Big 12 Media Days not only attracts scores of local beat writers, but also a contingent of national college football media. Part of that national contingent comes from the TV networks and some of the on-air talent charged with calling games.
Fox Sports’ Brady Quinn, Bruce Feldman, and Joel Klatt were in Frisco for Big 12 Media Days, and Inside Texas caught up with all three to get their perspectives on various challenges Tom Herman’s 2018 Texas Longhorns will have to face.
Brady Quinn on quarterbacks
Maxwell Award winning quarterback and 2007 first round draft pick Brady Quinn is one of the go-to voices when it comes to quarterbacks on Fox Sports. For Texas, neither quarterback has earned go-to distinction.
Both junior Shane Buechele and Sophomore Sam Ehlinger enter 2018 in competition to be the starting quarterback. Neither played well nor remained healthy enough to take the reins last year, so a competition between the two remains.
On Ehlinger, Quinn admitted the Westlake product would be a better fit “based on what Tom Herman has had in the past,” and thought he competed well down the stretch of several games in his freshman campaign. The turnovers, especially against USC and Oklahoma State, broke up much of the momentum his play created.
“Granted, there was some turnovers in overtime that change that, but still those are big moments especially for a kid who’s very early on in his career. To me it showed a lot of promise and I think what he can be for Texas, especially what he can be in Tom Herman’s system.”
Although Quinn believed Ehlinger was more of a system fit, he explained how the Buechele could be successful thanks to his throwing accuracy.
“This particular year in the league, especially if he was able to win out that job, his precision passing and his touch gives them kind of a leg ahead at least with some of their big wide receivers,” Quinn said. “You look at Collin Johnson and how big he is, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, those guys to me can be playmakers for them if they’re always put in the right position. He’s accurate enough to be able to do that.”
Herman became known for his development of quarterbacks, with his hallmark moment being the use of three different quarterbacks to coordinate Ohio State’s offense during its 2014 national championship run.
Many different things point to quarterback development; completion percentage, touchdown to interception ratio, and yards per attempt among others. At Texas, though, there’s one that stands above the rest.
“It’s Texas, man,” Quinn said. “You know what it’s about. It’s about wins. If Texas is now playing in the Big 12 Championship Game, that’s what’s going to show progress to Texas fans.”
Though adding numbers to the win column will make Texas fans happy and likely come as a result of good quarterback play, Quinn noted some of the smaller things that would help Texas accomplish that including better offensive line play and offensive consistency.
For that consistency to develop, it needs to be centered on one person.
“I don’t know too many two quarterback systems, or when you have guys going back and forth, that ever really works or is a good sign of progress,” Quinn said. “For starters, be simple, then picking your quarterback and moving forward with him as your guy. That shows progress of where your team is at.”
Bruce Feldman wonders who Texas is
Changing quarterbacks, changing offensive lines, and no real consistency on offense leaves a lot of the country, including Fox Sports sideline reporter Bruce Feldman, wondering just what the Longhorns want to be this year.
They appeared to be a physical menace at times especially against USC and Oklahoma, but then followed those performances up with an end of the year clunker against Texas Tech.
The addition of new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand is something that Feldman said intrigued him, but it still has him wondering who the Longhorns will be. “Tom has always been a really good offensive coach, so I want to see his fingerprints more on it,” Feldman said Monday.
On the defense, his questions are similar to those of Scipio Tex and so much of the rest of the national media, how will Texas replace lost NFL talent?
“I’m curious to see how they replace so many really good players on the defense,” Feldman said. “I know he’s loaded up in recruiting, especially in the secondary. Those are young guys in a league where even without Baker (Mayfield) and Mason Rudolph, the ball is going to be flying all over the place. I want to see how they do it.”
Like most who cover Texas, Feldman repeated several times that the thing keeping Texas from success last year and going forward is a lack of consistency. Switching quarterbacks over and over again makes it difficult to foster that consistency.
Feldman has seen successful Herman teams before and what they look like. With that in mind, there’s an option in that room that makes things a bit easier for Herman.
“If Sam gives them more of a dimension in the run game, then I think that would keep people more honest,” Feldman said. “I think that’s more manageable for Tom, but I don’t know how this is going to play out. To me they’re the biggest wild card in the conference.”
The Fox crew calling Texas’ season opener against Maryland includes Feldman. The Terrapins had some coaching shakeups in the offseason, but they bring back Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill, two players who torched the Longhorns in Austin last year.
“Walt Bell isn’t running the offense, but those two quarterbacks are back,” Feldman said. “I want to see how they can handle that kind of offense on the road.”
Joel Klatt on Herman’s program, trying to beat Orlando’s defense
After taking in a Texas practice earlier in the spring, Joel Klatt made it known he thought very highly of the Longhorns in 2018.
He still thought the same at Big 12 Media Days, saying that he noticed a difference in energy level around the team, a difference in effort, and a difference in the overall level of player.
“I think that’s what’s different is that they’ve improved their talent, I think they’re better as a team, they’re more sound schematically certainly on the defensive side, and they play harder which leads to really close games which is what they had a year ago,” Klatt said Monday. “They were so close from being with eight, nine, ten wins.”
Injuries, scheme, and lack of depth contributed to many of the Longhorns problems up front on the offensive line in 2017. With the addition of three freshmen, a junior college transfer, and graduate transfer Calvin Anderson, it may help Herman and the Longhorns dictate their offense to the defense rather than be dictated their offense by the defense.
“They had a really hard time running the football,” Klatt said. “There wasn’t really a true threat running the football except for Sam, then he would get banged up some. It’s really hard to evaluate the schematics of what was Coach Herman and Coach Beck trying to do offensively.”
On quarterback, Klatt said what most Texas fans and media covering the team have said since last season: the Longhorns need to cut down on the number of mistakes and turnovers. He mentioned that poor decisions rather than a lack of talent are the root cause of most turnovers.
With added experience for both quarterbacks, the turnovers should be cut down. Klatt said he thinks Ehlinger gives the Longhorns the best chance to be at “the top end of their potential,” but also realizes both quarterbacks have a good chance of playing.
“When you look around not only the league but the country, everybody at some point has to play two quarterbacks,” Klatt said. “Not because it’s a two quarterback system, but because they’re forced into it that way. Guy goes down, guy gets banged up. Both of these kids are going to play huge, meaningful snaps this season. It’s just the way college football is.”
As a former quarterback in the Big 12, Klatt knows the league remains a quarterback driven league. The offenses are more wide open than when he led the Colorado Buffaloes from 2003 to 2005, but the man under center still runs the show.
Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando made things much more difficult on those quarterbacks last year with the defenses he ran and called at the end of the year. Texas replaces a lot, but they still have plenty of elite athletes up front and in the defensive backfield.
Klatt struggled to find an answer as to how to unlock Orlando’s defense, but there was one way he thought teams could attack it.
“There’s not really a way to unlock it unless you have success running the football,” Klatt said. “Then and only then you can start to get them into some static looks. If they’re able to move, they do so much pre-snap movement, it’s almost impossible to know where they’re coming from. It’s incredibly difficult to protect your passer. From there, you’ve just go to win against man coverage and in the run game.”
Preventing Longhorn defenders from being able to move around and disguise is a tall task, and as Klatt noted “if there was a blueprint, more people would use it.”
But if the defense remains strong and QB play improves?
“I’m a big believer in Texas this year,” Klatt said. “I believe they could have a really solid year. Will they win the conference? I’m not sure. I think Oklahoma’s probably more talented, but we’ll see. That Red River (Shootout) is an interesting game.”