FOOTBALL TEAM NOTES
Probably the two most important players who missed the UTEP game - LT Connor Williams and RB D’Onta Foreman - have been back at practice this week in preparation for the team’s first road trip of the season - to Cal.
When big No. 55 (Williams) is on the field, the offensive line seems to fall into place.
The bye week - after the Cal game - will actually come at a good time for Texas.
LG Patrick Vahe has been playing through ankle and wrist injuries. RG Kent Perkins’ injured knee could use some rest. And backup RT Tristan Nickelson (ankle) will need some more time as well.
Speaking of backup OL, freshman Patrick Hudson is nursing a foot injury suffered in practice that has all but assured he’ll redshirt this season.
Also very disappointed that my man RB Kirk Johnson (ankle/knee) will be out a while as well. Johnson has been limited by injuries almost since his arrival on campus. It’s a shame, because the kid is talented.
With Connor Williams, D’Onta Foreman and TE Caleb Bluiett returning for Cal, Texas will play with a lot of confidence and with a chip on its shoulder after losing in heart-breaking fashion to Cal last year.
Texas is a different team with Shane Buechele at QB. His incredible touch on deep-ball touchdown passes to John Burt, Armanti Foreman, Dorian Leonard and Jerrod Heard the past two games have struck fear in defenses and filled teammates' with all kinds of belief in Texas' offense.
D Foreman is far and away the best RB on the team. When he's on the field, the offense is at its best. D Foreman also has the hands to catch passes.
The defense, which gave up 219 yards per game rushing last season (111th nationally of 127 FBS teams), seems to be improving against the run thanks to the improving play of DTs Chris Nelson, Poona Ford and Paul Boyette.
Charlie Strong singled out sophomore OLB Breckyn Hager and freshman OLB Malcolm Roach as players who needed to get on the field because of their play-making - but more importantly - for their energy.
Strong values players who feed energy and ignite teammates. Lately, that’s been Hager, Roach and, on offense, WR Jerrod Heard.
Keep an eye on S DeShon Elliott in this energy-giving category as well. Elliott - like Hager and Roach - delivers killshot-style hits (as Torii Hunter found out in the Notre Dame game). Those hits ignite teammates and fans.
Saturday night at Cal will be a big-time, tackle-in-space game, which plays to the strengths of sophomore LBs Malik Jefferson, the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player Of The Year, and Anthony Wheeler.
Put the over/under for sacks/hits on the QB for Jefferson at 2/4.
“Webb looks like he gets rattled in the pocket,” Jefferson said. “So we need to get after him.”
The matchup of the game will be Texas’ DBs against Cal's receiving corps, led by Chad Hansen (No. 6), who has caught 14 passes in each of the last two games.
Webb completed passes to 12 different receivers in the win over Hawaii and to 11 different receivers in the 45-40 loss at San Diego State.
Would love to see Texas man up against Cal when the Bears get into 4- or 5-wide and play some umbrella coverage behind it. Because Texas has the players (Davante Davis, Holton Hill, Sheroid Evans, Kris Boyd and Antwuan Davis) to do it and disrupt the timing of the Air Raid offense.
On special teams, P Michael Dickson is one of the best in the country, and K Trent Domingue has been reliable thus far. Kris Boyd (No. 2) is a hitting machine on special teams, and freshman Brandon Jones is starting to make plays.
I expect Texas to hit the road with a lot of confidence this weekend.
TEXAS vs CAL Q&A WITH SCOUT CAL PUBLISHER RYAN GORCEY
#1 ... From the numbers after two games against Hawaii (a 51-31 win in Australia) and at San Diego State (a 45-40 loss at Qualcomm Stadium), it's apparent the strength of Cal's team is the offense. Where is the offense strong and where is it vulnerable?
RG: Davis Webb, Cal’s graduate transfer quarterback, has such an advanced understanding of this offense – having played in it under Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech – that he came in right away and mastered new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s version of that offense. Wide receiver Chad Hansen – who’s caught 28 balls for 370 yards and three touchdowns in three games – said that if Webb wanted to play offensive line, or receiver, he could, because he can make all the calls that the center would need to make, and he knows each route tree. That said, those 28 balls to Hansen (more than 35% of Webb’s completions) have come at the expense of the rest of the crew.
Freshmen Demetris Robertson and Melquise Stovall need to get more involved to make this offense a bit more dynamic. Beyond that, Cal’s run game is a mystery. It seems like en route to throwing a school-record 72 passes last Saturday, Webb checked out of a lot of runs, early.
The offensive line and three-headed monster at running back should be the strength of this offense, but they’ve not been used, and, in fact, against San Diego State, were abandoned early, and then kept on the shelf once the Bears got down. Cal was throwing against five-man boxes, which, if you’re a numbers-in-the-box team, shouldn’t happen. Reducing the number of run-pass option plays isn’t a good solution, but the Bears – and really, Webb – need to commit more to the run.
#2 ... How would you rate grad transfer QB Davis Webb's play so far? There was some thought he wanted to transfer to Texas if UT would have taken him, so what has his attitude been toward playing a familiar foe he faced while he was at Texas Tech?
RG: Webb has been a stabilizing force for an offense that lost it six top receivers. Unlike a few of the Texas natives on the team – like running back Vic Enwere – he bears no ill will towards the Longhorns, and in fact, cites Colt McCoy as one of his idols growing up. He’s excited for the challenge posed by the Texas secondary (and certainly the defensive line), but other than that, to him, it’s another game.
#3 ... Receiver Chad Hansen (No. 6) has caught 14 passes in each of the first two games. How good is Hansen and who are the players to watch on offense for Cal?
RG: Hansen is, in the opinion of the coaches and scouts, the best pro prospect in the receiving corps, as it stands (Robertson is still a work in progress, as a freshman). He’s strong, fast, physical and is a threat on anything from a tunnel screen to a straight-up streak. He’s been clocked as low as 4.41 in the 40, electronically, and at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds with room to add weight, it’s hard to argue with the pro prospect assessment.
Robertson is incredibly dynamic, and made Damontae Kazee – the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, who had eight picks last year – look like a junior varsity corner. He’s still very, very raw, but explosive.
Melquise Stovall is a jitterbug inside receiver, a four-star athlete who is a home run threat from anywhere on the field. He’s explosive, surprisingly physical, and once he gets the ball in space, he can make things happen. We haven’t quite seen him break out, but if Webb starts spreading the ball around, he’s one of the first guys you’ll see with multiple catches.
The Bears have two running backs – Khalfani Muhammad and Tre Watson – on th Doak Walker Award Watch List, and while Muhammad had a huge day against Hawaii – 212 all-purpose yards – he was quiet against the Aztecs, as was Watson. Vic Enwere, though, out of Missouri City, Tex., is averaging 7.3 yards per carry, and is the only back on this roster than can approximate what we’re going to see out of the fleet of semi trucks the Longhorns bring to bear in the backfield.
#4 ... Could you provide a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the Cal defense?
RG: I think, after two games, the defensive backs aren’t as poor as I’d anticipated. Starters Darius Allensworth and Marloshawn Franklin have finished plays, are physical and do a lot of little things right that may not show up in the final stat sheet. Evan Rambo had his first interception last week, and between him, Khari Vanderbilt and Malik Psalms, there is certainly some length at the safety spot. While Luke Rubenzer is on the small and slow side, he manages to be in the right place at the right time more often than not, but if it comes down to him or any of the other safeties trying to stop Tyrone Swoopes, he’ll do the same thing he did to former Cal safety Avery Sebastian, playing for Notre Dame. Cal lost its best run-stopping safety when Damariay Drew tore his ACL in the spring, and there isn’t anyone who can do what he did.
I feel confident about half of the defensive line – tackle James Looney and end Cameron Saffle. Tony Mekari plays with a great motor, but he’s very athletically limited, both in strength and speed. DeVante Wilson has been fairly soft on the right end spot, which is particularly vexing, considering the fact that, at 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, he looks like an apex jungle predator. He’s been more of a tabby than a panther.
Linebackers, particularly in the run game, have been very inconsistent with their run fits. While San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey is a more slippery back than the sledge hammers that Texas brings, I think that they bring a different challenge, and one that I don’t think the Bears are up to: None of Cal’s linebackers are bigger than Swoopes, Chris Matthews or D’Onta Foreman. For a team that’s had consistent issues with tackling, that doesn’t bode well at all for Cal.
#5 ... Any injuries or players returning from injury that will play a factor in Saturday's game?
RG: So far, it looks like No. 2 left tackle Patrick Mekari won’t play. He rolled his ankle against San Diego State, after starting the first two gams of the season in place of Aaron Cochran, who sprained his knee in fall camp. Cochran did get in against the Aztecs, though, and I suspect will start on Saturday. He’s 6-foot-8, 350 pounds, and was the projected starter anyway, so it’s an upgrade. Inside receiver Matthew Rockett – who hasn’t had a catch yet this year – is also out with an apparent knee injury.
#6 ... What should Texas fans make a point to do or see on the Cal campus or in the area if they are headed out to the Bay Area for the game? Any restaurants/bars that are a must?
RG: A sneaky good option after the game is Yogurt Park, in Sather Lane, between Bancroft and Durant. It’s open until midnight, so there’s a very good chance you can swing by after the game. Also another great option is CREAM – an ice cream sandwich joint down Telegraph. Chances are, you’ll see some official visitors there, with their player hosts.
For those looking for pre-game options, there are a lot. If you have a car, drive north on Shattuck and hit up Cheeseboard Pizza Cooperative, or, if you’re feeling fancy, Chez Panisse, a former Michelin Star restaurant, is also a must-eat. La Note, on Shattuck, just down the street from the campus at Shattuck and Durant, is a great French breakfast cuisine spot. For those looking for more traditional college town fare, Blondie’s Pizza is a local institution, as are Top Dog (cash only; try the potato salad with your brat or chicken apple) and La Burrita (try the California burrito, with French fries inside the burrito), the latter being Aaron Rodgers’s favorite Berkeley haunt. Those four are all on your way up from Telegraph to the stadium.
Henry’s is an old-fashioned grand hotel bar with a broad, wooden bar and television screens everywhere, inside the Hotel Durant. Pappy’s on Telegraph is the go-to place during the day to watch whatever other college football you could ever ask for, with some neat Cal memorabilia adorning the walls.
As for campus landmarks, the Mario Savio Steps right in front of Sproul Hall were where the Free Speech Movement was born. East of campus, visible on the hill, is where the atom was first split, and if you want to take a 12-minute hike up to the Big C on the eastern foothills, you’ll be treated to an amazing panoramic view of the Bay Area.
#7 ... What's your prediction for Saturday night's game and why?
RG: I think this offense can score points, and lots of them, even against a defense that’s as stingy as Texas’s can be. Davis Webb is being given a lot of time in the pocket, and he’s shown the ability to be able to dissect a defense very quickly. His run-pass checks have been right, more often than not, but I think the issue that Cal has is that if the Bears don’t commit to the run game – and therefore keep the defense off the field – it’s going to be a long night. This is certainly a game where I can see a team score 50 points and lose, and that team, I think, is the Bears.
Texas 56 ... Cal 50
VANCE BEDFORD BREAKS IT DOWN ON DEFENSE
- On leading the conference in sacks: I'm excited about that. Did I expect that at this time in the season? No, I didn't. The guys are playing hard, and that's the key. When you give great effort, especially when it's getting to the quarterback, good things can happen for you. Eight sacks right now, I'm excited about it. Hopefully going forward that will continue to happen for us.
- On Malcolm Roach's progression as a player: He's a coach's son. When he got here on campus this summer, first thing he asked, 'Coach, where's the playbook? Can I go watch video?' So he's worked at learning what to do and how to do it. He's taken coach Haley's teaching to the field. He's a lot like [Breckyn] Hager, I mean, from his effort. He gives you great effort all the time. And that's something special that he brings to the table. So what you saw this past weekend, that's who the kid is. He'll give you everything he has. Even if he doesn't know what to do, he'll go 100 miles an hour and he'll make a play doing that same thing Hager does. So I think the kid has a bright future for us.
- On the performance of backup players against UTEP: I told our guys on defense this: versus UTEP, we had a better team. We really did. We should've done what we did, to be honest. We gave up that one big play we were disappointed in. We didn't fit the run right, we miss a tackle in the back end. But we were supposed to go out there with our D-line and our linebackers and control the line of scrimmage. They did that for the most part. So we were excited to see when you were supposed to win, you go out there defensively and you do a solid job.
- On whether the current defensive backs have the potential to match the legacies of Michael Huff and Aaron Ross: The famous word that coaches don't like to use is potential, because sometimes a guy can be potential for four years. They're a hell of a long way to go to even mention those guys' names. Michael Huff came here, was redshirted, had an opportunity to sit and watch and learn from the guys that were here, so when his time came, he was prepared. This freshman class about a year ago, they're sophomores right now, they had to come in and play right now. They didn't have a lot of guys to learn from. They're doing on-the-job training, which sometimes is a good thing and sometimes it isn't. So they have a long way to go before they can mention themselves and the names of Huff and Ross and all of those guys. I'm still waiting to see these guys be consistent, because they haven't been consistent.
- On Cal quarterback Davis Webb: He's an excellent quarterback. He has the arm, he sees the entire field. He can make all the throws. You sit there and watch the video, he's on the hash mark and he throws an out cut to the field, all you can do is shake your head. That is not supposed to happen. I think the kid has special talent. I think he brings something special to Cal's offense. So we're going to have our hands full. Last week I think they had 94 plays and he threw the ball 72 times. That's a lot of passes. For a defense, that's a scary situation.
- On stacking up Webb against the quarterbacks in the Big 12: If Webb was in this conference right now, he'd probably be in the top four. I think if you put him at Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, they could win with this guy. He executes the offense, he can throw the ball, he can make the checks. He can get them in the right plays. He does the things that you need a quarterback in this system to do. He can make all the throws.
- On some players receiving less playing time in the first two games: It's a combination of a lot of things. The first game, Kris Boyd didn't get in there except for special teams. So we're trying to develop guys, rotate guys in there and that's part of what you're seeing right now. So we're moving the guys around, trying to find the right fit. And the biggest thing you try to find with young guys is to make them compete. You need to earn your way. These freshmen a year ago came in here and they walked around and they played. All of sudden people saying, 'Man, you guys have done a great job.' They were inconsistent last year. You saw flashes. So our thing right now is, if you don't come to practice every day and practice hard or if you have an opportunity to go into the game and you don't do what you're supposed to do, there's a good chance you're not going onto that football field. And that's where we are with a lot of those guys right now. It's like Kris Boyd didn't play a lot in the first ballgame, and that's part of it. We're going to challenge these guys all the time to do things right, all the time, to be consistent in practice and then go do it in the game.
- On how many defensive backs will play against Cal: If they make the trip, they're all going to have to play. I read an article about Texas Tech and Arizona State, they said their defensive backs ran a total of four miles in that game. The score was 68-55, I believe. You play these type of offenses, if you think you're going to go out there and play one set of defensive backs, you're in trouble, because in the fourth quarter they will have no legs to keep up with these guys. So we have tried to rotate guys in, just play a lot of guys because of competition. Trying to keep them as fresh as we possibly can.
HOOPS RECRUITING: 2017 4-STAR JASE FABRES
One of the most important official visits for the Texas basketball program in the 2017 class happened over the weekend when 6-5, 180-pound sharp-shooter Jase Febres, a 4-star from Houston Westfield, spent the weekend in Austin (along with Texas commit 4-star PF Royce Hamm of Houston/Aldine Davis, Scout’s No. 89 overall prospect in 2017).
The sense is the visit of Fabres and Hamm went well. And when Febres’ mother couldn’t make it to Austin for the visit, Shaka Smart and assistant coach Jai Lucas went to Houston on Sunday for an in-home with mom.
“They wanted to get to talk to my mom, and talk about the weekend,” Febres told Scout’s Brian Snow. “I got all of the questions answered that I needed when I was there, so it was about talking to my mom and her knowing what I did and answering her questions.”
Texas is in good position with Fabres, but will probably have to beat out Houston and Stanford for Fabres, who can flat-out shoot the ball.
About the Texas official visit, Febres said, “It is a really positive atmosphere at Texas. Austin is a really cool place.
“It is very different than Houston. Texas as a whole has a great campus and a great feel.
“When I was there it seemed like a home outside of home. Also the coaching staff are really genuine people.
“It didn’t feel forced with them. Coach (Shaka) Smart is a great coach and person.”
Positions of need for Texas in the 2017 class: Power forward … 3-point shooting … and … like QBs in football - point guard.
Texas feels really good about its PF recruiting with 2017 commitments from Hamm and Jericho Sims.
If the Horns could land Jase Febres, the 3-point shooting would be handled.
And Shaka Smart has made 4-star PG Matt Coleman, Scout’s No. 35 overall prospect in 2017, a priority.
KAREN ASTON COURTS NATION’S NO. 1 PLAYER
While Shaka Smart was trying to find a sharp-shooter during the official visit of uncommitted 4-star Jase Fabres, Texas women’s hoops coach Karen Aston was hosting the nation’s No. 1 2017 women’s prospect in do-it-all 5-star Megan Walker of Monacan (Va.) HS.
Aston, who already has the nation’s No. 4 2017 prospect committed in 5-star, 5-foot-6 point guard Chasity Patterson of North Shore, is also in the mix for the nation’s No. 3 2017 prospect - 5-star F Rellah Boothe of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Boothe is scheduled to visit in late October.
By all accounts the visit of Megan Walker was excellent. Walker will visit UConn this weekend, then Notre Dame the weekend of Sept. 23-24 and then decide.