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COULD STRONG BE SAFE AT 7-5?
While Charlie Strong is telling his players not to listen to “embarrassing” noise about his job security, we here at HD ONLY do our best to provide you only with “noise” that we have gathered first-hand.
And in talking to my sources close to the Tower (where UT administrators’ offices, including president Greg Fenves, reside), there was talk after UT’s 35-34 win over Baylor that Strong could be back for another year if the Longhorns finish 7-5.
A group of big-money donors from the Dallas-Fort Worth area have been pushing the hardest for Houston coach Tom Herman. This week, a prominent UT booster in Houston told other BMDs from H-Town that Texas also needs to consider Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, a source with first-hand knowledge told Horns Digest.
The worst-case scenario for Fenves and Perrin would be if both Strong and Herman stumbled down the stretch, making both unattractive to coach the Longhorns next season.
At that point, “a free-for-all would break out among influential donors” about what direction the football program should take, a key UT source told HD.
Several sources told HD this week that Fenves will not be bullied by big-money donors over the direction of the football program.
For right now, in Strong’s week-to-week battle for survival, the focus is on Texas’ attempt to end its road woes at Texas Tech Saturday.
“As long as there’s not another embarrassing loss,” one connected source told HD, “Fenves and (Mike) Perrin want Strong to succeed and are looking for reasons to bring him back next season.
“They know there are 18 starters back next season and that 13 of those are freshmen or sophomores.”
Privately, Perrin compares the freshmen and sophomores on the team to “labrador puppies whose bodies and minds haven’t caught up to the size of their paws.”
This Saturday’s game at Texas Tech serves as an important test of how far the Longhorns, especially the defense, have come since a Sept. 17, 50-43, loss at Cal.
Like Cal, Texas Tech operates an Air Raid offense - only Tech QB Patrick Mahomes is much more of a threat to run, with 10 rushing TDs this season, than former Tech/current Cal QB Davis Webb (-3.1 ypc).
TCU, which missed three field goals in a 27-24, double-overtime loss at home to the Red Raiders, defended Tech by rushing three and dropping eight into coverage most of the game. Texas tried to defend Cal that way - but TCU had much more success against Tech than UT did at Cal.
“It wasn’t pretty offensively,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I told (TCU coach) Gary (Patterson) that’s the best defense I’ve ever gone against, because it was nothing that we’ve seen all year.”
TCU’s defense had one of its best games of the season, holding Tech to a season-low 345 yards.
“Our whole thing was to make them beat themselves, make them have patience, make them run the ball,” Patterson said.
But TCU’s three missed field goals and an offense that has been held to 24 points in three straight games (after scoring at least 33 in their first five games) cost the Horned Frogs, whose starting QB - Kenny Hill - was benched for Foster Sawyer to start the fourth quarter.
Of course, the week before, Texas Tech lost a 66-59 score-a-thon at home vs Oklahoma in which Mahomes set the single-game FBS record for total offense with 819 yards (734 passing and 85 rushing) and 7 touchdowns (5 passing, 2 rushing).
Strong said his team, 0-4 away from Austin this season, needs a “road warrior” mentality or the team could be “embarrassed” by Tech.
That’s the one outcome Strong can’t afford this weekend.
STRONG ‘HASN’T STOPPED COACHING THIS TEAM HARD’
Much was made about decisions not to start several key sophomores against Baylor, including LBs Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, DE Charles Omenihu and LG Patrick Vahe as well as the plan to continue starting John Bonney and Kris Boyd at CB.
The result was some of the best football played this season by Jefferson (team-leading 10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 TFLs), Wheeler (second-leading tackler with 9 as well as two forced fumbles), Omenihu (first of D’s six sacks in the game) and Bonney (6 tackles, .5 TFL, 2 pass breakups).
P.J. Locke, who has also bounced in and out of the starting nickel job, had an acrobatic interception, a fumble recovery and another pass breakup.
“Charlie hasn’t stopped coaching this team hard,” one source close to the coach said Wednesday. “That’s the only way he knows how. And look at how those players responded.”
The source said Bonney and Boyd both picked up much needed confidence in the win over Baylor, including Bonney refusing to bite on a double move on one of his pass breakups against BU’s K.D. Cannon.
The source said when Strong decided to make Bonney and Boyd the starting corners against Iowa State, the plan was to stick with Bonney and Boyd for the rest of the season.
Why? Because of the struggles of Holton Hill and Davante Davis. The source said Hill and Davis have taken different paths to the same, benched outcome.
Hill got into the coaches’ doghouse for violating team rules early in the season “and then expected to walk right back into the starting lineup without putting in the work,” the source said.
“Davante, I think, just put so much pressure on himself to have a great year that when he gave up some plays early, he started to get down on himself and couldn’t snap out of it.”
Sixth-year senior Sheroid Evans got lots of early playing time this season, but by his own admission “was part of a lot of bad film” against Notre Dame and Cal and eventually had his playing time cut back.
So Texas goes out to Texas Tech with Boyd’s seemingly unshakeable confidence at corner as well as Bonney’s new-found confidence.
“That game (Baylor) helped mainly with my confidence,” Bonney said. “Athletically, I know I can do it. Just needed that boost of confidence to know I can do it against one of the best receivers in the league (K.D. Cannon) in a game we really needed.”
Bonney admitted he was surprised when Strong and Vance Bedford came to him after the Oklahoma game and said they needed Bonney to move out of playing nickel and back to corner.
“I was ready because I’d done it before,” Bonney said, acknowledging that Hill and D Davis “are probably the two best athletes we have on the team.
“I went to high school with Holton (at Houston Lamar), so I’ve known what he’s capable of for a long time,” Bonney said. “Holton’s so long and can run, and Davante really knows what he’s doing out there.”
Bonney replaced D Davis as a starting corner, while Boyd has replaced Hill.
But Bonney said he’ll come over to the sideline and D Davis will often tell Bonney what he’s seeing from the receivers Bonney is facing.
“He (Davis) would say, ‘You can tell by the way he’s leaning that he’s probably going out on a deep route.’ And you appreciate that stuff.”
Bonney said it wouldn’t surprise him if Hill, who has rotated in the most at CB, emerged this week with a big game at Tech.
“Holton is definitely still in it for the team,” Bonney said.
Strong said Monday that Boyd, the team’s most physical corner, is elevating his game and is “separating himself” at the CB position.
“I like the intensity Boyd brings to the defense - to the whole team,” Bonney said. “He just has so much confidence in himself and his game.”
Asked how close the secondary is to having its problems fixed, Bonney said, “We’ve still got work to do. We have to be more consistent to win on the road. This week is a great opportunity for us to show that. We have to be ready for Mahomes to throw it 88 times again (like he did in a 66-59 loss to OU).”
CHRIS WARREN UPDATE
I was told this week by a UT source that RB Chris Warren III would be eligible for a medical redshirt this season after suffering a sprained posterior cruciate ligament against Oklahoma State with a 6-8 week recovery period.
Warren would be eligible for the medical redshirt because the rule states the player has to have played less than 30 percent of the season or four games, whichever is greater.
And Warren’s injury came in the fourth game of the season.
HOOPS RECRUITING UPDATE
It was a big hoops recruiting weekend as 4-star PG Matt Coleman, whom Shaka Smart has been recruiting since his days at VCU, and 5-star 6-11 power forward Mohamed Bamba took official visits to Austin.
In talking with a few sources familiar with the visits, the sense was Bamba, Scout’s No. 2 player in the 2017 class, may have been more influenced by his time in Austin than Coleman, who is between Duke and Texas.
The sources I talked to think Coleman, Scout’s No. 35 overall prospect in the 2017 class (and No. 9 point guard), is probably leaning Duke after his visit to the Durham campus the weekend before coming to Austin.
“When Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) goes all in on a player, it’s hard to compete with that. But we’ll see,” said a source close to the situation.
Talk about an eclectic final seven schools for Bamba (Westtown, PA), who has already said he plans to sign late (in the spring of 2017): Texas, Harvard, Kentucky, Michigan, UConn, Duke and Syracuse.
“I think Bamba enjoyed himself,” the source said. “We’ll see.”
If Texas ends up losing out on Coleman, Shaka Smart will be left to second-guess himself for putting all his point-guard recruiting eggs in one basket.
At one point, Texas was hot and heavy on 5-star PG Trae Young of Norman HS North before pulling back to make Coleman the focus of its 2017 PG recruiting.
Texas also pulled back on its recruitment of 4-star combo guard V.J. Bailey of Round Rock McNeil, whose mother former Olympic sprinter Tonja-Buford Bailey, is an assistant track coach at Texas.
V.J. Bailey recently committed to Oregon.
The early signing period for basketball is Nov. 9-16.