Johnathan Gray

Not dead yet! Longhorns make statement in upset over No. 10 Oklahoma

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The demise of the Texas Longhorns has, somewhat, been exaggerated. A college football blueblood largely left for dead put the Big 12 on notice Saturday afternoon in Dallas by upsetting No. 10 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, 24-17. After the game the players hoisted head coach Charlie Strong up as if the team had just won a national championship. You know what? Texas deserved that moment to release some tension with a unified show of joy.

After being flattened last week by TCU, Texas was a program in a big mess with players tweeting at halftime and upperclassmen and underclassmen not seeing eye-to-eye. This was also a good Oklahoma team Texas just defeated. The Sooners climbed to a top 10 ranking after flexing some muscle against West Virginia and showing some good things on offense. None of those good things showed up early enough against the Longhorns though.

Texas held Oklahoma to fewer than 100 yards of total offense in the first half. The Sooners converted just three of their 12 third-down plays, while Texas managed to go 9-of-15 on third downs. For Texas, it was all about getting the running game going to take Oklahoma out of it from the start. D’Onta Foreman led all players with 117 yards and quarterback Jerrod Heard added 115 rushing yards to go with his selectively efficient passing performance (8-of-10 for 53 yards and a touchdown). Johnathan Gray also chipped in with 76 rushing yards. Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine carried the football 10 times for just 36 yards and a touchdown. Considering the production Perine showed last season, this was another disappointing result for the Sooners. Perine has rushed for more than 78 yards in a game just once this season (152 yards vs. Tulsa).

This was the first victory in the rivalry game for Strong, and the second win in three years against the rival Sooners for the Longhorns. This season may still be a huge rebuilding year for Texas, but a win against Oklahoma can help the rebuilding process pick up the pace after starting the season with a 1-4 record. There will still be some difficult games ahead for Strong’s Longhorns (Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia), but everybody in Austin deserves at least one day just to celebrate this win few people saw coming.

Texas looks to make it two wins in a row in two weeks when the Longhorns come off a bye week against Kansas State. Oklahoma will take on Kansas State next week in Manhattan.

Charlie Strong shakes up Texas coaching duties

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After an embarrassing loss on the road at Notre Dame to open the 2015 season, Texas head coach Charlie Strong has shaken things up in search of a way to fix the Longhorns offense. Jay Norvell will now be the sole play-caller on the Texas coaching staff, with Shawn Watson being stripped of play-calling responsibilities. Watson will concentrate his efforts solely on the quarterbacks moving forward.

Norvell was hired by Texas as a receivers coach after previously serving on the coaching staff at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. His latest stop at Texas is the ninth different program or team he has been with since serving as a graduate assistant at Iowa in the mid-1980s. Norvell will look to turn things around on offense by bringing more balance to the offensive gameplan. Start looking for Texas to try running the football a bit more, something Strong commented on the previous day in lamenting the dreadful performance Texas had at Notre Dame Saturday night.

Texas had just 163 yards of total offense in South Bend. Sure, Notre Dame’s defense is a pretty tight group, but that number is embarrassingly low for a program like Texas. The Longhorns converted just two of 14 third down attempts and averaged just 2.1 yards per rushing attempt. Texas held on to the football for just over 20 minutes to Notre Dame’s 39:10 advantage in time of possession. Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed seven of 22 pass attempts for 93 yards and running back Johnathan Gray carried the football just eight times for 40 yards.

This also should be interesting news to the folks in Stillwater. Oklahoma State may now be entitled to a nice paycheck from the University of Texas as  a result of this coaching shakeup in Austin. An ongoing legal dispute between the two Big 12 programs is focusing on the coaching responsibilities of former Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline. Wickline was hired by Texas and then sued by Oklahoma State for a breach of contract. Oklahoma State claims Wickline’s move from the Cowboys to Longhorns was a lateral move, which would mean Wickline broke his contract. Strong and Texas have stated Wickline was responsible for some of the play-calling duties. With Wickline not in the fold for play-calling duties amid the coaching staff changes at Texas, it would seem to mean Oklahoma State is due some money.

Texas and Oklahoma State are scheduled to go to a pretrial conference on October 23. Perhaps this may avoid the hassle.

Saying what we already know, Charlie Strong says Texas offense must do better

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Texas opened the 2015 season with a thud. A program looking to find its way and once again be the top program in the state of Texas left South Bend with a 38-3 loss. On Monday, Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong made it known to all that is simply not acceptable. Of course, he didn’t need to say that to anyone. We already knew that, but at least Strong has acknowledged it head on.

“(Saturday’s outcome) is not acceptable,” Strong said during his Monday press conference (via The Dallas Morning News). “As coaches we know we have to coach better, and as players we know we have to play a lot better. It’s something you want to restart the season and push that button, and we went back to work last night, had the players out on Sunday, and what we do on Sundays is we go back out and just do a small focus on Rice, but we go back to the game on Saturday and it’s all about corrections and taking our time with plays that didn’t work and how we can get better and how we can improve.”

Strong, in his own words, said the coaches and players must do better moving forward. I’m sure he would be the first to admit he can do more as well, because Strong comes off as an accountable coach capable of realizing when he may have fallen short in his own responsibilities. His follow-up comments suggest he is already taking some blame (or perhaps he is putting more blame on his offensive coordinators, Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson.

“(Offensive struggles) cannot happen,” Strong said. “We have some talented players there. You look at Johnathan Gray, he touched the ball eight times the other night. He’s a back that needs the ball. The ball needs to be fed to him anywhere from 15 to 20 to 25 times … We have some athletes there on offense there. We’ve just got to do a better job of spreading the ball around and making sure that the right guys get the touches.”

Pay attention to how much active Gray is in the Texas offense this week against Rice. Gray getting the football 20 times will surely be no coincidence. Strong also acknowledged the lack of advertised up-tempo offense against Notre Dame.

“We said we were going to be up tempo. There was no up tempo. We said we were going to do this … But there’s got to be hope and there’s got to be progress.”

In the grand scheme of things, the job Strong was undertaking at Texas was always going to be a multi-year reconstruction rather than a one-year patch work fix for the Longhorns. In defense of Texas, they have allowed Strong to run his program his way by setting his bar to his liking and not acepting anyhting less. Given his work at Louisville, Texas is wise to allow Strong to continue molding things to his liking. But Texas is a bit different than some other programs. With big money donors and resources few schools have at their luxury, the pressure on Strong may be a bit different than other places. The 2016 season is supposed to be Year 2 of the renovation plan for Strong, and there is still plenty of football to be played to show those desired signs of progress. One massive blow on the road against Notre Dame was certainly not the best way to get things started, but now that it is out of the way Strong and company can focus on what to do next to ensure this program is still being steered in the right direction.

No. 11 Notre Dame skunking Texas at the half

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Some scores are deceiving. This one isn’t. No. 11 Notre Dame leads Texas 17-0 through one half of action in South Bend.

Notre Dame thoroughly dominated the half, owning a 14-3 edge in first downs and a 230-74 yardage edge. The Irish marched 55 yards on eight plays on their second possession of the game, and then drove 95 yards on as many snaps on their next touch. Malik Zaire capped the first drive with a 16-yarder to Will Fuller, and Josh Adams punctuated the next with a 14-yard dash. Justin Yoon added a 38-yard field goal to complete the scoring.

Zaire has completed 11-of-13 passes for 144 yards and a score while adding 16 yards on the ground. C.J. Prosise has rushed nine times for 31 yards, carrying the load for Josh Adams, who left in the first quarter with a knee injury.

Texas did not notch a first down until its second-to-last play in the first quarter, an 11-yard dash by Johnathan GrayTyrone Swoopes completed 1-of-8 (not a misprint) passes for 20 yards and rushed eight times for 26 yards – most of those scrambles while evading multiple Notre Dame defensive linemen. Gray has rushed three times for 18 yards, and Daje Johnson has netted two grabs for 30 yards and one rush for nine. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard saw limited action, completing a 10-yard throw to Johnson and taking a vicious sack from Jaylon Smith.

Fittingly, the half ended with two Nick Rose 52-yard field goals erased by Notre Dame timeouts, and the third try sailing wide left as time expired.

Texas will receive to open the second half.

Texas flattened by Arkansas to cap a dark day for the Big 12

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Monday, Dec. 29 will go down as the worst day in the history of the Big 12 since, well, three weeks ago. After West Virginia was beaten by Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl and Oklahoma was embarrassed by Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, Texas completed an 0-for-3 day for the conference by getting outclassed by Arkansas 31-7 in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl.

If a 24-point game ever felt like a 240-point spread, it was this one.

Texas scored its only touchdown on an eight-play, 44-yard drive with 3:59 to go in the second quarter after Jacorey Warrick set the Longhorns up with a short field on a 30-yard kickoff return, pulling the ‘Horns within 17-7.

Other than that, Texas’ offensive drives traveled as followed (those among us wearing burnt orange may want to find a stiff drink before reading): two yards, 11, three, minus-4, minus-19, minus-8, minus-7, minus-2, minus-4, 29. This means that, after the touchdown drive every Texas possession went backwards except for the last one, and that drive ended in a 46-yard interception return by Henre’ Tolliver, so technically that one belongs on the list as well.

Oh, and before all that started, Tyrone Swoopes and Johnathan Gray combined to fumble a ball into the Texas end zone, which Taiwan Johnson recovered for an Arkansas touchdown.

Put it all together and Texas ran 43 plays (25 passes, 18 rushes) for 59 total yards (57 passing/two rushing), gained seven first downs, went 3-of-11 on first downs, committed two turnovers, punted seven times and netted zero points after scoring one touchdown and giving away another. Remember, this is fresh off a 48-10 blowout at the hands of TCU in which the Texas offense gave away more touchdowns (two) than it scored (five) and committed six turnovers.

Texas’ 59 total yards were the fewest by an FBS team this season, and its 1.37 yards per play are the second fewest, according to the Longhorn Network.

That, folks, is about as bad as offense can possibly be played.

Put it all together and it’s hard to call Charlie Strong‘s debut season anything but a failure.

Arkansas, meanwhile, did everything it wanted to on offense. Brandon Allen completed 12-of-23 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns, and the combination of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins rushed 40 times for 181 yards and a touchdown. At a much-better-than-it-looks-on-paper 7-6 and the bulk of the roster returning next season, Bret Bielema has to love how his team stacks up heading into 2015.