Big 12 spring check-ins: Texas

Ian Boyd

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Jan 14, 2014
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The 2020 season had been circled for a very long time as the make or break year of the Tom Herman era. As the 2019 season was concluding, I was noting Texas had already missed the ideal breakthrough moment, the Sooners were down and Texas drew a friendly schedule, but certainly 2020 was long expected to be a key one.

There were a number of factors playing into the 2020 season as the moment when Tom Herman would rise or sink as the head coach at Texas. He had a senior class which included the ideal quarterback for his system in Sam Ehlinger, an NFL left tackle in Sam Cosmi, and then his vaunted 2018 recruiting class was all going to be coming into their own as third year players. Blue chip recruits like Brennan Eagles and Joseph Ossai were expected to pair with Sam Cosmi, Josh Thompson, and D'Shawn Jamison to give the Longhorns an elite space force while the infrastructure was helmed by Sam Ehlinger on offense and Caden Sterns on defense.

Instead they found a new way to lose to TCU, were within some Sam Ehlinger heroics of losing by wide margins to Texas Tech and Oklahoma, and then ultimately fell short at home against Iowa State with the Big 12 Championship on the line. The majority of those pieces are now gone and so is Tom Herman.

In comes Steve Sarkisian fresh from a National Championship at Alabama to try and bring some explosive power to the Texas offense. Sark also pulled off a coup by hiring defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski of Boise State and Washington fame. What might have been a particularly tall order to rebuild the Texas roster to suit their new tactics is made easier by the continuing ease in which teams can use the transfer portal.

Sarkisian has already dove in to the portal with Riley-level necromancy in order to try and remake the Texas roster so that it emulates one which had been recruiting to his staff's vision for the last several years rather than the last several months. Particularly interesting has been the fact Sark hasn't only recruited in transfer to patch holes with upperclassmen but also to patch anticipated holes down the line.

Expected additions such as 2021 wide receiver Xavier Worthy, Notre Dame redshirt junior Ovie Oghoufo, New Mexico State linebacker Devin Richardson, and USC linebacker Palaie Gaoteote could all arrive in Austin with multiple years of eligibility remaining. After spring practices concluded, Sark immediately set to work looking to add other young talents through the portal as well.

Here's how things are looking in his pursuit of immediate success in Austin.

Infrastructure stress test: Offense

The sixth year of eligibility is giving Texas a bit of a boost here with three solid options returning thanks to the "super senior" COVID proviso. Sark could have even had one more year of Sam Ehlinger, and last Saturday I was beginning to wonder if Ehlinger hadn't made a mistake in passing on that option until the Indianapolis Colts drafted him in the sixth round. Sark does retain swingman Derek Kerstetter, coming off a bad ankle injury, who started at right tackle in 2017 and 2019 and then at center in 2020. The Longhorns also return Denzel Okafor, who has flashed some ability at guard but spent a lot of his time on the 40 Acres trying to master tackle before bumping inside. Finally they have ancillary Cade Brewer back, who was a solid blocker in both Herman's tight zone schemes as well as the outside zone runs new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich brought for the 2021 season.

Mike Yurcich didn't have much success in his one year at Austin due to multiple factors, but he did make some deposits which will pay off for Sark by installing outside zone and then getting 2020 center Jake Majors some snaps in the scheme as a freshman. Majors was a revelation at the end of the season when Sam Cosmi's opt out triggered a domino effect which put him in the starting lineup. Texas also has another pair of certain offensive line starters in redshirt junior Junior Angilau, a mauling guard, and then the mammoth Christian Jones who has NFL size and athleticism but only in this recent spring started to show any sort of mastery of the necessary technique to play tackle at this level. More on Jones later.

The interior of Denzel Okafor, Jake Majors, and Junior Angilau along with tight end Cade Brewer is a near lock to be foundational to the Texas offense in 2020, blocking outside zone and a variety of other schemes Sark and his line coach Kyle Flood are bringing from Alabama with the aim of springing star sophomore running back Bijan Robinson.

Sark's offense would ideally pair Bijan Robinson with an ultra-explosive passing game utilizing RPOs, play-action, and then Sark's particularly nasty blend of play-action which is designed to emulate RPOs before loosing receivers down the field on double moves past over-aggressive safeties. Texas has found some options on some of the RPO throws with receiver Jordan Whittington and possibly redshirt freshman Troy Omeire, a big kid at 6-3, 227 who's been getting healthy and brings a lot of physicality and catch radius. They do not have an over the top burner anywhere near the level of Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle. More on that later as well.

The expectation is Texas will lean into the run game pretty heavily with Bijan and also Roschon Johnson, play from 12 personnel quite a bit adding the 6-7, 255 Jared Wiley to the line with Cade Brewer, and try to set up the quarterback with rollouts and concepts such as this one:

OZ Yankee.jpg

The quarterback question is the biggest facing the team but I think it's less of a controversial one than many have assumed. Casey Thompson is a redshirt junior with three more years of eligibility if he wants them but he lacks some zip throwing the ball outside the hash marks and has been at his best executing the sorts of schemes which defined the Tom Herman offense. He has good touch throwing in the middle of the field and some hellacious speed execution zone-option concepts, albeit at 6-1, 194 pounds rather than Ehlinger's 220+. But Sarkisian wants to throw the ball further outside and doesn't include a lot of zone-option typically, preferring to add multiple layers of RPOs and relying on the receivers to constrain the run defense.

Hudson Card is a redshirt freshman with a more pro-style skill set, he can rifle the ball outside the hash marks and throw with anticipation based on a defender's leverage. He also protected the ball better in the spring game whereas Thompson threw a pick-6 on the goal line trying to force a throw underneath a zone corner out at the numbers. Card is no bigger than Thompson at about 6-2, 195 and Texas would rather have both around in the fall in the event of an injury but I expect Card to win the battle and be named the starter by the time Louisiana comes to town.

A key factor for the quarterbacks won't only be their ability to punish defenses on Sark's aggressive pass concepts, but one which has never been well appreciated over the last four seasons. Sam Ehlinger attempted 1476 passes at Texas over that span and threw 27 interceptions for an interception rate of 1.8%. The Longhorns were virtually "unblowoutable" in his time, playing almost everyone close whether they won or lost, because of his ball security. The next guy will probably be asked to be more aggressive but they'll need to balance it with ball security because this team's winning advantages are primarily found in the run game and on the other side of the ball.

Infrastructure stress test: Defense

Heading into the silly season before Pete Kwiatkowski was hired as the defensive coordinator, I was speculating on which of Texas' linebackers might be best suited to being converted into an outside linebacker. A few years' worth of Todd Orlando coordination had wasted Joseph Ossai and failed to restock the roster with anyone else like him, instead loading up the defensive line with multiple 4i-technique and 3-technique defensive tackles. It seemed the best path for Texas would be to convert back to a 3-down defense.

Instead Sark took LSU outside linebacker Ray Thornton (6-3, 250) through the transfer portal, had strongside end Jacoby Jones cut some weight (6-4, 264), and is now adding Notre Dame back-up weakside end Ovie Oghoufo (6-3, 240) and Alabama back-up outside linebacker Ben Davis (6-4, 250) through the portal. The reason? Kwiatkowski prefers a pro-style, 2-4-5 defensive scheme and takes personal charge of coaching up the outside linebacker/defensive end hybrids who make it work.

While he'll be busy trying to mold a unit almost exclusively comprised of transfers, the rest of the Texas unit is pretty hit or miss currently. The best defensive tackle for the Longhorns in spring was either multi-year starting nose tackle Keondre Coburn (6-2, 340 and dropping) or 6-3, 281 pound 3-technique Moro Ojomo who came alive after moving inside from strongside end. Sophomore Alfred Collins is a freak athlete at 6-5, 302 who's expected to be a potential day one draft pick as a 3-technique whenever the lights come on and then Texas also returns junior nose tackle T'Vondre Sweat (6-4, 340) after a strong 2020 season. This is the thickest and hardest to move interior defensive line in the league.

Behind them, Texas hopes converted safety DeMarvion Overshown will continue to master the fundamentals of linebacker and will probably end up pairing him with one of Devin Richardson or Palaie Gaoteote. Behind them things are even more curious. Former blue chip recruits Tyler Owens (4-star junior strong safety), B.J. Foster (5-star senior free safety), and Anthony Cook (4-star senior nickel) ended the spring running second team behind Brenden Schooler (3-star super senior strong safety), Jerrin Thompson (4-star sophomore free safety), and Chris Adimora (4-star junior nickel). It seems the less heralded players have shown the greater knowhow.

A key factor in Kwiatkowski's designs is the prevalence of match 3, single high defense and then the emphasis on division of labor. The weakside or "Dime" inside linebacker is typically a stout plugger while the defense plays with three safeties in a base nickel scheme and utilizes a big, "box safety" type as the "Mike" linebacker. The middle of Texas' defense in 2020 could feature the 6-2, 250 pound Gaoteote behind two of the bigger, more powerful defensive tackles in the league but then surrounded by speed at every other position. If this balance works out and the Longhorns are good in the defensive space force, it'll be interesting to see how Big 12 offenses handle the structure.

Space force speed test: Offense

Troy Omeire was expected to be the main weapon for Texas' passing game in 2020 when he was dominating in fall camp. He recently posted a cut-up from fall practice on Twitter where he shows off the catch radius...


...and as a Texas insider I can tell you there are other clips of him from fall looking pretty impressive with some deep route ability and bullying corners when they tried to press him. He worked back in slowly for spring ball due to an ACL injury which spoiled his freshman year and wore a black "no contact" jersey like a quarterback for this spring. Omeire's fall injury was probably the ruination of the entire 2020 Longhorn season and Tom Herman era, if he returns and maximizes his potential in 2021 it'd be a very good omen for the Sarkisian tenure.

Jordan Whittington is finally putting his 5-star ability to good use as a wide receiver, utilizing elite agility to run a lot of crossers, RPOs, and out-breaking routes which should prove important chain-moving components to the offense.

The biggest question at wide receiver is whether anyone can stress defenses down the field at anywhere close to the level of famous Sarkisian receivers from offenses' past. Omeire might be part of the solution here. Blue chip Xavier Worthy, whom Sark just stole from Michigan via the portal, is likely to be a part of the solution at some point. Worthy was prized for Alabama's 2021 recruiting class as a 10.5 100m sprinter with athleticism and a skill set very comparable to that of DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. Michigan was really counting on him to make their own foray into RPO/play-action offense work out, it's possible he'll be asked to do so in Austin as a true freshman.

Otherwise, the Longhorns return three other players with some potential in this regard who haven't put it together yet. Joshua Moore caught eight touchdown passes a year ago and has some exceptional burst and length at 6-1, but hasn't been as explosive or consistent as an elite deep threat should be. Jake Smith was expected to potentially break out in 2021 after only flashing the previous two seasons, then he broke his foot on the first day of spring camp. Finally, Kelvontay Dixon has some home run ability and the sort of breakaway speed Sark is looking for (ran a 10.71 100m at Carthage) but hasn't packaged the speed into a comprehensive, receiving toolbox yet.

Worthy will have a chance to play immediately, as would anyone else Sark can summon through the portal.

Then there's left tackle, which is another fascinating subplot to the Texas season. The 2020 season was badly marred by offensive line coach Herb Hand's decision to move the very reliable if non-elite Derek Kerstetter from right tackle to center in order to play redshirt sophomore Christian Jones at right tackle opposite Sam Cosmi. Jones didn't play offensive line until his senior year in high school and then did so in a Wing-T style offense, he's grown into a 6-6, 327 pound monster at Texas with NFL size and athleticism but very limited expertise in the finer points of offensive line play.

New offensive line coach Kyle Flood watched everyone work out in winter conditioning and decided he was going to make Jones' athleticism the solution at left tackle and early returns are surprisingly positive.


If you watched Nik Bonitto blow by Jones repeatedly in the 2020 Red River Shootout you should recognize how far along #70 has come halfway through the offseason. After Jones, Texas' solutions at tackle are solid but limited. Kerstetter is working his way back to health and would have a much better prognosis for the NFL as a guard (though not a center based on the 2020 film) and then sophomore Andrej Karic may still be the best tackle on the team but at 6-4, 290 pounds with shorter arms is very athletic and technically savvy but won't be confused with Orlando Jones anytime soon.

Overall, Texas' offensive space force and passing game in general appear to be about one year away from really coming together. In the meantime, it's the Bijan Robinson show.

Space force speed test: Defense

So Texas headed into the offseason with star edge player Joseph Ossai heading to the NFL and his back-up and opposite edge counterparts consisting of the following players:

Jett Bush: A 6-2, 236 pound former walk-on and former inside linebacker.
Jacoby Jones: A 6-4, 264 pound back-up strongside end.
Moro Ojomo: A 6-3, 280 pound former Katy nose tackle who was pressed into duty as a strongside end by Chris Ash due to need.
Prince Dorbah: An explosive 6-3, 226 pound edge who'd played as a 4i-technique at Highland Park and been unable to add weight or edge technique as a freshman due to injuries.

Pretty tough start to running a 2-4-5.

Ray Thornton has been an immediate plus for Texas and flashed all spring. He started at the weakside "X-backer" position for Kwiatkowski in the spring game but is gaining weight and will likely end up starting as the strongside "Jack" linebacker come fall. Expected portallers Ben Davis and Ovie Oghoufo were third-string at Alabama and Notre Dame respectively but the hope will be for them to find success at the X-backer position.

Kwiatkowski will use stunts, movement, and a wide variety of four-man pressures to try and leverage these guys' athleticism into pass-rush opportunities regardless of their actual skill beating offensive tackles around the corner. I'm sure he'd like to have more pure talent to work with but his track record at Washington and Boise State was pretty solid so Texas will probably be in relatively solid shape here.

In the secondary things are much, much brighter. Chris Adimora was used by Chris Ash as an undersized linebacker and wasn't able to show off his athleticism but has already dropped about 10 pounds to roughly 205 and now appears to be one of the faster members of the Texas secondary. At cornerback the Longhorns return starters D'Shawn Jamison and Josh Thompson and back them up with McNeese State transfer Darion Dunn and sophomore Kitan Crawford, who has generated as much buzz as any other defensive back in the program.

The expectation is for Texas to be able to match all three of their opponent's top three receivers in man or match zone coverages with future NFL defensive backs. I don't know if any of them will go in the first round as cornerbacks but I've seen a few Texas secondaries in the past decade with a similar amount of solid talent make life very difficult for opposing offenses. The 2014 Longhorns were one example, the 2017 unit was similar. It just becomes hard to find any easy yardage between the 20s if all of your receivers are getting checked by a future pro.

In summation

As has been the case for much of the decade, Texas has a number of NFL-caliber athletes on the roster and the challenge is fitting all the pieces together in a way which will allow the whole to be even equal to the sum of the parts. The Longhorns just had five players drafted, the same as the Big 12 title-winning Sooners and more than double that of any other Big 12 roster, but they weren't close to being as good as this metric would suggest.

More effective coordination and more aggressive use of the portal to patch the roster together could make a significant different for the Longhorns this season. Tom Herman really only once used the portal effectively to put a team together, when he took Rice left tackle Calvin Anderson to assemble the 2018 offensive line, whereas in other seasons the Longhorns often had crippling flaws.

The relative youth and inexperience in the passing game probably sets a ceiling on this team still below that of "Big 12 Champion" and possibly below "Big 12 Championship Game participant" although we'll see what else the staff can conjure from the portal. The obvious design of the team will be to play high level defense, squeezing space with an athletic defensive backfield before bowing up behind a big defensive line in the red zone, and then running the football with Bijan Robinson. What they get from the offensive space force will determine how high the ceiling can rise from the defense + run game foundation.
 
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erice79

Member
Nov 30, 2020
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The 2020 season had been circled for a very long time as the make or break year of the Tom Herman era. As the 2019 season was concluding, I was noting Texas had already missed the ideal breakthrough moment, the Sooners were down and Texas drew a friendly schedule, but certainly 2020 was long expected to be a key one.

There were a number of factors playing into the 2020 season as the moment when Tom Herman would rise or sink as the head coach at Texas. He had a senior class which included the ideal quarterback for his system in Sam Ehlinger, an NFL left tackle in Sam Cosmi, and then his vaunted 2018 recruiting class was all going to be coming into their own as third year players. Blue chip recruits like Brennan Eagles and Joseph Ossai were expected to pair with Sam Cosmi, Josh Thompson, and D'Shawn Jamison to give the Longhorns an elite space force while the infrastructure was helmed by Sam Ehlinger on offense and Caden Sterns on defense.

Instead they found a new way to lose to TCU, were within some Sam Ehlinger heroics of losing by wide margins to Texas Tech and Oklahoma, and then ultimately fell short at home against Iowa State with the Big 12 Championship on the line. The majority of those pieces are now gone and so is Tom Herman.

In comes Steve Sarkisian fresh from a National Championship at Alabama to try and bring some explosive power to the Texas offense. Sark also pulled off a coup by hiring famous defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski of Boise State and Washington fame. What might have been a particularly tall order to rebuild the Texas roster to suit their new tactics is made easier by the continuing ease in which teams can use the transfer portal.

Sarkisian has already dove in to the portal with Riley-level necromancy in order to try and remake the Texas roster so that it emulates one which had been recruiting to his staff's vision for the last several years rather than the last several months. Particularly interested has been the fact Sark hasn't only recruited in transfer to patch holes with upperclassmen but also to patch anticipated holes down the line.

Expected additions such as 2021 wide receiver Xavier Worthy, Notre Dame redshirt junior Ovie Oghoufo, New Mexico State linebacker Devin Richardson, and USC linebacker Palaie Gaoteote will all arrive in Austin with multiple years of eligibility remaining. After spring practices concluded, Sark immediately set to work looking to add other young talents through the portal as well.

Here's how things are looking in his pursuit of immediate success in Austin.

Infrastructure stress test: Offense

The sixth year of eligibility is giving Texas a bit of a boost here with three solid options returning thanks to the "super senior" COVID proviso. Sark could have even had one more year of Sam Ehlinger, and last Saturday I was beginning to wonder if Ehlinger hadn't made a mistake in passing on that option until the Indianapolis Colts drafted him in the sixth round. He does retain swingman Derek Kerstetter, coming off a bad ankle injury, who started at right tackle in 2017 and 2019 and then at center in 2020. The Longhorns also return Denzel Okafor, who has flashed some ability at guard but spent a lot of his time on the 40 Acres trying to master tackle before bumping inside. Finally, they have ancillary Cade Brewer back, who was a solid blocker in both Herman's tight zone schemes as well as the outside zone runs new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich brought for the 2021 season.

Mike Yurcich didn't have much success in his one year at Austin due to multiple factors, but he did make some deposits which will pay off for Sark in installing outside zone and then getting 2020 center Jake Majors some snaps in the scheme as a freshman. Majors was a revelation at the end of the season when Sam Cosmi's opt out triggered a domino effect which put him in the starting lineup. Texas also has another pair of certain offensive line starters in redshirt junior Junior Angilau, a mauling guard, and then the mammoth Christian Jones who has NFL size and athleticism but only in this recent spring started to show any sort of mastery of the necessary technique to play tackle at this level. More on Jones later.

The interior of Denzel Okafor, Jake Majors, and Junior Angilau is a near lock to be foundational to the Texas offense in 2020, along with tight end Cade Brewer, blocking outside zone and a variety of other schemes Sark and his line coach Kyle Flood are bringing from Alabama with the aim of springing star sophomore running back Bijan Robinson.

Sark's offense would ideally pair Bijan Robinson with an ultra-explosive passing game utilizing RPOs, play-action, and then Sark's particularly nasty blend of play-action which is designed to emulate RPOs before loosing receivers down the field on double moves past over-aggressive safeties. Texas has found some options on some of the RPO throws with receiver Jordan Whittington and possibly redshirt freshman Troy Omeire, a big kid at 6-3, 227 who's been getting healthy and brings a lot of physicality and catch radius. They do not have an over the top burner anywhere near the level of Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, or Jaylen Waddle. More on that later as well.

The expectation is Texas will lean into the run game pretty heavily with Bijan and also Roschon Johnson, play from 12 personnel quite a bit adding the 6-7, 255 Jared Wiley to the line with Cade Brewer, and try to set up the quarterback with rollouts and concepts such as this one:


The quarterback question is the biggest facing the team but I think it's less of a controversial one than many have assumed. Casey Thompson is a redshirt junior with three more years of eligibility if he wants them but he lacks some zip throwing the ball outside the hash marks and has been at his best executing the sorts of schemes which defined the Tom Herman offense. He has good touch throwing in the middle of the field and some hellacious speed execution zone-option concepts, albeit at 6-1, 194 pounds rather than Ehlinger's 220+. But Sarkisian wants to throw the ball further outside and doesn't include a lot of zone-option typically, preferring to add multiple layers of RPOs and relying on the receivers to constrain the run game.

Hudson Card is a redshirt freshman with a more pro-style skill set, zipping the ball outside the hash marks and throwing with anticipation based on leverage. He also protected the ball better in the spring game whereas Thompson threw a pick-6 on the goal line trying to float a throw underneath a zone corner out at the numbers. Card is no bigger than Thompson at about 6-2, 195 and Texas would rather have both around in the fall in the event of an injury but I expect Card to win the battle and be named the starter by the time Louisiana comes to town.

A key factor for the quarterbacks won't only be their ability to punish defenses on Sark's aggressive pass concepts, but one which has never been well appreciated over the last four seasons. Sam Ehlinger attempted 1476 passes at Texas over that span and threw 27 interceptions for an interception rate of 1.8%. The Longhorns were virtually "unblowoutable," in his time, playing almost everyone close whether they won or lost, because of his ball security. The next guy will probably be asked to be more aggressive and they'll need to balance it with ball security because this team's winning advantages are primarily found in the run game and on the other side of the ball.

Infrastructure stress test: Defense

Heading into the silly season before Pete Kwiatkowski was hired as the defensive coordinator, I was speculating on which of Texas' linebackers might be best suited to being converted into an outside linebacker. A few years' worth of Todd Orlando coordination had wasted Joseph Ossai and failed to restock the roster with anyone else like him, instead loading up the defensive line with multiple 4i-technique and 3-technique defensive tackles. It seemed the best path for Texas would be to convert back to a 3-down defense.

Instead Sark took LSU outside linebacker Ray Thornton (6-3, 250) through the transfer portal, had strongside end Jacoby Jones cut some weight (6-4, 264), and is now adding Notre Dame back-up weakside end Ovie Oghoufo (6-3, 240) and Alabama back-up outside linebacker Ben Davis (6-4, 250) through the portal. The reason? Kwiatkowski prefers a pro-style, 2-4-5 defensive scheme and takes personal charge of coaching up the outside linebacker/defensive end hybrids who make it work.

While he'll be busy trying to mold a unit almost exclusively comprised of transfers, the rest of the Texas unit is pretty hit or miss currently. The best defensive tackle for the Longhorns in spring was either multi-year starting nose tackle Keondre Coburn (6-2, 340 and dropping) or 6-3, 281 pound 3-technique Moro Ojomo who came alive after moving inside from strongside end. Sophomore Alfred Collins is a freak athlete at 6-5, 302 who's expected to be a potential day one draft pick as a 3-technique whenever the lights come on and then Texas also returns junior nose tackle T'Vondre Sweat (6-4, 340) after a strong 2020 season. This is the thickest and hardest to move interior defensive line in the league.

Behind them, Texas hopes converted safety DeMarvion Overshown will continue to master the fundamentals of linebacker and will probably end up pairing him with one of Devin Richardson or Palaie Gaoteote. Behind them things are even more curious. Former blue chip recruits Tyler Owens (4-star junior strong safety), B.J. Foster (5-star senior free safety), and Anthony Cook (4-star senior nickel) ended the spring running second team behind Brenden Schooler (3-star super senior strong safety), Jerrin Thompson (4-star sophomore free safety), and Chris Adimora (4-star junior nickel). It seems the less heralded players have shown the greater knowhow.

A key factor in Kwiatkowski's designs is the prevalence of match 3, single high defense and then the emphasis on division of labor. The weakside or "Dime" inside linebacker is typically a stout plugger while the defense plays with three safeties in a base nickel scheme and utilizes a big, "box safety" type as the "Mike" linebacker. The middle of Texas' defense in 2020 could feature the 6-2, 250 pound Gaoteote behind two of the bigger, more powerful defensive tackles in the league but then surrounded by speed at every other position. If this balance works out and the Longhorns are good in the defensive space force, it'll be interesting to see how Big 12 offenses handle the structure.

Space force speed test: Offense

Troy Omeire was expected to be the main weapon for Texas' passing game in 2020 when he was dominating in fall camp. He recently posted a cut-up from fall practice on Twitter where he shows off the catch radius...


...and as a Texas insider I can tell you there are other clips of him from fall looking pretty impressive with some deep route ability and bullying corners when they tried to press him. He worked back in slowly for spring ball due to an ACL injury which spoiled his freshman year and wore a black "no contact" jersey like a quarterback for this spring. Omeire's fall injury was probably the ruination of the entire 2020 Longhorn season and Tom Herman era, if he returns and maximizes his potential in 2021 it'd be a very good omen for the Sarkisian tenure.

Jordan Whittington is finally putting his 5-star ability to good use as a wide receiver, utilizing elite agility to run a lot of crossers, RPOs, and out-breaking routes which should prove important chain-moving components to the offense.

The biggest question at wide receiver is whether anyone can stress defenses down the field at anywhere close to the level of famous Sarkisian receivers from offenses' past. Omeire might be part of the solution here. Blue chip Xavier Worthy, whom Sark just stole from Michigan via the portal, is likely to be a part of the solution at some point. Worthy was prized for Alabama's 2021 recruiting class as a 10.5 100m sprinter with athleticism and a skill set very comparable to that of DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. Michigan was really counting on him to make their own foray into RPO/play-action offense work out, it's possible he'll be asked to do so in Austin as a true freshman.

Otherwise, the Longhorns return three other players with some potential in this regard who haven't put it together yet. Joshua Moore caught six touchdown passes a year ago and has some exceptional burst and length at 6-1, but hasn't been as explosive or consistent as an elite deep threat should be. Jake Smith was expected to potentially break out in 2021 after only flashing the previous two seasons, then he broke his foot on the first day of spring camp. Finally, Kelvontay Dixon has some home run ability and the sort of breakaway speed Sark is looking for (ran a 10.71 100m at Carthage) but hasn't packaged the speed into a comprehensive, receiving toolbox yet.

Worthy will have a chance to play immediately, as would anyone else Sark can summon through the portal.

Then there's left tackle, which is another fascinating subplot to the Texas season. The 2020 season was badly marred by offensive line coach Herb Hand's decision to move the very reliable if non-elite Derek Kerstetter from right tackle to center in order to play redshirt sophomore Christian Jones at right tackle opposite Sam Cosmi. Jones didn't play offensive line until his senior year in high school and then did so in a Wing-T style offense, he's grown into a 6-6, 327 pound monster at Texas with NFL size and athleticism but very limited expertise in the finer points of offensive line play.

New offensive line coach Kyle Flood watched everyone work out in winter conditioning and decided he was going to make Jones' athleticism the solution at left tackle and early returns are surprisingly positive.


If you watched Nik Bonitto blow by Jones repeatedly in the 2020 Red River Shootout you should recognize how far along #70 has come halfway through the offseason. After Jones, Texas' solutions at tackle are solid but limited. Kerstetter is working his way back to health and would have a much better prognosis for the NFL as a guard (though not a center based on the 2020 film) and then sophomore Andrej Karic may still be the best tackle on the team but at 6-4, 290 pounds with shorter arms is very athletic and technically savvy but won't be confused with Orlando Jones anytime soon.

Overall, Texas' offensive space force and passing game in general appear to be about one year away from really coming together. In the meantime, it's the Bijan Robinson show.

Space force speed test: Defense

So Texas headed into the offseason with star edge player Joseph Ossai heading to the NFL and his back-up and opposite edge counterparts consisting of the following players:

Jett Bush: A 6-2, 236 pound former walk-on and former inside linebacker.
Jacoby Jones: A 6-4, 264 pound back-up strongside end.
Moro Ojomo: A 6-3, 280 pound former Katy nose tackle who was pressed into duty as a strongside end by Chris Ash due to need.
Prince Dorbah: An explosive 6-3, 226 pound edge who'd played as a 4i-technique at Highland Park and been unable to add weight or edge technique as a freshman due to injuries.

Pretty tough start to running a 2-4-5.

Ray Thornton has been an immediate plus for Texas and flashed all spring. He started at the weakside "X-backer" position for Kwiatkowski in the spring game but is gaining weight and will likely end up starting as the strongside "Jack" linebacker come fall. Expected portallers Ben Davis and Ovie Oghoufo were third-string at Alabama and Notre Dame respectively but the hope will be for them to find success at the X-backer position.

Kwiatkowski will use stunts, movement, and a wide variety of four-man pressures to try and leverage these guys' athleticism into pass-rush opportunities regardless of their actual skill beating offensive tackles around the corner. I'm sure he'd like to have more pure talent to work with but his track record at Washington and Boise State was pretty solid so Texas will probably be in relatively solid shape here.

In the secondary things are much, much brighter. Chris Adimora was used by Chris Ash as an undersized linebacker and wasn't able to show off his athleticism but has already dropped about 10 pounds to roughly 205 and now appears to be one of the faster members of the Texas secondary. At cornerback the Longhorns return starters D'Shawn Jamison and Josh Thompson and back them up with McNeese State transfer Darion Dunn and sophomore Kitan Crawford, who has generated as much buzz as any other defensive back in the program.

The expectation is for Texas to be able to match all three of their opponent's top three receivers in man or match zone coverages with future NFL defensive backs. I don't know if any of them will go in the first round as cornerbacks but I've seen a few Texas secondaries in the past decade with a similar amount of solid talent make life very difficult for opposing offenses. The 2014 Longhorns were one example, the 2017 unit was similar. It just becomes hard to find any easy yardage between the 20s if all of your receivers are getting checked by a future pro.

In summation

As has been the case for much of the decade, Texas has a number of NFL-caliber athletes on the roster and the challenge is fitting all the pieces together in a way which will allow the whole to be even equal to the sum of the parts. The Longhorns just had five players drafted, the same as the Big 12 title-winning Sooners and more than double that of any other Big 12 roster, but they weren't close to being as good as this metric would suggest.

More effective coordination and more aggressive use of the portal to patch the roster together could make a significant different for the Longhorns this season. Tom Herman really only once used the portal effectively to put a team together, when he took Rice left tackle Calvin Anderson to assemble the 2018 offensive line, whereas in other seasons the Longhorns often had crippling flaws.

The relative youth and inexperience in the passing game probably sets a ceiling on this team still below that of "Big 12 Champion" and possibly below "Big 12 Championship Game participant" although we'll see what else the staff can conjure from the portal. The obvious design of the team will be to play high level defense, squeezing space with an athletic defensive backfield before bowing up behind a big defensive line in the red zone, and then running the football with Bijan Robinson. What they get from the offensive space force will determine how high the ceiling can rise from the defense + run game foundation.
Awesome write up. Good to see we are getting some semblance of depth
 

timeontarget

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Excellent stuff Ian. Thanks.

I think passes to the RBs this year will help our passing attack. Herman only rarely threw to them last year despite having three who could really catch.

Getting Jake, TO, and Liebrock should also help dramatically.
 

rngbullxv

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Good job, Ian. What late arrivals (other than Worthy, Sanders) might see PT this year?
 

Fuddy

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Joshua Moore caught six touchdown passes a year ago and has some exceptional burst and length at 6-1, but hasn't been as explosive or consistent as an elite deep threat should be.
Eight TDs in nine games, if you count the bowl game. Pretty solid if they can keep him on the field, especially in Sark's offense
 

bHero

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Eight TDs in nine games, if you count the bowl game. Pretty solid if they can keep him on the field, especially in Sark's offense
And that was on just 30 completions at 15 ypc. Suggests a good red zone target as well (30% TD rate with a lower yards per catch - ypc rating is 81st in country, while the TDs are tied for 12th).

Edit: Just checked and he had 7 catches for 6 TDs in the redzone (T-9th in country, 4th in P5).
 
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Wings N Girls

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Excellent stuff Ian. Thanks.

I think passes to the RBs this year will help our passing attack. Herman only rarely threw to them last year despite having three who could really catch.

Getting Jake, TO, and Liebrock should also help dramatically.
I loved Ehlinger as much as any Horn fan, but it used to drive me insane how many times Ingram or RJ would be wide open in the flats or on quick checkdowns, and he almost never threw to them. It's free yards and you're literally getting your RB in space against a LB or DB 1-on-1. When your RB is Bijan Robinson he's going to consistently make people miss / break a tackle and get free yards out of it. I completely agree with you that passing to RBs this year will help our passing attack significantly.

Idk how great Jake will be or Liebrock, but I am super happy about TO getting healthy, as he was a dominant football player last season. Ian is completely right in his assertion that the floor/ceiling of the team is set by the offensive space force. I think they have a pretty high ceiling, though it remains to be seen if this ceiling can hit. Best case scenario, TO is an absolute monster, J-Whitt lives up to his 5-star billing and makes a living on crossers and quick RPO stuff, and we get another guy whether Dixon/Worthy/Washington/Moore/Smith/future transfer to turn things up to another level
 

Santiam

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Good write up. We obviously have some problem spots on both sides of the ball. The one thing that I feel comfortable in saying is that we are light years ahead of Herman and Co. when it comes to coaching under Sark and his assistants. I expect that will result in several more wins than would have been previously possible under the prior coaching regime.
 
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cjhacks

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How many guys can we still take in the portal this year? Isn't there some kind of cap, or do our own portal defectors increase the limit? Has the NCAA ruled on this?