Three Count: Austin talent, media days, and a smart baseball program

Hudson Card (Joe Cook/IT)

Hudson Card (Joe Cook/IT)

Three different topics this week. One that has helped and hurt Texas, one that UT wishes had another attendee, and one that looks set up well for the future.

Austin Talent

Texas issued four offers in the 2020 class for players who line up under center. After offering Lake Travis’ Hudson Card following the Orange-White Game in late April, Card decided in less than a month that Texas was the place for him.

Texas is helped by proximity more often when it comes to recruiting the City of Austin.

Look at 2018’s Cameron Dicker, 2017’s Sam Ehlinger and Cade Brewer, 2016’s Erick Fowler, and 2015’s Breckyn Hager. It can be hurt, too. Just look at Garrett Wilson and Baker Mayfield.

Recruiting around your hometown metropolis of 1 million+ people as a P5 blueblood has its benefits. You open yourself up to an elite talent pool that a small college town P5 or a G5 school in a large city cannot.

Since I began covering the Longhorns full-time in 2016, I’ve held that you don’t let elite talent in your hometown leave your hometown. That’s why Fowler’s signing day flip, despite his lackluster Texas career, was such a big deal at the time. It proved at least for that year that Charlie Strong still had some traction in his job. He just didn’t deliver on the field the next two years.

The best P5 programs do this. If there’s elite talent in North Georgia, Kirby Smart usually makes sure he gets it. If there’s elite talent in Oklahoma City, that talent usually plays for Lincoln Riley. A five-star in Columbus? Usually a Buckeye.

Texas can target these talented players all they want. For every Card and Ehlinger, there’s a Garrett Wilson (which makes the sting of the miss so much worse).

Similarly, you can’t eliminate all expectations when talking local talent. That’s how you end up relying on guys like Garrett Gray and Taylor Doyle who give full effort but whose effort proves to not be enough against overmatching opponents.

Card is that happy medium. He’s a high quality prospect that Texas took the commitment of right out of their backyard. Start dipping below that happy medium when it comes to local talent, and that’s part of the multitude of reasons you get three coaches in five years.

Austin is growing football wise. Westlake and Lake Travis are the cream of the crop when it comes to high school programs, but schools in Cedar Park, Round Rock, and even going all the way to Hutto and Pflugerville produce players Texas can win with and easily attain.

If it’s easier to get the Austin talent than someone from outside the state’s borders, I say do it.

They just have to be the right prospects.

Media Days

Texas has not brought a quarterback to Big 12 Media Days (July 16-17) since 2013, when Mack Brown brought David Ash to DFW.

Media days is one of the lead dog-and-pony shows across college football. Sure, you can get interesting stories like P.J. Locke III getting scolded for leaving his water bottle, or Michael Dickson simply being there as a punter (he wasn’t the only one in 2017).

It’s not an anomaly to leave your QB at home. Only half the conference brought their signal callers to Frisco last year, and one of them played a lot more linebacker than quarterback.

Texas at Media Days (Justin Wells/IT)

Texas at Media Days (Justin Wells/IT)

But four different media days since a Longhorn quarterback made an appearance to the conference media is an eternity. It is proof of the wasteland that Shawn Watson’s, no Jay Norvell’s, no Sterlin Giblert’s, no Tim Beck’s quarterback room has been this decade.

That’s not to slight any of the four quarterbacks currently in the room, more specifically Ehlinger or Shane Buechele.

To bring one of those two to the event, though not a specific declaration of the starter, would speak volumes. Bring one, and the other knows where he stands; he isn’t viewed as the leader, he isn’t viewed as the same quality, and he might not see a lot of the field.

It would remove all illusion of a battle for both the team and the public. So Texas fans will have to wait another year before a signal-caller makes his way to Frisco.

We reported Friday the likely candidates to head to Dallas include Locke, Andrew Beck, Patrick Vahe, and Gary Johnson. Locke met with the media last year, and he as well as the three other candidates have the respect of the team and know how to handle the rigors of the media circus they’ll have to endure.

But the lack of a quarterback in attendance just shows Texas isn’t quite where it wants to be yet.

Smart baseball

I’ve been very vocal in my thinking that David Pierce is leading the baseball program in the right direction. The commitment to a multi-faceted offense, and an Omaha appearance of course, already has plenty of fans excited for what the future holds heading into what will be Pierce’s third year.

Ryan Reynolds (Emily Lewallen/IT)

Ryan Reynolds (Emily Lewallen/IT)

There are other reasons to be excited. Texas plays smart baseball both on and off the field, specifically in the film room.

Sometimes there’s a game within a game. TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha is larger than any of the stadiums any of the eight teams that made the College World Series play in. Arkansas and Mississippi State play in ballparks with five-digit capacities, but few are accustomed to playing in stadiums with 20,000 fans and a national TV audience watching their every move on the biggest stage.

While SEC teams have the SEC Network, no school but Texas has to deal with a network singularly focused on its athletic successes or failures. That’s part of being an athlete at Texas, but that experience with attention, TV, print, online or otherwise, helped his team to be able to ignore the noise and simply focus on the game. They just ended up facing two of the most talented teams in Omaha, one in Arkansas who reached the championship series.

In 2018, the focus on the game had some additional help. Something I first noticed early in the season at LSU was Texas’ willingness to use the shift against heavy pull hitters. As an avid Astros fan, I had seen that make its way into professional baseball and become a pivotal strategic piece into Houston’s championship success in 2017.

Texas had the data in order to make that part of its strategy. They did it against Texas Tech in Lubbock, and continued to do it throughout the postseason all the way to Omaha.

Prior to the 2018 season, Texas promoted two student video assistants into different roles. Ryan Monsevalles became director of player personnel, and James Snikeris took the role of video coordinator.

Both Monsevalles and Snikeris sat in the press box for every single home game, tracking pitch speed, location, spin rate, tilt, hit exit velocity, and other stats that have become synonymous with the analytical movement in baseball.

They have plenty of other film duties, but their work is part of the data Pierce and the coaching staff utilize in order to make decisions on whether to shift and other things in that same vein.

It may look as simple as Ryan Reynolds jogging from third base to short right against a left handed hitter, but there’s a lot that goes into it. Pierce is fully utilizing what a program like Texas can provide in order to create the best possible college baseball team he can.

Pierce claims recruiting is the lifeblood of his program. While true, you need support for that blood to help move the body. Pierce has built a strong support staff that is properly analyzing the modern game of baseball.