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?

Kansas Over/Under

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



    Kansas St. @ Baylor
  • Oklahoma St.@ TCU

 

2 Comments to “Pre Game Kansas”

  1. Right now, I’d give him 1 more year, just because I’m stubborn, and I like Charlie’s attitude. But I’m more than willing to admit we’ll probably get the same type of game performance/management.

  2. I “liberated” myself from the first half of the Tech game two weeks ago to go lift weights in the sun at the Golds Gym in Venice and was happy I did it. I plan to continue to liberate myself by only half watching this game while I work.

    The product stinks, there is no attention to detail. Things like the CBs going for the strip and missing the tackle and Breckyn Hager’s absurd posturing/taunting calls seem like a microcosm of the program: all emotion and hype, no results.

    Given that it seems inevitable, at this point I’m almost looking forward to another year of Strong just to watch how the Strong sympathetic fans react when the on field results are virtually the same.

What Say You?