Champion, unless either is in the 4-team playoff. The two conferences will also face each other in the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Liberty Bowl. As for predictions…
McPhaul: I predict Alabama & Baylor.
Cotcher: I picked ‘Bama & OU to go to the playoff, so I’ll take Baylor vs UGA in the Sugar Bowl.
doc longhorn - How many players live outside of the athletic dorm and who are they?
Per Coach Strong there are only a few upper classmen that are still living off campus.
KatyHorn - With Directtv's standalone agreement to carry the SEC network, is the chances that Direct picks up the LHN becoming slimmer?
Yes. The fact that SECN was negotiated as a standalone offering certainly weakened LHN’s leverage with DirectTV.
Echeese - Speaking of the next recruiting class. . .can you break it down by position (QB, RB, OL, DL etc). . .what have we filled so far, what do we need to fill, how many do we likely take and rank our key targets . ..Aslo, keep in mind the OLB v MLB are actually 2 different positions, CB v S, Slot vs WR. . .looking for some specifics. . .a DE may or may not be a DT so DL .. . not the depth I'm looking for. .
We like this idea so much, we’re gonna get multiple folks together to collaborate and make it a full article! Thanks for the input.
- Aug 15 2014 02:52 PM
- by Horn Sports
It’s Year 2 for the Frat Pack – at least that’s what the media nicknamed Texas Tech. Kliff Kingsbury, the face of the Frat Pack and Head Coach of the Red Raiders, is entering his second season at the helm of the program.
Kingsbury’s tenure leaped off to a hot start in 2013 with Tech winning seven consecutive games to start the season. Then reality hit and the Red Raiders lost their final five conference games, notably playing the top four teams in the league. Tech finished the year by solidly beating the ASU Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl and Kingsbury became only the second coach in school history to win a bowl game in their first year as coach.
What is in store for Kingsbury and the Raiders in 2014? It depends on who you ask. Tech was picked 6th in the Big 12’s preseason poll. That equates to the best of the bottom half of the league, or the worst in the top half of the conference.
In 2013, Tech assumed what now seems like their rightful spot at the top of the Big 12’s passing attacks by averaging 373.7 yards/game. A porous defense was not the only culprit in their second half struggles – Texas Tech only finished with 116.9 yards/game rushing.
In years past, when the Red Raiders have seemed unstoppable, it is because their offense relies on an efficient ground game to keep defenses honest. Last year Tech finished next to last in the Big 12 in rushing.
With plenty of experience returning on both sides of the ball, Kingsbury is expected to show improvement in his second year. With those expectations mounting, the Frat Pack’s leader sat down to address reporters at Big 12 media days and his opening remarks were, “Let’s just get to questions.”
While Webb should be at or near the top of the league in passing statistics, the void behind him on the depth chart is alarming. Texas Tech has no experience behind Webb….as in no one. True freshman Patrick Mahomes was penciled as the No. 2 quarterback the day he arrived in Lubbock.
Last year Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington split carries at running back. In 2014, Williams is transitioning to linebacker and Washington is the clear cut starter. The depth behind Washington looks solid on paper, but is unproven.
As usual, the Red Raiders have explosive athleticism at wideout. Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez, and Reginald Davis all return to serve as Webb’s primary targets. The trio dominated ASU in the Holiday Bowl, combining for four touchdowns. D.J. Polite-Bray looks like the No. 4 receiver after torching Tech’s secondary throughout Spring practice. With speed to burn among all four players, it should be noted that Kingsbury has eagerly talked about how much more vertical the passing game will be this Fall.
Along the offensive line, things are considered a work in progress. All American La’Raven Clark is sliding back inside and will play left guard. Massive JUCO offensive tackle Dominique Robertson, who arrived in August, is the key player allowing Tech to shift Raven to the line’s interior.
On the right side, tackle Rashad Fortenberry was awarded another year of eligibility and provides solid experience. Clark’s move to the left guard spot, gives the Red Raiders the ability to move Andrew Morales to the right side of the line.
Key losses: Jace Amaro (TE); Eric Ward (WR); Baker Mayfield (QB)
Newcomers: Justin Stockton (RB); Patrick Mahomes (QB); Dominique Robertson (OT)
While end Branden Jackson returns and was Tech’s best player on the d-line last year, he needs quality help. The mass of humanity that is JUCO transfers Rika Levi, Brandon Thorpe, Marcus Smith, and Keland McElrath need to be that help for Jackson. How many of the four pan out will go a long way towards determining the success of Tech’s season.
As mentioned, “football player” (his preferred term for the position he plays), Kenny Williams has moved to defense and looked like a star-in-the-making this Spring at the “Raider” linebacking spot. Joining Williams is a solid group of returning upperclassmen: Pete Robertson; VJ Fehoko, and Sam Eguavoen.
The Red Raiders are young, but experienced in the defensive secondary. At safety, Tech returns JJ Gaines from injury and has hard hitting Keenon Ward. Justis Nelson, who started as a true freshman, is back to man the boundary corner spot.
At field corner, Tech has questions that lack answers. Nigel Bethel was reinstated after a jury did not indict him. How will his suspension affect the position? Who will step up early in the season while Bethel is suspended? After Bethel’s three game suspension will he be in football shape, or will the current starter have locked down the position?
Key losses: Terrance Bullitt (LB); Kerry Hyder (DT)
Newcomers: Rika Levi (NT); Brandon Thorpe (DE); Marcus Smith (DT); Keland McElrath (DT)
Team will have a successful season if…
Texas fans have heard these phrases too many times over the last two weeks – “If we can keep the starting quarterback healthy..." and “If our starters avoid injury…”
Interestingly enough, it’s the same things that fans in Lubbock are saying.
Texas Tech has solid starting talent. If the Red Raiders can avoid injury, particularly to Davis Webb, and if at least two of the JUCO d-lineman are consistent producers, then Tech is a sleeper team to watch in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders must do a better job of stopping the run. Tech’s offense should rival Baylor as the top scoring team in the league, but if the defense cannot stop the run and get off the field, then the offensive fireworks will be for naught.
The key to the Texas game will be…
November 1st is an eternity away in football. That’s when the Longhorns will travel up to Lubbock to play the Red Raiders, but so much will happen before then.
The first, and most important, question is whether David Ash and Davis Webb are still healthy. Clearly an injury to either player is enough to solidly tip the scales in the other team’s favor.
The second key is also surrounded by question marks on both sides. How the Texas O-Line matches up with Tech’s revamped D-Line will dictate the pace of the game, and possibly the outcome. Churning out rushing yards, and chewing up the clock will be keys for Texas playing on the road.
- Aug 14 2014 09:43 PM
- by Matt Cotcher
Head Coach Charlie Strong met with the media on Tuesday after his Longhorns practiced. This is the third time in a week that Strong has made time for the media and his scowl signaled that today’s news conference would be different.
Strong’s opening statement told us why he wore such a dissatisfied look, “During preseason camp there's going to be days where you hit a wall. You're just going to have to be able to just push through it. Mentally, you're going to have to have some toughness to you. Today we hit that wall and we were unable to push through it. We just weren't very pleased with today's practice. “
Strong continued, “We're not a good enough football team to just waste days. We only have so many opportunities and we've got to take full advantage of the opportunities.”
Yep, it was puppies and rainbows at Moncrief-Neuhaus tonight.
After launching into a litany of why it was readily apparent that today was a subpar day, Strong recognized that today marked the beginning of the second week of practices, “It's going to be a grind. This week is a grind.” Continuing with, “You look at it and the first week went good because everybody's fresh and new, and here comes the second week and the battles begin. It's just a mental battle and physical battle and you're just trying to finish up school. This is the last week, they're dealing with final exams.”
Strong also noted injuries to Miles Onyegbule, Duke Catalon, and Greg Daniels, although the latter two are not considered serious at this point.
After detailing his displeasure with the team’s practice effort, Strong noted a few positives about the team’s senior leadership and talked about how he expects the seniors to propel the team through the tough days ahead. One senior in particular, linebacker Jordan Hicks, drew praise, “The thing about him is he works so hard and you want him to do so well just because of how much he's put in to it and just tried to overcome.”
Also discussed was the importance of the offensive line, “You look at your offensive line -- you like to have at least seven or eight guys ready to go play and then you just continue to roll those guys during the game.” As expected Strong confirmed only Dominic Espinosa’s position, saying that the rest of the line is still a work in progress and noting that Coach Wickline does a great job because, “he's getting guys prepared and he's placing them in those situations where we're going to need them.”
Texas’ Head Coach concluded by talking about how difficult it is for a lineman to come in and compete in their first year. 4th year lineman have obvious weight and strength advantages over an 18-year old freshman.
However, Strong provided a clue about which freshmen might contribute when he added, “You look at the skill position, it's totally different than when you're looking at linemen. With the skill guys, it's all about athletic ability, just skill where you can make a guy miss. They're going to get bigger and stronger but if you can outrun people and just put them in the right position, the skill guys it's not hard for them to go play.”
Although Coach Strong’s demeanor and updates told the media it was a tough practice day, Texas fans should be encouraged by what I saw after the press conference:
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
And remember, that’s after a bad day.
- Aug 12 2014 09:42 PM
- by Matt Cotcher
In the last decade, the Texas Longhorns have found their greatest success on the field when the defense was playing at an elite level. While the 2005 and 2009 teams were headlined by offensive stars like Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, Colt McCoy, and Jordan Shipley, those teams reached the BCS title game on the effort of stingy defenses.
Following the 2009 season, the Longhorn defense started to wobble. In 2012, under new coordinator Manny Diaz, the wheels came completely off as the Horns reached new lows on the defensive side of the ball. The midseason takeover by Greg Robinson proved that the talent is there, as the unit saw drastic improvement.
However, a defensive mind, like Charlie Strong, will demand the very best out of his defense. The cliché is that “defense wins championships”, and while a national championship might be out of reach for this Texas team, the defense will still be vital to the success or failure of Coach Strong in year one.
The 2013 defense started off as poorly as one could imagine with a horrifying night in Provo, UT. BYU’s running attack, led by Taysom Hill, racked up over 400 yards rushing on the Texas defense. That performance brought an end to the short lived Manny Diaz era and ushered in former Texas Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson in the interim. Robinson’s guidance quickly improved the defense and turned them into a respectable unit by the end of the season, but he was not retained when the new coaching staff took over.
Fortunately for Texas, Charlie Strong and defense are synonymous with one another. It’s where he has coached his entire career, and he made a name for himself as the head of some of the most elite defenses in recent college football history. Strong knows that his defenses were the backbone of Florida’s two National Championship runs.
The current Longhorn team is lacking firepower on offense and is still looking for a proven quarterback. In order for Texas to succeed this year, they will need to field a defense that can slow down the high octane Big XII offenses, and provide field position and game changing plays. It may be a tall order from the looks of things, but Greg Robinson proved the talent is still there to make something happen. Strong’s task will be to continue that improvement and build on Robinson’s foundation.
The Texas defensive line is the surest bet for success on the entire 11-man unit. Led by Senior Cedric Reed, this group has the ability to set the tone where it matters most in football. Reed proved to be a destructive force last season in all phases of the game, and turned down a chance at the NFL to return for his final season.
The biggest question on the defensive line will be at the defensive end spot opposite Reed. Defensive line coach Chris Rumph calls this position the “Fox” role, and Shiro Davis appears to have the inside track on the position. His main competition will come in the form of Caleb Bluiett who ran with the first team during spring practices and was a standout in the Orange and White game. Davis has the edge in the competition due to the fact that he plays the run a little better, but Bluiett will see considerable playing time as well and should be considered the top reserve at defensive end.
Hassan Ridgeway is the name to watch as a reserve at Defensive Tackle. Though he is a massive human being, Ridgeway has experience as a former defensive end and has the talent to be a true breakthrough player this season. Texas will also need contributions from the younger players on the line including true freshmen Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. On his high school film, Ford looked like a player that could contribute in his freshman season, while Nelson is a bit more raw and could take some refining in a redshirt year. Ultimately the depth throughout the season will dictate the need for Nelson to play or redshirt.
The talent on the Longhorn’s defensive line is more than enough to cause a lot of havoc in opposing backfields. If the starters stay healthy and play to their potential, the line will be the key ingredient of success for the 2014 defense.
While the Linebacker corps is less heralded than the front four, this unit actually has the potential to be a big time group this season. The likely starters are composed of a group of players that haven’t yet reached that tremendous potential. Jordan Hicks returns on a medical redshirt, and the former five star recruit has never put together a consistent season. Injuries and off the field troubles have plagued this talented player throughout his career. There are times when Hicks looks like a bona fide NFL player, and the biggest hurdle he will face is his health.
Peter Jinkens figures to be the third starter, and in his freshman season he played well enough in a few games to show fans a glimpse of what he might have in him. Unfortunately, Jinkens had a major sophomore slump and was a non-factor when on the field for the most part. Jinkens can be a key contributor for this group because he has a defensive back’s athleticism in a linebacker’s body and is a good matchup in a pass happy league.
Dalton Santos, Tevin Jackson, and Tim Cole all figure to be key reserves and could log significant time in a league that demands depth and substitution. Also keep an eye out for DeMarco Cobbs. The long forgotten linebacker who suffered numerous injuries and inconsistency in his early career is still around and could make an impact under a new staff. True Freshmen Andrew Beck and Edwin Freeman could see early playing time if the depth demands it, but will have a tough time beating out the experienced upper classmen ahead of them.
While the talent is there for this group to be successful, there are far more hurdles in their way than there are for the defensive line. This group will need to stay healthy and consistently execute their assignments to find any success. They are pivotal because of their role against both the pass and run, and will need to support the defensive line. Most big plays are broken because of a mistake on the part of a linebacker, and for this defense to succeed it will need strong play from this unit.
For the last decade The University of Texas has been known as “DBU”. In recent years the secondary suffered a bit, but this season is the most uncertain this unit has looked in recent memory.
Senior corner and team leader Quandre Diggs is one of the better defensive backs in the conference and provides steady play on the boundary or in the slot. While Diggs has been prone to some mistakes in coverage, his good plays have outnumbered the bad. Outside of Diggs there are a lot of questions with few answers. Duke Thomas will factor in at corner where he played in rotation last season. Thomas has been a low impact player thus far, but could turn the corner this season. Safety Mykkele Thompson is cross training at corner and everyone is awaiting the switch to turn on for him. Thompson’s speed and fluid athletic ability is there for everyone to see, but he’s best known for shying away from contact and making poor reads that have gotten him beat in coverage. It could be said that, like Edmond, Thompson suffered from some poor schemes during Diaz’s tenure and looked improved and more certain under Greg Robinson.
The recent suspension of Josh Turner might hurt the Longhorn’s depth early in the season. Turner was an experienced player who showed some upside and was probably in line for a starting spot at safety. Once Turner is reinstated, he will have a legitimate chance to play his way back to a starting role, but it might be too late at that point. It remains to be seen if Mykkele Thompson will stay at safety or as previously mentioned make the switch permanently to corner; but, the suspension of Turner and dismissal of Chevoski Collins really thinned out the free safety position. The safe bet is that Thompson will stay at safety.
The most fascinating story in the secondary has to be that of walk on Dylan Haines. Haines emerged during the spring and recorded an interception in the Orange and White game. Thus far Haines has seen a lot of practice repetitions with the first team unit and is pushing Adrian Colbert every inch for his starting position. While Haines doesn’t have the athletic ability of Colbert, he’s shown a good understanding of the game and an ability to limit mistakes.
The depth in the secondary, especially at safety is paper thin, so reserves should play a big role this season. Redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis could see time at corner along with Sheroid Evans if he returns healthy from a season ending knee injury suffered last Fall. Bryson Echols has impressed the coaches early on and could figure in the nickel package and work in rotation. This will be an all hands on deck situation, so expect true freshmen John Bonney and Jason Hall to work in as depth at safety and Jermaine Roberts to backup at corner.
This unit is a mixed bag full of inexperience and is perilously thin in depth. The most important thing the secondary can do is stay healthy. They simply do not have the depth to sustain injuries to starters in that unit. The second thing to do is hope that everything clicks for the more inexperienced players. The bright side is that a good pass rush can make a struggling secondary look good, and the Longhorns have the makings of a stellar pass rush. The secondary will need big time play from the front seven to slow down offenses like Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma. There is a lot being asked of this group to perform up to standard, and they could prove to be the Achilles heel for the Longhorns.
I think we can see that, currently at least, the theme of the day is “It remains to be seen” for the Texas defense. Texas looks ready to roll on the front four, and optimistic at linebacker, but a lot will depend on the play of the secondary. As mentioned, a great pass rush can cover up deficiencies in the secondary, but there will be times during this season that the Longhorns will need all eleven on defense playing well to win.<br>
The concerning point is the depth and inexperience at safety. This could be a position that burnt orange faithful look back on at the end of the season and wonder “what if”. It will be up to Vance Bedford to have that group of players prepared for the frying pan they are about to be thrown into…the question is, will it be enough?
- Aug 12 2014 11:38 AM
- by Mike Roach
"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
- John F. Kennedy
Humans seek stability. Stability is predictable and it keeps us safe. I believe most creatures on planet Earth seek stability in one form or another. So when a person or entity comes into the picture and wants to change things, people are always resistant to the change.
Such is the case with the NCAA and the student-athlete. For generations, the NCAA model has rarely been challenged. People love the idea of a young adult not playing for money but for the love of the university and the game. It's a romantic notion.
Most who watch sports played organized sports at some point in their childhood. When we watch sports, we remember the "good ole days" of playing as kids. As I am writing this, I remember my days on the baseball field, playing in the twilight with the smell of dirt and Big League chewing gum filling the air. It fills me with joy knowing that I had a fulfilling childhood.
Unfortunately, we all grow up. We begin to take care of ourselves and in some cases, our families. The fortunate ones have their families help them through the transition from childhood to adulthood by taking care of certain aspects of adulthood while the young adult tries to establish their place in the world. Some don't have that luxury.
Part of the perception issue with the current collegiate model is that the public identifies with kids from the "well-off" families. Many recruits come from very poor backgrounds, where to get to a football game their family has to take the public bus system. Where families give up groceries so they have enough money to participate in a camp so maybe they get noticed by a college scout...all in hope of getting a scholarship.
If they get that scholarship, players must stay at least 3 years at that school before they can go to the NFL. During that time in school, that players' likeness might show up on posters, tickets, jerseys and t-shirts without them receiving a dime. Up until this coming school year, student athletes couldn't even get money for something to eat when the dining halls were closed because that would be an NCAA violation.
Now to be fair, I was on the record last year against this issue. I even wrote an article on another website spelling out the issues with giving players even a small stiped.
After writing that article, I did some soul searching. I found some glaring hypocrisies in the amateurism stance that the NCAA and it's member institutions enforce. I remembered being a student at University of Missouri and being in the official team store when I saw a Kellen Winslow jersey from the 1983 Liberty Bowl. It was a replica jersey but it had his name and number on it. After that recollection, I thought to myself "Is he getting any money from those jersey sales?" The answer was no. Then, I also recalled that universities auction off game worn jerseys and helmets. Who's jerseys go for the most money? I will give you a hint, it's not the walk-on's jersey.
I don't believe universities are horrible. I want to believe in the notion that the universities are trying to give opportunities to students who wouldn't have one without these scholarships. Unfortunately, when I read the NLRB's ruling on Northwestern players spending 50-60 hours a week all year doing football related activities and see the North Carolina academic scandal, I lose faith in that notion.
These universities aren't putting these student-athletes in the best position possible to achieve academically. Some just want to keep them eligible so they can win football and basketball games. That's not right.
Judge Wilkens put amateurism in the NCAA another way:
There is no evidence to suggest that any schools joined Division I originally because of its amateurism rules. While there may be tangible differences between Division I schools and other schools that participate in intercollegiate sports, these differences are financial, not philosophical. For this reason, the NCAA's assertion that schools would leave FBS and Division I for financial reasons if the challenged restraints were removed is not credible.
So what did the O'Bannon case ruling tell us? The NCAA operating under the guise of amateurism is dead. Certain players will be compensated for their likeness.
But other issues still remain. Should players receive a wage? Do all student athletes get a wage even if their sport doesn't produce a profit? What are the Title IX implications? How much is it going to cost the fans when average income in the USA has been stagnant since the 1980s? Those questions have yet to be answered but they will be in time.
It's the dawn of a new era in college athletics and we must listen to the words of JFK and embrace change because it is the future.
- Aug 11 2014 09:51 AM
- by Chris Flanagan
On Friday, the Texas Longhorns held a media day. It was the last opportunity for media to interact with the coaching staff and team before the week of the North Texas game. Even though the season opener is only three weeks away, Charlie Strong, the entire coaching staff and several players talked to reporters over the course of 2.5 hours.
Since his hire, much has been made about Strong's focus on toughness. Strong's belief in toughness extends well beyond the football field.
Practicing in the Austin heat, waking up at 5AM to play football and playing through sore muscles, scrapes and bruises are only a small part of the toughness that Strong is preaching to his team. Going to class every day and always making smart choices, that is Charlie Strong's toughness. Having the self-motivation to make yourself a better person and player every single day - that is toughness in Strong's world.
But make no mistake, toughness does find it's way out to the practice fields too. At today's media event Strong dropped a couple of gems that provide insight into how that mindset engulfs everything:
Some guys think they're a lot better than they are.
No one is ever gonna give you anything. We have to work for everything we get.
According to Strong, it's much too early to talk about depth charts and individual performances. Today was the team's first day in full pads and the full team hasn't even practiced together for a week.
Nevertheless, there were some clues given about how some of the important storylines of the season are shaping up.
- At WR (where depth is razor thin), the coaches are focused on making sure all the wideouts know their routes and responsibilities on every play. All the receivers need to understand how to read the defense the same way the quarterback sees it, so that they run the correct route on any given play. Those skills must come before the coaches get concerned about who makes more plays after a catch.
- The coaches do not have a set timetable for naming a second string quarterback. Strong's comment was, "At some point, they'll separate themselves."
- When asked about winning the conference, Strong did not back down at all. In acknowledging the possibility, he said, "To win the Big 12 we have to play good football in all 3 phases. We need to come together more."
- Strong confirmed that suspended players are still practicing with the team, adding, "they're working hard - just like everyone else."
After the question and answer period with Strong concluded, reporters spent time with the offensive coaching staff followed by the defensive assistants.
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
After the coaching staff was done, Texas also made several of the team's key players available. In addition to Jonathan Gray and Jordan Hicks confirming that their injuries are not limiting them in practice, Marcus Johnson was on-hand and told everyone how much the surgery to correct a deviated septum had helped him.
One of the days memorable quotes came from Hicks, who said, "We just saw a great Senior class graduate and not one of them was drafted. That's scary. That's motivating."
David Ash was, of course, a popular interview. He also cut loose a few interesting insights:
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
Texas Fan Day is this Sunday, August 10. Following an open practice at DKR (9:30am), players and coaches will sign autographs at the Frank Erwin Center beginning at 1:30pm.
- Aug 08 2014 05:21 PM
- by Matt Cotcher
Since the first day he stepped foot on campus, Charlie Strong set the tone for his Texas Longhorns. Strong neither compromises or makes concessions about how his team will operate.
Strong's consistency and commitment to his approach has been clearly reinforced by the actions he has taken over the last few weeks. Football coaches do not tolerate anarchy - anything less than following their rules, and following them precisely, is considered as such.
A hallmark at both of Coach Strong's head coaching stops are his five “Core Values”:
· Treat Women With Respect
· No Drugs
· No Stealing
· No Weapons
At Louisville these Core Values were painted on the locker room wall. Everyone entering or exiting the room could see the standard to which players were held.
These five values not only hold football players to a higher standard than the rest of the student body, but shape them throughout their lives. Coach Strong has repeatedly told the Longhorns, “if [you don’t] want to be a part of this program… go and break a core value of this program.”
When an athletic program decides it is time for a coaching change, the program isn’t going to hire a coach who’s just like the previous one. Change is essential to the improvement of a football team. Unfortunately, change does not come without a cost. Some players can’t change their habits and others just don’t want to change. “We’re not in the business of kicking young men out,” says Coach Strong...but rest assured, he’s not afraid to do it.
Football players receive no special treatment and abide by the same rules as regular students. However, when examining the reality of a student athlete’s life, it's obvious that they are, in fact, not regular students. Football, especially at a major program like the University of Texas, is a HUGE business. With several websites dedicated to covering athletics, a full-time television network, and nationally televised games on every other sports station, Texas Football is a multi-million dollar corporation.
The players or ‘employees’ for this company are viewed in a celebrity-like manner and this puts them under a non-stop spotlight. "News" nowadays is more focused on what a celebrity or an athlete does in his or her off-time instead of their on-field accomplishments. The cell phone culture of today has made everyone a paparazzo and, with that, every private conversation or picture can become public instantly.
Students who make the same mistakes (and receive the same punishment) as student athletes receive little if any attention from the media. Whether this is fair or not is irrelevant.
Coach Strong is now the face of this company. He will bear the responsibility for his staff and players.
- Aug 08 2014 09:54 PM
- by Coleman Feeley
When the safety position lost an incumbent starter, Josh Turner, to at least a one game suspension, it opened up the door for the second and third team backups to try to earn some playing time. Adrian Colbert, Edwin Freeman, Eric Huhn and Kevin Vacarro were names that immediately came to mind when thinking of possible replacements. While those names were being plugged in by prognosticators who hadn't even watched a single snap of practice, redshirt sophomore Dylan Haines was slowly working his way up the depth chart.
An Austin native, Haines was a star on offense, defense, and special teams for the Lago Vista Eagles - a three year letterman who played safety, wide receiver and kicker. As a senior, Haines racked up awards for his outstanding play on the field, including first team all-district honors in all three positions that he played as well as Special Teams POY for his work as the kicker.
Dylan's talent presumably stems from his bloodlines. His father, John Haines, was a defensive tackle for the Longhorns from 1980-1983. He continued his football career into the NFL, playing for the Colts and Vikings. Sandra, Dylan's mom, was also an athlete as she was a member of the Longhorn track and field team from 1976-1978.
Now Haines follows in his parents' footsteps as he attempts to make his own mark on UT athletics. As a preferred walk-on, Dylan has the chance to become one of the very few non-scholarship athletes that not only make a spot on the roster, but actually take meaningful snaps for one of the top Universities in America.
There are still plenty of practices and reps to be had by every potential defensive back on the practice field for fall camp. As Charlie Strong noted recently in regards to roster spots, it's still too early to tell how things will shake out.
Turner will return from his suspension at some point and one or more of the scholarship safeties may move up on the depth chart. But don't count the 6'1", 195 lb defensive back out. If he's made it this far, who's to say he can't keep going?
- Aug 07 2014 08:22 PM
- by Lukus Alderman
On Wednesday evening, Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong met with the media. The press conference was scheduled for 6:30pm and when 7:15 rolled around, reporters and TV crews were getting restless.
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
When Coach Strong arrived, he seemed totally relaxed compared to the coach that was the premiere attraction at Big 12 media days. Less than a month ago in Dallas, Coach Strong had to entertain folks and be part of the media circus. On Wednesday, he entered the conference room in Moncrief-Neuhaus athletic center and was in-charge, confident and at ease.
And why wouldn't he be? He was there to talk about football. More accurately, he was there to talk about his guys.
While answering questions, Strong talked about the decision for coaches to move into Jester dormitory with the players, "Anytime you want to build a team you have to build togetherness. It's about teamwork and working together and just getting guys together where they can find out who one another really is, because we don't really get that opportunity. A lot of older guys don't get a chance to know who the freshmen are, and now the freshmen can feel comfortable where they can walk into an upperclassman's room and feel good about it."
There you have it Texas fans - that is your football coach.
Strong can don a suit and put on a show for the cameras like he did at media days. But that's not him....the football coach that walked in from practice with a spark in his eye and spoke about his team's unity...that is Charlie Strong.
Jaxon Shipley tweaked his hamstring at the very first practice of Fall camp. On Wednesday, Texas released a statement confirming Shipley's pulled hamstring and said that there is no official timetable for his return.
After dismissing receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrell Meander from the team, the depth at wideout was already meager. Add Shipley's absence and suddenly Texas is without three of it's top four receivers. The injury and suspensions have accelerated August 30 (when Texas plays their first game) from "weeks away" to "just around the corner".
But here's the catch - Texas should beat UNT in their opening game with or without Jaxon Shipley. Two and a half weeks of practice plus the easiest game the Horns play in the first half of the season gives Shipley and the coaches plenty of time to let the hamstring heal completely. Hamstring injuries are notoriously nagging if they aren't allowed time to heal properly and that is precisely what the Horns should prescribe, time.
There is another unanticipated benefit to Shipley's absence - the younger receivers get more repetitions with the first team. An increase in playing time equates to wide receivers coach Les Koenning getting an extensive look at the true freshmen and younger receivers.
Jacorey Warrick was already slated for an increased role. Now he gets practice reps with the first team.
Freshmen like Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman go from an experiment straight to a contributor. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
Strong talked about the freshmen, "They're doing a good job but it's still a process where we've got a lot of practice time left. I think by the time we get to game one I know that we'll have enough practices where I feel comfortable enough where they should be able to pick up our system."
On the depth at wideout, he added, "With Shipley being out, you look at the freshmen, they are in rotation as well. [Jacorey] Warrick is getting a lot of work and [John] Harris is getting a lot of work. Now we get Marcus back and get him back in the swing of things."
My Google Translator tells me that what he's really saying is that Shipley's injury could not have come at a better time and that it may be a blessing in disguise.
Coach Strong also talked about his offensive liineman and the need to build depth along the front, saying that, "our whole offensive line is doing a really good job." He specifically mentioned Kent Perkins and Jake Raulerson as two early standouts in camp.
"[Kent] Perkins is so strong, I think in the weight room he's the strongest person we have. He's such a big body inside and he can engulf you. If a guy tries to run inside, he can latch on. If he ever latches on, the defensive linemen don't have a chance." On Raulerson, Strong added, "Jake is so versatile where he can play center, he can play any position, center, guard, tackle, so he's doing a really good job."
Much has been said about Strong's addition of Joe Wickline to the coaching staff. Wickline earned a reputation, while coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State, as one of the top teachers in all of college football.
While Wickline is already a fan favorite, Strong hinted at a potential fan frustration while talking about the OL. Not only did Strong praise several player's versatility, he went so far as saying that the style of offense that Texas plays will change based on their opponent. According to Strong, that result will be that the offensive style dictates which guys play in each position along the offensive line.
The potential for frustration stems from fans liking things to be packaged neatly. A prime example is fans' focus on which players are starters for their team. Based on what Coach Strong said on Wednesday evening those fans might be highly confused.
At this point, it's likely that Texas has as many as eight different players start games on the OL. Not an 8-player rotation, mind you - eight players that could be called on to trot out with the first team offense.
- Aug 07 2014 12:21 AM
- by Matt Cotcher
The Kansas State Wildcats, a team of futility and embarrassment for east-central Kansas for decades, have become a source of pride. That transformation is a credit to one man, Bill Snyder.
Bill Snyder is not originally from Kansas but he is now a legend in the state. He will lead the Kansas State Wildcats for his 22nd season this fall.
In 2013, KSU got off on the wrong foot, losing to FCS Champion North Dakota State 24-21 to begin the season. However, those who have followed Kansas State for years know that this is just part of the process. The Wildcats won six of seven games in the second half of the year, including a win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and finished the season at 8-5. So what should Texas fans expect in this pivotal game in the Big 12?
Jake Waters, who won the starting job at the end of the 2013 season, returns as the starting quarterback for 2014. The key question in the offensive backfield is who will replace John Hubert at running back. Tim Fitzgerald, publisher of Powercat Illustrated and Gopowercat.com, says the starting job at running back is wide open.
"Senior Demarcus Robinson was injured most of the spring, leading to more practice reps for sophomores Charles Jones and Jarvis Leveritt Jr. Freshman Dalvin Warmack may press for playing time when camp opens" said Fitzgerald. "There was no frontrunner coming out of spring football."
With uncertainty at the running back position, Coach Snyder will likely need to rely heavily on Jake Waters in the beginning of the season. Waters runs well but he is a stronger passer than runner.
In terms of passing targets, Waters should have plenty of options. Tyler Lockett returns (for what seems to be his 7th year of eligibility) and will be the main focus of the passing attack. However, who will be the go to guy if Tyler Lockett is, predictably, double covered?
"Receiver is a position with decent depth for the Wildcats," Fitzgerald said. "Sure-handed senior Curry Sexton promises to be a usual target for quarterback Waters, but there's a slew of unfamiliar names that will start showing up on the stats sheet. Sophomore Deante Burton, a Manhattan (Kan.) High School product, offers Waters a bigger target, while redshirt freshman Judah Jones and junior college transfer Andre Davis are more out of the undersized but blazing fast mold of many K-State receivers."
The Wildcats had an outstanding defense in 2013, ranking 26th in total defense. The reason for that success? Their defensive line.
I asked Fitzgerald about the Kansas State defensive line and he said that senior defensive end Ryan Mueller is the "anchor" of the highly touted defensive line. He also mentioned a few other names:
"Junior Marquel Bryant came on strong at the end of the season and sophomore Jordan Willis and redshirt freshman Tanner Wood provide depth at end," said Fitzgerald. "It's at defensive tackle where the Wildcats find themselves with surprising depth. The starters are expected to be junior Travis Britz and senior Valentino Coleman, but there's a crowd of players behind them, including three newcomers. The headliner of that group is All-American juco transfer Terrell Clinkscales, and two redshirt freshmen from the state of Kansas, Conway Spring's Matt Seiwert and Topeka's Will Geary. Geary is a walk-on who has proven to be difficult to handle in practice."
While the defensive line get lots of praise, KSU has to replace several of 2013's seniors at linebacker and in the secondary. The Wildcats only return 5 defensive starters from 2013. Expect teams, especially early in the season, to test the KSU's inexperience in the back seven.
Kansas State will have a successful season if...
Bill Snyder has been an innovator of college football for over two decades in Manhattan, and in-season improvement is a hallmark of his tenure. Bill Snyder turned 'Futility U' into a powerhouse by his method (Watch this video to understand the history of Kansas State football) and he isn't going to change it now. His method is developing players in-season so that the team playing in September is a totally different team by Thanksgiving. Tim Fitzgerald put it another way:
"A hallmark of Bill Snyder teams is making steady progress throughout the season and that was certainly true last year. The Wildcats were completely rebuilding their defense and breaking in a new quarterback, which led to a 2-4 start, but they finished strong by going 6-1 (losing only to Oklahoma) and dominated Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to end [the 2013 season] 8-5."
Quite simply, KSU will be successful this Fall if they stick to Snyder's tried and true recipe.
The Key To The Texas Game Will Be...
Getting the Wildcats at the right time.
As mentioned in the previous section, the Wildcats get better as the season goes on. Last year, the Longhorns were benefactors of the Bill Snyder method, facing Kansas State in late September. In 2011 and 2012, Texas played the Wildcats in November and December respectively. Not surprisingly, the Horns lost both of those games. This season, the Longhorns face the Wildcats in late October. Will the Wildcats be hitting their groove or will they still be figuring things out? Only time will tell.
When asked what the key for Kansas State will be in the Kansas State-Texas game, Fitzgerald offered, "K-State could be very good this season, but a trio of questions continue to pursue the Cats into fall camp. There's the running back uncertainty, but the biggest issue on offense is settling on a pair of tackles that can handle Big 12 athletes. Defensively, K-State is still trying to settle on new cornerbacks, which is another area in the Big 12 that puts plenty of pressure on defenders. Quickly sorting out answers to these questions will hold a key to many K-State games this season."
Both teams should feel confident about their chances in this game. With several unknowns plaguing both squads, in August, this game is a virtual toss-up. The only sure thing about the game is that it will be a major determinant in whether Texas has a successful season or a mediocre one.
- Aug 06 2014 09:42 AM
- by Chris Flanagan
The reigns of the Texas Longhorn football program have been handed over to Charlie Strong and he has undoubtedly been changing the program’s culture for the last several months. It’s been more than fifteen years since the beginning of the season brought so much excitement and anticipation. Now the moment that Texas fans have been waiting for is just around the corner.9. Jordan Hicks: We know that linebacker Jordan Hicks boasts loads of talent; nevertheless, he has been unable to make it out of the first month of the season the last two years. The Longhorns need him to stay healthy this year. Charlie Strong should work wonders for this group of linebackers, but Hicks needs to be the leader of this unit. If Hicks can stay healthy, he could prove to be a frightening centerpiece for opposing quarterbacks and coordinators.
Along with that excitement, however, comes a lot of uncertainty. Will players respond to Charlie Strong’s different coaching style? Will they adapt to new offensive and defensive philosophies? Which players will step up this season under the new regime?
Here are this season’s 10 most important players:
10. 'Number 3 Receiver': With the dismissals of Kendall Sanders and Montrell Meander, Jaxon Shipley and Marcus Johnson are the only two receivers on the team with more than five catches last season. As a result, one of the young receivers needs to step up and be a solid third wideout in this offense. Will it be sophomore Jacorey Warrick, redshirt freshman Jake Oliver, or will the Longhorns have to rely on a true freshman such as Armanti Foreman or Lorenzo Joe? That remains to be seen, but whoever it is will be a key player on this year’s team.
8. Geoff Swaim: It’s been a few years since the Longhorns have had a big-time receiving tight end, and with Joe Wickline and Watson bringing in a new offense, the tight end projects as a key cog in the system. Add in the team’s lack of depth among the receiving corps and tight end becomes even more crucial. If Swaim is able to consistently make plays, he could serve as a key outlet for David Ash, while taking the pressure off Shipley, Johnson, and the rest of the receivers. Better still if he is willing to mix up and help the offensive live generate holes for the running game, Swaim’s value skyrockets.
7. Desmond Jackson: The defensive line, especially under Charlie Strong, is expected to be the Longhorns’ strength this season. While Cedric Reed and Malcom Brown are grabbing all the attention, it’s their teammate that is poised to have a breakout year. Jackson has shown potential throughout his first two seasons and is one of the strongest players on the team. Opposing lines are going to scheme for Reed and Brown – that should free up Jackson to make plays. Similarly if Jackson generates enough of a push to consistently be in opposing backfields, then he frees up Reed and Brown to remind coordinators why they planned for them.
6. Placekicker & Punter (Nick Rose/Nick Jordan/William Russ): While kickers don’t get a lot of love from fans or the press, there’s no doubt that they play a critical role in a team’s success. Texas fans, who have been spoiled with outstanding kicking games, are facing some uncertainty at the position for the second year in a row. This will be a smash-mouth, ball control offense. That means the team is likely to find themselves in some close games – they can’t afford to leave points on the field, or give away field position. A weak kicking game would really hamstring the style of football Texas plans to play.
5. Quandre Diggs: Though the Longhorns have come to be known as DBU, this year’s squad is dangerously thin in the secondary. Diggs is one of the best cornerbacks in the conference, but he will be surrounded by question marks. Diggs has been an outspoken proponent of the culture change in the program and also about Strong’s roster moves. Whether it’s lining up the defensive backfield, locking down the other team’s top receiver or just being a vocal leader in the locker room, Diggs will have a major impact on this team. When thinking about how his play affects what the other 10 Longhorn defenders are trying to get done, a case could easily be made for Diggs to be even higher than fifth on this list.
4. Marcus Johnson: While Jaxon Shipley is the unquestioned top receiver on this team, the Longhorns need Johnson, who showed signs of greatness last season, to fill the role of a consistent playmaker. Everything we’ve seen from his so far would indicate that the junior is ready and even though he’s being held back in the early part of Fall camp, reports are that Johnson had a very solid Summer Similar to Desmond Jackson, Johnson’s impact can go beyond his performance – the possibility to affect Shipley’s productivity, the running game and the quarterback play combine to vault Johnson into the Top 4.
3. Malcolm Brown: With Johnathan Gray coming back from an Achilles injury and Joe Bergeron now off the team, the bulk of the rushing attack will be shouldered by Brown (at least early in the season). Brown should thrive in the new offensive system, which relies primarily on ball control and smash-mouth football, which fits his style perfectly. After an outstanding Summer in the weight room, Brown appears serious about being a Senior and having a “contract year”. If he stays healthy and focused, he will be one of the top running backs in the country. His impact extends directly to the quarterback also – the more successful he is in the run game, will, in turn, make Ash more effective in the passing game.
2. Dom Espinosa: One of the biggest question marks for Texas in 2014 is the offensive line, but with Joe Wickline patrolling the sidelines this year, fans expect the line to make great strides. For that to happen, Dom Espinosa, as the anchor of the line and the one making the blocking calls, needs to have a great year. Espinosa figures to the constant in a revolving door of chaos as he is challenged by suspension and depth chart issues. The OL’s impact on the offense’s productivity is understood (yet overlooked) and Espinosa’s ability to affect the line’s play is critical.
1. David Ash: There is no question that David Ash is the main key to this team’s success. Though he has shown promise, the often-injured quarterback has not been able to complete an entire season. News is that concussion symptoms and foot problems are in the past and Ash took advantage of the downtime from his foot rehab to do work in the weight room. How well will he relate to a third offensive coordinator? Will he stay healthy? Will he become a leader of the team both on and off the field? How those types of questions are answered is the difference between, fans having another frustrating season, and this Texas having an excitingly high ceiling.
- Aug 05 2014 05:48 PM
- by Marian Hinton
Contributors: Sean Adams, Aaron Carrara, Matt Cotcher, Mike Garland
(J.B. TexasEx) Any confirmation on the suspensions of Daje, Estelle, and Harrison? If so, for how long?
There continues to be contradicting reports on these three. Even our folks close to the team have differing views. The majority of those folks seems to think that all three players are waiting on grades from the 2nd summer school session to be released. It's something we're tracking closely.
(UTPhil2006) Percentage of landing Malik Jefferson?
Honestly, this one is shaping up as a coin flip. It’s a three horse race between Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor (even though he tweeted earlier Thursday night that he plans on visiting Oklahoma this weekend). Jefferson has been hanging out with Gilmer CB Kris Boyd (part of the original Fab 5) a lot lately and both are “planning” on visiting Texas A&M together the second weekend of August. The longer his recruitment plays out the more it benefits the Horns.
(UTPhil2006) Do we have even an outside shot at Kendall Sheffield?
There is always a shot, especially when dealing with high school kids. That being said, the chance of getting Sheffield is slim...really slim. He’s been all A&M since the middle of May.
(UTPhil2006) Why Florida and not LSU, Bama, or more specifically Auburn for Daylon Mack's 2nd (of 2) official visit?
Because it’s Florida…what high school kid wouldn’t want to take a trip to Florida, on Florida’s dime? Despite being down recently, Florida has a lot of appeal and Muschamp connects with defensive recruits pretty well.
(UTPhil2006) Main targets for the 2015 basketball recruiting class? How many spots will we have?
The coaching staff is in a tough spot…they could have several guys leave after this season, or Holmes could be the only departure (graduation). The coaches are keyed in on three shooting guards (including Matt McQuaid who we mentioned last week), which is also curious considering the current log jam on the roster.
The guess here is that they will prioritize those three guards over the next 30 days and only sign one this Fall. Whether they sign a second player will depend on some conversations with the current roster that will be happening before practices start.
(PeteA422) After all the talk of the (alleged) suspensions, and the guys that were dismissed from the team, what is the take from the rest of the team regarding everything that is going on and how is everyone on the team responding? I think we all know Diggs is on board with all of this.
The thing that everyone needs to understand is that the players have really bought into the team concept that the coaches have built. When you workout, run, sweat, lift and practice with the same guys, you start to feel a brotherhood together (instead of being an assembled group of talented athletes).
This team is about winning. That is the goal. At this point anyone that is taking away from that goal needs to go. Most of the team is on board with this staff.
(lsampson) Will Hornsports have an official tailgate this year for home games?
In previous years Horn Sports helped sponsor an existing tailgate but it is time to take the next step. Horn Sports is working on putting together tailgates for home games this season. As soon as they’re arranged, our members will be the first to know!
(UTPhil2006) Any rumors on who will replace Kaylee Hartung?
ESPN has filled the position. All we can say at this point is that you won't be disappointed.
(lsampson) Are there any mystery recruits out there that we're not hearing about now that may shoot up the rankings soon?
Two 2016’s come to mind:
- Carthage tight end Marquise Guinn (6-4, 225) is a physical blocker that has good hands. He has room to grow with his frame. Started for 3A state champion Carthage as a sophomore; is also a 160+’ thrower in the discus.
- Corrigan-Camden linebacker La’Darius Hamilton (6-2, 220) doesn’t get a lot of love because he plays for a smaller school but he is as physical as they come in the middle. Even though he’s a middle linebacker he does a good job sideline-to-sideline.
(MikeV73) Is Chris Warren just waiting for the right time? He seems to be very in tune with UT recruiting news with tweets. Hope he is just wasting other schools money taking recruiting trips with a plan to commit to Strong and Co.
This is a case of a kid enjoying the recruiting process and taking his time making a decision that will be the biggest of his young life. Texas, along with Oregon, Virginia, Stanford and Wisconsin are his top five and when signing day comes he will sign with one of these schools. I’d say all five schools are about even with Texas holding the slight edge with it being the only in-state school. Warren has recently visited Stanford and Virginia and plans on taking a trip to Oregon in the near future.
(SFlonghorngirl) Any other Louisiana recruits we're targeting besides Patterson?
Patterson is obviously the big one out of Louisiana that Texas wants but Louisiana is loaded with talent that the Horns are targeting. 2015 OLB Bo Wallace from John Curtus has a Texas offer and his showing a ‘decent’ amount of interest (but that’s all it is right now). He visited Austin back in April. 2016 wide receiver Mykel Jones (Patterson, LA) joins Shea Patterson as two of 2016’s top targets from the Bayou State that are receiving interest from Texas. It’s early in the recruitment process for him but speculation is that Florida State and LSU lead and his home state is his top choice. And of course there’s commit Garrett Thomas from Many, LA.
Another high school to keep an eye on is University Lab School (U-High) in Baton Rouge. It’s home to LSU commit Dylan Moses (2017 prospect that already has a Texas offer), Cornerbacks Malik Jefferson and Tre Jackson (2016) and RB Nick Brosette (2015). Reports are that Brosette has genuine interest in Texas, but LSU leads. Also keep an eye out for OT Adrian Ealy in the ’17 class at U-High. Coach Chad Mahaffey is doing some really good things at the program.
(texasdobbs) Who is your projected defense, offense MVP's? Who will be a surprise dark horse player?
For this team to achieve it's goals, Malcolm Brown (offense) and Malcom Brown (defense) need to be the MVP's on their respective sides. There aren't two other players with a bigger opportunity to impact the other 10 players on their unit. Other guys might have better stat lines, but it will be because of the job those two are doing.
For our dark horse pick, we'll take tight end Geoff Swaim It's been years since Texas had an impact player at his position, but he's worked hard all Summer and is in position to make a contribution.
(MikeV73) The Denton Guyer QB in class of 2017- hasn't played a down yet I think, is he wowing at camps to garner all of the positive mojo?
Shawn Robinson has potential written all over him. He was impressive enough at the Under the Lights camp to pick up an offer from Strong.
While it’s true that Robinson hasn’t taken a snap for Guyer yet, he did play as a freshman at his old school, Saginaw Chisholm Trail. Last season, Robinson threw for 1,123 yards and 11 touchdowns (7 int’s), and ran for 624 yards and 6 td’s.
Robinson has to fill the void at Guyer left by Jerrod Heard. Guyer’s first game is against Allen – a team led by quarterback Kyler Murray, a Texas A&M commitment.
(MikeV73) Is Dylan Mack playing possum or has written off UT, you make the call. Official visits to A&M and Florida? Florida, where did this come from? More wackiness from our esteemed DT recruit who seems to become more narcissistic as this process drags on.
For our thoughts on the UF visit, read above. As far as his commitment to A&M, the narcissisitic thought is overboard. Think of Mack as an 18-year old without a filter – whatever is on his mind is what comes out of his mouth. And, although he’s verbally committed, a poor season in College Station and some key recruits pledging in Austin might be enough to sway his mind. Although he’s mentioned several SEC schools, we don’t think he’ll end up out of state.
- Aug 02 2014 06:48 PM
- by Horn Sports
Every year the NCAA modifies the rules of the game to help increase player safety and the continued success of the sport. 2014’s rule changes are better categorized as “improvements/clarifications of existing rules” than “brand new rules”.
The NCAA adopted the ‘Targeting’ rule last year making a forceful tackle to the head or shoulder area of a ‘defenseless player’ a fifteen yard penalty. Before that, the NCAA adopted rules restricting the way in which an offensive player can block. Before that, they restricted the way a player can be tackled from behind. All of these rule changes facilitate the safety of the athletes and are enforced to help ensure the future of the sport. The NCAA and the NFL are burdened with the task of changing and modifying the game and when these two entities agree on rule changes, they are carried down from the top, all the way to pee-wee ‘B’ teams.
Targeting is defined as the action in which tackler or blocker launches himself (leading with his helmet or shoulder) towards another player’s head or neck area. The ‘Target’ must qualify as a defenseless player and the tackle or block must show “an apparent intent that goes beyond making a legal tackle or a legal block or playing the ball” (AFCA.com). For example, if a defensive lineman breaks through the line and destroys the running back by launching himself at him, it is not targeting (unless the end leads with the “crown of his helmet”). The running back in this situation is not considered ‘defenseless’ because he has had time to control the ball and assess the play. However, if the same scenario plays out but the running back catches a swing pass or screen, he would be considered ‘defenseless’ – when attempting to catch a ball (in other words, when your attention is on something other than advancing the ball) the player is considered defenseless.
Targeting also applies to blocking, yet it is rarely enforced. The same rules apply as they do for a tackler but essentially they apply only to ‘crack blocks’. A ‘crack’ is a block on a defender who isn’t looking or prepared to take the hit. Most often a ‘crack’ is assigned to a wide receiver blocking a linebacker (fig 1).
However, the ‘crack’ was frequently utilized in special teams play and, hence, has made a particular style of punt return illegal (fig 2).
Several of the tweaks to the rules in 2014 concern the Targeting Rule. In the 2013 season, Targeting drew a fifteen yard penalty and ejection from the game. The Targeting call could be reviewed, but regardless if the ejection was overturned, the yardage penalty stood. This year, targeting will be a penalty that can be fully overturned. In other words, if a player is penalized for targeting, the officials in the booth will have the power to overturn the fifteen yards as well as the ejection.
Most people don’t expect this to make a significant impact, however, one of the major criticisms of the Targeting Rule was that officials were too eager to throw the flag on a hard hit when, in fact, a Targeting penalty did not occur. Now NCAA officials are judged on the accuracy of their calls and the more penalties that are overturned, the worse grade the official will receive.
Targeting isn’t the only adjusted rule that brings immediate change to the game. The NCAA created a rule making it illegal for any player “outside of the tackle box” to block a defender below the knees. The tackle box refers to the players centralized in an offense (fig 3). This new legislation also adjusted the rules applying to offensive players in motion. Any player in motion must first establish their position on the field before attempting to block below the knees.
Many teams often send tight-ends, wings, or slot receivers in motion and snap the ball while said player is still in motion. This motion during the snap is still legal but it forces that player to change the way he blocks. For example, the ‘Zone Cut’ is a popular play in today’s game, especially for teams that execute a majority of their running from shotgun formations. The new rule means that now the wing or ‘U-back’ that is in motion must stop moving before the ball is snapped.
Before this rule change, the ‘Zone Cut’ took advantage of a defensive technique to stop the ‘Zone Read’ called the ‘chase and pop’. When a defensive end is unblocked, he will chase the running back down the line of scrimmage, attempting to make a TFL. The ‘Zone Cut’ sent the wing player to ‘Cut’ (block below the knees) the defensive end in pursuit, opening up a ‘cut back lane’ resulting in a big gain (fig. 4).
There are dozens of proposed rule changes in football every year, and every year some of those changes are passed by the Rules and Infractions committee, thereby changing the game. Currently there are several ‘tabled’ and proposed rule changes that could possibly come into effect within the next two seasons. The NCAA has tabled a rule change famously proposed by Nick Saban called the “10 second rule”. This rule change would force offenses to allow at least ten seconds to run on the forty second play clock before snapping the ball. Another proposal would outlaw use of the new larger facemasks that are becoming more popular (ex. Cedric Reed).
The only thing these rules have in common is player safety. The “10 Second Rule” implies that ‘up-tempo’ offenses are resulting in more defensive injuries, and the new facemasks are causing more injuries due to the increased weight of the helmet. The NCAA and NFL enforce these changes for only one reason, player safety. The game will never die but it will undoubtedly continue to evolve.
- Aug 01 2014 03:11 PM
- by Coleman Feeley
The Iowa State Cyclones had high hopes heading into the 2013 season. After a successful season that ended with a bid to play in the Liberty Bowl in 2012, Paul Rhoads had the program riding high in confidence as they seemed to carry momentum forward. Unfortunately the success was short lived as they dropped two of their first three games before hosting Texas in week four.Grant Rohach, junior Sam Richardson and redshirt freshman Joel Lanning, but look for Rohach to win the job. He took control of the starting job late last season and no one passed him in spring practice."
Case McCoy and Texas played a very porous first half. However, in a play that some consider a turning point for Texas, McCoy threw up a prayer that landed in John Harris' hands for a hail-Mary touchdown as the first half expired. That play likely kept Case McCoy in the ball game and allowed Texas to remain close enough to eventually win on a quarterback sneak with little time remaining in the game.
Iowa State's loss to Texas has been referred to by coach Paul Rhoads as a turning point in the Cyclones' season. Following the defeat, ISU dropped six consecutive games before beating Kansas and West Virginia (triple overtime win) in their final two games.
The aftermath of the 3-9 season was a hole in the offensive coordinator position that would eventually be filled by former Oklahoma offensive coordinator and Kansas head coach, Mark Mangino. Conversely, Coach Rhoads decided to retain defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, despite having one of the worst defenses (statistically) in the nation last season.
Iowa State hopes to improve on their disappointing 2013 season, but the Cyclones will have to play significantly more consistent on both sides of the ball to do so. Bobby La Gesse, the Sports Editor of the Ames Tribune, was kind enough to lend his time and expertise to assist HornSports in breaking down the upcoming football season.
With the addition of Mangino as coordinator, there are high hopes for an unit that returns 11 starters from last year. Last season, Iowa State's offense ranked 89th in the nation at 24.8 points per game and 96th in total offense with 363 yards per game.
The Cyclones featured a single back, three receiver set and that will likely remain with Mangino in charge. The main difference in offensive scheme, according to La Gesse, will be the focus of the offense's playcalling. Whereas Rhoads featured a run-first mentality over the past five years, Mangino's history shows a proclivity for the passing game. As an offensive playcaller, Mangino relies on the arm of his quarterback in order to find success.
While ISU returns two players with starting experience, Mangino will likely stick with the quarterback who is most consistent moving the chains and limiting turnovers.
The offense is anchored by a strong offensive line, led by preseason All-Big 12 first team and member of the 2014 Remington Award watch list, Tom Farniok (6-4, 300). The key to the offense, however, may lie in the hands of senior TE, EJ Bibbs. As a preseason All-Big 12 pick by the coaches, Bibbs "is a legitimate threat in the passing game. He can catch the underneath passes that move the chains and stretch the field." In a Mangino offense that likes to throw the ball and spread the attack, Bibbs is likely to flourish.
The skill positions also feature plenty of talent, including Quenton Bundrage (who burned Texas for a 97 yard TD) and senior RB Aaron Wimberly (5-9, 174). La Gesse believes that Bundrage has the potential to be an All-Big 12 receiver if he cuts down on mistakes, "Mangino will be sure to call plays to take advantage of Bundrage’s speed and playmaking ability." In regards to Wimberly, Le Gesse believes "he can be a dynamic runner and a factor in the passing game. But at 5-foot-9, 174-pounds, he’s not built to take a lot of punishment." Wimberly being a 1,000 yard rusher isn't out of the question, as long as he isn't overused.
Other potential threats to keep an eye on are two 6' 5" receivers that are in their first year of the program: senior transfer (South Florida) D'Vario Montgomery and freshman high school All-American Allen Lazard. While La Gesse feels that Montgomery has the perfect size as a red-zone target, Lazard might just be the one starting on opening day. "At 6-foot-5, 215-pounds, Lazard is big enough to play from day one. ISU coaches expect him to contribute this fall. If things come together for him quickly he could be starting by the opener." For a in-depth look look at Allen Lazard, read La Gesse's close-up on ISU's potential star wideout.
While the offense has potential to improve, the defense has almost no choice other than being better than it was last season. In 2013, the Cyclone defense was, statistically, one of the worst teams not only in the Big 12, but also in the country.
The good news for ISU is that Cory Morrissey, a senior all-conference end, returns as does sophomore LB Nigel Tribune who, according to La Gesse, will lead the defense. But Iowa State has other newcomers who are expected to make an impact, "The Cyclones are turning to a slew of junior college transfers to help improve the defense. Safety Qujuan Floyd should start from day one. Middle linebacker Jordan Harris must contribute at linebacker."
Another player La Gesse says to keep an eye on is sophomore LB Luke Knotts (the younger brother of former Iowa State standout, Jake Knotts). If Knotts lives up to the potential of his last name, the Cyclones will be set at that LB spot for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately for ISU, the defense lost its two best tackles - both were dismissed in the spring. The tackle position will be an area of weakness that can be exposed if youth at the position doesn't mature quickly.
IOWA STATE WILL HAVE A SUCCESSFUL SEASON IF...
The first thing that has to be done is to define what a successful season is, and according to La Gesse, the expectations aren't very high. "I look at ISU and see a three-win team as camp opens up. The offense looks poised to take a step forward, but there are a lot of questions on a defense that struggled a year ago. A reasonable expectation is for ISU to try to top the three-win mark from a year ago."
If four or more wins is considered successful, then the best route to that success is to see basic, incremental improvements on both offense and defense. The addition of Mangino on offense and the infusion of junior college talent on defense are the two things that help Cyclone fans be optimistic.
If Mangino is able to implement his offensive system and find a quarterback that can play with a low turnover-to-touchdown ratio, ISU should be able to outscore North Dakota State, Toledo, and Kansas. Beyond those three teams, the Cyclones will need an upset against West Virginia or Oklahoma State, or a surprise against in-state rival Iowa. However, if the defense continues to slide, the offense will have a difficult time keeping pace against even bottom tier teams.
THE KEY TO THE TEXAS GAME WILL BE...
Turnovers. If Texas can play its game and avoid costly turnovers, there shouldn't be a question as to whether or not the Horns win. The Longhorns will most likely have an offense that matches up well against Iowa State's defense - Malcolm Brown and the Texas ground game will be called on to attack the inexperienced defensive front of the Cyclones. Avoiding penalties, injuries, and turnovers will most likely provide a relatively easy home win for the Longhorns.
Considering the ISU game falls between two of the season's toughest match ups (Oklahoma and Kansas State), Texas must also avoid an emotional let down.
- Jul 31 2014 10:24 PM
- by Lukus Alderman
Longhorns add talented receiver to 2015 class
Charlie Strong’s reputation for recruiting the Florida area continues to grow, this time with the commitment of consensus 4-star wide receiver prospect John Burt (Lincoln High School - Tallahassee, FL).
The Longhorns received the news on Sunday afternoon when Burt announced from his grandparents’ house in Florida that he would play college football for Charlie Strong. The 6-3, 185 lb. Burt selected Texas over Auburn and defending national champion Florida State.
Burt received a Texas offer back in February and named the Longhorns his leader while at Nike’s “The Opening” in early July. He has family ties in Austin and was recruited by Charlie Strong’s staff at Louisville, which makes his commitment to the Longhorns not too surprising.
Burt’s long reach and good size make him an ideal member of the Texas receiving corps which needs depth after recent suspensions to two players. Whether or not he projects as a starter as a freshman remains to be seen, but working with wide receivers coach Les Koenning on his route running and adding weight to his tall frame could easily escalate his playing time on the 40 Acres.
In addition to the 3 schools he named as finalists, Burt's services were in high demand from most of the top programs in the country. He possessed offers from no fewer than 20 schools, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Nebraska, USC and Michigan.
2013 Highlight Film:
- Jul 27 2014 01:35 PM
- by Aaron Carrara
Oklahoma went 11-2 in 2013 and put an exclamation point on their season with a solid Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Head Coach Bob Stoops became the winningest coach in school history last season, but the most interesting story to surface from 2013 is the recent verbal skirmish between Stoops and Nick Saban.
Riding momentum from their bowl win, OU was picked 1st in the Big 12’s preseason poll and far outpaced the next closest team (Baylor – 9) with 41 first place votes. In other words, the Big 12 media is projecting “business as usual” for the conference and the Sooners.
Stoops has eight conference titles in his 15 years as head coach in Norman. More impressive than that consistency, Stoops’ eight titles have come from six different quarterbacks. With things looking settled at quarterback (compared to 2013), Stoops and OU are looking to win 11 games in consecutive seasons for first time since 2008.
Last season, Texas snapped OU’s 10-game conference win streak with a 36-20 win. After being soundly beaten in back-to-back years, the Longhorns racked up two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and scored a touchdown on an 85-yard punt return. That loss proved to be a back breaker in the Big 12 race after the Sooners lost to Baylor later in the season.
Coaches and fans love to say that football games are won and lost by play along the line of scrimmage. If that’s true, then 2014 will be a very good year at OU where OL and DL are the team’s strengths and the question marks fall to the skill players.
Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell took over the OU offense as Co-coordinators in 2011 and have continued to field one of the more underappreciated units in the league (traditionally OU’s defense receives the publicity). At the end of last season, the Sooners scored 41.8 ppg and averaged 42% on 3rd down conversions, helping themselves to a 4-game win streak.
The backup to Knight will be an interesting story to track throughout Fall camp. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen will compete for the job while Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield is forced to sit out.
Beyond Knight, the key to Oklahoma’s 2014 offense could be their play up front. The offensive line will be anchored by two seniors at tackle, Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson. Williams should be one of Big 12’s best lineman and has an NFL future.
At center, Ty Darlington is set to replace Gabe Ikard. There are five upper classmen at guard, so solid depth at both spots should allow for plenty of cross-training. There is a lack of depth behind Darlington which may be filled by a guard if Heupel and Norvell stick with rotating the best five players in at second string.
The good news in Norman is that OU ran the ball better last year than they have in more than 20 seasons. The bad news is they lost three of their top four rushers from last season. Two sophomores, Keith Ford and Alex Ross, are first in line to start at running back. Ford is expected to be the starter but Ross performed better in spring ball. Look for two true freshman, super recruit Joe Mixon as well as highly touted Samaje Perine, to get opportunities early in the season. Both are expected to immediately contribute.
Sterling Shepherd will be one of the Big 12’s best at wide receiver, but OU needs a youngster to fulfill their potential and take pressure off him. Candidates for the 2nd receiver spot include Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), a group of 3 redshirt freshman and blue-chipper Michiah Quick.
Lending help in the pass catching department will be Blake Bell. The Sooners always have a FB/TE hybrid-type player that poses a threat and Bell will slide into that role after being a red zone quarterback. Along with Bell, there are several interesting, but unproven, candidates for the role.
Key losses: Brennan Clay (RB), Trey Millard (FB), Gabe Ikard ©,
Newcomers: Michiah Quick (WR), Justice Hansen (QB)
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is entering his third season back at OU after a stint as Arizona’s Head Coach. After taking a year to settle into the role, Stoops led the Sooners to a No. 1 finish in the Big 12 in total defense last year (350.2 ypg).
A hallmark of Stoops’ OU defenses is an aggressive style of play that creates turnovers. Last Fall, the Oklahoma defense forced 25 turnovers, and the offense scored on 21 of those opportunities. One of the keys to creating turnovers last year was a switch to a 3-4 alignment (30-front) to play to their roster’s strength.
OU returns their entire front seven on defense and the unit will be led by Charles Tapper and Geneo Grissom. The tandem are the Big 12’s best pair of DE’s (Grissom technically plays LB in the 3-4) and Tapper will be on the postseason All-conference squad.
At defensive tackle, Jordan Philips and Chuka Ndulue will eat up blockers in the middle of the 3-4. Philips missed most of 2013 (back) but is a considered a major talent when healthy.
Earlier this year, Shannon was investigated for sexual assault allegations, but the DA declined to prosecute. During the investigation, Shannon was held out for several practices and the spring game. OU says that a final determination on disciplinary action has not been made, but it is worth noting that Shannon is listed in the media guide.
At cornerback, Zack Sanchez (So.) looks like the next player in a long line of strong OU defensive backs. Opposite Sanchez, Cortez Johnson, Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Austin will compete for a starting spot.
The wildcard in the backfield is senior Julian Wilson, who started 11 games last season at nickelback. Stoops would prefer to keep Wilson at nickel, but has the luxury of sliding him into another position in the secondary if others are not developing.
Quentin Hayes (Sr.) returns at strong safety. Early in the season, Hayes will be joined by Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd, as they battle for Gabe Lynn’s spot.
Key losses: Aaron Colvin (CB), Corey Nelson (LB), Gabe Lynn (S)
Newcomers: Devante Bond (LB), Steven Parker (S)
Team will have a successful season if…
If Nick Saban is correct and Alabama wasn’t motivated to win the Sugar Bowl, then you could justifiably argue that OU lost their two toughest games and their 11-2 record was somewhat pedestrian. On the other hand, Stoops might be right and OU’s win over Alabama was an exclamation point on an 11-win season. Either way, the Sooners are looking to build off that success and have the personnel to do so.
This is a team that is expected to do no less than compete for the Big 12 championship. If the Sugar Bowl was “real”, then this team has a legitimate shot at being one of the four playoff teams this season.
The key to the Texas game will be…
You’ll hear me say this often…this is a game where the Texas defensive line needs to step up and play like one of the best units on this Longhorn squad. OU’s line is weaker on the interior, so Malcom Brown and Dez Jackson need to play at an All-Conference level. By disrupting plays and penetrating into the Oklahoma backfield, the Sooners will have trouble running the football. About the time that OU slides a double team in to help on the interior, Cedric Reed, Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett need to make Trevor Knight uneasy. The back 7 on defense for the Horns will look much better in the Cotton Bowl if the front 4 have an outstanding day.
- Jul 26 2014 11:06 AM
- by Matt Cotcher
When you're the head football coach at the University of Texas, everything about your job is super-sized. Among the gargantuan items, fan interest and media scrutiny are perpetually present. Like the never-ending interstate stretching across West Texas, those two constants are both underfoot and always stretching to the horizon.
That's a large part of the reason that the Big 12 holds it's annual Media Days function - the event serves as a way to connect the league's coaches with the media, who, in turn, relay information to fans that are starved for football. This year, for the first time in 16 seasons, the University of Texas sent a head coach other than Mack Brown.
Since being hired by UT six months ago, Charlie Strong has heard about the passion between Texans and football. Coming from a basketball-crazed state and university, Strong undoubtedly thought he he was prepared for the scrutiny. At least, hopefully he was ready, because this is the scene that awaited him at Media Days:
— Twitter API (@twitterapi) November 7, 2011
That's what it looked like in front of Strong's table...at his second press conference of the day...30 minutes before his arrival.
Undaunted by the throng of media, Strong seemed comfortable at the event. He was there to do what he does best - talk football. Why shouldn't he be at ease?
Since his hiring, fans have read stories about UT's new head coach being a straight-shooting, no-bull kind of man. What the media got at Media Days, was precisely that. In fact, the one thing that is capable of matching those enormous expectations mentioned in the opening is Strong's character.
The new Longhorn coach is direct, genuine and truthful-to-a-fault.
Coaches across the country talk about the importance of academics. When Strong says, "We will make sure we graduate our young men," there is no doubt that he means it.
Taking it a step further, Strong ventured, "We want to make sure we go compete for championships, but we want to make sure they [players] become a better person than they were when they came to the program." And when he says something of that nature, it's as much how he says it, as it is what he says. Even though he was talking to reporters, Strong issues those statements like a father that is daring his child to challenge him.
A big sign that these mannerisms are a glimpse into the actual man and not superficial coach-speak, is that when he talks football, the Texas head coach has the exact same style. And, fortunately for football-starved fans, Strong talked a lot about football today:
On Mack Brown...
I know this, I followed an icon in Coach Brown. 16 seasons at University of Texas and [he] did an unbelievable job, won a national championship. The foundation has been laid. Now it's up to us to continue this foundation.
On Tyrone Swoopes...
There's going to be competition in that position. He [Tyrone] understands he's just got to get better and better.
On winning a national championship...
Now, we're not as bad as we used to be. I'll tell you this: We still have a lot of work to do.
On Joe Bergeron...
When you take something away from a player sometimes and when you take something away that they really enjoy doing, then you can see a lot of change, and that changes very quickly if it's important to them.
When Texas fans read comments like those, they sound unfiltered. For 16 seasons, Mack Brown said the right thing, the right way, at the right time. That's an inescapable part of the reason that Strong sounds so direct - he has none of polish that Brown had in spades. Strong sounds genuinely raw because that is exactly what he is.
If you were to ask him why he is so blunt, I expect Strong would level his piercing glare at you, blink and say, "Why would you say anything other than exactly what you mean to say?"
His football players - and make no mistake, they are his players - are going to embody the character of their leader, or else look for an environment where they're more comfortable. Moncrief Neuhaus Athletic Center is not going to be a place to relax, Strong's persona will make sure of that.
When asked about needing to erase the "soft" label after he took the Texas job, Strong said:
It's a toughness. A lot of times when people talk about toughness, it's not physically where you're always trying to just beat them down. It's a toughness to just go do the right thing. Go to class. Just go do the little things. It's having that type of toughness.
Within our program, we know this: That we have to continue to get better - some areas we have to improve on. And you look at just overall how hard our guys work. And what we really see here in another week or so if this team is going to be one of those teams that is just going to respond.
I just know this: Just from their attitude right now, I think that we're going to find us a different football team.
If Strong carried a pistol, he'd carry a Walker Colt. After all, everything's bigger in Texas.
- Jul 25 2014 09:07 AM
- by Matt Cotcher