Football

Culpepper – Strong makes the change

Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)
Charlie Strong. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Perhaps this was as embarrassing as the last two games of the 2014 season – TCU and Arkansas. The “new” offense was a bust. Notre Dame brought great pressure from the outside and its offensive line destroyed the Texas defensive front, pure and simple.

​I have to admit Daje Johnson came to play and even Tyrone Swoopes gave his best effort. Of course linebacker Malik Jefferson is a rare athlete-linebacker-playmaker. Another nice freshman was Kris Boyd in the Texas secondary. Kicker Nick Rose seems much improved over last season – he was the single reason the Longhorns didn’t get shutout.

​To think of all the great Texas fans who spent a lot of money to go to Chicago, to South Bend to watch this ridiculous lack of effort and poor execution of football by their Longhorns.

​No doubt Notre Dame has a solid football team but teams like TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, and just name most of the rest of the Big 12 have to be laughing at this Longhorn squad.

​Coach Charlie Strong tried all the motivational techniques he could think of to bring this team to play their very best in this setting. They didn’t; this football team doesn’t have “it”.

​What made this game worse was the fact that the Texas offense did absolutely nothing to threaten the Notre Dame defense. Johnathan Gray was ready to run but never got the chance to get in a groove. The Texas offense has less running plays then it did a year ago – no sweeps by their running back, no counters, no quick hitters. Nothing but a dive off the zone read.

​All that work in spring practice, all that effort in the weight room, all that preseason sweat – right down the toliet against Notre Dame.

​No doubt the Texas defensive line got whipped. Malcom Brown’s spot in that line was not filled in the least. The Irish offensive line manhandled the Longhorn front time and time again.

​True freshman John Burt made the offensive play of the game. The 6-foot-2, 184-pound sprinter from Tallahassee, Florida made a brilliant catch off a 48-yard bomb from Swoopes. It was the highlight of the Texas offense. I have no idea what happened to Jerrod Heard. From what I saw, Heard got hit and made his way to the sideline. He had a chance to show something on a huge stage and wasn’t able to stay on the field. His presence seemed to speed up the Texas attack and then he hopped off the field. Goodbye.

​This game wasn’t even a contest. It was a huge letdown for Texas fans and believe me, nobody is going to feel sorry for the Texas Longhorns.

​Coach Strong has his hands full trying to get this team back on track. The last Notre Dame score was so easy it looked like Texas had given up and that hurt me.

​I realize I’m a forgotten nobody as a fan of the University of Texas football program but I was among the young men that helped fight way back to winning the conference in 1961-1962. We had to come back from three losses in 1960 and every game was a war.

​Coach Royal once said, “Running backs set the tempo for a team and the way you block and tackle makes all the difference.”

​Since this Texas team doesn’t run the football, and blocking is shoving to them instead of driving the opponent backward. I see little hope for this team until they use Royal’s formula.

​No reason to criticize Tyrone Swoopes anymore – he is all we have. At least he tried to make first downs. How can schools like Texas, Michigan, and Penn State fall so far in football when its traditions are so great?

​That’s a question that is impossible to answer from the outside and really all coach Strong can do is try his best to get this football team ready to play the Rice Owls.

​Talk about a crucial game! Rice put 56 points up on Wagner. QB Driphus Jackson ran for a 43-yard touchdown and had a 35-yard touchdown pass. By halftime it was 35-3 Rice.

​I am not ready to give up on this Longhorns football team. No doubt freshmen lineman got schooled by the Irish front defenders – but they will be better this week if they are really players with pride in their position.

​Who knows what the mood will be in Austin for the 7:30 PM kickoff this Saturday. I will be there wearing Burnt Orange.

​Football is a game in which you have to overcome setbacks. Texas got punched in the mouth in South Bend – how will they respond this Saturday is anybody’s guess.

​One thing for sure is I will always be a Longhorn and wear my “T” Ring with pride. I was fortunate to play for Darrell Royal with a group of young men that worked hard to get better every week. We had Royal’s first sellout game in Austin in the 1962 Arkansas vs Texas battle. We beat Texas A&M and Oklahoma all three years I got to play. We hit in the spring and early August practices in 95 degree heat. We ran the pitch sweep where our QB’s blocked. Football has changed but winning takes player dedication and smart coaching.

​Right now Texas is missing both of those ingredients. Coach Strong needs to sit his offense down and decide how to run the football or Rice and California will both come into Austin and leave with victories.

​Believe me, these next two games in Austin are huge for the athletic program at Texas. The Longhorns have a chance to go into Big 12 play 2-1 or 0-3 if they don’t come to play for four quarters.

​To predict an outcome for the Rice game is nonsense. Texas isn’t even a football team yet – they have made no statement, they have not shown any element of the game they can do well. Somebody or bodies have to stand up and put this 2015 team together into a fighting unit. I hope it starts Saturday.

THEN THE CHANGE…..

Coach Charlie Strong stood like a stone statue during the 38-3 pounding at the hands of Notre Dame. One could only assume he was wondering what to do about his ‘same old same old’ offense consisting of three and outs and no real threats. For three games in a row, even broken up by spring practice, summer workouts, and preseason drills – nothing. Nada.

Of course, his love is defense but something had to be done about the anemic offense and he did it. Shawn Watson keeps his job on the Texas staff only as a quarterback coach. He has no more say in the direction of the Texas offense. Period.

Enter Jay Norvell who coordinated offenses at Oklahoma, UCLA, and Nebraska. His first major decision will be on the quarterback position. His second is to figure out a way to get Johnathan Gray the football with some blockers clearing running lanes. His third job is to develop a medium range passing game.

Let’s make it clear; the Texas offense was and currently is a mess. They have been no threat to their opponents since Thanksgiving night, 2014.

Baby steps are needed. Start with first downs. Let the Texas linemen come off the football and actually knock defenders backwards instead of absorbing the defensive charge.

The Texas football team was dead in the water after the Notre Dame game. Stick a fork in them. Coach Strong was in his offensive meeting room at 3am trying to find answers. Previously I wrote if things didn’t change on offense there might be another exit like Mack Brown’s firing of Manny Diaz after the BYU slaughter in 2013. Talk about pressure, but, and this is important, Strong wants his team back in the fight – not helplessly struggling to make a first down or two before halftime.

Coach Norvell has two full weeks and a bit more before Big 12 competition begins to direct this offensive team into an aggressive mode. He might want a tight end added to the Texas front so he can keep defensive pressure from closing down the outside so quickly and help setup opportunities for counters and sweeps. He might get something off the jet sweep to Daje Johnson who looks as if he’s committed to being a player in his senior season. That speed across the formation will certainly get the defense’s attention which could in-turn set up a counter action to Gray with a pulling guard going the other way.

Jerrod Heard needs to start the game at quarterback. He’s finally gotten hit after wearing a no-contact jersey for so long. There is no doubt he brings much needed dangerous speed off the zone read play.

For me, I’m excited to see the Rice game. It’s been a tough week for me; praising the Texas A&M Aggies for their win in Houston against a really good Arizona State team and only shaking my head in disgust at what was happening with Longhorn football. Let’s put it this way, I’m going to Austin with a heavy heart knowing Texas needs a win but wondering how in the world they could stand up to the really top notch teams coming up.

Let me just say as a former head coach I have made similar moves as coach Strong and it worked. Those 3am film sessions can do wonders. You hit bottom and find out a lot about yourself. It’s one of those ‘this is one thing we’re going to do’ moments and I’m excited to see Charlie Strong decided he had enough of nothing on offense.

I’ll be in my seat on Saturday to see this knockout victim climb back into the ring and hopefully come out swinging.
Hook’Em,

Pat

Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.