UT Football: The Best and the Worst
Emerging Horns transition out of a season of gross extremes
By Kahron Spearman,
8:15AM, Tue. Dec. 8, 2015
In typical Texas football fashion, the Longhorns turned Baylor's salvageable season from Sugar (Bowl) to Bear poo, pulling out a close, 23-17 win. However – also in signature 2015 manner – the young bulls escaped the jaws of defeat by avoiding being engulfed in another self-caused dumpster fire.
A tale of two halves, the matchup featured everything nobody saw coming: game-changing injuries, costly Baylor turnovers, and a bench clearing (semi-) brawl of the "hold me back" variety.
The "good" Longhorns of the first half punished the Bears' front seven – particularly monster-sized NFL prospect Shawn Oakman – using Swoopes and Chris Warren as sledgehammers. They attacked the soft Baylor backside, for chunk yardage in the passing game. Confidence oozed from the sideline, with Baylor back on its heels.
Strong-armed third stringer Chris Johnson was concussed on the end of a first quarter run, setting up ideal conditions for an unlikely upset. Forced to go with last string/emergency QB Lynx Hawthorne – a receiver since his arrival to Waco three years ago – the Longhorns hurried and pressured him into two first half interceptions.
Though Texas charged out to an early 20-0 lead by the end of the first half, the positive vibes were predictably fleeting. Making their antagonizing and calculable appearance were the Bizarro Longhorns, ready to joyously undo all of the first half's triumphs.
For the entire second half, the Bears eschewed Briles' usually lethal pass-heavy attack, converting themselves to a direct-snap Wildcat offense, consistently gashing the Horns for most of their almost 400 rushing yards. Suddenly catching hands to the face, the Horns stumbled, grasping and holding up, until they landed a haymaker – causing and recovering a late fumble – to seal the game.
Frankly, the frustration of watching the Longhorns walking around in the dark, in a room full of light switches, was terribly agonizing. But winning is winning, and the Longhorns got it done. They went on the road and pushed a coveted (and lucrative) New Year's Six bowl just out of Baylor's longing reach.
All in all, the outlook trends positive. This season's fill of fluctuation, near-misses, and blowouts will sharpen the collective iron on these young men, Coach Strong, and his remaining staff – more on this later. They played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and could reasonably be 7-5, short of some bad luck versus California and Oklahoma State – two teams going bowling.
Even in a losing season, Strong wasn't fired, as predicted by some. In fact, he's received a definitive vote of confidence, both publicly and within important circles. If nothing else, this has been the most interesting 5-7 season in college football history. But if he ends up with than eight wins next year, those anti-Strong proponents will be back with shovels.
Good Problems for 2016
2016's running back committee packs heft with workhorses Chris Warren and D'Onta Foreman likely competing for carries, at a position a team can't have too much of. Consider the position set for at least another two years. 2016 brings Collin Johnson, a 6'6" receiver from San Jose who can go up and get it.
The arrival of Arlington/Lamar QB Shane Buechele puts Strong in an enviable position, with possibly four potential starters at the position. Buechele, the emergent Jerrod Heard, and freshman Kai Locksley will get opportunities to vie for the position, all offering varying levels of similar skills. But the most interesting situation going forward, by far, is the case of Tyrone Swoopes.
Is he a quarterback, a running back, or a tight end? I've touched on this very briefly, but it begs for more detail. There are interesting scenarios.
First, there's an obvious argument for keeping him at his current position, as it puts the ball directly in his hands. There's also something to convert him to tight end or an H-back. The reasoning behind this would be that it puts him on the field with another quarterback, maximizing Texas' explosiveness. If he learns to catch, he would be next to impossible to stop – too fast and shifty for linebackers and edge linemen forced to cover him in space, and too big for safeties and corners.
Cumbie on the way?
The big news item – at the time of this writing – is Strong's full-force pursuit of TCU quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie. After spending some time with Cumbie in Fort Worth, the prospective offensive coordinator flew down, with his pregnant wife, to check out the facilities and potential housing. Strong's been given the go-ahead by Perrin to offer Cumbie upwards of $1 million annually, and likely the option to bring in 1-2 of his own coaches.
This is clearly indicative of Strong's complete buy-in to some semblance of a spread offense. Cumbie's arrival would bring Texas fully into the modern age, using the Air Raid, an offense with concepts created by current Washington State head coach Mike Leach, a Hal Mumme disciple.
Purely speculative at this point, Cumbie's hiring could turn Texas around a corner, with the program running downhill on the trail, and turning the heads of current undecideds and future recruits. This will be critical, because while Texas has some top-end recruits on the way, the Horns' 2016 class is ranked #46 nationally, and dragging a bit defensively. Strong has a lot of catching up to do, from the upcoming (potential school flipping) official visits through January.