While the offense has a lot of obvious work to do this spring in order to traverse the distance from “dreadful” to “capable of pulling their weight for a Big 12 champion,” the defense actually has quite a bit of work to do as well. The main difference is that we already know who the main playmakers are, how they’ll be utilized, and that the coaching staff can be effective at putting it all together.
Texas has a lot of questions to answer this spring. Herb Hand has a lot of good pieces to work with along the OL but a lot of work to do in getting them up to par, the QB room is still young and needs to make a leap, and the defense has to replace cornerstone interior pieces from a fantastic 2017 unit.
As a part of my review of the offense from last season I found another fun chessboard battle between everyone’s favorite B12 coordinators, Tim Beck and Mike Stoops.
I’ve spent some of today doing some research for the next Gameplan, which will center around how far along Sam Ehlinger is in executing the Herman offense, and I noticed a fun peripheral detail from the Texas bowl.
Before he won a national championship with the “third string QB” or took over as the head coach of the Houston Cougars and led them to an AAC title and 22-4 record, one of Tom Herman’s main accomplishments as a coach was converting Urban Meyer to the inside zone play. Urban Meyer had built his two-time national championship Florida Gator offenses around gap schemes like power and counter, often sending Tim Tebow downhill on the former and loosing Percy Harvin to the edge on the latter.
Since I’ve been breaking down every Big 12 class it only makes sense that I would include the Texas Longhorns, with their 2018 class parsed just as I have for their competitors in the conference.
The 2017 class, Tom Herman’s first at Texas, was an underrated success and for being a lower rated class it seems likely to punch above its weight. The 2018 class is a heavyweight group rated third nationally and first in the Big 12 by 247 and including much of the state’s top rated prospects and 19 Texans overall bolstered by seven out of state signees. Here’s how it should fit together into the Herman vision for the program.
The 2017 season was a very unique one for Todd Orlando and his defense. That’s not terribly shocking since he was inheriting a team he didn’t recruit and facing arguably the most lethal offensive league in college football for the first time of his career. While the AAC is filled with creative and dangerous offenses, there’s no comparison to the Big 12 where every other weekend forces the defense to square off against QB play that would be in the top echelon of most other leagues. Orlando was forced to adapt in a variety of ways in order to give his guys a chance to make plays and prevent scores.
The typical play for top defensive programs is to stockpile as many athletes as possible and then rely on the culture and process to round them into shape as a cohesive and fast playing unit. That’s been the name of the game for some time now but things are getting tougher these days with the game becoming increasingly about skill and recognition on the field. Orlando figured out how to (finally) leverage Texas’ superior athleticism in 2017 but he did it while leaning on some skilled veterans that knew how to set the table for the younger guys on the field.
One of the craziest things about modern recruiting is the fact that it’s driven off early identification from sophomore and junior film but the results on the field are typically driven by seniors. Most young men are still learning and growing heading into their senior seasons, both in terms of their literal bodies as well as their skills and techniques. However, sheer athleticism stands out early and teams have to get out ahead on the elite talents to avoid missing the boat.
There’s probably no unit causing greater consternation amongst Texas fans for the 2018 season than the offensive line. The unit was absolutely dreadful in 2017 while relying regularly on a true freshman RT in Derek Kerstetter, a grievously undersized senior in Terell Cuney at RG or C depending on the week, and then a rotation of heavy-footed senior tackle Tristan Nickelson and underdeveloped sophomore Denzel Okafor at LT. Texas regularly had below average players (on a B12 scale) at multiple spots up front which made for a difficult time both in protecting a pair of underclassmen QBs and avoiding negative plays in the run game.