Tomorrow, Iowa State hits the road to take on Texas in Austin. It’ll be a revenge game of sorts for the Longhorns, who were blanked last year by the Cyclones, 24-0.
This week, I chatted with Wes Crochet from Burnt Orange Nation (@WesKCrochet on Twitter) about Texas’ staff changes (and possible impending ones), their young players on the offensive side of the ball, and what the Longhorns can do to slow down a hot ISU offense.
Here we go!
Kevin: A couple weeks ago, Texas demoted defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. Were there any noticeable differences on the field following this move? What was the general consensus of the fan base regarding this decision?
Wes: Sit down and grab a snack because this answer has multiple parts...
In the grand scheme of things, no. Unfortunately there were not any big noticeable differences that mattered the first week Strong officially took over the defense other than turnovers. After recording just one total turnover (a fumble recovery against UTEP) the first four games of the season, the Longhorns racked up four against the Sooners.
Unfortunately, the four turnovers didn't prevent the Sooners from putting up 672 yards of offense and 45 points on the 'Horns...
Did Strong put any of his touches on the defense? Yes, at times in what we saw the front six/seven doing. Against OU, linebacker Malik Jefferson was moved around some from the middle to the outside on just under a third of his snaps in an effort to get him going. The linebackers and "fox ends" (basically the Longhorns' version of a 3-4 OLB) were moved around in coverage and as pass-rushers. And Strong is continuing to tinker with rotations and the depth chart, which was something Bedford seemed reluctant to do.
The one change Strong has apparently not made yet (he at least didn't against Oklahoma) is simplifying this defense (or teach is defense in a way the players understand it better). Too often, Texas defenders across the formation look lost, confused or hesitant. Then again, this was just week one of Strong officially taking over.
As for Bedford, the general consensus was the demotion had to happen after the frustrating outcomes of the Cal and Okie State game (and all the other games the Texas defense got torched last season).
Kevin: Can you give us some background on the young stars on the Texas offense?
Wes: I'm not so sure I'd consider any of the young players on offense "stars" just yet. But starting quarterback Shane Buechele has played about as well as a true freshman quarterback can in his first five games of the season and is on pace for an impressive freshman campaign.
On the offensive line, sophomore left tackle Connor Williams is the best lineman Texas has and is probably playing as the best sophomore on the team right now. He's started at left tackle since his first collegiate game against Notre Dame last season.
The other young players that Iowa State fans could notice come Saturday are all skill position players.
Texas had a 1-2 punch at running back in D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren earlier this season, but the "two" that was Chris Warren is now out with an injury for extended time so Texas has been turning to freshman running back Kyle Porter when D'Onta Foreman needs a breather.
On the outside at receiver, there are a couple of freshmen to note. Standing at 5'11, speedster Devin Duvernay made waves last week when he ended the day with 81 yards on three receptions, including a 63 yard touchdown bomb where he just outran the OU defensive back to gain separation.
Along with him, 6'5 receiver Collin Johnson was third on the team in yards with 44 on three receptions and has begun to get worked into the offense more.
One other true freshman skill position player who could possibly have an impact against Iowa State is "former" wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey. I say "former" because the nearly 6'4 Humphrey, who played running back a lot in high school, is reportedly seeing time at running back for Texas now that Chris Warren is out. This is a recent development so it remains to be seen how many snaps he gets in on this Saturday.
Kevin: For the FBS teams Iowa State has played this year, according to the stats, Texas' defense is the second weakest -- only better than San Jose. How will Texas slow down the Cyclone offense, which is averaging 42.3 PPG in its last 3 games?
Wes: This is a great (and tough) question, and I'm not sure if Texas fans are giving this Iowa State team and offense enough respect. If you're asking me, Vegas isn't. But Vegas often knows more than I do...
At this point, until I see it happen, I don't know if the Texas defense can actually slow down Iowa State's offense or any other high-scoring offense it has left to face in the conference.
But if the Longhorns want to give themselves a chance at playing better defense, a few things need to start happening.
First, the 'Horns will obviously need to have a game-plan for wide receiver Allen Lazard and actually execute it. In the past three losses, Texas has done a great job at helping a wide receiver from the opposing team make a case for the Biletnikoff award.
Given that the receivers (Chad Hansen-Cal, Jalen McClesky-OSU, DeDe Westbrook-OU) that have typically burned Texas were smaller, faster players, it will be interesting to see how the 'Horns try to defend the 6'5 Lazard and/or whether or not any of Iowa State's other smaller receivers will end up hurting Texas the most.
Second, Coach Strong really either needs to simply his schemes and calls or communicate what he and his staff are trying to teach a lot more effectively. I know I touched on this earlier, but this defense is pretty much beating itself at times with how confused and hesitant it plays.
And finally, Texas should use more cover two and/or cover four looks by playing two-safeties deep more often. I talked about this earlier this week over on BON, but the Texas defense has gotten beat deep for big gains and touchdowns through the air when the staff has gone with a single-high safety coverage against three and four-wide receiver sets. Yes, the corners are making mistakes, but if that's the case, Texas needs a safety on each half of the field more often in passing situations.
As an example, the Sooners scored twice and also completed a 51-yard bomb to the Texas nine that eventually led to a touchdown when Texas was using a coverage that had just one deep safety playing center field.
I'm not sure any of those changes will happen or even be effective, but if nothing is changed, we likely will see more of the same from this sloppy Texas defense.
Kevin: If ISU gets its second-consecutive win over the Longhorns, will Charlie Strong be sent packing by Monday morning?
Wes: Not "officially" by Monday morning. The Texas brass claims they wouldn't fire Strong mid-season. But he very well could transform into a zombie from the walking dead.
There's talk that Strong needs to finish at the eight-win mark to get into the "safe" zone. Really, he just needs to show this team is actually improving, specifically the defense now. So if he loses to Iowa State again, especially with the game being played in Austin, it's a safe bet it would be an up-cliff battle for him to win enough games and convince those that matter that he's still the right coach for the job.
A loss at home to Iowa State could be fatal to his time at Texas, whether he's on the sidelines the next six games after that or not.
Kevin: Let's get your prediction for the game. Which one of these teams moves out of the Big 12's cellar?
Wes: If I were a sports-betting man, I'd pick Iowa state to cover. Nothing that I've seen from this three-game losing skid Texas is on has me convinced this defense can stop any high-scoring offense.
But with Texas coming back home to play its first game at DKR Stadium in over a month, I absolutely do think that will have a positive effect on this team. Texas is 2-0 at home this season and has typically struggled to win games on the road for Strong recently.
This will probably be a high-scoring affair, but I do like the run-game match-up Texas will have in this game. I expect another big day from D'Onta Foreman.
Defensively, the secondary could struggle again but Texas should be able to get to Joel Lanning and create some challenges for him with its pass-rush. Averaging three a game, Texas is tied at second with Oklahoma State for sacks per game while Iowa State ranks last in total sacks allowed in the conference with 19 on the season so far.
Give me Texas 35, Iowa State 31.
Kevin: BONUS QUESTION - This has become a WRNL tradition and you must partake. FMK - Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson. GO.
Wes: Yes to all three? Ok fine...
K - Emma Watson: Look, I'm not happy about this but there are other qualities about the other two I like better.
F - Jennifer Lawrence: I tend to always enjoy her roles in movies, and I find her super attractive. But the world can simply google her name and find NSFW work pictures, and I plan on having kids. I can't put my kids in that position. They'd get roasted their entire lives...
M - Anna Kendrick: She's attractive, she can sing, and most of all she's witty and has a great social media presence. Kendrick takes the wedding cake.
You seem like a good guy, Wes. That Anna Kendrick “M” pick is right on the money. Alas, we have another member of the dark side who decided to kill off Emma... Poor girl can’t catch a break. #TeamDontKillEmma
Thanks again to Wes for answering our questions. Good luck to Texas this weekend.