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Weak Ending for Strong Era

Weak Ending for Strong Era

Talk about going out with a whimper! It’s hard to imagine a more demoralizing finish to the Charlie Strong era at the University of Texas than this past Friday’s disappointing 31-9 loss to road underdog TCU.

It was the polar opposite of the exciting 2016 debut on the same field Labor Day Weekend when the Longhorns electrified Austin with an exciting win over Notre Dame. But, it was a fitting end to a season that left the program worse off than it began…

 

  • A slew of exciting young players didn’t develop at all.
  • A new fast-break offense turned out to be VERY simple and easy to read.
  • Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele was in way over his head against defenses who applied any sort of pressure.
  • Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert appeared to be as well. He never made any meaningful adjustments once Big 12 defenses made it clear they had figured things out.

Sure, the win over Notre Dame was a big illusion anyway since the Irish turned out to be awful this season (by past standards). But, the ineptitude of the last two games in particular is hard to capture in words. Kansas is an overmatched program and TCU is having a down season. Texas missed market expectations by 26 and 25 points.

I’ve mentioned before that third down conversions are a great indicator stat for team quality, intelligence, execution, and an overall mastery of fundamentals. Well coached teams grade out well. Poorly coached teams struggle. If there was ever a red flag indicator for Texas being poorly coached down the stretch…this was it!

Texas was 5 of 17 on third downs vs. West Virginia

Texas was 3 of 17 on third downs at Kansas

Texas was 4 of 19 on third downs vs. TCU

That’s 12 of 53 for a woeful 22%, against defenses that have allowed 42% to other opponents this season. TCU and West Virginia rank #86 and #89 respectively at preventing third down conversions! And, that’s 22% with a “Heisman Trophy candidate” in the backfield.

Moving the chains is a basic fundamental. Texas was inept against a manageable slate without any clear excuse like major injuries or horrible weather. A young offense that was supposed to be getting better with experience was drowning in the deep end.

 


 

Friday’s final numbers…

TCU 31, Texas 9

Total Yardage: TCU 487, Texas 407

Yards-Per-Play: TCU 6.4, Texas 4.8

Rushing Yards: TCU 309, Texas 189

Passing Stats: TCU 16-30-1-178, Texas 16-39-1-218

Turnovers: TCU 1, Texas 1

Third Down Pct: TCU 9%, Texas 21%

What’s interesting here is that Texas actually DOMINATED the first half. They were on pace for more than 500 total yards and a yardage squash. But, they couldn’t turn that into many points because multiple drives into the red zone ended with either fourth down failures or a missed field goal attempt. The Horns lost their spirit after that. The defense wore down and kind of threw up its arms in the fourth quarter.

Note the horrible passing line for Buechele…16 of 39 while flailing in the second half against a disappointing TCU defense (currently #93 in the nation against the pass). He can hit the occasional bomb down the sideline when a speedster gets some distance (though he’s started underthrowing too many of those). He can hit the instant pass for the wide receiver screen. But, if he actually has to READ a defense and make a choice…it’s just not there. He doesn’t find openings, and rarely spots oncoming rushers. Viewers have recently been watching a fragile passing offense shatter.

This wraps up our Texas “case study” this season. We’ve already been talking in recent weeks about what we’ve learned. Let’s try to sum it all up.

  • To me, the overriding lesson of the 2016 college football season is that media coverage and general punditry can be really detached from the REALITY of the sport. That Notre Dame/Texas game is a great example. But the whole campaign (right word since we just saw the same thing in politics) was full of misreads and misunderstandings. That caused a domino effect of additional misreads for handicappers/fans who paid too much attention to TV coverage or polls.

(Quick reminder: the preseason AP poll had Florida State #4, LSU #5, Stanford #8, Tennessee #9, Notre Dame #10, Ole Miss #11, Michigan State #12, and TCU #13).

Heck, oddsmakers and market shapers were wrong about many teams too. (Remember that Texas was 6-3 against the spread its first nine games because so many Longhorn opponents were even more overrated than the Horns!) This case study of Texas helped expose the cracks in the foundation of college football perceptions. Do your own work! Don’t fall into media groupthink traps. Read every boxscore that you can.

  • The second most important point would be that “fast break” offenses aren’t about to revolutionize the sport. Defenses are adjusting. And, there just aren’t enough quarterbacks to go around that would make the approach work at several dozen schools. It’s one thing when a handful of really talented players can make it work at the beginning of an evolutionary transition against unprepared defenses. But, this offense has no chance when that next rung of mediocre quarterbacks is trying to move the ball against aggressive, prepared defenses. (Plus, as we’ve discussed before…the approach isn’t great at protecting leads…isn’t great at converting third or fourth downs against quality defenses…and tends to move in the middle of the field before stalling in the scoring zone). RGIII and Marcos Mariota had their moments…but Baylor and Oregon aren’t scaring anybody any more. And there aren’t 50 quarterbacks at any given time capable of doing what RGIII and Mariota did.
  • Specifically regarding Texas, there’s just no evidence that Charlie Strong can lead a major conference program to the elite level that the handful of super-rich superpowers would expect. It’s a shame he’s getting blasted with “worst three-year stretch ever” criticisms. He really did have to clean up a mess created by the arrogance and slack of the previous regime. And, his positives are clear and unmistakable. But, no amount of class and integrity can make up for losing to Kansas, then getting blasted by TCU late in a third season when you had your own recruits playing their hearts out for you. In terms of pure on-field fundamentals (don’t forget the kicking game!), the on-paper evidence shows a poorly coached team. He was the head coach…before being fired Saturday in favor of former Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman.

Thanks for reading today and through the season. Much appreciated.

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