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.
Back in the day the spread offense used to be more of a system for guys that wanted to throw the ball all over the field. Even the singleback guys that were adopting the spread to run the ball were guys in love with bringing pro-style, outside zone-based structures to the college game. Guys like Greg Davis
There was certainly some consternation over how well Texas would defend Missouri’s offense in the bowl game and then in turn what that might say about their prospects for 2018. Holton Hill, Malik Jefferson, and DeShon Elliott were all going to be missing after all and the Tigers had been throwing all over the hapless SEC East down the stretch of the season.
With a full year done and over, we can now evaluate Tom Herman’s strategy for getting Texas back to where they need to be. Let’s set aside the non-conference slate for a moment. Herman drew the ideal slate in his first pre-conference schedule with a “firm enough” challenge from Maryland that of course went disastrously wrong, a tune-up against San Jose State, and then a true test of mettle against a fellow blueblood power in USC. That kind of schedule will be beneficial to Texas if/when they’re “back” to being a national contender.
Texas is over .500 for the first time since 2013 and just won their first bowl game since 2012. There have been only four winning seasons this decade for Texas out of seven seasons total and only three bowl victories. Savor it Texas fans, but get used to the taste because I think we’re going to see a lot more wins coming out of this team moving forward.
The biggest factor in the Texas Bowl is more or less the same as it is for every other bowl game between power five schools who missed their goals of making a playoff, winning a conference, or winning a division. Will one of these teams be more motivated than the other to grind away and prepare for this game like it matters?
One of the enormous advantages of bowl practices is how they allow the coaches to get an early snapshot into the next season so they can work out how to make the most of it. Younger players get thrown into the mix and older players sit back or withdraw and the coaches can get a sense of what kinds of pieces they are working with the next season. The picture continues to clear up over winter workouts, spring practice, and so on but it’s invaluable for the coaches to be able to work out different contingencies that much earlier in the offseason process.
If there’s one thing about Texas’ play on offense in 2017 that met preseason expectations it was the prevalence of a season-long quarterback debate over whether Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger represented the brightest future for Texas football. There wasn’t much that was even bright about Texas’ play on offense in 2017 but major improvements in 2018 are going to need to come with one of these two young men at the helm.