Archive for the ‘2016’ Category

Pre Game Kansas

Liberated

Old bloggers never die, they just go to Albany, New York, for a friend’s 60th birthday party. Last week, for the first time since I started Willie Earl in 2007, I didn’t publish a pre-game column because of a lack of organization and spending Friday in airports and in-flight.

A funny thing happened to me Saturday afternoon while I was in Albany. I didn’t watch the end of the first half or any of the second half of the West Virginia game, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I enjoyed the company I was in while we hung out in my friend’s backyard around the fire in his fire pit on a crisp, sunny, 50 degree day—the football weather of my boyhood — and  I enjoyed not being concerned about the fate of the Longhorns. The sixty-something guys I was with who were from Long Island, New York City, upstate New York, and Connecticut had little, if any, interest in college football, save one high school friend who graduated from Notre Dame. Some were Mets and Jets fans.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did have the radio broadcast of the game tuned in on my phone, which I kept in my pocket. Due to the conversations I was engaged in and my failing hearing, I could make out very little of the action Craig Way was describing. I did manage to hear an excited Craig Way exclaim, “IT’S BLOCKED.”  I didn’t think for a second that Texas had blocked a West Virginia kick, and of course I thought right.  A little later, something in Craig’s voice emanating from my pocket gave me a clue that Texas had the ball and the game was almost over, so I took the phone out of my pocket, stepped away from my friends and listened to Beuchele’s last two futile throws into the end zone. Game over.

It was close to 9 p.m. eastern time when I left the party and walked the three-tenths of a mile back to my hotel, where I hunkered down with Michigan at Iowa and USC at Washington on the television and Barking Carnival on my iPad. From the instant reaction posts  by two of the BC columnists, I learned that in addition to the blocked field goal attempt, Texas converted only five of 17 third downs, committed drive-killing penalties, averaged an anemic 21.3 yards per kickoff return, and managed their timeouts and the clock in less than an optimal manner. On a critical fourth down, Collin Johnson cut off his pass pattern short of the first-down marker. Earlier, John Burt bobbled a pass into the hands of a West Virginia defender. In other words, the same old Texas under Charlie Strong.

I know that Texas will beat Kansas tomorrow getting them to six wins and bowl eligibility and ensuring Charlie Strong’s job for another season.  I get it, and I get the perspective of the casual observer who argues that Texas is a young team starting many freshmen and sophomores who are bound to improve next year. I get the argument for Strong that he is an excellent recruiter who instills strong values in his players.

Here’s my perspective. I have seen nothing this year that gives me reason to believe that Strong’s team will field better special teams next year, that he will become a better game day strategist and a better steward of the clock and timeouts or that his team will have a winning road record. And, Strong’s team is one injury away from playing a true freshman quarterback again in 2017. Another excuse for the apologists right? Lastly, I’m anticipating what part of his coaching staff will require another mid-season shakeup in 2017.  These have been consistent patterns of Charlie Strong’s administration that have nothing to do with the youth of his team or the length of his tenure at Texas, and I expect them to continue next year.

Last Saturday at my friend’s backyard party,  I felt liberated from the frustration over Charlie Strong’s mismanagement of my beloved football team.  It reminded me of the feeling of liberation I had about a frustration I was experiencing 30 years ago as the general manager of three convenience stores.  I had an employee who was a longtime friend of my partner and a guy I had been acquainted with since college. James was a UT graduate but not exactly burning with ambition.  The fact that he was well known to my partner and me and a college graduate who was satisfied with working shifts behind the counter at convenience stores made him a somewhat ideal employee. He probably wasn’t going to steal from us, and he had the intellect to successfully carry out his duties.  There was one major drawback. James had a hard time showing up for work on time. This was particularly a problem when he was scheduled to open a store at 6 a.m.  About the third time he was late to open a store — this time by about two hours causing us to lose about 40% that day’s receipts — of course I was steaming angry at first. But quickly, an enlightening calm came over me.  I would never again assign James any more responsibility than a night shift. I would never have to get angry or worry about him again.  It was liberating. Reinforcing my liberation and enlightenment, later that day in a telephone conversation with my partner, James told him, “Bill isn’t mad at me.”

My liberation 30 years ago was tied to direct action I could take to free myself of future day-to-day snafus of my convenience store operations.  There is no direct action I can take to liberate myself from frustrations over the snafus of Charlie Strong’s management of the Longhorns.  But as Doris Day so famously sang, “Que Sera, Sera.”

Hook ‘Em,

W.E.

*************

I think Barking Carnival and Inside Texas writer Paul Wadlington (aka Scipio Tex) wrote an excellent column this week about Texas and Charlie Strong. I’ve cut and pasted it in it’s entirety below.

In postmortems, I usually focus on dissecting each side of the ball, look at individual and unit performances and try to tease together some common threads for the season. I’m not sure there’s much value to be gained in a deep dive here, since my initial Postgame Quick Reaction published shortly after the game was only confirmed by the re-watch. I usually re-watch games and find something surprising – a lazy assumption that was wrong, an emotion-fueled overreaction, a sack blamed on the OL that was really on Buechele, quietly outstanding play from a guy like Poona Ford or Jake McMillon.

Nope.

By now, I know what Texas is, I knew what West Virginia was, knew how it would play out and a game hinged on the final play of the game with Texas coming up just short was in the fat part of the probability bell curve.

Texas played very hard, but hard isn’t enough.

The Texas offense still can’t function behind the chains (5 of 17 on 3rd down, we’re near the bottom of the Big 12 in red zone efficiency) and while that’s in many ways explicable, it doesn’t change game results when the opposing defense has some ability and a game plan. West Virginia has a knack for giving up yardage without the expected commensurate points (they lead the league in scoring defense) and it’s not surprising that they game planned us with the idea that the chains and blitzes kept in their back pocket for certain money downs could hold us under our potential. See the Kansas State game.

The Texas defense, while improved, is still playing catch-up from a botched offseason. We’ve now benched every cornerback on the team at least once. Boyd has found the pine three times during games. After a recent run as our #1 cornerback. After entering the season as our #4 or #5 CB. High beta is a fact of life with young players, but the idea of coaching and a coherent system is to narrow that range over time. Boyd is a poster boy for larger issues.

Texas special teams always seem to manage to disappoint in some area, usually detail-related, even as Michael Dickson sets the standard for Big 12 punting.

The DL just figured out containment principles last week in Lubbock and they carried over against the Mountaineers. The logical question is: why game 9? LB is still a problem, and just our luck, Malik Jefferson missed the bulk of the game after a red hot start.

No reasonable person can debate the youth of our team or the implications that has for coaching, limiting our options and adjustments on both sides of the ball, frequency of mistakes and botching aspects of a game plan. What I will debate is our learning curve. It’s speed. It’s implementation. And the game plan itself. And the big picture understanding of process and staff management that holds us back from maximization.

The season is nearly over and the Longhorn defense is just now showing the basic fundamentals that it should have exhibited in early September. This is a heartening development when you’re starting freshman, less so when you see a regression in play from athletes that took their freshman lumps last year and should have started 2016 ahead of where they finished 2015. Far too many athletes, largely on defense – mostly in the back 7 – didn’t improve. Or only began to show improvement when 2016 is nearly decided.

In Strong’s defense, this loss was the most explicable and easily understood of all the Texas season losses. A young Texas team (we lead FBS in freshman and sophomore starts) vs. dark horse veterans (18 of 22 Mountaineers starters were 4th or 5th year players). Smart defense. Smart offense. The veterans made just enough plays to win. However, West Virginia is far from a complete team. They have a deficient QB that they have to work around. They started a true freshman RB due to injuries. They didn’t have their best DL. What they did have was a good staff game plan to evade their deficiencies, expose ours and use their talent outside at wide receiver and in the secondary to eke out the win.

West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson should be the Big 12 Coordinator of the Year. Our defensive coordinator is our head coach who had to relieve his long-time DC a few games into the season. We’re still coordinator recycling in Year 3. While West Virginia played like a team executing a larger program plan, not just one week of game planning.

Youth is a legitimate reason to lose to West Virginia. Perfectly legitimate. The problem is that Charlie has already played his youth cards with the losses @Cal, @Oklahoma State, against OU and @Kansas State. You only get so many.

So, Texas finds itself at 5-5. 2-1 against a soft non-conference record. 3-4 against a weak Big 12. A throwaway season.

That non-conference? Notre Dame is 4-6. UTEP is 3-7. Cal is 4-6. We went 2-1 against teams with a collective .367 winning percentage.

We can argue about the decline of the Big 12 – and you have a right to be wrong if you argue that this is just a temporary cycle – but our poor performance in a diminished league is troubling when you consider overall conference strength. Oklahoma is undefeated in conference play…with two non-conference losses. Fellow conference leader Oklahoma State lost to a 5-5 MAC directional at home (albeit on a fluke). And Texas lost to a Cal team that’s currently 2-5 in the Pac 12. The same Pac 12 where a 2-5 Arizona State boasts a win over Texas Tech and a 5-3 Pac 12 record “disappointing” Stanford has a win over Kansas State.

I’m not trying to sell you on the transitive property of college football wins, but when I see us struggling in Year 3 against an unexpectedly weak schedule, wins and losses as the argument for retention or firing is specious.

The top of the Big 12 is weak. The middle class isn’t that great. And the dregs are truly awful.

If Charlie Strong finishes 7-5 with a 5-4 conference record, what exactly does that mean? Nothing. Who cares?

Our decision for his retention has to be built on process, our evaluation of his ability to hire, manage and grow staff, faith that he can fully fulfill program promise in the near future. An extra win or loss here or there either way is irrelevant. Even “close losses.”

You know who loses close games all of the time against mediocre teams? Bad teams.

Charlie is either the guy for the job or he isn’t. The field results will catch up if he’s doing the right things. The question is how many throwaway season he’s allowed while he gets his house in order. And if he’s doing the right things, why is it still in disarray?

 

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Texas Tech Over/Under Results

Tough Going

For the second straight week, the average score for our Over/Under contestants was under 5. Last week it was 4.25, this week it’s 4.5. John Scott did manage a solid performance under the tough conditions to come away with the win with seven correct answers. If memory serves, that gives John at least one win for three straight years. Jeff Johnson finished second with a six. No player managed to come within two in predicting the number of pass attempts for Patrick Mahomes which was the Daily Double question. Mahomes attempted 59. Scott and Johnson were closest, both predicting 55 attempts.

Deflating Win

Call it a character flaw or a mental illness but I felt down right deflated after Texas, with the 18-Wheeler, failed to convert on third and fourth down at the end of the game. I still felt that way when the game was over.  With our team rebuilding it’s hard to have much confidence in our  leader when he leaves our 341-yard rusher on the sideline when gaining two yards in two downs clinches the victory.

Hook “Em,

W.E.

 

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Texas Tech Pre Game

Decisions, Decisions

Swoopes the Tailback

Charlie Strong said this week that Tyrone Swoopes will continue in his new role – debuted against Baylor — as the slowest tailback in the history of college football.  The slowest tailback reference is mine, not Strong’s but I wonder if that notion has entered his mind?  Anyway, of course, Strong will continue this new wrinkle because it worked so well against Baylor.  For the record, Swoopes rushed for seven yards on seven carries in the Baylor game.  I’ll let you do the arithmetic.  Yes, some of those carries were out of the 18-Wheeler package but I’m just sayin’.

If you sense that I’m not enthusiastic about Swoopes the tailback I can tell you that I felt better about after reading in the Statesman that D’Onta Foreman was coaching him up.  “I’m definitely trying to talk to him about certain things,” Foreman said. “Driving his hips, trying to stay low and move his feet.  It’s different from when we’re in the 18-Wheeler package and when you’re at running back.  You don’t have many blockers going to one side for you.  You’ve got to try to create holes sometimes that aren’t there.”   It’s good to know that our number two running back is being coached up by somebody.  What’s Strong’s overall won-loss record at UT again?

Inside the Ten

Speaking of Swoopes, I don’t understand when Texas has the ball inside the 10-yard line Strong and Gilbert make the offense less diverse — it is the age of diversity right — by bringing in the 18-Wheeler package.  On Texas’ first possession of the second half against Baylor, they smartly moved the ball from their own 25-yard line to Baylor’s 10-yard line.  Then Swoopes replaced Buechele at quarterback.  With no threat of a pass, Baylor held Foreman to two yards on successive carries forcing the Horns to settle for a field goal.  Decisions like replacing Buechele with Swoopes in this situation are what will likely cost Strong his job.

Hold Card

Sterlin Gilbert was asked this week why there haven’t been any passes or surprises from the 18-Wheeler package. “We’ve got stuff that’s ready.  We’ll use it when the need arises” he answered.  When the need arises?  Hey, Gilbert, you’re 4-4 and your boss is about to get fired.  The need has arisen.

Game Management

Before Trent Dominque’s game-winning field goal against Baylor, Texas had a third and two at the Baylor 18.  Swoopes replaced Buechele and lost four yards running to the right.  I don’t get it.  Adding to my confusion, Swoopes took the snap with :22 left on the play clock instead of running it down and leaving Baylor with less time for a game-winning drive.  Were Strong and Gilbert even trying to make the first down or were they settling for a field goal attempt?  Either way Strong and Gilbert completely botched the situation and they and Texas are lucky that the shaky Dominque made the kick.

Trent Domingue

I did not expect Trent Domingue to make that 39-yard game-winning field goal.  Thank god he did.  You know what?  Strong keeping his job may hinge on Domingue converting another game winner over the next few weeks.  Uh, oh Charlie.

Strong is Not a Sympathetic Figure

I occasionally hear and read comments from people who think poor old Charlie Strong is being unfairly criticized and in danger of losing his job.  Fiddle-faddle.  Strong has made a dizzying array of bad decisions on and off the field since arriving in Austin — chronicled here and in other forums and media — that have put him on the hot seat.  He’s 1-8 in his last nine road games.  You can’t expect to keep your job at The University of Texas earning more than $5 million per year with that kind of road record no matter how decent a person you are.  It is totally reasonable that Strong’s team be required to beat Texas Tech and Kansas on the road and at least split the home games with West Virginia and TCU games to keep his job.  If he does that, Texas will be 7-5 on the season, 3-8 on the road in 2015 and 2016, and 18-19 overall (before a bowl game this season) since Strong took over.  To be honest, even that isn’t good enough for Strong to be retained, in my opinion.

Texas Tech

Texas can’t afford not to hold serve on offense tomorrow.  If Texas fails to score on two or three possessions in the first half they’ll probably lose the game.  So I’m wondering if the Texas offense is moving the ball and scoring early in the game with their regular offense, will Strong and Gilbert disrupt their rhythm with the 18-Wheeler package.

John Smoltz

I rarely watch baseball but I got caught up in the whole Cubs thing and watched parts of games 1-6 and most of game seven of the World Series.  During game one or two I was wondering, who is that analyst working with Joe Buck?  He’s pretty good.  Oh, John Smoltz, I know who he is.  By the middle of game seven, I decided that Smoltz is the best broadcast sports analyst that I have ever heard—period.   He was as amazing as game seven was.

Hook ‘Em,

W.E.

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Baylor Over/Under Results

Bloodbath

Over/Under contestants were bloodied and bowed yesterday afternoon. The average number of correct answers was 4.25, the lowest since record keeping began. Art Zeitz, notched his first victory of the year with six correct answers. Mark Adams and Mike Frank tied for second with five correct. Nobody could predict that Lorenzo Joe, who had only seven receptions on the year coming into the Baylor game, would have the most yards from scrimmage for a player not named Buechele, Foreman, or Duvernay. It took only one reception for that distinction and heck if that 61-yard reception wasn’t one of the biggest plays in the Horns’ fourth quarter comeback for the victory.

Not to gloat, but did you notice how close yours truly’s prediction of 35-31 for the game’s final score and outcome was?

Hey Strong and Gilbert, stick the 18-wheeler package up your…. uh, ear.

Go Horns!

Hook “Em,

W.E.

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Texas Beats Baylor

Addition by Subtraction

Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, and Patrick Vahe join Holton Hill and Davante Davis on the bench for the start of this game as Charlie Strong looks for a winning combination. John Burt has also sort of been benched though the official story is he’s hurt. Yeah Sure.

My secret source inside the UT administration who is close to the football program sort of confirms the theory that the Horns have to run the table for Charlie Strong to keep his job. I’d be surprised if that happens but it says here that Texas makes fewer dumb mistakes, blows fewer coverages, commits fewer penalties, and drops fewer passes than their norm today to beat Baylor in a mild upset 35-31.

For the Record

On this date 39 years ago Texas defended it’s new #1 ranking by beating Texas Tech at home 26-0. A younger, fatter Willie Earl and Larry Don Campbell celebrated the victory and satisfied their munchies feasting on Monte Cristos at Jojo’s on Anderson Lane and later that evening drove around West Austin in Larry’s 1972 Monte Carlo drinking from personal quart bottles of Big Red and getting the munchies again.

Hook “Em,

W.E.

San Jose State Over/Under

  • THE DAILY DOUBLE
  • Tiebreaker: Predict Winners. Scores aren't required



    Oklahoma at Ohio St.
  • Houston @ Arizona

 

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