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1. Five years an also-ran
From #branding and money perspectives, life as a Longhorn has rarely been better than it is right now. The Longhorn Network is doing better than you think, and revenues are second to, temporarily, one. The facilities look nice, and both major sports have made no-brainer hires in the past 20 months.
These are good things when it comes to health and direction. So why doesn't it seem like anybody in burnt orange is very happy?
(Well, besides the impersonal, penny-pinching athletic director, that is.)
Easy: for five consecutive years, Texas has, by Texas' standards, stunk on the football field. All the revenue and branding in the world hasn't kept the Longhorns from going 36-28, with two below-.500 finishes, since losing to Alabama in 2009's BCS title game. Colt McCoy suffered a dead arm early in that game, and Texas hasn't had a quarterback who was both healthy and good since.
The defense has been solid (top-25 in Def. S&P+ in six of seven seasons), but the offense has failed to get out of its own way (top-50 in Off. S&P+ just once in five years).
Mack Brown couldn't pull Texas out of its funk. The Longhorns ended up hiring Charlie Strong, the betting favorite to get the job, and on paper, the hire made plenty of sense.
Strong is a Toughness™ guy, a Discipline™ guy, a Family™ guy. Though he provided a recruiting upgrade at Louisville, his Cardinal classes (according to Rivals: 29th in 2011, 42nd in 2012, 52nd in 2013) would have been considered disasters in Austin.
Meanwhile, Texas would have killed for Louisville's performance on the field. Louisville has been better than Texas in the F/+ rankings in two of the last four seasons (2010, 2013) and was even in a third (2012).
Strong proved he doesn't need top-20 classes to craft a top-20 product. Now, every job's different, and the Texas job is in a climate all its own. For all we know, the extra pressures might prevent him from gaining traction. But until he proves otherwise, we know he can identify the pieces he needs, and we know he can coach that talent. He brings to the table everything Brown didn't (for better and for worse).
When you attempt this much of a culture change, the first-year results are likely to be shaky. Strong kicked quite a few guys off of the team; others transferred. The result was a team with a stout defense and a no-identity offense. Texas lost five of seven games to fall to the brink of bowl ineligibility but looked great in three November wins that got them to 6-5. Then they got drilled by two top-10-caliber teams.
Reaching a bowl and providing a late-season glimpse of what could be was enough of a feat for Strong's first season. And now the real work begins.
Whatever slack he received when he took the job is either gone or about to expire. And to put it nicely, there is still quite a bit of work to be done on offense.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 53|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|25-Oct||at Kansas State||26||0-23||L||28%||-13.6||1%|
|1-Nov||at Texas Tech||82||34-13||W||90%||29.4||99%|
|15-Nov||at Oklahoma State||75||28-7||W||97%||43.7||100%|
|Points Per Game||21.4||109||23.8||31|
2. Bringing it (or not) in big games
Texas was a product of its schedule. The Longhorns played six top-30 teams they were not ready to beat, and they beat pretty much everybody else.
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 30): 51% (~top 65 | record: 0-6 | avg. score: Opp 30, UT 11)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 31-plus): 77% (~top 30 | record: 6-1 | avg. score: UT 30, Opp 18)
UT played solid ball against good UCLA and Oklahoma teams and, by the win expectancy figures above, were unlucky to lose both. But the 'Horns got drubbed by Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, and Arkansas.
If they had a clear athletic advantage, they could overwhelm lesser opponents. They got posterized by BYU for a second straight year, but against their other six opponents ranked outside of the F/+ top 30, they won by an average score of 34-15.
Looking through this lens, it's hard to say if the late-season "surge, then collapse" narrative was true, or whether it was simply that Texas ripped apart three lesser teams (Texas Tech, WVU, OSU), then got crushed by two teams that were a lot better.
Regardless, by the end, Texas had proved the defense was going to be elite in no time (and might have been already), and that the patchwork offensive staff, with confusing roles and an unclear identity, might continue to hold the Longhorns back.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.1%||86||Succ. Rt. +||101.9||64|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.6||101||Def. FP+||102.0||44|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.2||84||Redzone S&P+||103.1||58|
|Q1 Rk||72||1st Down Rk||117|
|Q2 Rk||51||2nd Down Rk||87|
|Q3 Rk||128||3rd Down Rk||89|
3. Identity vs. talent
Texas fan HQ
Basically, "identity" boils down to knowing how you're going to move the ball when you need to and knowing how to leverage your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
Not all coaches have a definable system, and that's okay. New Pitt coordinator Jim Chaney is one of my favorite offensive coaches in the country, and in the last three seasons he's had success with a spread-esque Tennessee offense that leaned on two receivers and a power-oriented Arkansas offense that used a run-and-run-again approach.
If you have a grasp of tactics, you can make big changes from year to year based on the strength of your personnel.
You don't have to be Mike Leach to have an offensive identity, but you have to be something.
To secure the services of renowned line coach Joe Wickline from Oklahoma State, Strong evidently had to give him the coordinator position, while Shawn Watson, Strong's coordinator at Louisville, took the "Assistant Head Coach for Offense" title. They were in essence co-coordinators, and it was hard to figure out what they wanted to do with the ball. Or at least, it was hard to see why they were asking their quarterback to play away from his strengths.
Texas attempted balance, running 61 percent of the time on standard downs (one percent above the national average), but Wickline and Watson put a lot on their quarterback's shoulders, asking him to throw 71 percent of the time on passing downs, 4 percent more than average. Despite a pro-style label, they did a decent job of spreading defenses out with a lot of quick, horizontal passes and forcing defenders to make solo tackles.
This is rational, but it in no way played to the strength of Texas' personnel. The Longhorns' running game was decent (as long as you ignore the recruiting rankings that suggest it should have been fantastic), but asking quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, an efficient runner, to throw on passing downs was strange. Swoopes had a 129.6 passer rating on first downs, when opponents had to mind the run, but he was 56-for-110 with five interceptions on third-and-4 or more, and considering the length of his passes (yards per completion: 10.8), he took too many sacks and didn't complete a high enough percentage.
Nearly half of Swoopes' non-sack carries gained at least five yards; he's a big guy, and while he's probably not a threat to bust an 80-yard run, he's nimble enough to distract defenses. But he was a square peg in a round-hole offense, rushing only about six times per game, and when the run game wasn't working, he wasn't going to be able to bail the 'Horns out with the pass. In his last six games, he produced a passer rating over 95 just twice; he appeared to break through against OSU (24-for-33, 305 yards, two scores), but then he was dreadful against TCU and Arkansas (33-for-59, 257 yards, one touchdown, five picks).
The square-peg aspect of the offense was evident in the per-quarter and per-drive stats. Texas was horrific out of the gates in each half (72nd in Q1 S&P+, 128th! in Q3) before adapting in the second (51st) and fourth quarters (71st). Meanwhile, first downs were a debacle (117th). It was as if the gameplans never worked until they had to be adapted on the fly.
Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard "closed the gap" on Swoopes in the spring QB race, but a) Swoopes still took most of the first-team snaps, and b) Heard was also a dual-threat in high school -- he threw for 2,148 yards and rushed for 2,172 as a senior at Denton Guyer.
Obviously you want to be able to throw, and obviously you don't want your QB taking 20 hits per game, but even if Heard wins the job, will they play to his strengths? He's probably a more natural passer than Swoopes (a relatively inefficient passer even in high school), but might he be a similar square peg?
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Tyrone Swoopes||6'4, 248||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9188||224||384||2409||13||11||58.3%||26||6.3%||5.4|
|Jerrod Heard||6'2, 200||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9653|
|Kai Locksley||6'3, 188||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8907|
|Johnathan Gray||RB||5'11, 206||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9973||146||636||7||4.4||5.3||34.2%||3||2|
|Tyrone Swoopes||QB||6'4, 248||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9188||82||467||4||5.7||5.0||47.6%||4||3|
|D'Onta Foreman||RB||6'2, 231||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8383||16||74||0||4.6||8.1||31.3%||1||1|
|Daje Johnson||WR||5'10, 184||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9187||7||88||0||12.6||7.8||85.7%||0||0|
|Duke Catalon||RB||5'10, 202||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9155|
|Chris Warren III||RB||6'2, 239||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9605|
|Kirk Johnson||RB||6'0, 194||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8866|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Marcus Johnson||WR-Z||6'1, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9080||57||27||313||47.4%||14.3%||45.6%||5.5||-36||5.5||34.4|
|Johnathan Gray||RB||5'11, 206||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9973||32||20||118||62.5%||8.0%||37.5%||3.7||-125||4.6||13.0|
|Jacorey Warrick||WR-Z||5'11, 172||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9107||18||10||94||55.6%||4.5%||55.6%||5.2||-30||5.1||10.3|
|Armanti Foreman||WR-H||6'0, 194||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9448||17||10||188||58.8%||4.3%||41.2%||11.1||65||9.1||20.7|
|Daje Johnson||WR-H||5'10, 184||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9187||12||5||-7||41.7%||3.0%||50.0%||-0.6||-74||-0.7||-0.8|
|Lorenzo Joe||WR-X||6'2, 202||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9219||5||3||36||60.0%||1.3%||40.0%||7.2||-1||9.9||4.0|
|Andrew Beck||TE||6'3, 239||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8665||2||0||0||0.0%||0.5%||50.0%||0.0||-3||0.0||0.0|
|Alex De La Torre||FB||6'1, 243||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8731|
|Blake Whiteley||TE||6'5, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8685|
|Jake Oliver||WR||6'3, 219||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9265|
|Dorian Leonard||WR-X||6'3, 203||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8634|
|Roderick Bernard||WR||5'9, 163||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8792|
|John Burt||WR||6'2, 184||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9358|
|Devonaire Clarington||TE||6'5, 229||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9161|
|Ryan Newsome||WR||5'8, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9088|
|DeAndre McNeal||WR||6'2, 228||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8963|
4. Big-play potential vs. production
Once Texas fell behind schedule, the drive was likely to end quickly. And while I can talk about how Swoopes felt ill-fitted to be throwing so often, there's no question that the running game could have helped him out. Under 30 percent of lead rusher Malcolm Brown's carries gained even five yards, and Brown's big-play ability was minimal.
If a big play was coming, it was likely from the more error-prone Johnathan Gray, who fumbled four times (Brown: 0) but lit a spark during UT's late-season win streak. Against Texas Tech, WVU, and OSU, he rushed 42 times for 258 yards (6.1 per carry) and five touchdowns. (He then rushed 17 times for nine yards against TCU and Arkansas.) His negative plays were more negative than Brown's, but he also created positives. So did rarely-used third-stringer D'Onta Foreman.
In the passing game, the security blankets were breakout star John Harris and possession man Jaxon Shipley. Marcus Johnson, a big-play weapon in 2013, couldn't seem to get on the same page with Swoopes and caught just eight passes for 72 yards over the last six games. Daje Johnson, long viewed as a potential star, got just 19 intended touches (targets and carries) and gained just 81 yards.
The primary goal was non-negative plays, which explains why the outlets were Brown in the backfield and Harris and Shipley out wide. Harris was the only of the three who had any big-play ability.
The guys who will be playing large roles in 2015 have more potential explosiveness but unproven stability. Gray should be ready to shoulder Brown's load; he's rarely looked like the blue-chipper he was supposed to be, but he's solid. Between Foreman, redshirt freshman Duke Catalon, and newcomers Chris Warren II and Kirk Johnson, a decent backup should emerge. [Update: It won't be Catalon, who left the program early in August camp.]
The receiving corps is a mystery, however. Marcus Johnson has plenty of potential, and Armanti Foreman erupted late, catching six passes for 165 yards against OSU and TCU. Daje Johnson has one final year to move the dial from potential to production, and plenty of other former star recruits -- junior Jacorey Warrick, sophomores Lorenzo Joe and Jake Oliver, freshmen John Burt and Ryan Newsome -- could develop.
But a quarterback who needs help has no guarantee he'll find it.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Sedrick Flowers||LG||6'3, 319||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9698||14|
|Kent Perkins||RG||6'5, 320||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9801||14|
|Marcus Hutchins||LT||6'5, 284||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8578||13|
|Taylor Doyle||C||6'4, 303||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8500||11|
|Camrhon Hughes||RT||6'7, 326||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9403||7|
|Jake Raulerson||C||6'5, 295||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9433||4|
|Jake McMillon||LG||6'3, 290||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8489|
|Terrell Cuney||LG||6'1, 297||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8632|
|Alex Anderson||OL||6'4, 307||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8398|
|Elijah Rodriguez||RG||6'3, 294||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8166|
|Brandon Hodges||LT||6'5, 307||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8717|
|Tristan Nickelson||RT||6'8, 317||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7839|
|Connor Williams||RT||6'5, 290||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8773|
|Patrick Vahe||OL||6'3, 299||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9396|
5. The line never had a chance (but might now)
I feel bad pointing out Swoopes' deficiencies, not only because he was asked to run an offense that didn't fit, but also because he was given very little help from his front five.
The Texas line broke through in 2013, improving to 35th in Adj. Line Yards and 41st in Adj. Sack Rate.
But then three-year starting center Dominic Espinosa broke his ankle, and starting tackle Kennedy Estelle was suspended in September, then dismissed. The duo had combined for 47 of Texas' 49 returning career starts, and they combined to start two games in 2014. That left an extremely untested lineup, and the stats collapsed.
There's at least hope. Wickline's second UT line will feature six players with starting experience (63 career starts), two big JUCOs, and a load of redshirt freshmen who trained under him last year.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.4%||19||Succ. Rt. +||121.6||12|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.1||110||Off. FP+||103.0||30|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.5||5||Redzone S&P+||115.1||22|
|Q1 Rk||1||1st Down Rk||7|
|Q2 Rk||12||2nd Down Rk||8|
|Q3 Rk||23||3rd Down Rk||18|
6. Right where they left off in Louisville
Since Strong and Vance Bedford connected at Florida (when Bedford became the Gators' cornerbacks coach in 2008, serving under defensive coordinator Strong), they have remained connected. A nearly 30-year veteran and mid-'80s Texas graduate, Bedford became Strong's defensive coordinator at Louisville, then returned to his alma mater last season.
There were some ups and downs early in their Louisville tenure, but the Strong-Bedford combination has been productive. Florida's defense ranked fifth in Def. S&P+ in both 2008 and 2009, Louisville's 2013 defense broke through to 11th, and Texas ranked sixth last fall.
Bedford has been a defensive backs coach at the collegiate level since about 1987, so it would stand to reason that pass defense was a Texas strength. The pass rush was solid, the cornerbacks were active, and the safety play was steadier than it had been. Texas ranked third in Passing S&P+, and if there's one thing you want to be good at in the Big 12, it's that.
Whereas the Texas offense needed 15-20 minutes to grow into a half, the defense was lights-out from the start. It faded as the game wore on (first in Q1 S&P+, 95th in Q4), which could had something to do with either depth issues in the back four, a semi-shaky run defense, the often hopeless offense, or some combination. But after molding top-30 talent into nearly a top-10 defense at UL, the coaching staff found what it was looking for in Texas' top-15 talent.
UT must replace some key pieces -- tackle Malcom Brown, corner Quandre Diggs, safety Mykkele Thompson, and play-making linebackers Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks -- so another top-10 defense might be tough to produce. But offense still occupies the top of the list of Texas concerns; the defense will be strong.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Hassan Ridgeway||NT||6'4, 320||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9146||13||37.0||4.7%||9.5||6.0||0||0||0||0|
|Caleb Bluiett||FOX||6'3, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8797||12||29.5||3.8%||6.5||3.5||0||2||0||0|
|Desmond Jackson (2013)||NT||6'0, 305||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9754||13||27.0||3.4%||3.5||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Naashon Hughes||FOX||6'4, 230||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8635||13||24.5||3.1%||3.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Paul Boyette Jr.||NT||6'2, 296||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9027||13||20.5||2.6%||3.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Shiro Davis||DE||6'3, 265||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9533||13||16.5||2.1%||4.0||3.5||0||0||0||0|
|Poona Ford||DT||5'11, 286||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8994||9||6.5||0.8%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Bryce Cottrell||DE||6'2, 247||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8547||9||6.0||0.8%||0.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Alex Norman||DT||6'4, 293||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8931|
|Derick Roberson||FOX||6'3, 228||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9675|
|Quincy Vasser||DE||6'4, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8681|
|Charles Omenihu||DE||6'5, 231||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8771|
7. Shoring up against the run
Despite losing tackle Desmond Jackson for the season to a foot injury, the Texas front four seemed to have plenty of depth. Nine linemen recorded at least six tackles, and six played in all 13 games.
The rotation was large, but it could have been more effective. Both Malcom Brown and massive nose tackle Hassan Ridgeway were better at rushing the passer than stuffing the run, strangely, and Texas struggled to either stuff short-yardage situations or make plays in the backfield against the run.
Brown was still probably Texas' best run defender, and now he's gone. In Ridgeway, a healthy Jackson, Paul Boyette Jr., Poona Ford, and others, UT seems to have a lovely set of tackles, but they'll have to produce, especially if they've got less proven linebackers behind them. The pass rush should be fine, but the run D might still be a hindrance. [Update: Freshman linebacker Cecil Cherry left the program after four practices.]
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Peter Jinkens||OLB||6'1, 236||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9477||13||19.0||2.4%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Santos||ILB||6'3, 252||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9171||10||9.5||1.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Timothy Cole||ILB||6'1, 239||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9159|
|Edwin Freeman||OLB||6'1, 238||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9264|
|Malik Jefferson||ILB||6'3, 217||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9929|
|Anthony Wheeler||LB||6'2, 219||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9613|
|Cameron Townsend||LB||6'1, 193||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9023|
|Cecil Cherry||LB||6'2, 244||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8771|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dylan Haines||SS||6'1, 188||Jr.||NR||NR||13||59.5||7.6%||0||0||4||6||1||1|
|Duke Thomas||CB||5'11, 175||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9271||13||41.5||5.3%||0.5||0||3||10||0||0|
|Jason Hall||FS||6'2, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8438||12||30.0||3.8%||1||1||0||2||0||0|
|Adrian Colbert||SS||6'1, 206||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9296||13||18.5||2.4%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Bryson Echols||CB||5'10, 181||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9253||13||15.5||2.0%||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Antwuan Davis||CB||5'11, 193||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9359||9||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Sheroid Evans||CB||6'0, 186||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9358|
|Kevin Vaccaro||FS||5'11, 183||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8166|
|John Bonney||NB||5'10, 184||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9029|
|Jermaine Roberts Jr.||NB||5'9, 178||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8778|
|Holton Hill||CB||6'2, 180||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9600|
|Kris Boyd||CB||5'11, 184||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9531|
|DeShon Elliott||S||6'0, 204||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9202|
|Davante Davis||DB||6'3, 191||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8960|
8. Production to replace
Losing Diggs and Thompson hurts, but I struggle to worry about Bedford's secondary.
Former walk-on Dylan Haines was an out-of-nowhere revelation, defensing 10 passes and providing a nice last-line-of-defense presence. Texas needed a bit more of a would-die-to-play-for-UT presence in the locker room, and Haines has helped to provide that. Plus, sophomore Jason Hall and junior Adrian Colbert are capable of replacing Thompson's production, and redshirt freshman John Bonney was a spring star at nickel back.
Meanwhile, Duke Thomas enjoyed a nice breakout season opposite Diggs. He could be ready to take over the No. 1 spot at corner, but No. 2 is a mystery. Sheroid Evans is likely out for the season with a spring knee injury, and either Antwuan Davis, Bryson Echols, or a freshman could end up starting. That's a little scary, but there's enough experience to assume another top-15 ranking in Passing S&P+.
|Nick Rose||6'2, 188||Sr.||61||63.8||44||2||72.1%|
|Nick Rose||6'2, 188||Sr.||30-32||7-10||70.0%||7-11||63.6%|
|Armanti Foreman||KR||6'0, 194||So.||11||18.0||0|
|Marcus Johnson||KR||6'1, 194||Sr.||10||19.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||114|
|Field Goal Efficiency||89|
|Punt Return Efficiency||80|
|Kick Return Efficiency||111|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||64|
9. A booming leg, at least
The return game was mostly unproductive. And punt and kick coverage were strangely awful -- despite plenty of athleticism among the backups, Texas squandered long punts and kickoffs and ranked just 84th in punt efficiency and 97th in kickoff efficiency.
Special teams was a disappointing unit, but at least the Longhorns had Nick Rose's strong leg. He deserved better coverage but still boomed nearly three-quarters of his kicks for touchbacks. Meanwhile, he nearly made as high a percentage of his 40-plus field goals as he did shorter ones. He could use a little harnessing, but he's still a strength.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|5-Sep||at Notre Dame||16|
|31-Oct||at Iowa State||86|
|14-Nov||at West Virginia||40|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||14.7% (37)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||15 / 9|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-3 / -4.1|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+0.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (7, 5)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||6.9 (-0.9)|
10. Road show
Scouting the enemy
Scouting the enemy
The current power of the Big 12 does not align well with Texas' Big 12 schedule, at least in odd-numbered years. Whereas Oklahoma State gets TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Kansas State all at home, Texas gets two on the road and a third (OU, obviously) on a neutral site. The 'Horns start at Notre Dame, as well.
This limits upset potential and likely renders Texas a "beats iffy teams, loses to good ones" season again. I imagine the 'Horns improve to seven or eight wins, but the schedule could tamp down expectations. So could iffy quarterback play and just enough defensive regression to offset offensive improvement.
It's not hard to see what Strong is building, at least defensively. Texas might take a step backwards on that side of the ball, but it's only temporary, and his attempts at enforcing discipline should pay off as his squad gets deeper.
The questions for Texas come on offense. We still don't know what kind of identity the offensive staff (which now includes former Oklahoma co-coordinator Jay Norvell) wants, and we still don't know if the Longhorns have a quarterback or an offensive line. And with Texas' track record over the past five seasons, the 'Horns don't get the benefit of the doubt.