Archive for the ‘2018’ Category

Where are the Defenders?

Texas’ defense has given up over 1,000 yards and 80 points over the last two games.  P.J. Locke and Anthony Wheeler have been widely and deservedly criticized, if not ridiculed, as the glaring weak links on the porous defense.  The lack of veteran depth on the defense has pressed freshmen Caden Sterns into a starting role and B.J. Foster into a key backup role.

Sterns and Foster were five-star recruits and Sterns has played well.  He leads the team in interceptions with four but his play the last two weeks has fallen off with some blown coverages and missed tackles. Foster has an interception, some big hits and has played well enough to indicate that he will be a solid starter for the next three years but has missed his share of tackles and blown coverages.

I understand Texas is rebuilding—still—but Charlie Strong’s 2015 and 2016 recruiting classes were ranked tenth and seventh nationally.  Those recruits from those highly-touted classes are now third and fourth year players so why is Texas so heavily relying on two sub-standard players and two true-freshmen?

Where are the defenders?

2015 Class

Linebacker Malik Jefferson, a five-star recruit, left for the NFL after his junior year in 2017. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the third-round and he’s listed fourth on the depth chart at weak side linebacker. He has four tackles for the season.   I wonder if he would have been better off, NFL career wise, to stay for his senior year.

Cornerback Holton Hill, a four-star recruit, left for the NFL after his junior year in 2017. He was Texas’ best cornerback in 2017 and was projected as a first-round draft pick.  After he was suspended for the last three games of 2017, he was undrafted and signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings. He has started one game this year, has one interception and 17 tackles.

Safety DeShon Elliott, a four-star recruit, left for the NFL after his junior year in 2017 in which he led the team with six interceptions and was a consensus first-team All-American.  He was drafted in the sixth-round by the Baltimore Ravens. He fractured his arm in preseason game and is out for the season.

2016 Class

Safety Brandon Jones, a four-star recruit, is one of the starting safeties. The junior has played pretty well and has had his moments but is not yet the standout that he was projected to be.

Safety Jeffery McCulloch, a four-star recruit, is a key backup.  He hasn’t shown great instincts and he appears to be nearly as slow as the starter, Anthony Wheeler.

Linebacker Erick Fowler, a four-star recruit, was high-profile recruit who flipped from LSU to Texas. He missed most of fall camp his freshman year because of grade issues and played in nine games primarily on special teams.  He left the team in the spring of 2017 presumably to transfer but a cursory internet search didn’t turn up any information on him after he left Texas.

Defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, a four-star recruit, transferred to Missouri after his freshman year.  After sitting out 2017 because of transfer rules, he’s listed as the second-team nose-tackle and has 14 tackles this year.

Defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald, a four-star recruit, gave up football in August of this year. He was redshirted in 2016, did not play last year and was not projected to play this year.

Cornerback Eric Cuffee, a four-star recruit, transferred to Trinity Valley junior college in August.

Defensive Tackle Marcel Southall, a four-star recruit, transferred to Tyler Junior College after his freshman year and then transferred to Florida Atlantic University where he is currently a backup.

Some amount of attrition is standard issue when a school changes coaches. It’s debatable whether the players who left early for the NFL would have benefitted professionally long-term if they had stayed with Longhorns for the senior seasons.  It’s not debatable that the 2018 Texas defense would be vastly better if even one of them had stayed.

Without a linebacker with Malik Jefferson’s speed and football instincts on this year’s defense, it’s clear that Todd Orlando’s signature “Dime” defense isn’t working.  In his media availability this week, Orlando said he would play less Dime and more Nickle against Texas Tech.  In laymen’s terms, this means four defensive linemen instead of three to put more pressure on the passer and defend the run more effectively.

Hopefully this not just a lot of loose change.

Night games in Lubbock

Maybe the difficulty of beating Texas Tech at night in Lubbock has been over-hyped. Texas has won four out of the last five times they’ve played at night in Lubbock.  I’ve blocked permanently from my psyche the one they lost.

Speaking of the 2008 Texas Tech game in Lubbock (okay I do remember), here’s a headline in today’s Statesman sports section, Ten years later, Gideon knows his career not defined by one play

The hell it isn’t.

HooK ‘Em,

W.E.

Texas Tech Over/Under 18

  • Wesley averages 16.8 yards per reception
  • Tiebreaker: Pick the winners against the line. Scores aren't required

    Ohio St. -3 1/2 @ Michigan St.
  • Baylor + 14 1/2 @ Iowa St.
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West Virginia Over/Under Results

Reed Ramlow and D.R. Flower had outstanding outings this week and tied for first with nine correct answers.  Reed outlasted D.R. in the tiebreaker by accurately picking Notre Dame and Alabama to cover the spread.   D.R. went with Notre Dame and LSU.  If memory serves, that’s two wins for Reed this year.

Greg Swan, David Bergstrom, and Eric Vogl tied for second with eight correct.

11 of the 15 contestants went with over for 3.5 punts for West Virginia.  If only . . . .

The average score was 6.3

W.E.

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Great Days are Ahead for the Longhorns

In the immediate aftermath of that excruciating loss to West Virginia it may be hard to see how much better our team and program is than it was just a year ago. My hat is off to Tom Herman. His charges didn’t get it done today but he picked the right quarterback to lead the team and has instilled a mental toughness in the Longhorns that has been missing since Colt McCoy departed.

On the subject of the quarterback, Sam Ehlinger played another great game. From the perspective of 50 plus years of observing Texas Football, I’m telling you now that we have our next heir to James Street, Vince Young, and Colt McCoy.

If you’re feeling down, buck up. Things are about to get a lot better for the Orange and White.

HooK ‘Em,

W.E.

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Exposed

How quickly the fortunes of war and a college football team can change.  So there the “royal we” were, rocking along on a six-game winning streak, ranked sixth nationally, and alone in first place in the Big 12.  But the loss to a below average, 4-3 Oklahoma State last Saturday not only exposed the Longhorns as a top 10 team pretender and dropped them into a tie for first place in the Big 12, it also exposed some serious defensive personnel  and troubling coaching flaws.

With the prospects of a truly great season and a Big 12 Championship on the line, how does Texas come out as flat as Head East’s biggest hit single in Stillwater?  Evidently the same way they came out flat in the opening game of the season against Maryland.  These two games were cut from the same cloth and I don’t know how you can rest blame anywhere but with Tom Herman and his coaching staff.

We know what Mike Gundy and his staff were doing during their off-week before the game. They were formulating a game plan that focused on attacking Texas’ defensive personnel weaknesses and then coached their team into executing it nearly to perfection during the first half which essentially won them the game.

What were Herman and his staff doing during the off-week?  Maybe they were preoccupied—like the media who covers them—with recruiting.  Whatever the case, they were clearly outcoached and out prepared by Gundy and his staff.

Through eight games this season, I count four of them, Maryland, Tulsa, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State as games in which Texas looked underprepared and under-motivated. They were fortunate to hang on and beat undermanned Tulsa and Kansas State teams.  The under-motivated part of this equation is baffling and I can’t account for it. I do have some thoughts on Herman and his staff’s tendencies to bring their team into games underprepared.

Defensive personnel

After one Oklahoma’s four touchdown passes against Texas, I turned to my son Bob sitting next to me in the Cotton Bowl and commented, “I don’t see why P.J. Locke plays at all.”  Smarter football people than me who breakdown game film for a living have been making the same observation—with details to back up the assertion—since the  start of this season.  Locke (#11) plays Nickle Back which is a hybrid linebacker-safety position. In the pass-happy Big 12, Locke, on a majority of plays is responsible for covering a receiver.  This may be a slight exaggeration, but when observed on television, Locke, on many plays, isn’t in the picture when his man is catching a pass.  He seems to be out of position much of the time which also causes him to frequently miss tackles.  It was clear that part of Oklahoma State’s game plan was to throw passes to whomever Locke was responsible for covering.

Josh Thompson (#29) is Locke’s backup.  A sophomore and a four-star recruit, Thompson is considered to be more athletic and generally more talented than Locke.  Thompson is smaller than Locke and considered as capable in run support.  Locke, a senior, is also more experienced than Thompson.  The coaching staff has stubbornly stuck with Locke, a senior, mainly I suppose because they’re more comfortable with his experience.

Oklahoma State’s game-sealing third down conversion for a first down with 1:37 left in the game happened because Texas linebacker Anthony Wheeler blew his assignment to cover the backside of the play.  It’s clear that Wheeler is slow- footed for a linebacker and still struggles with fundamental defensive principles such as backside containment as outlined above.   That he’s a starter is perplexing but again it seems that the coaching staff sticks with him because he’s a senior.

Locke and Wheeler are weak links that Orlando needs to figure out how to scheme around if he’s unwilling to replace them. Know for sure that West Virginia—like Oklahoma State—will be coming after them.

Offensive game plans

In the Oklahoma game, Texas’ offensive game plan was aggressive and exploited Oklahoma’s defensive weaknesses.  In that game and, to a lesser extent, the USC and TCU games, it was obvious that Texas had an offensive game plan designed specifically to attack those team’s weaknesses.

Early in the season (I think it was after the Maryland game) Tom Herman was asked a question about the offensive game plan.  The pull quote from the answer to that question was, “We’re just going to run our stuff.” This in contrast to how Mike Gundy’s game plan against Texas that took advantage of specific defensive weaknesses.

Other than the three games mentioned above, and especially the Oklahoma State game, Herman’s offense just ran “our stuff.”   This is lazy game preparation.

West Virginia

Watch for Will Grier and the West Virginia offense to go after P.J. Locke and Anthony Wheeler and watch what Todd Orland tries—if anything to counteract those tactics.

On paper, West Virginia has a better defense than Texas giving up less than 20 points per game.  You’d think that Tom Herman and his offensive staff are looking at West Virginia’s only loss of the season to Iowa State in which Iowa State held the ball for 37:22 and rushed for 244 yards.  We’ll find out if they have been or if they’re just going to run “our stuff.”

HooK “Em,

W.E.

West Virginia Over/Under 18

  • Tiebreaker: Pick the winners against the line. Scores not necessary

    Notre Dame -9.5 at Northwestern
  • Alabama -14 1/2 at LSU
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Oklahoma State Over/Under Results

In a large, tightly-bunched field, David Bergstrom emerged from the pack and won last week with eight correct answers. Mitchell Frink finished second with seven correct. D.R. Flower, Greg Swan, and Eric Vogl tied for third with six correct.

The questions proved more difficult than anticipated with an average score of five, that with 11 questions because there were two number fours.  In honor of the nineteen-seventies, when the college football regular season was extended from ten to 11 games, the staff at Willie Earl has decided to make 11 questions the new standard. There will be one number four and a number 11.

Bad News, Good News

The players performed poorly. The coaches coached poorly. Don’t think that because Texas scored 35 points that the offense played well. They didn’t.  In short, during the first half, the defense was a disaster, but the offense contributed to the defensive woes with three straight drives during the first and second quarter that totaled just eleven plays and 3:24 in time of possession.

Sam Ehlinger was the bright spot of the game. He played very well. Turns out, he’s a really good player and if he can stay healthy, Texas is in good shape for the next two-and-a-half years at the most important position on the team.

More to come Friday on where the Longhorns are after the disappointing Oklahoma State  performance heading into the make-or-break matchup with West Virginia this Saturday.

HooK ‘Em,

W.E.

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