Archive for the ‘2015’ Category

Rice Pre Game

Dealing with Dysfunction

About 25 years ago, in one of his Sunday sermons, the pastor at our church said that there were 250 million Americans who were part of dysfunctional families. In other words, every family is dysfunctional to one degree or another (this was a great relief for me to hear). The issue was not whether or not your family is dysfunctional, but how effectively your family works through its dysfunction. I think this maxim applies to any business or other kind of organization.

The dysfunction in Charlie Strong’s Longhorn Family has been on full display for the last month or so. Since January, Strong, his staff, and the players have been putting the word out that they were installing a spread, up-tempo offense. Really hip football bloggers use the acronym HUNH (hurry up no huddle) for up-tempo offense. When preseason workouts began in August, if you were listening closely, you heard Shawn Watson say that he needed to forget 35 years of offensive football knowledge to install a spread, up-tempo offense. Talking about the development of Tyrone Swoopes, Watson was nearly moved to tears. Talk about “mom always liked you best.” Tyrone Swoopes said they were running the same offense as last year, only they were running it faster. Hmm, so your offensive coordinator is saying he is just now learning the new offense that he’s going to be in charge of, and your quarterback is saying the new offense is the old offense at a faster pace. Meanwhile, the coaches are telling recruits to check out the Longhorns’ new spread, up-tempo offense in their first game of the season versus Notre Dame.

What we and the recruits saw in the Notre Dame game was decidedly not a new offense, and the only thing up-tempo about it was how quickly it went three-and-out over and over again. The look on Charlie Strong’s face during the fourth quarter was that of a man who had been swindled by business partners or family members, and he was really angry with the people who swindled him and maybe even angrier at himself for being swindled. What we have here is a dysfunctional organization of the highest order.

I’ll set aside for the moment asking how Charlie Strong could be so surprised by the offense that Shawn Watson unveiled against Notre Dame. Or why he didn’t intervene during the game at least by insisting that Jonathan Gray carry the ball more. Instead, I’ll laud Strong for taking immediate and major remedial steps to deal with his organization’s and his offense’s dysfunction. By demoting Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline and promoting Jay Norvell to play-caller and de facto offensive coordinator, Strong chose not to avoid confrontation and to not be overly concerned about hurt feelings and bruised egos. He also sent a message to the entire coaching staff and the players that they will be held accountable for their performance. In announcing these changes Tuesday afternoon, Strong said, “You can either accept the problem or divorce yourself from it and just let it go. I couldn’t let it go. There are just too many people involved. This university is too big for it to happen. I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

I don’t expect miracles to be performed by Norvell. I’m braced to see only modest improvement in the offense this week against Rice. First of all, Norvell will be working with the same players that Watson was against Notre Dame. In addition, Novell’s resume is less than inspiring, in my opinion. At this point, to me, he’s just another recycled, vagabond coach with stops at Iowa, Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State (does this man have a family?), the Oakland Raiders, the Indianapolis Colts, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. There is no career-defining success that I can find at any of these stops.

The Quarterback Situation

Theoretically, Jerrod Heard’s speed and elusiveness make him a better fit than Swoopes for the spread HUNH—see what I did there?—offense. It will be interesting to see if he is the starter this week.

And You Want Him to Be Your Offensive Coordinator?

I’ve read numerous fan posts on various UT Football blogs promoting the idea that special teams and tight ends coach Jeff Traylor should be the new offensive coordinator because of his legendary status as an offensive guru at Gilmore High School. I guess these fans aren’t concerned that during the Notre Dame game his punt coverage team had only 10 players on three of Texas’ punts.

Ticket Sales

Did you see the commercials for Texas-OU tickets during the Notre Dame game? Somebody google the last time the Texas-OU game wasn’t a sellout months in advance.
I read this week that there are 15,000 tickets available for the Rice game.

Parting Thought

With Longhorn Football ever gentle on my mind this week, a lyric from “Rosalita”—one of my two favorite Bruce Springsteen songs—has been stuck in my head.

Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.

HooK ‘eM,


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Notre Dame Post Game

Good Will Burning

We all saw it. It doesn’t take an experienced college football coach or analyst to breakdown this game. For academic purposes I’ll give you my breakdown:

  1. Texas’ young and inexperienced offensive line: Looked even younger and less experienced than we could have imagined. Wickline might as well make this unit even younger and less experienced by benching senior Cedric Flowers, who was just as bad as the freshmen, and the only Longhorn to visibly lose composure.
  2. Tyrone Swoopes: “Earth to Charlie Strong,” Swoopes is not your answer. An expression that my parent’s generation used seems appropriate here, “He doesn’t have it.” There are at least two better quarterbacks right there on your very own roster, maybe more.
  3. Shawn Watson: He’s not qualified for this job and it shows. I’ll leave it at that so my head doesn’t explode.
  4. Defensive line: The strength of the Longhorns’ strength got mashed, manhandled and dominated. Perhaps Ridgeway and Jackson aren’t as good as they looked when playing alongside dominator Malcolm Brown. Let’s hope that Ridgeway and Jackson really weren’t totally healthy and will be better when they are.


With this game Charlie Strong burned through most if not all of his season two goodwill. I’m not confident that he knows how to turn around a program that has lost three straight games in a totally embarrassing manner.

As I was getting in bed early Sunday morning, thinking about the game, I chuckled over the connection between Strong and his staff with one of my favorite moments from Seinfeld. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Hang tough.

HooK ‘eM,


Over/Under Results

If anything could make me happy after this game it was the record 20 entries, including three from first time entrants, which we received here at Willie Earl’s Longhorn Blog.  It was a very competitive contest with too many players to mention scoring eight correct answers. Helen Frink and Brother Rick Mosher were truly outstanding in scoring nine correct. Nine is almost always a winning score but disappointingly for Helen and Rick, not this week.

Scoring a perfect 10, Wade Wallace turned in a comeback performance that Tiger Woods can only dream about. Correct me if I’m wrong out there, but I believe this is Wades first Over/Under victory since his halcyon days of 2008-2011. Well done Boss of Floss and welcome back to the victory circle.



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Notre Dame Pregame

Two Quarterbacks


Much to my chagrin, Charlie Strong has unequivocally named Tyrone Swoopes the starting quarterback for the Notre Dame game. He clearly beat out Jerrod Heard. Swoopes is the man. He’s impressed Strong, Watson and his teammates. So why, with Swoopes so firmly established as the starter, is Strong planning on playing Jerrod Heard against Notre Dame as well? There are three reasons that I can think of, two of them are bad.

Reason #1: Strong is placating Texas fans who aren’t happy with Swoopes starting. The Longhorns are in big trouble if the head coach makes football decisions based on fan sentiment.

Reason #2: He wants to diversify the offense by playing quarterbacks with different strengths. In this scenario, Swoopes is the passer and Heard is the runner. This is a really stupid idea. If Swoopes is moving the team, why would you disrupt that by inserting Heard? If Swoopes plays poorly, sure, go ahead and bring on Heard in relief, but don’t arbitrarily play two quarterbacks. There’s a pretty good old football cliché, “If you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterback.”

Reason #3: He wants Heard to have game experience in case Swoopes gets injured. It’s a good idea to give the number two guy real game reps, but doing it in against a good Notre Dame team in South Bend seems like a bad idea. Why not wait one week and work in Heard against Rice at home?

Maybe the reason is all of the above.

Perhaps Swoopes will play well and Heard doesn’t play against Notre Dame. In any event, I think it’s a bad coaching strategy to arbitrarily play two quarterbacks. We’ve seen right here in River City (Simms, Applewhite) the problems associated with that strategy. I would prefer there be less ambiguity about our quarterbacks.

Pain, Agony, Defeat

Notre Dame has been the source of much pain for the Longhorns and Longhorn fans. It doesn’t get much more painful for a 15-year old Longhorn fan than to be shoveling 18 inches of snow from your driveway in the dusky gloom of Vestal, N.Y., on New Year’s Day 1971, after your beloved Longhorns have just had their 30-game win streak ended—and had lost the National Championship* to boot—by losing to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

It was a cold if not sunny day in Dallas on January 2, 1978, when Texas lost the Cotton Bowl Game to Notre Dame and again the National Championship after what had been one of the most glorious Longhorn regular seasons ever. At least for me, there was ironic humor in that after the game, I was obliged to drive my friend Joe and his Notre Dame roommate from Fair Park in my Longhorn festooned white Mustang—amidst celebrating and taunting Notre Dame Fans—to their motel room in Dallas.

The 1995 loss in South Bend was the least painful of all the Notre Dame losses, because it was early in the season, Notre Dame was highly ranked, and up-and-coming Texas led by James Brown played lights-out until the fourth quarter.

Losing to Notre Dame, once again, on the return engagement in 1996 in Austin was one of the most bitter Texas losses in memory. I think I cried. I was 41 years old.
This doesn’t seem like the year that the Longhorns will salve the Notre Dame wounds with a victory. I do think that this game, being the first of the season for both teams, works in Texas’ favor. So who knows? It could happen.

How It Could Happen, Five Keys to Victory

1. Tyrone Swoopes and/ or Jerrod Heard play well. For this to happen, the offensive line has to protect them and open at least a few holes so Texas can get something positive from the running game.
2. Texas running backs have to break tackles. I’m talking to you, Jonathan Gray.
3. Texas pass receivers have to catch the passes thrown to them. Reports from practice say dropped passes have been prevalent. Texas can’t have this in South Bend on Saturday night.
4. Texas defenders have to limit the damage done by Malik Zaire’s feet. The Notre Dame quarterback is a big, strong, and elusive runner. He’s going to get some yards running and extend some passing plays by eluding defenders. If Texas is to win, they can’t let Zaire’s running define the game.
5. Texas can’t afford even small breakdowns in kickoff or punt coverage. Punter Michael Dickson, whoever he is, has to average around 40 yards net per punt. A nice kickoff or punt return by Daje Jonson wouldn’t hurt either.

HooK ‘eM.


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Preseason 2015

 The Summer Wind

The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea
It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me
All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand
Two sweethearts and the summer wind
– Johnny Mercer

Ah The Summer Wind, a nostalgic yearning for a lost love best performed by Frank Sinatra—my kind of song. If I was to go all nostalgic for a lost summer love it wouldn’t be a yearning for a summer girlfriend but a yearning for the summer of 1976. That summer my life-long friend Joe and I worked Monday – Friday, 8am-4pm with as lightly supervised groundskeepers at an upscale apartment complex in a forested neighborhood in Reston, Virginia. Nights, Joe and I drove around smoking marijuana, looking for girls, parties and more marijuana. On weekend nights we sometimes pursued those goals in the Georgetown bar district of Washington D.C. In my memoir the chapter on that sublime summer will be titled, “White Rabbit, White Mustang.”

But I digress.

There’s been another kind of wind blowing around the Longhorns this summer. Or should I say hot air? All of our favorite Longhorn broadcast and blog analysts—with the exception of yours truly—has been bloviating about what a great summer Tyrone Swoopes has had. He is going to gain the team’s confidence by improving his body language and not throwing interceptions. Ingenious!  Aside from his dabbling in a little “Gangsta” rap we’re told that Daje Johnson has also had a great summer. I’ve even heard that extremely demanding Longhorn Strength and Conditioning coordinator Pat Moorer thinks his Longhorns have had a great summer. These great summers, mind you, were going on even before fall practice started a few weeks ago. Here’s what I have to say about these great summers, “Blow it out your wazoo.”

Here’s what we really know about the Longhorns five days before they go to South Bend. The starting quarterback is Tyrone Swoopes. Remember him? Two of the offensive line starters are true freshman. The best linebacker, Malik Jefferson, is a true freshman and there is no depth at that position. On paper the starting defensive line could be very good but the starting tackles; Hassan Ridgeway and Tank Jackson (he of the infamous UCLA coin-toss call) are coming off injuries and haven’t practiced much since season preparations began. According to practice reports the wide receivers can’t catch very well. Uh, this could be a problem.

The Quarterback “Situation”

Using some Charlie Strong vernacular, “when you look at it,” Texas is in worse shape now at the quarterback position than they were last year at this time. Last year David Ash was the starter. Now we have Tyrone Swoopes. Last year the backup was a sophomore with some game experience. This year the backup is a redshirt freshman. Okay, its’ a flawed comparison because last year the quarterback position went way south very quickly but here’s my point. After one season and two recruiting seasons, Charlie Strong’s and Shawn Watson’s answer at quarterback is Tyrone Swoopes. Good summers notwithstanding, how much better can Swoopes be after 12 starts then he was after 11. How much better can he be on September 5, 2015 than he was on December 29, 2014? There must be some kind of research by economists or mathematicians on the range of change—I believe the technical term here is delta—possible for a given metric when you have a large data set on that metric on-hand.  I think Darrell Royal said something to the effect, “if a dog is going to bite you, he’ll bite you as a pup.”

Did Swoopes bite anybody last year? Maybe Jerrod Heard just isn’t very good. I haven’t had the benefit of seeing what Swoopes was up to over the summer or how he’s performed in August practice, so I guess I’ll suspend my disbelief and believe for now that Strong and Watson know best. Still, I’m disappointed that Swoopes is the starting quarterback. I’m also worried about the longer term prospects for the Longhorns because Strong and Watson haven’t found someone better than Swoopes. To me it’s a red flag on Strong’s vision and management of the program. In the short term, in my opinion, Swoopes as the starter makes it unlikely that Texas can win more than seven games in the 2015 regular season.

I know we’re excited about the new season being at hand so take heart. What makes a less than optimistic preseason analysis and prognostication good is that it’s sometimes very wrong.

Quick Openers or Off-the-Cuff Observations

Jonathan Gray is overrated. From what I saw last year I’d like to see more D’Anta Foreman and less Jonathan Gray.

At last count four true freshmen and one redshirt freshman are starters and five or six more are going to play right away. Given the state of the program this is good news.

If you’re going to South Bend for the first time, you’ll have a good time but you might be surprised by what you find. I know I was when I went to the Texas-Notre Dame game there in 1995 with my aforementioned life-long friend Joe who is a Notre Dame graduate. Joe and I had a good time, but then again, we always do.

I’m trying to remember when a quarterback followed up a really putrid year with a good one.

I spent my first waking moments the other day trying to put my left hearing aid in my right ear.

Speaking of metrics, keep your eye on Texas’ special teams. Last year they were bad. I think it will be another red flag on Strong if his special teams are again a major liability.

Jordan Spieth, now there’s a good summer.

Daje Johnson has to have the ball in his hands at least 15 times a game for the Longhorns to reach their full potential.

How ‘bout that Art Briles and Baylor?

Zach Gentry, the four star quarterback recruit who flipped from Texas to Michigan, will redshirt in 2015 and is taking snaps at tight end. Maybe Texas inadvertently dodged a bullet here.

My favorite song download of the summer is It Never Entered My Mind by the Miles Davis Quintet…as in it never entered my mind in the days, weeks and months following the end of last season that Tyrone Swoopes would be the Longhorns’ starting quarterback for the Notre Dame game.


Forty plus years of closely following Texas Football have left me jaded about highly praised in-coming freshmen. Jadedness aside, this year four are definitely first game starters—and at least a few more are going to see serious playing time early—so comment is warranted. Starting linebacker Malik Jefferson, since arriving in January, has lived up to the coach’s high expectations. Starting offensive guard Patrick Vahe and starting offensive tackle Connor Williams have looked so good that knowledgeable observers are slating them as future NFL players. The Horns haven’t had that caliber of offensive lineman in a while. John Burt, one of Charlie Strong’s Florida recruits, is a tall and fast wide receiver. Big and speedy receiver DeAndre McNeal has the best hands on the team, according to preseason practice reports, and brings big play potential to the offense. Big, fast running back Chris Warren (I know this is getting repetitive but these guys really are big and fast) has been impressive and will push for serious playing time.

What may be different about this year’s highly touted freshmen is that we can be reasonably assured that since these are Charlie Strong’s recruits, they won’t be sidelined by academic, drug or other off-field issues.

If he hasn’t already, Coach Strong needs to figure out the quarterback position.

HooK ‘eM.


A compact Notre Dame Pregame column will be delivered with Willie Earl’s Fabulous Over/Under Contest late Thursday.

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