This is as self-explanatory as it gets. One of the biggest benefits of an off week is the ability to rest injured players and allow them to heal up before the next game. And Texas is as banged-up as they come, missing two starting receivers and the starting right tackle against Kansas State, with starting quarterback David Ash missing the second half with symptoms likely related to an earlier head injury.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks? He's done for the year, no coming back from that one. But it's possible that Texas could get several of the players listed above back for Iowa State, while other non-injured but hurt players like Malcolm Brown and Mason Walters get a chance to fully heal from their bumps and bruises.
Texas has played a third of the season at this point, and getting a week off at this time comes at a pretty good time for a team that needs to get healthy in a hurry.
Keep Building That Defense
The Texas defense showed some positive signs against Ole Miss, generally defending the quarterback run game better than the Longhorns did against BYU. And the defense took yet another step forward against Kansas State.
That's not to say that everything is perfect in Longhorn land as far as the defense is concerned. Nor should people expect the defense to be. There's a fair amount of fundamental teaching going on — for reference, sources told LonghornDigest.com that a significant portion of practice heading into Kansas State was focused on how to leverage a block based on positioning and helmet placement. Likely, that teaching process will continue through the season as Greg Robinson continues to add wrinkles as the players can handle them.
A high school coach familiar with Texas's situation said that changing a defense in the middle of a high school season took his players three weeks before they were familiar with the base concepts and were able to execute without thinking about it. Obviously, Robinson faces a more complex task, but he also has more time to teach it. The bye week makes week No. 3 for Robinson in his new job, with the Iowa State game coming in week No. 4.
Defenses are always an unfinished product. There's always something else to add, whether it's a way to attack spread running games or a designer blitz to dial up in a key third-and-8 against a specific team's personnel. The goal, at this point, isn't to FINISH the defense this week, but perhaps to finish an operating base for the players to work from, and to continue building on through the season.
In addition to extra time for players to heal from their game- and practice-inflicted maladies, the extra week also means more practice time for players that Texas wants to get into its gameplans more in the future. In this case, I've lumped together Swoopes and Harrison, two players with big-time potential who might be needed in the big games to come.
On Harrison: Texas wants him to play. The Longhorns want him to put it together and win a job. But part of Harrison's narrative to this point revolves around the point that he was limited when he needed to gain crucial reps in fall camp because of the grade dispute with BYU. And it's hard to take practice time during a game week and allocate big chunks to a player who isn't currently a starter. Harrison has all the attributes you'd look for in a starting left tackle — he's a monstrous 6-foot-8 with long arms and pitter-patter feet, with a nasty disposition in the running game. But he needs to get a better working knowledge of the offense and quite simply needs more reps as a Division 1 left tackle. He can get those this week.
Swoopes is a more interesting situation. Nobody really knows what to make of Ash's head injury. He hasn't been declared out for the year … in fact, he hasn't been declared out for Iowa State yet (though he hasn't been cleared either). And the issue with concussions and head injuries is that once a player has one or two, it becomes that much easier to have another. It's against that backdrop that we bring Swoopes into the conversation. In the short term, Case McCoy is a fine backup. He's led comebacks and won multiple starts on the road against bowl teams in his career. But McCoy is limited physically, to the point that the Texas offense can slow significantly when he comes off the bench. The Longhorns want to stretch the field horizontally to stretch it vertically, and while a player doesn't need to have a howitzer to make that offense work, it's difficult to do so without a more powerful gun than the one tucked to No. 6's shoulder pads.
Swoopes not only has that powerful arm, but he has the legs to move the ball with the quarterback run game, another advantage over McCoy. What Swoopes lacks at this point is accuracy and polish. His rawness would probably dictate that he's not ready to take over the offense overall. But if Ash's injury turns out to be long-term (or even if not, really), he should be able to handle a general package of plays to add something to the offense. That's vital, too, in that if Ash does have any long-term effects, Texas is more likely to reach its ceiling as a team with Swoopes playing a major role.
This week is a chance to get more repetitions for Harrison, Swoopes and any other players that the Longhorns want to give a bigger part to as this season rolls on (Tevin Jackson? Kendall Thompson?). And it would be smart to take advantage of that opportunity.