First of all, we’d like to introduce our newest contributor, lifetime Longhorn Chris Hall joins the IT staff. The last All-American OL at Texas (2009) will drop a weekly column, adding insight into the players’ perspective, while breaking down film and bringing intellect to the Inside Texas Members Forum. Help us welcome Chris.
The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Heard Charlie Strong Say
By: Chris Hall, Inside Texas Contributor
It was July 22nd and I was watching ESPN’s First Take. I typically keep my Skip Bayless/Stephen A. Smith to a minimum. But today Charlie Strong was on the show so I had to tune in.
The conversation moved as any Texas fan might expect: beginning pleasantries, Charlie’s core values, the players he dismissed, and a disappointing first season. A repeat of nearly every interview he’s given in the past year. The content sounded familiar, but I honestly enjoy the man. I still wanted to hear what he had to say.
When Stephen A. brought defense up, I started listening a little closer. I started thinking about Malcom Brown. I started thinking about Quandre Diggs. I started reliving the turnovers, TFLs, and knockout hits of 2014.
Within eight months on the job, Strong brought the Longhorn defense to life. I don’t know exactly how he did it, but I know it’s more than Xs and Os. It’s as if the man is defense-personified; similar to Will Muschamp but obviously in a different way. His presence did something and he changed that side of the ball for Texas. Now they play with a swagger, they play with passion, and they play defense like it’s supposed to be played (in my opinion: “like your hair is on fire”).
That’s what I was thinking about when Strong began to talk — and that’s what left me so confused when I heard what he actually said. He dropped a bomb, and it changed my view of the upcoming 2015 season:
“The defense is going to be a question mark.”
“Uh… What,” I asked myself, as I stared at my computer screen with my jaw wide open.
“Did he actually say that,” I wondered as I looked to my left and right (all the while knowing no one was there with me). I even ran the video back to make sure I heard him right. I did. He actually said it.
Strong compounded his statement with this:
“We have to score on offense. We have to create some plays, we have to create explosive plays. We need to move the football.”
As a former player and Texas fan, it was the worst football news I could have received. In case you haven’t been around lately, the Longhorn offense isn’t good. Specifically they don’t score points, create explosive plays, or move the ball consistently. Not exactly a formula for success if the defense is genuinely a question mark.
The Offense We Know, and Hope To Love
Last year Texas ranked No. 105 in total offense. That’s out of 128 teams. In passing offense: No. 86, in rushing offense: No. 94, in scoring offense: No. 108. Not exactly the kind of group that inspires hope for points on the board.
There are lots of reasons for those numbers and not mainly because of quarterback play. Tyrone Swoopes is young, sure. And no, he’s not Vince Young or Colt McCoy, but who is? The main issue with the Longhorns offense was the play of their offensive line.
As I see it the O-line had three things working against it the entire season:
1. Inexperience – Texas lost what experience it had from the outset, all of it bound up in a four-year starting center named Dominic Espinosa. He was lost for the season in the first game. Other than Espinosa there was Kennedy Estelle, a junior tackle with nine starts under his belt. He was suspended before the season and then dismissed a few days later. What Texas had left were young guys, playing out of position, trying to learn everything on the fly.
2. A New System – Any time an offensive scheme changes there’s a learning curve that comes with it. Not only were the offensive lineman young, a lot of times they didn’t know what they were doing. They probably didn’t understand the offense conceptually (i.e. what the offense was trying to accomplish) and they certainly didn’t grasp it technically (i.e. how they should go about accomplishing it). It takes time for an offensive line to learn these things, and doesn’t mean it’s automatically the coaches’ fault.
3. A Revolving Door – Because of injuries, suspensions, dismissals, and overall bad play, the starting lineup was a revolving door. Players and positions changed every week. That was necessary, for sure. Wickline had to find his best five and how that five would fit together. But the time it took didn’t help things. Linemen need time to gel. Time to learn each other’s calls, learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Time to learn to play together and work harmoniously as a team. These things take time, and last year they didn’t have it.
Those things should change this year, yes, but don’t expect any miracles. The O-line will have more experience anchored by Taylor Doyle and Kent Perkins. They’ll also be running parts of an exciting new offense, the Spread. But I’d like to remind everyone it’s a new offense with wrinkles. A new offensive scheme that will take time to get comfortable in. Don’t expect the zone read of ’04 or the passing game of ’09. You’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Texas will be better offensively — by the end of the season, for sure. The offensive line will eventually be comfortable, seasoned, and working together as a unit. The problem is: Texas may not have time to spare. Strong doesn’t think the Longhorns can win with defense alone. Texas fans should hope he’s wrong (and worry he may be right).