Archive for the ‘2016’ Category

Oklahoma Pre Game

Gradually and then Suddenly

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
– Dialogue from Ernest Hemingway’s
1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises.

I was thinking earlier this week about Charlie Strong’s plight and the above dialogue  came to me.  It’s one of my favorite descriptions of how dramatic events  often unfold in life. In the span of eight days and two games, Strong has gone from having virtually universal support from the  Longhorn fan base to having almost zero.

His support and goodwill wouldn’t have so suddenly disappeared if not for a series of bad decisions he made and his team’s pratfalls in blowout losses in his first two seasons.

Charlie’s bad decisions

  1. Bringing offensive coordinator Shawn Watson with him from Louisville. Strong had a blank check to hire elite coordinators and coaches to assemble his staff at UT. Instead of going elite he brought the journeyman Watson just another college coaching gypsy with an undistinguished record in stints at Northwestern, Colorado, and Nebraska. His biggest claim to fame was coaching Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville. In Austin, he developed a man-crush on Tyrone Swoopes at the expense of developing four- star quarterback recruit Jerrod Heard. His 2014 offense ranked #109 out of 128 teams.  In the Texas Bowl is offense totaled 59 yards. No, that’s not a typo. 59 yards total yards.
  2. Finishing 109th in total offense with 59 total yards in the last game of 2014 certainly was a ringing endorsement for retaining Watson for 2015 and that’s just what Strong did. After Strong touted during the spring and summer the new up-tempo offense Watson was going to unveil in 2015, his offense posted 7 points and 163 yards in its debut  versus Notre Dame.  Strong demoted Watson to quarterback coach after the game and lamented that his offense wasn’t up-tempo after all.  Say what Charlie? Are you saying you didn’t really know what your offense was going to look like until the first game had been played?
  3. When Strong arrived in Austin in January 2014 he inherited a roster with two scholarship quarterbacks, veteran David Ash and rising sophomore Tyrone Swoopes. Ash, who would be a redshirt junior in the 2014 season, had shown promise as a solid if not outstanding quarterback with 30 touchdown passes against 18 interceptions for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons. Ash suffered two concussions in 2013. The second one ended his season after the fourth game and should have given Strong serious concerns about Ash’s viability as a long-term starter. Evidently Strong wasn’t concerned enough to recruit a junior college or graduate transfer quarterback to bolster the depth chart. This was a big mistake as Ash suffered another concussion in the first game of the 2014 season ending his career and forcing Texas to rely on the inexperienced Swoopes. Strong, in my opinion, compounded his quarterback issues by redshirting freshman Jerrod Heard even as Swoopes and the offense struggled mightily.  Strong’s quarterback problems dovetailed with his decision to bring Watson with him and retain him for the 2015 season.
  4. As obvious as it was that Texas needed a new offensive coordinator for the 2016 season, what about his defensive coordinator? Vance Bedford’s defense in 2015 was the worst in Texas history surrendering 30 points per game but Strong retained hi for 2016 anyway. Shawn Watson lasted one game in 2015, Bedford last four games in 2016.

Linebacker coach Brian Jean Marie is the only assistant coach that hasn’t been fired or reassigned from Strong’s  2014 staff.  Quite frankly, it appears as though Strong was not qualified to assemble a coaching staff for a power five conference football team.

Blowout Losses
BYU 41-7
Kansas State 23-0
TCU 48-10
Arkansas 31-7

Notre Dame 38-3
TCU 50-7
Iowa State 24-0

Oklahoma State 49-31

Charlie Strong’s poor decision making and his team’s proclivity for blowout losses  over two-plus seasons indicate to me that he isn’t the answer for the Texas Football program.  The silver lining for Texas is that it appears that Strong has stocked the cupboard with  good players, including a quarterback, for the Texas head man that succeeds him to have at least moderate success in 2017.

The OU Game

It may shock and amaze you, but I think Texas will make this game competitive and they might repeat last year’s surprise by winning it.

The Texas offense matches up well with the Oklahoma defense. Oklahoma is giving up 35 points a game and perhaps Shane Buechele’s ribs are healed enough to let him resume throwing the ball deep to John Burt, Jacorey Warrick, and Jerrod Heard.

I believe the odds are in favor of the Texas defense  playing better than they did against Cal and Oklahoma State. It’s a low bar, right? I don’t necessarily believe Charlie Strong’s assumption of the defensive coordinator duties is going to make that big a difference but I do think the players have probably learned something from the last two games and could hold Oklahoma to say 35 points. That maybe just be good enough for the win.

That seems like a good note to end on. It is OU game Friday after all.

Beat the hell outta OU!

Hook ‘Em


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Oklahoma State Post Game

Deja Vous All Over Again

Texas suffers an extreme defensive meltdown (two meltdowns but who’s counting?) and an embarrassing loss on national television.  The defensive coordinator is relieved of his duties. The head coach vows to get it fixed and the death watch begins. I’m describing events in Texas Football in 2013 and here we go again in 2016. What’s going on with the Longhorns was inexplicable in 2013 and it’s inexplicable now.  Five million a year sure doesn’t buy as much as it used to.

There’s no need for me to recount the events that took place at Boone Pickens stadium on Saturday. If you’re reading this you witnessed it for yourself, heard about it, or read about it. Putting histrionics aside let’s review what I thought a month ago about how Texas might fare in 2016.

In my season preview column on September 2, I broke down the season into three sets of games to arrive at my prediction for Texas’ final regular season record.  I’ve included their current record in each set.

Set One

1.Notre Dame
2. Oklahoma
3. Baylor
4. TCU
Set One record: 1-3 (10/3 actual, 1-0)

Set Two
1. Cal
2. Oklahoma St.
3. Kansas St.
4. Texas Tech
Set Two record 2-2 (10/3 actual, 0-2)

Set Three
2. Iowa State
3. West Virginia
4. Kansas

Set Four record: 4-0 (10/3 actual, 1-0)

Willie Earl’s 2016 season prediction: 7-5

As of today, the Horns are still on track to finish 7-5. They can lose all three remaining games in Set One. That’s a done deal right? In Set Two they have to beat Iowa State and West Virginia at home and beat Kansas on the road.  4-0 for Set Two still seems doable don’t you think?

So that brings my 7-5 prediction, and possibly the fate of Charlie Strong’s tenure at Texas, down to the Kansas State and Texas Tech games in Set Three. Can he win both games which are on the road where he’s 1-6 in his last seven?

Kansas State

Heck, KSU averages only 168 passing yards and 31.8 points per game. Texas wins this one easily right?

Texas Tech

Can Strong  improve the pass defense enough by November 5, to hold Texas Tech to say, 400 passing yards (Tech averages 547 per game) and less than 40 points? If so I think his team has a chance because Texas Tech has given up an average of 37 points a game so far this season.  I’m putting this one into the win column for Charlie.

So it pretty much looks like my 7-5 prediction is safe and with it Charlie’s job for one more year right? The rebuild is still on schedule. How they look and the emotions they inspire in their fans getting to 7-5 is irrelevant in this analysis.

I thought you could use some good news today about the Longhorns. 🙂

Hook ‘Em,


Over/Uner Results

In the “Never a bride always a bridesmaid” category, Mike Frank tied for first place again this week with eight correct answers, then lost in the the tiebreaker to the veteran Wade Wallace who returns to the winning circle for the first time this year. Mike and Wade guessed right eight times this week.  Greg Swan finished in solo third with seven correct.

Grader’s Observations

All but one player overestimated the number of turnovers the Texas defense would force.  It will be interesting going forward to see how many ways the Texas defense can continue underperforming.

More than two out of every three players overestimated the special team’s capability in returning kickoffs. As with the defense, it will be interesting to see how futile Texas’ special teams will be in the remaining eight games.

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Oklahoma State Pre Game


Strength of schedule

Texas’ first three opponents had a bad day last Saturday. Notre Dame lost at home to football powerhouse Duke 38-35, UTEP lost to Southern Mississippi 34-7, and California lost to Arizona State 51-41. The combined record of Notre Dame, UTEP, and California is 4-8.  Do we all agree that beating Notre Dame wasn’t such a big deal after all? Did you know that UTEP lost to Army a couple weeks ago 66-14? Could it be that we don’t know yet how competitive Texas will be for the balance of the season?


In 2015 the Texas offense ranked 100 out of 128 teams nationally. Not so good. Charlie Strong brought in a new and ballyhooed offensive coordinator in Sterlin Gilbert accompanied by new offensive line coach Matt Mattox, who worked with Gilbert at Tulsa. Voila, the Horns offense, through three games in 2016, is 22nd nationally averaging 44.7 points per game. The offense scored 41 points in a loss to California. No, that’s not a typo. Remember, Texas scored two points on a safety which resulted from a blocked punt.  A hyper-analytical reader might say, if you’re not including defensive and special teams scores in total offense statistics, Texas is averaging 44 points per game. Right.

In 2015 the Texas defense was ranked 106. Again, not so good.  Strong didn’t make defensive staff changes for 2016 standing pat with defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and most of his defensive assistants.  So far this year based on total defense statistics, Texas has improved to 66th nationally.  Still, the defensive is under-performing allowing 34.7 points per game which is 107th nationally.

Strong the football coach

Could Charlie Strong upgrade the defense the way the offense has been upgraded by replacing defensive coordinator Vance Bedford? If so, what is Strong, a defensive specialist, bringing to the table in fundamental football coaching?  We can be pretty sure Strong is an excellent recruiter and talent evaluator but is he so overwhelmed by head coaching responsibilities he cannot coach up the defense and  make positive contributions in game-planning and in-game adjustments?  I guess we’ll find out because Strong has said in his last two press conferences that he is re-evaluating his defensive coaches and will become more involved in defensive schemes and game planning.  I’m not holding my breath.

Kent Perkins

If the truth be known, I wouldn’t want to be judged by my behavior at age 21. Maybe not at age 41 either for that matter. Still, it’s a head-scratcher that a senior starter and team leader could be so drunk that he fell asleep in a fast food drive through and blew a .178. I was a little surprised that he only drew a one-game suspension from Strong. Did Strong lower the bar for Perkins because he’s a valuable player and his job security would be at risk if his team suffers a meltdown this season?  I’m not sure, but playing devil’s advocate, perhaps because Strong has had almost three years to get to know him, he’s already made the judgment that Perkins is a solid citizen who deserves leniency for a first offense.

Quarterback Shuffle

During the second half of the California game, the Texas offense gained 219 yards scored 10 points compared to 359 yards and 31 points in the first half.  The biggest factor in the second half drop off was two holding penalties that wiped out a first and ten at the Cal 7-yard line, and a first and ten at the Cal 13-yard line, and two false start penalties that stalled drives resulting in punts.  Surface analysis puts the blame on the offensive linemen who committed the penalties and maybe that’s where all the blame belongs, but something else was going on during these drives that may have disrupted the rhythm of the offense.  Texas changed quarterbacks six times during these drives.  Watching the game in real time and reading the drive chart just a minute ago it just seems dumb. Considering the manic quarterback shuffle and that Sterlin Gilbert called no running plays on Texas’ last drive of the game, I think the game got away from him in the second half.  Hopefully, he’ll be a better in-game manager going forward.

Oklahoma State

This game will provide Charlie Strong a legitimate test of his vow to get the defense fixed. Oklahoma State with veteran quarterback Mason Rudolph is the eleventh ranked passing team in the country averaging 340 yards per game.  The game is in Stillwater and Strong is 1-5 in his last six road games, his only victory coming in Waco against a depleted Baylor offense.  Last week I said I didn’t like night games on the road against passing teams.  Kickoff this week is 11am. Under Strong, Texas is 3-4 in games starting at 11, 1-3 on the road.

Texas is a two  -point underdog in this one which looks about right to me.  I see Mason Rudolph having a big game against a not yet fixed defense with the Texas offense keeping the Horns in the game but eventually falling short. Call it 44-42 OSU.

Upon Further Review

I joined a Writer’s Meetup Group this week so I was reviewing the Willie Earl archives for a writing sample to bring to my first meeting.  I sure have been writing about a whole lot of losing and frustration during the last three years and we know it wasn’t much better the three years before that.

Here’s to all of us living long enough to see the Longhorns winning big again and to see the Mopac improvement project completed.

Hook ‘Em


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California Post Game

Six-Foot Putts

I was thinking about my frustration and disappointment over the California loss while I was playing golf Sunday afternoon.  On the second hole, I made an eight-foot putt for par. This got me thinking about how close football games and six- to eight-foot putts have much in common. In the groups that I play with, a high percentage of golf rounds, are defined by how many six- to eight to foot putts were made and missed. Similarly, a team’s season is often defined by its record in games decided by seven points or less. I was two for two in six- to eight-foot putts during my nine-hole round, and hence I had a good round as defined by my golf handicap. My score was 41 for those of you who are interested.

To convert a better-than-average percentage of six to eight-foot putts, a golfer must have a fundamentally sound putting stroke that he or she can execute under pressure.  The more six-  to eight-foot putts made, the more confidence the player will have, and confidence is perhaps the most important attribute in being a good putter.  To give those of you who are less than avid golfers some perspective, Phil Mickelson has made 69.81 % of his seven-foot putts on the PGA tour in 2016.

Are the Longhorns fundamentally sound enough and can they execute under pressure well enough to have a better-than-average chance to win close games?  On offense,  yes, on defense and special teams, no.  One out of three won’t cut it in the seven out of nine remaining games which will likely be close ones for Texas. Clearly, Texas’ season will be defined by how much they can improve on defense and special teams.

Turning Point
By now, the performance of the defense in the Cal game has been well reported and analyzed.  As bad as the defense played, I thought the turning point in the game was the interception of Buechele’s first- down deep pass down the right sideline with 1:32 remaining in the first half. Texas had acquired the ball on a kickoff after Brandon Jones blocked a Cal punt resulting in a safety, giving Texas a 33-28 lead. Before the interception I thought … we have the ball, and we can end the half with it, score at least a field goal, and make sure Davis Webb doesn’t get another shot at our defense until the second half.  If Texas could have gone into halftime with a 36-28 or 40-28 lead and momentum, I believe Texas wins the game.  The pass reminded me of something that Darrell Royal once told a UT backup quarterback after he had a long pass attempt intercepted.  “That was chickenshit, keep it on the ground.”

Mr. Fixit

John, you’re a bore; we’ve heard this before
Now for God’s sake, John, sit down!
~”Sit Down John” From the musical 1776

At his Monday press conference, Strong vowed several times to fix the defense.  It reminded me of a song from the musical, 1776, which I was amazingly lucky enough to see during its first run on Broadway on an eighth-grade field trip.  In the play, the character John Adams over and over again urges the Congress to declare independence from England. Finally, Congress breaks into song, Sit down John!

Well, how many times over the past two seasons have we heard Charlie Strong say he was going to fix something?  Before Strong, we heard Mack Brown repeatedly declare he was going to fix whatever was ailing his football team.  Folks, I hate to break it to you, but neither Brown nor Strong ever got anything fixed. Last year, Strong was going to fix the offense by demoting Shawn Watson and elevating Jerrod Heard. Aided by opponents with porous defenses (Rice and Cal), the fix seemed to work, but as the season wore on the offense proved to still be broken, as evidenced by a finishing the season ranked 92nd nationally in total offense.

In my 47+ years of closely observing college football, I’ve never seen any coach, during the season, fix any part of his football team that had systemic problems. Let’s hope there really is a first time for everything.

Hook ‘Em.


Over/Under Results

The California O/U was the toughest test of the season so far with an average score of 5.3.  15 out of 16 players went over on 32.5 minutes of possession for Texas. If they had all been right I think Texas would have won the game. Texas time of possession 31:47. 13 of 16 players went under in 1.5 turnovers for Texas. Again, if they had been right, Texas probably wins. Texas had two turnovers.  If you went under on 79.5 total points scored, don’t feel too bad. 13 of 16 took the under.

David Frink, Mike Frank and Greg Swan tied for first with seven correct answers. Mike and Greg correctly picked Ohio St. and Texas A&M in the tiebreaker. They also both predicted a big win for Texas in predicting the score so I hate to have come up with a winner from that metric but we can’t have ties. Therefore, Greg Swan returns to winners circle this week by predicting a Texas win by fewer points than Mike Frank did.

Congrats Swanee!

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California Pre Game

Annual Ode to Blackie Sherrod

Scatter shooting while wondering whatever happened to Ron McKelvey.

California quarterback Davis Webb has passed for 963 yards and nine touchdowns in their first two games, and I worry about road night games against passing teams. I guess I’ll never get over the 2008 Texas Tech game.

The last time the Horns played at night on the west coast was the loss to Alabama in the 2009 National Championship game.  And who can forget the nighttime debacle out west in Provo in 2013? I’m sure Mack Brown never will. But those games were a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. right?

I think we all agree that Shane Buechele and the passing attack he’s brought to Austin is the best thing that’s happened to Texas football since 2009, but I wouldn’t mind if Mr. Buechele didn’t downloadthrow a pass all Saturday night in Berkeley. You might be thinking, “Whatcha talkin’ about Willis?”  Well, Cal has given up 581 rushing yards in their first two games. What better way to defeat  an opponent with a  high-powered passing attack than by bludgeoning them into submission by handing the ball to your three, 250-pound running backs over and over and over again and eating clock while you’re doing it?  Okay, so Buechele might need to throw a few times, but I’m just saying. While I’m on the subject, even though he is an effective runner, I could do with fewer runs by our freshman franchise quarterback.

I like intersections where there’s no right turn on red. One less thing.

It’s a real pity about what happened to Oklahoma State last week.  Is it just me or has college officiating gotten a whole lot worse over the last three years or so?  It seems that officials can’t make the simplest of calls without a three-minute conference. I guarantee you that the OSU-Central Michigan game won’t be the last one we’ll hear about this season where officials had a direct impact on a game because they didn’t know a rule.  Speaking of rules, I have an idea for one.  If replay officials can’t make a judgment on a play under review in two minutes or less, the call on the field stands.  This would reduce the length of college football games that have become, in many cases, ridiculously long four hour marathons.

How ‘bout that Marquis Goodwin?

To add to the relevance and luster of this year’s Texas-OU game, Oklahoma needs to beat Ohio State Saturday.  So Texas fans, hold your nose if you must and root for Oklahoma this weekend.

Have I told you lately how much I’m chagrined by all the people walking around with earphones stuck in their ears? Are they afraid they might have to talk to someone face-to-face? Or are they so bored with their own thoughts that they have to keep them constantly drowned out?

Radio talk show host Colin Cowherd was told by an NFL scout that current college football coaching is awful.  He blames it on the hiring of assistant coaches because they are good recruiters and not because they are good football coaches. What you end up with, he thinks, are gym teachers coaching college football. We have some of that going in Austin in my opinion.  Texas special team’s coordinator Jeff Traylor was hired by Charlie Strong in February of 2015 for his east Texas high school football connections.  Since Traylor has been in charge, Texas’ special teams haven’t gone two games without a snafu.

Will Texas be so preoccupied by Davis Webb and California’s passing attack that they get suckered by the run? Cal ran for 280 yards against Texas last year. California’s top two running backs are averaging 7.5 yards per carry this year.  Add that to their passing game and the California offense presents a daunting challenge to the Texas defense, on paper anyway.  I write on paper because California has racked up all these stats against Hawaii and San Diego State.  Hopefully Texas’ defense will be a whole new ballgame for the California offense.

I generally try to avoid spending six-plus straight hours watching football, but I don’t see how I can avoid it Saturday night with Ohio St. vs Oklahoma followed by Texas vs Cal.  How ‘bout that for a fun Saturday night, Helen?

Hook ‘Em,


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