SOME TEAM NOTES FOLLOWING HISTORIC 2OT WIN OVER NOTRE DAME
As our good friend Dan Neil says, anyone can play football healthy. It’s if you can play hurt (not injured!) that often determines your toughness as a football player.
Senior right guard Kent Perkins has a knee sprain from what I’m told that he was trying to play through on Sunday night against Notre Dame. He ended up leaving the game three different times, replaced by one of the overlooked stars of Sunday night: sophomore OG Alex Anderson.
Anderson came to Texas in the class of 2014 and didn’t exactly connect with former OL coach/offensive coordinator Joe Wickline. (Where have we heard that before?!?!?)
Anderson was on his way to being one of those guys content to wear their Texas gear and say they were a scholarship player on the Texas football team on 6th Street - whether or not he ever played a meaningful snap.
But then OL coach Matt Mattox came in and the coaching staff kept it real with Anderson. They told him they knew there was more they could get out of him and that it was basically now or never in terms of showing it (or face being recruited over).
Several sources told me this week Mattox was able to reach Anderson and get more out of him, because “he takes the approach of a high school coach.”
Before everyone reading this loses their mind by determining that as some sort of weakness - the sources said the same thing about Sterlin Gilbert.
“This offensive staff basically takes the approach from their days as Texas high school coaches from a teaching standpoint,” one source told me. “They know guys learn differently and are motivated differently. So they change it up to connect with each kid based on what that guy needs.”
Gilbert even said as much when asked about WR John Burt saying players consider Gilbert “a bro.”
“I asked him (Burt), ‘What do you mean by that?’” Gilbert said. “And he said, ‘It’s how you interact with us.’ So, I took that as a positive.
“I probably reach back to my days as a high school football coach, because everything is predicated on relationships.
“If it’s the interaction, and that’s the tag he wants to put with it, then that’s what I gotta live with,” Gilbert said smiling.
I said ever since the spring, the offense would be fine and that it would absolutely hit the 12 points per game average increase offenses at Bowling Green and Tulsa experienced each of the past two years, respectively, in Gilbert’s first years as OC at those schools.
The players love the offense and love the way Gilbert teaches it.
“I like having Coach Gilbert on the sideline,” Shane Buechele said. “I love the offense I’m in right now. It’s easy. It’s easy to execute. And with the tempo, it keeps things simple.”
INJURY UPDATE - EXPECT O-LINE TO LOOK DIFFERENT SATURDAY
Safety Dylan Haines is in the head injury/concussion protocol after taking a knee to the head from Notre Dame WR Equanimeous St. Brown on Brown’s second TD catch. Haines is likely to be a game-time decision, I’m told.
The offensive line could look completely different this week as I'm hearing some starters may not play (much) against UTEP while recovering from injury.
RG Kent Perkins is fighting through a knee sprain and has been practicing this week. But if Texas can afford to rest Big Perk this week, it could be another chance for Alex Anderson to step up.
Brandon Hodges has won the right tackle job. But backup RT Tristan Nickelson is battling a right ankle injury. So we could see snaps for Denzel Okafor (No. 78) at RT behind Hodges against UTEP. Hodges graded pretty well against Notre Dame.
Hearing Elijah Rodriguez could get the start for LG Patrick Vahe, who is still recovering from an ankle injury.
Also hearing LT Connor Williams dealing with a nagging injury that could result in snaps for backup LT Jean Delance (No. 74).
I'm told, "Even if four starters sit for most or all of this game, no one is worried about it."
SDE Bryce Cottrell suffered an injury before the Notre Dame game that caused him to sit out. I'm told it was a hamstring, but I still haven't confirmed that. Charles Omenihu is now listed as the starter at SDE with Cottrell as the backup and freshman Jordan Elliott as the third-team SDE. It's looking more and more like Andrew Fitzgerald is redshirting.
UTEP FEATURES NATION’S LEADING RUSHER
After giving up 206 yards on 46 carries (4.5 ypc) to a salty, veteran Notre Dame offensive line, mobile QB (DeShone Kizer, 77 yards, 5.9 ypc, 1 TD) and a veteran RB (Tarean Folston, 88 yards, 4.9 ypc), the Longhorns’ run defense will be tested by the nation’s leading rusher after one week - UTEP junior RB Aaron Jones.
Running behind a big, veteran offensive line, Jones (5-10, 215) carved up New Mexico State for 249 yards on a career-high 31 carries (8.0 ypc) and a pair of touchdowns, including a 75-yard burst to the end zone.
After giving up 219 yards per game on the ground last season (111th nationally of 127 FBS teams), Saturday night’s game - which still has 8,000 tickets remaining - will be a good early test of shutting down a one-dimensional team.
UTEP grad transfer QB Zack Greenlee, a former Elite 11 finalist who spent three seasons at Fresno State, suffered an MCL knee sprain in the opener last week and is questionable for the Texas game.
If Greenlee can’t go, UTEP would start its Wildcat QB Kavika Johnson or sophomore Ryan Metz (6-3, 210), who is more of a pocket passer who can also run.
No matter who starts at QB, the Texas defense will know it has to stop Jones, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry last season. Let’s see how they do.
BREAKING IT DOWN WITH BEDFORD
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said the key to the game was in the 4th Q when the defense got the big stops and gave the offense the ball to make plays.
He said the defense "stunk" in the third quarter and needs to be consistent for four quarters.
Overall, he would give the defense a "C."
"But any time you win it's a plus," Bedford said.
"We gave up 47 points, ten points in overtime. The key that we looked at is this: in the fourth quarter, we had three series of snaps worth 19 yards and two of them went three-and-outs and we got the ball back for the offense.
"That's the thing I talked about last week. Our first two years here, the attitude would've been such that when we got down, I don't think we could have come back.
"The attitude right now is that the entire team believes in each other and like each other and care for each other. So what you saw is a full team win Sunday. In the third quarter, we stunk. We didn't do a good job. But you go into the fourth quarter, guys did a good job. After a big play in the first quarter, they didn't score again until late in the second quarter.
"We've got to be consistent. We've got to be consistent in the third quarter. You look at one of those touchdowns, we had a third down stop, a sack, they had holding called. Three plays later they score a touchdown. We don't have that miscue with the penalty, again you've got points off the board, there's a good chance it would not have gone into overtime."
- Sophomore DT Chris Nelson, who led the team in tackles (8), showed tenacity in his first collegiate start. The combination of Nelson and Poona Ford is working for Bedford even though they are "undersized."
"Here's a guy (Nelson), he came in his freshman year, we redshirted him because of an injury. And to be honest, we flipped a coin and we said, 'Should we play Poona [Ford] or Chris?' Both of them were coming off of injuries. And we chose Poona and we redshirted Chris Nelson.
"Chris Nelson might be a little bit bigger version of Poona by a half inch. You have two five plugs. They're good technicians. They work hard in practice every single day, and they take Coach Haley's coaching to the practice field.
"So I think we have two outstanding, undersized defensive lineman who do the little things right. So we'll expect big things of Chris and Poona."
- Bedford said he wished Notre Dame would have stuck with the two quarterback system because it was tough for the defense to stop DeShone Kizer once he got into a rhythm.
- The defensive coordinator told the team they need to not look at the rankings because they have only won one game.
"I told the defense, I don't know who is putting all these rankings on guys. I don't see it, just like I'm talking about the stars and all these five-star guys. Right now you go from being in no man's land to a top-50 football team. You've got guys buying into all the hype. Yesterday people said you were nobody, now all of a sudden you're somebody. Don't believe that.
"We won one football game. That doesn't mean a whole lot. We've got to get ready for UTEP. They just had a running back rush the ball 31 times for 249 yards. That's all I know. That's our focus right now. So forget about what people are telling y'all, the pats on the back. One day they love you, the next day they'll put you in the outhouse. So let's not worry about all of that."
- Bedford believes his first year here had a lot of veteran talent. He now has "young talent" and thinks the defense has a long way to go.
"Our first year here, I thought we had good speed. You look at that front we had, big Malcom [Brown], Hassan Ridgeway is playing, Jordan Hicks. We had a lot of talent that first year. This year, we have a lot of young talent. That was a veteran football team our first year on defense.
"This is a young, talented team. And we're going to make some mistakes like we did the other night. But we do have the speed and the athleticism to make some plays up when we get ourselves in trouble. And you saw some of those things Sunday night. As I spoke last week, we have a long way to go. Once we start playing from the mindless mistakes, we're going to make strides in the right direction to continue to help us win football games."
- Bedford said he would rank the team at 50. He said the team just beat one football team. It wasn't the No. 1 team in the country. They played a talented team that lost a lot of talent after last season.
- Bedford said Paul Boyette has been a positive role model for the defensive line.
- Dylan Haines is day-to-day. He was walking around yesterday and was at practice, although he did not participate. Kris Boyd cramped up a bit before the game Sunday, but he is expected to play this weekend against UTEP.
- Among the players Bedford singled out for praise was S Kevin Vaccaro:
"Kevin Vacarro, he played lights out. But you know what, he practices that way. He's another senior. The old man Sheroid [Evans], I tell Sheroid he's been here for 17 years. He ran to the ball like his life was on fire. Jason Hall was another guy. He had his reps, he played extremely hard. You're talking about three guys that were veterans. Those guys stood out to us.
"Some other guys were inconsistent. Davante [Davis] was inconsistent. He got that fade route on the sixth play of the game for a touchdown. As a defensive back, you have to knock it off your shoulders. That's the biggest thing you have to get to young guys. You're going to get beat. So what?
"If you want to be a good defensive back, you move on to the next play. That's something we have to continue to stress with our young defensive backs."
- Bedford expects to see the type of performance Chris Nelson put up against Notre Dame in each game this year. He's an unselfish player and never wants to let his teammates down.
- Bedford said the defense has somewhere around 14 missed tackles.
- Anthony Wheeler played around 65 snaps between defense and special teams. The defensive staff wants to find a way to take some plays away from him because he got worn down towards the end.
- Bedford does not think Texas is back, yet.
"If you're in the defensive meeting room, there's not a doubt in their minds that we're not back. I can tell you that right now. And the thing about it is it's one game. That's all it is. It's great that everyone's loving us right now and it's versus Notre Dame. There's no one that could be more excited than me.
"I played here. So this means as much to me as anybody walking around that we beat Notre Dame at home on national television. I think around 14 million people were looking at that ballgame. But it's one game. And I let them know that."
STILL NO CONSENSUS FOR BIG 12 EXPANSION
The University of Houston has been one of the two schools most talked about in terms of expansion (along with Cincinnati), and a source close to UH said Houston isn't getting any feedback from the Big 12 and doesn't feel like it has an advocate among the league schools.
Several schools are making presentations to the Big 12 in Dallas this week. Houston and Air Force presented Wednesday.
BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, UConn, Rice, SMU, South Florida and Tulane expect to present this week, too. Memphis has been eliminated from consideration, sources said.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is the one gathering most of the intel and sharing it with David Boren and Greg Fenves, who are on the "executive committee" of this expansion exploration.
If this goes all the way to the October Big 12 Board of Directors meeting, it will probably mean Bowlsby still doesn't have the votes but would still be trying to convince the presidents to add at least two.
The reality is, however, it might end up being a mid-football-season media dump of a story about how the Big 12 conducted a three-month evaluation and decided to punt.