Back with another edition of five questions. This time around Horns Digest’s Chip Brown stops by to answer all things Longhorns ahead of the OU-Texas showdown.
Charlie Strong becoming defensive coordinator – brilliant strategic move or last-gasp desperation attempt at keeping job?
BROWN: Could end up being both. For Strong's sake it had better not end up simply being the later, because then it's probably doomed to fail.
Everything about this move will depend on how Strong sells it - to his players and assistant coaches, in particular, former defensive play-caller Vance Bedford - obviously.
With Strong as D play caller and Bedford as secondary coach at Florida in 2008, they helped the Gators win a national title against the very school they face Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.
The only difference is, in my opinion, and I think OU has the same problem on defense - Texas lacks that coach on the field player on defense who makes a ton of plays and settles everything down when momentum needs to be turned.
I don't think Texas has had that guy since 2014 with Jordan Hicks at LB. I think Texas coaches hoped it might be Malik Jefferson as a sophomore this season. But I still think he's more of an outside linebacker than inside linebacker.
So he hasn't played at a high enough level on a consistent basis to be that guy.
(I think OU misses Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander - probably - in the same way. And I think TCU misses SS Derrick Kindred in the same way this season.)
So Strong is going to have to really channel his best defensive coordinator Jedi tricks to get this group back on track - especially in the secondary.
Getting CB Holton Hill back will help (UT says he's been "banged up" - but we think he's been in the dog house some, too).
With Strong taking over the defensive calls, what can realistically be done in just a week? Is it the scheme? Or is it just hearing a new voice in their heads?
BROWN: Strong has a great personality with the players. He has a way of getting on them and coaching them hard, yet being able to talk trash and keep them relaxed, too.
I always wondered why he put Vance Bedford in charge of any of Strong's defenses, because Bedford and Strong have different personalities. Bedford coaches not to make a mistake with young players, whereas Strong throws em in and tells em to go knock the hell out of somebody.
Texas made some schematic changes last week, going from a 3-3-stack vs Cal (which played more like a prevent defense because the three DL were all DTs - not pass rushers) to a mix of 4-3 and 3-4 with pass rushers Malcolm Roach and Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu in the four-man and with Roach and Hager as the OLBs in the 3-4.
I'm not so sure Roach shouldn't be playing one of the inside LB positions at 260 pounds, because he is much more of a blow-up-blocks/shed blocks guy than Malik, who is more of a finesse/OLB/edge rush guy.
We'll see what Strong has in store. But he'll need to get their minds right and their scheme/adjustments right.
Texas, which has an FBS-worst 1 turnover in four games this season, needs something good to happen defensively early in this game. As we know, early momentum in the RRS can really lift you up, and negative momentum, when you don't have that coach on the field on D, can drown you.
The Longhorns have won the toss, elected to defer and given up first-drive TDs in three of their four games this season, including their losses to Cal and Oklahoma State.
Maybe they should just take the ball first if they win the toss Saturday.
No Chris Warren. D’Onta Foreman banged up. Where can Texas find the answer with its ground game? The Horns physicality was the huge reason for the upset last year.
BROWN: D'Onta Foreman, who left the Ok State game with an abdominal strain in the second half, has to carry the load on Saturday.
He's the best back on the team, although Warren was finally starting to see the holes and hit them the last two games before suffering a knee injury expected to keep him out the next 6-8 weeks.
So now it falls to Foreman and freshman Kyle Porter of Katy, who has ripped off some good runs, but he's not a 245-pound, 4.5-speed guy like Foreman, who is special, in my opinion, and plays with an angry chip on his shoulder.
After Foreman and Porter, Texas would turn to seldom-used Tristian Houston or possibly turn to true freshman Lil'Jordan Humphrey, who moved this week from WR to RB (where he played in high school at Southlake Carroll) for insurance purposes.
Most wondered if the offense could catch up to the defense this season. Shane Buechele has been as good as advertised so far. Why did the defense fall off? It still doesn’t compute.
BROWN: Before we get to the defensive drop-off, a little on Buechele, who has been solid (8 TDs, 3 INTs, 65.5 % comp rate).
Oddly enough, 2 of his 3 INTs this season have come after coaches put Tyrone Swoopes and the 18-Wheeler Package on the field coming off the goal line on first- and second-down, only to bring in Buechele cold off the sideline to throw on third-and-long (vs Notre Dame and Okla State).
Might want to abandon that.
But with the offense going from 26.4 points per game to 41.2 ppg this season, no one can question the offensive improvement - even though the offense has scored just 16 points in the second halves - combined - in UT's two losses (vs Cal and OSU).
It appears, the offense has ended up pressing in the second half of the last two games, not knowing just how many points it's going to need to score. As a result, the offense has gone to more "check-with-me" looks over to the sideline in the second half, when it almost never does that in the first half.
The looks over to the sideline are also a way to try to slow things down a bit, if that's what Strong has asked for at halftime. Either way, it seems to be taking the offense out of its rhythm.
But regarding the defense's drop-off, the problems are primarily in the secondary, which was supposed to be the strength of the D.
Clay Jennings took over coaching the defensive backs from Chris Vaughn, who was forced to resign by Texas after Vaughn was named by the NCAA in some of the allegations at Ole Miss.
The jury is definitely still out on Jennings, who coached DBs at TCU, but we all know Gary Patterson basically coaches all the positions on D at TCU. Then, Jennings spent two years at Arkansas, where the D went from giving up per-game-averages of 209 yards through the air and a 55.4 percent completion rate in 2014 to 275 passing yards and a 64.2 percent completion rate in 2015.
Some in Fayetteville said they weren't sad to see Jennings go.
It also appears there's been some player conflict with Jennings in the secondary. I'm still not sure why sixth-year senior CB Sheroid Evans, who is 6-1, has started ahead of Holton Hill, who is nearly 6-3, at CB every game this season.
Evans has not played well. Again, UT has been saying Hill is "banged up" - but the exact injury has never been made clear. So it seems like Hill has been in the dog house. Although, I was told Hill is back this week.
Hill and Davante Davis started at the corner positions the entire second half of last season and played very well. The secondary hasn't been the same without Hill. Even Davis hasn't played with the same fire.
Texas also tried different starters at safety last week at Okla State with freshman Brandon Jones, a 5-star recruit, along side senior Kevin Vaccaro, the younger brother of former Longhorn and current Saints' S Kenny Vaccaro.
That was a mild disaster as Texas gave up two easy TD drives and fell behind 14-0 in a flash. In came veteran safeties Dylan Haines and Jason Hall, who helped calm things down. Hall, who is still remembered by Texas fans for picking up Samaje Perine in the hole and dumping him on his back, played one of his best games in two years last Saturday, finishing with two sacks.
This week, Hall is listed as the starter at FS with Kevin Vaccaro, a good blitzer with 2 sacks this season, the starter at SS.
One player is going to make a difference in this one. Happens all the time, somebody we didn’t think of making a play. Texas’ X-Factor is ___________?
BROWN: I keep coming back to two players. On offense, QB Shane Buechele and on defense OLB/DE Malcolm Roach.
Buechele - not just because he's the QB. Three of his four siblings graduated from OU (older brother, Garrett, played baseball for the Sooners and sister Jordan graduated from OU in May) or is still in school in Norman (sister Amber). And his other older brother, Tanner, didn't attend OU, but grew up an OU fan.
So I want to see how Buechele handles all of that - whether it pumps him up too much? Like maybe Baker Mayfield was for this game last year? Or does it make Buechele laser focused and produce a memorable effort?
And I picked Roach on defense because I think he's a major star in the making for the Longhorns.
He delivers contact like he has lead in his back side. And his father, Eric, was the LB coach at Grambling under Doug Williams who ended up coaching Malcolm in HS in Louisiana.
Roach's dad played him at all seven positions in the front seven to get him that experience - not knowing how big Malcolm was going to be. He's 263 and moves well. He's already making plays and pressuring the pocket as a pass rusher, and, like I said before, I think he could be Texas' future MLB or ILB because of the way he loves contact.
I probably should say on defense it will be Holton Hill, someone who could really make a difference this week. But for some reason, I think Roach could be the star of this game for Texas defensively.
Hard to believe Texas has been a double-digit dog in this game for four straight years. Shows you just how mediocre Texas has been - really for the past seven seasons.
Oklahoma has done its job in bringing luster to the Big 12, reaching the CFP last year. Texas has got to start doing its part. When the two founding members of the Big 12 are at the top of their games - like they were in the first decade of the 2000s - the Big 12 doesn't have any perception problems.null