We are at the halfway point and the Horns are 2-4. That’s not a very good record, is it? No. No, it isn’t. Right now Texas has to go at least 4-2 in the second half of the season if they plan to go bowling. Anything short of 4-2, and Texas misses a bowl game for only the third time since 1994. And about that 2-4 record, it could easily by 4-2 and, I could argue, possibly even 5-1. A punt return and a bubble n’ go from UCLA led to stolen win and a kickoff return, a fumbled goal line snap and pick six gave a completely whipped and outplayed ou team a win. I don’t care what anyone says, against Baylor if Texas doesn’t try that long field goal that gets blocked and returned for a touchdown and/or doesn’t fumble on the goal line to end the half, they are winning/tied at the break and the entire approach for both teams changes in the second half. Oh, and nine knuckleheads have been asked to leave, including two starting offensive linemen, and the starting quarterback and starting center had their careers end in game one. Mistakes, inexperience and injuries have put Texas in a 2-4 hole. And I’m OK with it.
Well, “OK” is a relative term. Who likes to lose? Losers do, that’s who. I don’t like losing; but I understand that at times in the life of an athletics program there will be growing pains and things will not be perfect. That’s where we are right now. I could go into great detail about why things are not perfect and why there are growing pains, but you already know the reasons.
Against oklahoma, I saw the Texas team I was hoping to see against UCLA. I saw a playmaker at quarterback unafraid of the moment and the opponent. I saw a staff unafraid to cut loose with their young quarterback and a very young offensive line holding their own with a very good front seven. I saw a defense picking their offense up, and an offense responding with points to get them back in the game. I saw a Texas coaching staff unafraid to go blow for blow with the Stoops brothers for the first time ever. I saw the future of Texas football and I liked what I saw. Of course there are things to clean up, lots of things, but it looks like it’s coming together. Stay the course, Coach Strong.
Now, let’s take the next step and WIN one of these stinkin’ games.
IOWA STATE (2-4/0-3) @ TEXAS (2-4/1-2)
Texas needed a Hail Mary from McCoy to Harris and a cool referee to keep the Mack Brown era from ending in Ames last fall as they escaped Jack Trice with a win. It set the table for Texas’ win against ou the next weekend. Both teams enter with the same record and each desperately needs a win to turn things around.
I want to get this out of the way right now: I think the Texas train is coming, and Iowa State should be advised to step off the tracks, lest they be annihilated on Saturday. Obviously they have no intention of stepping aside, so I expect Texas to smack them around. Let’s get to it.
I like Paul Rhoads. He’s a fiery, charismatic coach that loves his players and they love him right back. Have you ever seen the locker room speech after they beat Nebraska or Oklahoma State? It’s fantastic. It makes me want to play for him. I think he could do wonderful things with talent, facilities and resources. The problem is he doesn’t have many resources, elite facilities and even with his personality and fire, it’s hard to get kids to move to Iowa to play football. It’s an uphill battle. Gene Chizik left Texas with a National Title ring and spent two seasons at Iowa State, going 5-19, before becoming Auburn’s head coach and winning another National Title in 2010. Originally starting with Auburn, he coached the defense in three straight bowl games and won the 2004 Broyles Award (the best assistant coach in the country), and then was the DC for one of the most talented defenses ever at Texas in 2005. In his time as head coach at Auburn he was 33-19 and led War Eagle to an SEC and National title. Did he forget how to coach those two years in Ames? No way. That’s as hard a place to coach as there is. No beaches close, cold weather for much of the year and no big cities nearby to lure recruits in or draw recruits from. It’s a tough sell when the pitch is “Trust me, I know what I am doing.”
He knows what he’s doing, and so does Charlie Strong. I think the Texas guys are starting to see the light and where they are going: I don’t think that’s the case for the Iowa State Cyclones. They are going to play hard, but that’s not going to be enough this week. Or next week.
Any success that Iowa State is going to have offensively will be courtesy of the offensive line. With four starters back, it should be the strength of the offense. The leader is Tom Farniok. The 6-foot-4, 301-pound senior co-captain is a two-time All-Big 12 selection and Remington Award (best center in the nation) Nominee. He’s started 41 straight games, which is tops on the team, and he’s big, strong and has seen it all. As I said, he’s joined by three other returning starters and all certainly look the part … But I am not necessarily buying. They’ve allowed 13 sacks (eighth in the league) on the season and they’re ninth in total offense in the Big 12 and last in rush offense. It will not get easier this week. At all. This is, by far, the best defense Iowa State has faced and the ol is going to have to elevate their game to rooftop levels for this offense to move the ball. This has to be the biggest issue for new OC Mark Mangino, who can coach an ol as well as anyone.
If they can do that (they can’t), the hope is Sam Richardson can make some plays. The 6-foot-2, 221-pound junior quarterback is athletic and can make some plays. At times. Other times he looks a bit overwhelmed, which is why he occasionally loses his job to backup Grant Ronach. Sam B (there is another Sam Richardson on the defense, Sam E) leads the team in rushing with 283 yards, averaging 4 per carry with one touchdown. Through the air he has 1,354 yards with 10 touchdowns and four picks with a 60.1% completion rate. For reference, Tyrone Swoopes has 115 yards rushing and two scores, has 1,068 yards passing with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, completing 59.9% of his passes. Swoopes has played one fewer game, and had he played in that game against a team Texas dominated, the numbers would be nearly the same. I think they are nearly twins stat-wise, but Richardson is in his third year as a starter. He’s got some skills and can run, something he does better than Swoopes at this point, and at times he’ll break contain on the pass rush and make something happen; but he’ll also force the ball and make some bad decisions (which is why he can’t separate from Ronach). And judging by the numbers up front, he’s going to get sacked.
Iowa State took a hit when wide out Quentin Bundrage went out for the year with a knee injury, and in his place has stepped tight end EJ Bibbs and wide out Allen Lazard. The 6-foot-3, 264-pound senior Bibbs leads the team with four touchdown catches, averaging 31.7 yards per game. He’s Sam B’s security blanket and a big threat over the middle, especially if they can get the running game going. With Bibbs getting the attention from defenses, the 6-foot-5, 221-pound freshman Lazard has jumped right in, leading the team with 304 yards receiving and one touchdown. A four star recruit from Iowa that could have gone anywhere, he’s the real deal and the best weapon on the offense and probably the biggest high school get Rhoades has gotten so far. These two can make plays, and they will be joined by Jarvis West. Tied with the team lead at 21 receptions with Lazard, the 5-foot-7, 171-pound senior is the screen and open field guy, using his terrific punt return skills to make plays. There are others that contribute, but if Iowa State is moving the chains through the air, it’s a combination of Bibbs, Lazard and West.
If they are doing it on the ground and it isn’t Richardson, it’s likely Aaron Wimberly. The 5-foot-9, 177-pound senior is the lone tailback in Mangino’s spread attack and is third on the team with 158 yards rushing and a team high three touchdowns. He’s the starter and the incumbent, so I list him first, but he’s losing carries to junior DeVondrick Nealy. At 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, the junior is a little bigger than Wimberly and a little more physical inside. Their numbers are nearly identical, though: 160 yards rushing, 3.4 ypc (3.0 for Wimberly) and one touchdown. This is the 1-2 punch in the Iowa State running game … Well, no. It’s the 2-3 punch since Richardson leads the team in rushing yards and carries with 19 more than No. 2 Wimberly. It seems Mangino’s plan is to use the running backs to help open up the passing game and lanes for his quarterback to run if the numbers are any indication.
I see a fast tempo, spreading Texas out with lots of short, quick passes and roll outs to avoid the monster Texas pass rush and occasionally running the tailback off tackle or on a draw. Lots of designed runs for the qb, outside and inside, and getting up and snapping the ball quickly to try and catch Texas out of position. They need to keep Texas’ front seven off balance as often as possible, and running plays as quickly as they can is the best way to do it. But it’s not going to work.
They are allowing 33.2 points per game, which is ninth in the league. They are also ninth in the league in total defense, ninth in rush defense and ninth in first downs allowed. Add all that up and you get a bad defense.
But the dl is doing their job. Sort of. An undersized defensive line is led by Cory Morrissey, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound senior that has an impressive four sacks and another 1.5 tackles for loss on the season. He’s quick off the edge and big enough to stay in games to defend the run. Those are impressive numbers through six games. On the other side is the smaller Trent Taylor at 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, who has two sacks and 17 total tackles. You’d think the smaller, quicker guy would be the sack leader, but no. The two defensive tackles are solid, if not spectacular. This is a serviceable group, but they don’t cover the lb’s enough for them to make plays to slow down the run game.
The leading tackler is mike linebacker Jevohn Miller with 62. He’s the biggest of the trio at 6-foot-1, 241 pounds. He’s flanked by very undersized backers outside in Drake Ferch (5-foot-11, 209 pounds) and Luke Knott (6-feet, 219 pounds). Yes, another Knott. Both guys are active and good at scraping outside and they run well, but they aren’t great at the point of attack. I guess? I can’t imagine the safety-sized lb’s are stout run defenders on the next-to-last rush defense in the league? They want the dl to funnel everything into Miller and let Knott and Ferch move around outside and make plays in the backfield, but none of that happens nearly enough.
They do a good job in the secondary of not breaking, allowing only three touchdown passes, but do give up 234.3 yards per game through the air. Some of that is on a non-consistent pass rush and some of that is because offenses are able to run for 212 yards per game and a whopping 20 td’s on the ground. Why throw when you can run? I don’t see a lot of playmakers in the secondary at this point, and while Tyrone Swoopes will give them some chances to make plays, I think they are going to give some up as well as they have to deal with the running game.
Surely the defensive staff for Iowa State watched last week’s Texas/ou game and said, “Well, great.” The game plan was always stack the box and make Texas throw, and they did that successfully last week. I assume Iowa State will do the same thing, trying to make Swoopes put the ball in the air. He is going to put it in the air, and Texas is going to light them up.
Points kicker Cole Netten is perfect on the season on field goals and extra points and punter Colin Downing leads the Big 12 with a 41.3 yards-per-punt average. Even better, Iowa State leads the conference in net punting, allowing only 4.2 yards per return. They have given up a kickoff return for a touchdown, but still allow just 19.2 yards per return. As for their return game, DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly do most of the work, but it isn’t anything great. Punt returns are different story as Jarvis West has a 23.6 ypr average with an 82-yard touchdown on the season. They have not given up a blocked kick this season, but they have not gotten one, either.
This is something they do really, really well. Netten is money and Downing can pin Texas very deep. West is as dangerous a return man as Texas has seen, and all it takes is one mistake to open the door. WE ALL KNOW THIS. Iowa State has to feel confident about their special teams this weekend, and if I were them I’m trying a few tricks: onside kick, fake punt, fake field goal, because any success, although risky, is going to shatter the Texas special teams confidence.
Everything I heard and read this last week told me Texas was not warm and fuzzy about the ou game like a lot of the fans. Quite the opposite. They were angry that it slipped away, and that anger was at themselves. An angry team is a dangerous team, especially one that isn’t irrational. What I mean by that is it’s easy to be mad when you lose. That anger can go a lot of ways: at the staff, at the referees, at the other team, at teammates. None of that anger is productive. It’s just misguided rage. Alabama didn’t even lose and Nick Saban flipped his lid at HIS OWN fans for not appreciating the win enough. That’s the sort of anger that can turn against you quickly. This anger Texas has is because they know it’s their own fault they lost. That’s the sort of anger that can turn into productive fuel if channeled correctly. I expect Texas to come out with their hair fire to show themselves and the staff that they will not make those same mistakes again, and I expect it to work.
Here’s what I would do:
Speed the tempo up. I know Charlie Strong wants to play defense and ball control offense, but I thought Tyrone Swoopes looked more comfortable and more prolific when they sped things up against ou. Get up to the line, signal it in and let’s play some football. I think a faster tempo will not only help Swoopes, but the offensive line as well because defenses don’t have as much time to alter and move around. And it gives the staff more time to GET THE PLAY IN and not waste timeouts if everyone is at the line of scrimmage with 20 seconds left instead of seven.
I see Texas running the ball much better behind an offensive line that’s growing up. That success on the ground is going to open things up for John Harris, Jackson Shipley and Marcus Johnson outside, and I think this week you see the Marcus Johnson of last year appear. He’s probably very upset about his two big drops and he’s ready to make amends, which he will.
Texas runs and throws early and puts it away on the ground in the second half.
Get after Richardson. As I said Sam B will make mistakes and this ol is not great at keeping him clean and Texas is tied for the lead in the Big 12 with 21 sacks. I am bringing all kinds of heat at Richardson and forcing him into some bad reads and bad throws and trusting my corners to handle the wide outs, and they should be more than up to the task.
This is a confident defense, and they are going to turn Iowa State over multiple times and either score themselves or set up the offense with short fields.
I want … Just don’t. OK? So just don’t. If I say it, then something bad … So no. Just don’t. Do you hear me? NO! DON’T!
I think this is the week it all comes together for Texas. Iowa State has some talent in places and they will make a few plays, but Texas is going to make A LOT of plays, on both sides of the ball, and put their first complete game together of the 2014 season. As long as the special … No. Just don’t.
THIS WEEK IN THE BIG 12
No.14 KANSAS STATE (4-1/2-0) @ No.11 oklahoma (5-1/2-1) 11 am ESPN
There’s lots to do in Norman! Well, no there isn’t. You know what you should do in Norman? You should leave. That’s a thing to do. Why are you there in the first place? Terrible people. This is a fact no one denies.
No.15 OKLAHOMA STATE (5-1/3-0) @ No.12 TCU (4-1/1-1) 3 pm Fox Sports 1
Now we find out what OSU is all about. TCU’s defense has been torched the last two weeks, giving up 94 points to ou and Baylor. Oklahoma State gives up a ton of sacks and TCU;s offense is going to light that Oklahoma State defense, thinned with injuries, up. I think TCU works them over pretty good and we all see OSU is a step behind Baylor and the Frogs.
No.4 BAYLOR (6-0/3-0) @ WEST VIRGINIA (4-2/2-1) 11 am Fox Sports 1
This is going to be similar to the 2012 Baylor/Couch Fires game that was an offensive explosion. Clint Trickett leads the conference in passing yards and Baylor leads the nation in points scored. The problem is West Virginia’s defense is 76th in the nation and Bryce Petty is going to throw for 600 yards on them. Trickett will have to do something similar if they are to stay in this, and by “stay in this” I mean lose by 14-21 points. I see this in the 60’s-40’s range, and Petty’s Heisman campaign takes off.
KANSAS (2-4/0-3) @ TEXAS TECH (2-4/0-3) 2:30 pm
Calling my shot here: KU’s defense shuts down Tech enough and their running game does enough to win an ugly game on the plains. All the pressure is on Tech and both sides know it. KU wins.
See you this weekend!