Archive for the ‘2021’ Category

Sarkisian’s Quarterbacks

Tua Tagovailo and Mac Jones were the quarterbacks of Steve Sarkisian’s offenses at Alabama. Both were first round draft choices and are starters in the NFL. Both are very accurate pocket passers. They are not threats to run and they rarely do.  As my favorite NFL analyst Greg Cosell says, they’re not second reaction quarterbacks. They each won National Championships at Alabama where they threw from the pocket to NFL first round draft picks Jaylen Waddle and Devonte Smith and were protected by future NFL offensive lineman.

In college football, it’s rare for top 10 teams to have pure pocket passers. Most are dual threat quarterbacks who make second reaction plays running and passing. Tagovailo, Jones, and Joe Burrows at LSU in 2019 are exceptions to the rule. Trevor Lawernce at Clemson was a dual threat quarterback who made many big plays running by design and scrambling.

In 2020, Clemson, Ohio State, and Notre Dame made the College Football Playoffs with dual threat quarterbacks Trevor Lawernce, Justin Fields, and Ian Book.

Texas has lost to Oklahoma the last three years to dual threat quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Jaylen Hurts, and Caleb Williams.  Arkansas’ K.J. Jefferson ran 10 times for 75 yards against Texas a few weeks ago.

Steve Sarkisian prefers to run an offense that features a pocket passer. That worked out well for him at Alabama. It’s not working very well this year at Texas. Yes, Texas’s defense is bad, but they’ve played well in the last two games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the first halves when the offense was performing well. In the second halves, when Oklahoma and Oklahoma State keyed on Bijan Robinson, the offense sputtered and the defense broke down.

Texas has been outscored in the second halves of the last two games 54-17. Texas has had 13 possessions in the second half of these games that ended with seven punts, two turnovers on downs, one interception, two touchdowns and a field goal. Second halves like these are going to result in losses to good teams almost every time.

Would Texas have won these games with a dual threat quarterback? Maybe. With the current offensive line, it’s going to be hard to sustain a good offense for four quarters against good teams relying on quarterbacks that aren’t a threat to make plays scrambling or on designed runs.

Can Casey Thompson make plays scrambling or running by design?  Not like Caleb Williams or K.J. Jefferson but I think he could be somewhat effective scrambling. He was the #14 Dual Threat Quarterback recruit in the 2018 class. Hudson Card was #2 in the 2020 class. Has Sarkisian coached Thompson and Card to stay in the pocket and try to find a receiver and disdain scrambling? It sure looks that way. I’m not sure Sark has any designed quarterback running plays in his playbook right now.

Maybe during the bye week Sarkisian can put some quarterback running plays in Texas’ arsenal and encourage Thompson and Card to scramble when they see opportunities to make a play. It couldn’t hurt.

Steve Holstead and Joel Klatt

Willie Earl reader Steve Holstead and Fox lead college football analyst Joel Klatt agreed that it was a major error for Texas defense to be playing a Cover 2 defense late in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State. Cover Two is not the defense to play when you need to sell out to stop the clock-killing run game. Steve posted his observation on Willie Earl Saturday after the game and Klatt talked about it on the Colin Cowherd show Wednesday of this week. Maybe Klatt reads Willie Earl!

Sam Ehlinger

The Indianapolis Colts have waived Jacob Eason and have elevated Sam Ehlinger to #2 on depth chart behind Carson Wentz. Given Wentz’s injury history, there’s a good chance Ehlinger will play this season.

11am Kickoffs

Texas will play its fourth straight game starting at 11 am next week at Baylor. Evidently, lots of fans don’t like 11 am kicks. Other than the fact that being selected for an 11 am start probably means the Longhorns aren’t having a great season, I kind of like 11 am starts. It gives me less time to kill on a Saturday before the Longhorn game and it still leaves time in the afternoon for golf or other recreational outings.

Willie Earl’s Songs of the Week

“I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends” – “Turn Turn Turn” and more.

I grew up in the suburbs. I guess most people think of the suburbs as a place with all the disadvantages of the city and none of the advantages of the country and vice versa. But in a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs. Kind of the golden age of kids.

Fun fact. I graduated from high school in the same year as Kevin Arnold, Winnie Cooper, and Paul Pfeiffer.

Hook ‘Em,
W.E.

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Oklahoma State Over/Under Results

Clayton Frink and Wade Wallace tied for first place with eight correct answers. Wade prevailed in the tiebreaker picking winners Alabama and the Cowboys in the tiebreaker. Clayton picked the Mike Leach’s and the Patriots. One of the top two or three Over/Under players of all time, it was Wade’s first win of the season.

Mark Adams, David Bergstrom, and Wes Peoples tied for third with seven correct.

Of the 17 players this week, 13 predicted there would no lead change in the 4th quarter. Wrong. Other than that question, the distribution of answers was very even.

W.E.

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Embedded Underachievement

Since the OU game, I’ve had conversations with two Texas fans, one a diehard fan since 1965, the other a more casual fan. The diehard told me, the loss to Oklahoma was for him, the most devasting loss since the 1984 Cotton Bowl loss to Georgia that cost Texas a National Championship. Before that conversation I hadn’t thought about ranking this most recent Oklahoma loss with other devastating Longhorn losses. The ’84 Cotton Bowl was devastating. The other loss that ranks with it for me is the 2008 loss to Texas Tech. Interestingly and surprisingly at 66, getting cut from the Junior Varsity basketball team 50 years ago next month (What might have been) is more painful for me than any Longhorn loss.   

The loss last Saturday to Oklahoma does not move for the needle for me because the 2021 Longhorns aren’t worth the emotional investment; the ’83 and ’08 teams were. This leads me to the conversation I had with the more casual Longhorn fan. We were talking about the defense and how we’re having the same issues that we’ve had for the last four or five defensive coordinators dating back to Manny Diaz. Mack Brown fired Diaz early in the 2013 season after his defense gave up 550 rushing yards to Brigham Young. During the conversation my friend commented that underachievement is embedded in the Texas Football program no matter who the coaches are.  I thought embedded underachievement was a nice turn of phrase. It won’t be until the embedded underachievement goes away that I can be emotionally invested enough for a Longhorn loss to be devastating for me. Don’t get me wrong, I want the Longhorns to win as much as about 95% of the fanbase. But after 10 plus years of mediocrity and now breaking in yet another new coaching staff and the grace period that goes with it, I’m shielding my heart with modest expectations.

Good News

Nobody except Dr. John Butler expected the Longhorns to go undefeated and compete for the National Championship this year but it was reasonable to think they could compete for The Big 12 Championship. As a few of the players said this week, that goal is still intact. Texas’ offense—despite a mediocre offensive line—is capable of outscoring all the opponents remaining on the schedule.

Speaking of the offensive line, as bad as it performs at times it’s been good enough to pave the way for Bijan Robinson to be the third leading rusher in the country and average 6.1 yards per carry.  Texas averages 44.5 points a game, fifth best in the country. So, as frustrating as its performance is at times the offensive line isn’t the biggest problem.

Bad News

The Texas defense is allowing 29 points per game, 95th in the country. It’s 106th in the country in total defense. These ignominious statistics include a shut out of Rice. Very Diaz and Orlandoesque.

Steve Sarkisian said on Monday after the Oklahoma game, and I’m paraphrasing, that when under pressure some of the players aren’t playing with the fundamentals that they’ve been taught and practiced. Tom Herman said almost the exact same thing. Anyway, is that the coaches’ fault for poor coaching and continuing to start players that abandon fundamentals when under pressure?  I don’t know. With million-dollar salaries at stake, should we assume that they’re playing the players that give them the best chance to win? I don’t know the answer to that either.

Speaking of coaching, do you think Xavier Worthy was told not to return a kick that went eight yards deep into the end zone?

*****

If you held a gun to my head and forced me to make a prediction, I would have Texas going 4-2 over its six remaining regular season games.

Oklahoma State

This game is a prime candidate for one of the two aforementioned losses. Mike Gundy’s teams are usually better coached than Texas and they always seem to have one or two playmakers that have good if not great games against the Horns.  Oklahoma State has won four of the last six, but Texas has won the last two in this series.

Keys to Victory

  1. Not starting the game flat. It’s an 11 am start coming after an emotionally tough loss. It would be nice if Casey Thompson could hit on a deep ball early that Sarkisian is sure to call.
  2. Slow down the Cowboys running game. I’d say stop the running game but who are we kidding?
  3. How ‘bout few if any holding penalties and false starts for the offensive line?

Final

Mike Gundy’s advantage over the Texas coaching staff should not be the factor it has been recently. Texas has enough playmakers on offense to put this one in the win column for the Horns.

Would you believe, Texas 48, Okie Lite 27?

Willie Earl’s Songsof the Week

“Let it Be” & “I saw Her Standing There” Performed by Paul McCartney and Billy Joel at Shea Stadium.

If you haven’t seen “The Last Play at Shea” . . . .

Hook ‘Em,

W.E.

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Oklahoma Over/Under Results

D.R. Flower and Mark Stephan tied for first with nine correct answers in a very interesting OU Over/Under Contest.  D.R. prevailed in the tiebreaker with his pick of Iowa over Penn State. Mark picked Penn State. Both players picked Kansas City over Buffalo. That’s two wins in a row for D.R. a rare accomplishment. D.R. and Mark’s performance was outstanding in a contest where the average score was five. 

Dan Adams finished third with eight correct answers. Mark Adams, Clayton Frink, Steve Holstead, and Kelly Malek tied for fourth with six correct.

Willie Earl formulated yet another flawed question, Will there be a defensive or special teams score by either team? If either team kicked so much of an extra point that would qualify as a special teams score. The question should have been, Will either team’s defense or special teams score a touchdown. Six of the 19 players answered no. I credited them with a correct answer since I believe they interpreted the question the way it should have been written. So, every player was credited with a correct answer on that question.

Only three of 19 players picked A&M to beat the line against Alabama. Only three of the 19 players went under on, 27.5 passing attempts for Spencer Rattler. Tough break for the 16 who answered over.

W.E.

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OU Smorgasbord

If you’re a fan of Texas, Oklahoma, or college football in general, you can’t taste the full flavor of the Texas-OU experience until you’ve attended this game.  In fact, you haven’t had the full experience unless you’ve arrived in Dallas at least by the Friday evening before the game and been out and about the city whether downtown, the west end, Greenville Avenue, or wherever Texas and Oklahoma fans are congregating. I’m not much of baseball fan anymore but to be in a bar in Dallas the night before the game amid fans adorned in burnt orange or red with a major league baseball playoff game on the television, this is my Octoberfest.

Then there’s the state fair. The folks, the fans, the carnival atmosphere and most importantly the smells or should I say the aromas. It seems like once or twice a year I’m at a high school football game, a Texas home game, or a restaurant bar with outdoor seating when for an instant the aroma of draft beer and fried food wafts by my and I’m wistfully reminded of the Texas-OU game.

*****

In October 1968, six years before I would set foot on the UT campus as a student, my parents drove from Vestal, New York to Austin to visit my brother Clayton who was a student at UT. Along the way, they stopped off in Dallas to visit with some old friends who had been across the street neighbors when we had lived in Houston a few years before. The trip was planned so my parents would arrive in Dallas on the Saturday afternoon of the Texas-OU game and meet Clayton on the fairgrounds after the game. During the game—my father reported—my mother asked a ticket-taker at one of the Cotton Bowl gates to let her in the stadium just for a few minutes so she could visit with her son. That of course was a no-go.

But something else my father told me about that day at the fair resonated the most to me. In relating the experience of being on the fairgrounds while the Texas-OU game was going on inside the Cotton Bowl he simply said, “The sounds billowing out of that stadium . . .” as he looked at me with wonder and slowly shook his head. I got it. I couldn’t wait.

*****

The 1968 Texas-OU game was the second of four straight victories for the Longhorns during a streak where they won 12 of 13. It’s impossible for Texas fans nowadays to relate to such success in this game. Not so much for Oklahoma. They’ve won 15 of the last 22, and five of the last six.

According to 247 Sports, the recruiting since 2010 has been pretty even in this series. Texas’ average ranking over those 12 years is 9.9, Oklahoma’s is 11.6. Since 2017, Oklahoma has a slight edge with an average rank of 9 versus Texas’ 11.8.

The above recruiting analysis indicates that one of the reasons Oklahoma is dominating this series is their superiority over Texas in developing talent. In my opinion the other factor in OU’s dominance is game planning and game day coaching.  During Mack Brown’s tenure, Texas lost the Oklahoma game five straight years from 2000 to 2004. Bob Stoops was interviewed on an Austin sports talk station this week and he told a story about telling his coaches on the Monday before the game in 2000 after he’d watched film on Texas, “We’re going to kick the hell out of these guys.” Yeah, they did 63-14. I doubt Mack Brown ever thought his team was going to kick the hell out of Oklahoma. This was reflected in his game plans that were painfully conservative exacerbated by Brown and his offensive coordinator coaching not to lose. Brown was tight. Darrell Royal and Fred Akers were never tight during the Oklahoma game. Since the Mack Brown era, Oklahoma has had the decided edge in coaching staffs. It’s not even close.

This year, Texas fans have reasons to feel optimistic. Steve Sarkisian has proven so far this season that he’s not a conservative play caller as evidenced by the deep shots in the passing game that he’s called in all five games including the loss in Fayetteville.  And unlike his predecessor he prioritizes putting the ball in his playmakers’ hands. Bijan Robinson had 35 carries against TCU and is the second leading rusher in the country. Freshman Xavier Worthy has 15 receptions for 253 yards and four touchdowns.  Jordan Whittington has 21 receptions for 324 yards and three touchdowns.

The challenge for Texas won’t be the offensive game planning or play calling. The challenge—and the game may hinge on it—is Casey Thompson’s ability to connect with open receivers 30 and 40 yards downfield at least a couple of times. Sarkisian can scheme his talented receivers free on those deep routes as he has in every game this season but first Hudson Card and for the last three games Casey Thompson have failed to connect on those opportunities.  

Thompson’s inability to hit on those deep balls may be the reason Hudson Card originally beat him out. Maybe Card—who the scouts believe has the superior arm talent to Thompson—hit those long balls more consistently than Thompson did in August.  I know none of you want to consider this but if Thompson misses opportunities in the passing game and the offense struggles on Saturday will Sarkisian send in Card?

******

The Thursday before the OU game in 1975, I went to the pep rally in Gregory Gym. I remember Marty Akins and Earl Campbell speaking and then Darrell Royal wrapped it up. The last comments he made were about the weather forecast for the game. It was going to be sunny and hot and Royal said that’s the way it should be for Texas-OU. Then he said it had been a while since we’ve won this one and it was time to get back in win column. Well, Texas played valiantly but in one of the greatest Texas-OU games I’ve been to, fell to Oklahoma 24-17.

Still, what Royal said in 1975 applies to 2021. It’s going to be sunny and hot on gameday and it’s been a while since we’ve won this one and it’s time to get back in the win column against the Sooners.

Oh, Wouldn’t it be nice?

Willie Earl’s Song of the Week

“Wouldn’t it Be Nice” written by Brian Wilson / Tony Asher / Michael Love

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray
It might come true
Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do
Oh, we could be married (oh, we could be married)
And then we’d be happy (and then we’d be happy)
Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?

Hook “Em, and KICK THE HELL OUTTA OU
W.E.

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