I’ve never been super bearish on Texas’ prospects in this contest. Before the season started I had USC pegged as the eventual national champion thanks to their strong coaching staff, the tenure and time they’ve had there to leverage the program’s resources, and the brilliance of Sam Darnold. Like everyone else in college football though, they’re still a work in progress at this point in the year and they are hardly immune to getting taken down by a talented team with a good gameplan coming in the week after a big time rivalry game with both national and conference implications.
The Maryland game was a pretty brutal wake up call for Texas football. The fans, players, and staff all surely thought they were further along than this as a team but an 18-point dog putting up 263 rushing yards, 51 points, and a W in DKR forces a different perspective on the coming season.
Here are my Five Quick Thoughts following UT’s 51-41 loss to Maryland on Saturday in Tom Herman’s debut.
Practice reports right now are telling the story of an offense lacking a clear identity. The players on the roster suggest that this team should probably be most comfortable operating as a spread passing team but they are currently working every week against what’s quite possibly the most lethal anti-spread passing defense in the league.
One nice thing about the 2017 schedule is that Texas will be well positioned to go on a late run and push for bowl eligibility, eight wins, the conference championship, or whatever goal is still on the table after nine games. You can never say never (obviously) but late home dates with Kansas and Texas Tech are rather promising for a pair of easy wins late.
In recent years, a scheduling stretch that pitted Texas against Oklahoma State at home before taking them on a tour of Waco and Ft. Worth would be a trip through the valley of death for the Longhorns. In 2017, that probably won’t be the case.
This is the big one, the biggest game on the schedule almost every single season for the simple reason that Oklahoma is the only other program in the Big 12 with Texas’ resources. Since A&M, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri left the league you’d have figured that this game would only grow in importance but…Texas hasn’t made the most of their new place in a weakened league.
When I read practice reports or staff quotes I’m looking for hints that will answer that question.
The way the spread offense works is really pretty simple. You space out your players, attack different areas of the field, and then hit opponents where they yield numbers or leverage. Or if you have an elite feature to your offense, you pound them with it repeatedly unless they shut it down.
Craig Naivar, Todd Orlando, and Tom Herman are big fans of the safeties they found waiting for them on campus at Texas. The unit that was perpetually filled with superior athletes that couldn’t edge out sticky-fingered Dylan Haines under Charlie Strong but is now finally stocked with multi-year veterans with diverse skill sets.
Obviously one of the big changes that Mack Brown brought to the recruiting game was snatching up juniors early after the season ended before they were even seniors. That required some projection on the part of the Texas staff, but projection is already the name of the game and they could at least work off a year of varsity film + camp work to get a sense of what a kid might become at Texas.