Archive for the ‘2015’ Category

2015 Post-Season

I Have a Dream

I’m not sure exactly when it began but it must have been within a year or two after I graduated from U.T. that I started having an all-too-real reoccurring dream. In this dream, I’m on my way to taking a final exam for a class that I hadn’t attended once the entire semester.  I don’t know if it qualifies for being a nightmare, but it’s darned unpleasant, and I feel a great sense of relief when I wake up.  Many years ago, I told my brother David about this dream.  He said that he used to have that dream and had read or heard a theory that the dream is caused by anxiety about an upcoming task – most often related to your job – for which you feel inadequately prepared.  I wonder if Charlie Strong had this dream before Texas’ first game of the season against Notre Dame.  He should have. If he didn’t, he was dreaming during waking hours on the job for he and his team were woefully unprepared for the Notre Dame game and the upcoming season.

For easy reference, here are highlights of Strong and his team’s unpreparedness.  Texas opened the season losing to Notre Dame 38-3. It wasn’t as close as the score indicates.  Four weeks later, Texas lost to TCU 50-7. As unprepared as the Longhorns were for those two games, they didn’t bottom out in their unpreparedness until they traveled to Ames, Iowa, and got shutout by Iowa State 24-0. Iowa State finished the season 3-9. Their other two wins were over 0-12 Kansas and Division II Northern Iowa. In short, Strong’s team pulled a no-show for 25% of their schedule.

In many if not most industries, a CEO earning $5.2 million a year would be dismissed for the kind of performance Charlie Strong delivered in his second year after a below average performance in year one.  Luckily for Charlie Strong, college football is not like most industries, so he gets to fire and hire more assistant coaches and coordinators for the second straight year and be allowed at least one more season to prove he can do the job.  Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox might prove to be good hires to turn around Strong’s pitiful offense at Texas, but if I suspend my grasp of the various justifications – I prefer “rationalizations” – for Charlie Strong to retain his job, I have to ask, what makes Charlie Strong more deserving of keeping his job than Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline?  Watson and Wickline failed to produce even an average offense in two years on the job. They had to be let go, but what about Charlie Strong?  He made the executive decision to retain them after an embarrassingly bad first year. Isn’t he as the head coach even more culpable than Watson and Wickline?  Strong is the de facto defensive coordinator, and the Texas defense turned in the worst performance in school history in 2015. Strong’s special teams have been lousy in his two years at Texas. Strong can’t point to success in any of the three phases of football in his first two seasons at Texas.

Staying with the industry analogy, in the college football industry there is a line of reasoning – call it “conventional wisdom” if you wish – that a head coach needs at least four years to turn a major program around and compete for a championship. This conventional wisdom doesn’t address what the new hire should accomplish the first two or three years of his tenure.  If I’m the athletic director, here are a few requirements for my new head coach.

  1. Move heaven and earth to find a good quarterback. Great is hard to come by, but if you don’t have a good quarterback on the roster and one backup quarterback with potential to be good, find them, and have them in school and eligible for spring practice. You may not be expected to win championships, but wins are precious in your first two years and you can’t win many games without a good quarterback.
  2. Whether or not the new coach has a talent deficit to address, his special teams should be competent in covering kick offs and punts. If there aren’t good punters and field goal specialists on the roster, he should make it a priority to recruit them and have them in place for the first game of his first season. His special teams may not be able to excel his first two years, but they should be above average and not a liability.
  3. If clock management isn’t one of your strong suits, make it one – or hire a specialist to stand next to you during games.
  4. Be as candid as you can be in press conferences. Don’t sugar coat mistakes and poor effort to the degree that you undermine your credibility and lose the confidence of your fan base.

If my new head coach regularly puts an embarrassing product on the field his first three years, he won’t be guaranteed a year four.


If I had to justify the retention of Charlie Strong, I would point to his ability to evaluate talent. He had an outstanding recruiting class in 2015 and has at least twelve true freshman or redshirt freshmen who will start or compete for starting positions in 2016. In addition to the freshmen, Strong has returning sophomore starters in D’Onta Forman, Armanti Foreman, and Andrew Beck on offense and Jason Hall, Poona Ford, and Anthony Wheeler on defense.   Strong can make a credible argument that, despite his losing record and his team not being prepared to play in 25% of their games in 2015, he has put the building blocks in place to contend for a Big 12 Championship in 2016, if he and Sterlin Gilbert can find the answer at quarterback.

Oh Yeah, the Baylor Game

If Texas has a good season in 2016, I suppose the 2015 Baylor game will be remembered as a leading indicator of good things to come.  I found the Baylor game almost as disturbing as some of the losses, because Charlie Strong darned near pulled defeat from the jaws of certain victory. Strong’s team came out fired up and with a good game plan for a change. They built a 20-0 lead in the first half, and then in the second half, Strong either tried to back into a win or he just managed the game stupidly. He aligned his defense like Baylor’s quarterback was Aaron Rodgers and not a wide receiver playing emergency-quarterback.  Take your pick.  Meanwhile, Art Briles and his son Nelson came up with a better offense during the 20-minute halftime break than Strong and his various offensive coordinators could come up with in two years.  The second half reminded me of the immortal words of Bum Phillips, “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”

Uh oh.

Over/Under Results 2015

It’s been an exciting year for Willie Earl’s Over/Under contest. The number of players competing shattered last year’s record participation levels.

The year had an exciting finish with Clayton Frink edging David Frink in the tiebreaker in the Baylor contest. It was Clayton’s second win in 2015.

In the Baylor contest, Mark Adams proved you can score a high number if you don’t post an entry until the second half. Nice try Mark but I’m not as gullible as my French II teacher was in 1972.

2015 Final Results and Award Winners

Wade Wallace started the year strong winning the first two contests of the season. With those two wins Wade build an insurmountable lead and is the 2015 Champion with three wins and three second place finishes.  Records weren’t kept at the time but if they had been I think Wade would have been the champion in the inaugural 2008 season.

Clayton Frink, Art Zeitz, and Jeff Otto tied for second place for 2015 with two wins each.

Jeff’s performance was notable because he was a rookie in 2015 and played only four times. For his remarkable performance Jeff has been awarded Willie Earl’s first annual Rookie of the Year Award.

Art Zeitz is veteran player who has been playing since the inaugural 2008 season.  Art win’s the 2015 Comeback Player of the Year award by posting his first multiple win season ever. Clayton Frink came in second in the voting.

David Frink, Dan Yoxall, and Mike Frank rounded out the winners circle for 2015 with one win each.

Despite the losses and the tumult off the field it’s been a fun year of writing and thanks to all our loyal readers Willie Earl’s Longhorn Blog readership grew by more than 15% in 2015.

Thanks and Good Luck to us all in 2016.

HooK ‘eM,


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Baylor Pre-Game

End Game

I watched Summer of 42 on Turner Classic Movies a couple of nights ago, which led me to do a Google search of Jennifer O’Neil, which led me to a search of Ali McGraw, which reminded me of the opening line of Love Story starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neil. By the way, for any of you who haven’t seen Love Story, if you’re interested in the epitome of maudlin, kitschy movies and pop culture of the early 1970s, you should watch it.  Ripping good stuff, in my opinion. Ali McGraw is kind of cute too.  Anyway, the line is, “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?”  Paraphrasing that line, “What can I write about a football team that stinks that I haven’t written already?”

Well, here goes.

If I Were a Rich Man …. or Mike Perrin

If I were the athletic director, Charlie Strong would get a third year to turn his team around; not that there is any real chance that the real athletic director would fire Strong on Sunday anyway. My instinct – informed by experience – tells me that ultimately he will fail. His decisions to keep Shawn Watson in January and to roll with Tyrone Swoopes to start the season were monumentally bad. His total misconception in August about how good this team was calls into question his ability to effectively lead a program in a Power 5 conference. My instinct aside, I believe Perrin has to know for sure that Strong can’t be successful, and he won’t know that for sure without giving Strong one more year.

Looking for precedents

To bolster the argument that it’s the right thing for the program to give Strong an extra year, I went searching for examples of other good college football coaches who had bad starts while reviving a program.

Nick Saban

Saban’s first year record at Alabama in 2007 was 7-6. In 2008 his record was 12-2. The rest is history.

No help there.

Urban Meyer

Meyer’s first year record at Florida in 2005 was 9-3. In 2006 his record was 13-1 and Florida won the National Championship.

Still no help.

Brian Kelly

Kelly’s posted 8-5 records in his first two years at Notre Dame in 2010 and 2011. He went 12-1 in 2012 losing to Alabama in the BCS Championship game. Not what we’re looking for.

Jim Harbaugh

Harbaugh is having great success at Michigan in his first year. Let’s take a look at his first years at Stanford.

In 2007 he was 4-8; in 2008 he was 5-7. He had his first winning season in 2009, his third, year going 8-5. In 2010 Stanford went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.

So there’s our precedent.  Here’s an early Holiday toast to Charlie Strong becoming the Texas version of Jim Harbaugh.

The Chris Warren Show

With Foreman out and Gray questionable, it looks like Chris Warren will get the start again against Baylor. The only interesting thing about this game might be seeing how Warren performs against a real defense as opposed to the Texas Tech defense.  I hope Charlie Strong doesn’t diminish Texas’ hopes in this game by insisting on giving the hobbled “J Gray” more than a 2-3 token carries. Or how bout none?


I started out on movies, but no, I’m not veering into music here. It’s kind of ironic that Tyrone Swoopes gets the start in Texas’ last game of the season, his only other start in 2015 having come in the first game.  Texas lost that on 38-3.

I’m thinking the point spread will be about the same in Waco tomorrow. Let’s call it Baylor by 59-24.

Texas Tech Over/Under Results

I’m sorry to be so tardy in reporting on the results of the Texas Tech Over/Under.  My excuse is about like my son Robert’s when I asked him why he didn’t do an eighth-grade English assignment, “I didn’t feel like it.”

Jeff Otto posted his second W of the season with seven correct answers. The man seems to be getting the hang of Over/Under. That’s two wins for Jeff in only four total lifetime starts.

Wade Wallace, Mark Adams and Rick Mosher tied for second with six correct.

The scores were low for this one with a 4.6 average.


By the way, Summer of 42 is in excellent movie and it’s not kitschy or maudlin

HooK ‘eM,


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Texas Tech Pre-Game


Perhaps a more focused and creative writer could produce new material on the well-trod subject of the sad sack football team that is the 2015 Texas Longhorns.  But then, under further review, I realize I have written several paragraphs, private emails, and texts over the last three months that didn’t make the light of Therefore, I give you Willie Earl Remnants 2015.

The Texas Football Cartel

Texas has just signed a 15-year $200 million apparel contract with Nike. The deal is easily the richest deal in college sports. Michigan signed a 15-year deal this summer for $169 million, which at the time was reported to be the largest of its kind.  Texas is in the fifth year of a 20-year deal with ESPN for the Longhorn Network that pays $15 million a year.  Add to these riches the $1.5 million – according to the Austin American Statesman – that Texas has cleared from beer and wine sales at Royal-Memorial stadium so far this year, and it seems it no matter how many losses the football team piles up, the big bucks just keep flooding in.

With all these millions seemingly guaranteed, it makes me wonder if there is truly any urgency in Belmont Hall to improve the football team.  Charlie Strong – with a $5 million a year salary guaranteed through 2018 – didn’t feel enough urgency to make a change at offensive coordinator and quarterback after the worst offensive performance in school history in 2014 until after the 38-3 opening loss to Notre Dame this year. Do the big bucks lead to a general sense of comfort and complacency at UT?  I’m just saying….

Charlie’s Pressers

At the beginning of Charlie Strong’s tenure at Texas, I enjoyed watching his weekly press conferences. He seemed to listen intently to reporters’ questions and looked them squarely in eye. He seemed genuine, and he had a great smile and laugh.  He looked like a great coach; though, as the losses mounted last year and this year, I couldn’t help noticing that Charlie was doing more damage to the King’s English than his football team was doing to opponents.  He struggles with subject-verb agreement and past participle verb forms.  Also, it has finally occurred to me, there is practically no substance to be gained from his public statements.  He says over and over the same phrases. “It’s all about getting better, it’s all about competing, we just have to play better, it’s all about execution” ad nauseam.

I have a suggestion. In light of the football team’s struggles, wouldn’t it help if Charlie Strong inspired a little confidence when he speaks publicly?  How about if UT invested in a little public speaking and presentation training for Charlie?  Really folks, how many people ascend to the highest positions in their fields without being able to form grammatical sentences in public?

Jerrod Heard’s Running

During the Oklahoma game, a friend and a fan expressed concern about the number of times Jerrod Heard ran the football.

I replied, Get used to it. This is a major component of the offense now. Heard is the most dangerous runner on the team. He has to run.

Mistakenly, I believe, Norvell and Strong seemed to share my friend’s concern about Heard’s heavy involvement in the running game. In the Oklahoma game, he carried the ball 21 times for 115 yards. In the last three games, two of them losses, he has carried the ball 30 times for 101 yards. Factor out sacks and he’s only run 23 times. Those 23 carries produced 157 yards or 6.8 yards per carry. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the efficacy of Jerrod Heard carrying the ball frequently.

Texas’ 2016 Returning Starters

Yet another friend – one among my many –  in an email expressed skepticism about the quality of the 16 or so starters returning next year given that this year’s team isn’t any good.  And he added, I don’t assume that the freshman and sophomores will magically get any better.

I responded, You don’t think Patrick Vahe, Connor Williams, John Burt, Malik Jefferson, Antwaun Davis, Holton Hill, Naashon Hughes, Anthony Wheeler, Kris Boyd, D’Onta Foreman, Armanti Foreman, Jerrod Heard, and Jason Hall – all freshmen and sophomores (13 listed here) –are good? 

And I added, They don’t magically get better. They get better because 18, 19, and 20-year-olds generally get better when they’re 19, 20, and 21 with one-two years of experience. 

Texas Tech 

In their last four games, Texas Tech has surrendered 55.75 points per game.  Let that sink in.

Yes, Tech’s offense is third nationally averaging 588 yards and 46.5 points per game, but if Strong can’t beat this team at home then maybe he shouldn’t get a third year.

Lock of the Week 

I was a star-struck 20-year-old sophomore in college in 1975 when I listened to Darrell Royal say at the OU pep rally in Gregory gym that it had been a while since Texas had beaten OU and they needed to get back on the winning end of this rivalry.

Well, Willie Earl’s “Lock of the Week” has lost the last two weeks and it’s time to get back in the win column.

Texas beats Texas Tech tomorrow night and covers the 1 ½ point spread.

HooK ‘eM,


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West Virginia Post-Game

Charlie Strong Should be Retained for 2016

It was a bit of an outlier that a 4-5 team would have only seven turnovers through nine games.  So Texas was due to lose a game because of turnovers.  Texas had more total yards, rushing yards, passing yards, and time of possession than West Virginia.  In many ways, it was Texas’ second most well-played game of the year. But when one of your go-to offensive weapons is Tyrone Swoopes, and your starting quarterback is a redshirt freshman who has only attempted about 100 passes that traveled beyond the line of scrimmage, you’re going to have a game where you commit a lot of turnovers.  As far as the West Virginia game is concerned, that’s the whole story.

If Jay Norvell’s final two game plans are as reasonably aggressive as the plan for West Virginia, then there are going to be more turnovers. If Charlie Strong and Norvell are spooked by the turnovers in the West Virginia game and go conservative versus Texas Tech and Baylor, you might as well pencil in two more losses and a 4-8 season.


For the good of the program, Charlie Strong should be the head coach for Texas in 2016. Not because he necessarily deserves a third year. A very good case can be made that Strong should be fired for the performance of his offense over the last two years, especially when you consider his decision to stick with Shawn Watson and Tyrone Swoopes at the beginning of this season.  And if Strong doesn’t present a plan for 2016 to the athletic director and president that includes hiring the best offensive coordinator money can buy, then Strong probably should be fired.

For the purposes of this argument, let me assume that Strong hires a highly qualified offensive coordinator and a new running backs coach to boot.  Then take into consideration the following.

  1. The upside of a more experienced Jerrod Heard that includes the benefit of a new offensive coordinator. Keep in mind that Shawn Watson’s total focus in the spring and preseason workouts this year was on Tyrone Swoopes. Heard was the proverbial red-headed step-child.
  2. Six quality freshman starters – three on offense and three on defense – return in 2016 as experienced players. They are on offense, tackle Connor Williams, guard Patrick Vahe, and wide receiver John Burt, and on defense, linebacker Malik Jefferson and cornerbacks Holton Hill and Davante Davis.
  3. In addition to the six freshmen who return as starters there are 10 more returning starters, four on offense and six on defense. That’s 16 returning starters total, and not one of them is a player you aren’t glad to have back as a starter.
  4. As bad as this season has been, reasonable depth has been developed on both sides of the ball for 2016, something Texas hasn’t had since 2009. In addition to seven returning starters on offense, tight end Caleb Bluitt, wide receiver Lorenzo Joe, running back Chris Warren, center Jake Raulerson, and tackle Tristan Nickelson have logged considerable playing time. On defense, cornerbacks Antwaun Davis, Chris Boyd, and linebacker Edwin Freeman have played extensively. In the last two games, true freshman Deshon Elliott has been added to the rotation at safety.

I’m aware that those who follow recruiting 365 days a year are concerned about the Longhorns 2016 recruiting class. I think it’s way too early for hand-wringing on this front. Strong and his staff closed the end of the 2015 recruiting season strong. Excuse the pun.  In addition, I would point to the failure of Mack Brown’s strategy of signing the majority of his recruits as high school juniors. This was a major contributing factor to the culture of entitlement that pervaded the program in Mack Brown’s final years. I prefer Strong’s recruiting strategy.

I wrote earlier this month that Charlie Strong’s decision-making in hiring and sticking with Shawn Watson, his seeming lack of involvement in offensive game planning, the poor play of his special teams, and his poor in-game management led me to believe that even with a roster stocked with high caliber players, I thought his ceiling was about eight wins a year.  Keeping in mind that no one can predict the future, for continuity’s sake, I believe the best option at head coach for Texas in 2016 is Charlie Strong.

Over/Under Results

It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve had a first time winner but we have on this week as Jeff Otto wins his first Over/Under contest with eight correct answers.  Jeff – famous for being a quick study in most disciplines –wins in only his third try at Over/Under.  Reed Ramlow – our man in Viet Nam –turned in another strong performance this week with seven correct answers.

Lock of the Week Results

I very much enjoyed being wrong with Baylor over Oklahoma as my Lock of the Week. I wrote of my affinity for Oklahoma in last week’s pre-game column.   Today I want to share with you the roots of my dislike for Baylor football.   During my freshman and sophomore years in college, I was lucky enough to befriend a Sig Ep brother who was an All-Southwest Conference player for the Longhorns in 1975 and ’76.  This friend – who was a highly recruited two-way player from out of state – told me the dirtiest recruiting he encountered came from Baylor which offered him and other recruits money and other benefits and aggressively denigrated Texas and other programs in the process. So there.

HooK ‘eM,


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West Virginia Pre-Game

Redemption Saturday

I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well a few of the verses well they’ve got me quite cross
                                            – Ellie Goulding/Elton John

According to ESPN Texas has a 23.9% chance of beating West Virginia. Does that seem about right to you? Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a few days, and I’ve come up with a game of Over/Under to analyze this metric. Feel free to play along at home.

Over/Under (This is not this week’s official Over/Under Contest)

  1. D’onta Foreman gets the start and or carries the ball 1.5 times on Texas’ first series
  2. Jay Norvell has Jerrod throwing the ball downfield on the first series the way he did in the comfort of home against pushover Kansas.
  3. Texas throws a wide receiver screen pass on their first series that gains more than 2.5 yards.
  4. Texas runs a play on their first series that involves Jerrod Heard in the running game. (A scramble on a called passing play doesn’t count)
  5. Texas has 200.5 total rushing yards for the game.
  6. Texas holds West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood under 100.5 yards (yes = over)
  7. Texas holds West Virginia under 4.5 3rd and 4th down conversions (yes = over)
  8. Texas scores first (yes = over)

If four or more of the answers to the above turn out to be over, then Willie Earl’s metrics gives Texas a 53.6% chance of winning.

Confidential Informants

Willie Earl’s campus CIs haven’t been very productive over the last several weeks. I think it might have something to do with their recent trip to Colorado.

Anyway, they gave me a pretty decent scoop yesterday if it turns out to be true.  They tell me there will be a big shake-up in the starting lineup on the offensive line with, Jake Raulerson replacing Taylor Doyle at center, Kent Perkins will move from right tackle to left guard, replacing Cedric Flowers, and Tristan Nickelson will take Perkins place at right tackle.

This lineup was tried – rather unsuccessfully – in the Kansas game, but according to my CIs, the new lineup has been working as the starting unit this week in practice.  I applaud this shakeup, if it actually happens, despite the unsuccessful trial versus Kansas. As I wrote last week, Doyle and Flowers block absolutely nobody on about 50% of their snaps. They are primarily responsible for the extreme duress that Jerrod Heard has been under most of the season when dropping straight back in the pocket.

My gut tells me that Strong and Wickline will gag before game time and continue to roll with Flowers and Doyle since, according to Strong, they’re key team leaders.

Waning Interest

A couple of readers have confided in me this week that their interest in Texas football is at a new low. I’m guessing if you polled all of the Willie Earl readers you would find a working majority would say that their interest is at or near the lowest it’s ever been.

I think the Iowa State loss is to blame for the current level of interest in Texas football. I know that loss sapped much of the confidence that remained for me in Charlie Strong’s program.  And despite what many of my long-time friends and acquaintances may think, in my current incarnation, I’m quite an optimist. My wife says I find boyish joy in many of life’s simple pleasures, such as replays of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 on satellite radio. So I got that going for me…. which is nice.

I’m also concerned about the Texas coaches’ level of interest in the remainder of the season.  If most of the offensive staff expects to be gone at the end of the season, are they spending less time on game-planning and coaching and more time looking for a job? If so, Texas probably won’t win another game this season.


Is the 2015 season redeemable for Texas and Charlie Strong?  I say absolutely it is. Winning this weekend and on Thanksgiving night versus Texas Tech* would go a long way down the road to redemption. Throw in a win over Baylor and we’re talking big-time “boyish joy” for Willie Earl.

Lock of the Week

I’m all over Hampton -12 ½ over Savannah State. The Pirates are on a roll coming off their 33-0 beat-down of Florida A&M while State is coming off a tough overtime loss to Norfolk State.

But seriously folks, as much as I hate to even think it, I like Baylor at home -2 ½ over Oklahoma. I don’t “like like” Baylor but I just don’t think OU can get it done in these big games anymore.  I will be rooting against my Lock of the Week.  This may shock and amaze you, but for 40+ years I’ve been rooting for OU in almost all their games other than against the Longhorns.  It all started in 1971 when #2 ranked Oklahoma played #1 Nebraska in Norman on Thanksgiving. That was a helluva game won in the last minute by Nebraska 35-31 as Jeff Kinney powered over from the two.

HooK ‘eM,


*ESPN puts Texas’ chances at beating Texas Tech at 48% and 7.3% for beating Baylor.


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