Chip Brown covers Texas like no other on the Scout.com network. He took time to answer our questions as we traveled Across the Field to take another look at the Longhorns.
Q: Texas' offense has morphed from excitement over Shane Buechele and the 18-Wheeler to the dominance of D'Onta Foreman. How much does passing still figure in the attack, and with the two stops that the 18-wheeler suffered last week, is that formation on the shelf now?
Brown: I think a lot of fans would like to see the 18-Wheeler on the shelf when it comes to picking between that and RB D'Onta Foreman, who has now run for at least 100 yards in each of the last 10 games - one shy of Earl Campbell's 11-game streak of 100-yard rushing games. The passing game - especially the deep balls thrown by Shane Buechele - play a huge role in this offense. Typically, the more success Texas has with the deep ball, the more the back half of the defense has to respond/back up, opening running lanes for Foreman. But West Virginia will be the best defense Texas has seen this season. I think it will be a tough test for Sterlin Gilbert, Buechele and Foreman.
Q: With all the noise around coaching hot seats and up and down play, how is the crowd at home games supporting the team? What kind of numbers and environment can West Virginia expect on Saturday?
Brown: The crowd for Notre Dame was ridiculous - sold out and even 30 minutes after the 50-47 double OT win, no one had left. The crowd at the last home game vs. Baylor was really loud and into it, even though a bunch of students didn't show up to the game. (At that time, UT was coming off the Kansas State loss in which Texas seemed to find new ways to lose a game.) This game Saturday should be bonkers. It's close to a sellout.
Q: The reshuffling of coaching staffs in mid-season usually don't yield great results, but the changes on the defensive side appear to have done so at Texas. What have been the major changes and the key to the improvement?
Brown: Charlie Strong has simplified things so he can get his most energized players - OLB/DEs Breckyn Hager (44) and Malcolm Roach (32) as well as CB Kris Boyd (2) - onto the field.
Boyd has even been flipping between left and right CB, so he can always be next to the Texas sideline, where coaches can tell him exactly what to do on each play. Sounds crazy, but it's worked. Boyd is one of the team's most athletic, physical and energized players.
Strong also moved backup nickel back John Bonney (24) to the corner opposite Boyd, because Bonney is smart, dependable and athletic. Until the last three games, Bonney was known as the guy who constantly got beat by good receivers. But Strong and the defensive staff got tired of waiting for preseason award candidate CBs Holton Hill (5) and Davante Davis (9) to get out of whatever sophomore funk they were in.
So Strong and the coaches just started building up Bonney, and he has really responded with his best two games at Texas - vs Baylor (key pass breakup in the end zone and helped force a safety taken by Baylor that sort of turned the game) and at Texas Tech (key pass breakup in the end zone and a forced fumble).
Meanwhile, against Baylor, Strong took preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year LB Malik Jefferson (46) and leading tackler LB Anthony Wheeler (45) out of the starting lineup and replaced them with LBs Ed Freeman (35) and Tim Cole (30), who simply had been playing better (both came up with big plays vs K-State in a loss the week before: Freeman had 2 INTs and Cole had a big-play sack).
Fans panicked/feared that by taking Jefferson and Wheeler out of the starting lineup Strong would probably lose his team. But the opposite happened. He got his team back by jump-starting/waking up some of his underperforming players.
Jefferson responded against Baylor with his best game of the season coming off the bench (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 TFls) - as did Wheeler (9 tackles). The defense has been getting better and better, really since the OU game, including the play of CB Holton Hill (5), who finally made a big play at Texas Tech last week (a key, open-field tackle of Patrick Mahomes on third down).
For the first time this season, I think the concern in Saturday's game against WVU will be with the Texas offense - and its ability to move the ball against WVU's D - as opposed to the Texas defense holding up.