Texas has the right coach: that much we can take from a perfectly mediocre .500 regular season. The team loves Charlie Strong, will run through walls for their first-year coach. And by winning only six games, they made Strong the highest paid football coach (per win) in the country, making about $835,000 for each W.
For awhile there, when Texas was 3-5 and faced four tough opponents, it looked as if Strong might end up with more core values (5), than victories.
Even with a so-so record, or maybe because of it, football was fun again at UT. Expectations were lowered and assholes seemingly rehabilitated by a first-year coach on a five-year plan. He lost his starting quarterback and had to field an offensive line of chubby teens, yet the affable C. Strong seemed to go by the lyrics of that song by Knute Kristofferson: scoreboard’s just another word for nothing left to lose. When Mack Brown was coach, every game was so stressful. One loss and the season would be ruined because only a national championship would do. But Strong, whose press conference transcripts are sent to the UT linguistics department for meaning analysis, just doesn’t get down on himself or his young men. His looseness is an airborne virus.
Using my “Moving the Goalposts” sports column for the Austin Post as a guide, let’s go game-by-game to see how this year’s Bowl Eligibility Quest unfolded.
Game one: Texas 38, North Texas 7
When junior quarterback David Ash retired from football after suffering yet another concussion in the season-opening 38-7 defeat of North Texas, unproven sophomore Tyrone Swoopes got the start against BYU the next week. The Horns also lost center Dominic Espinosa, the only offensive lineman with any experience, for the season after he broke his ankle against North Texas. UT puts together its schedule like a 12-course meal in reverse, with the dessert coming first, but the Green Machine proved to be a costly cupcake.
But there were great signs from the game against the jazz school from Denton (whose marching band plays with its backs to the crowd). Senior receiver John Harris, a special teams scrub in previous seasons, emerged as the go-to receiver, LB Jordan Hicks looked out to make up for an underachieving career in one season, like a college football GED, and DT Hassan Ridgeway made his name on one savage sack. We haven’t seen a big body make such such a spectacular debut since Gabby Sidibe. The defense held NT to 94 yards of offense.
You can’t have a new football season at UT without something new to put on t-shirts and Strong’s theme was to “put the T back in Texas.” T for toughness. T for team. And T was for transfer, as Charlie swept out the football factory and sent so many young black men packing that it seemed the military draft had returned.
Game two: BYU 41, Texas 7
Coach Strong knew something felt wrong when his team worked out on the field before the start of the game against BYU, a team that humiliated the Horns in ’13, and sent defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on an all-expenses paid trip to Scapegoat Island. “I called the team up and told them we’re not ready to play,” Strong said after the game. “’We’re getting ready to play a really good football team and we’re going to get embarrassed if we don’t watch out.’” No premonition has come so true since Lance Armstrong’s second grade teacher wrote “will do anything to win” on his report card.
Strong has had a long career as a coach, but until you come to Texas you have no idea what it really feels like when the wheels come off in a game. UCLA once came to Austin and beat Texas so bad, 66-3, that it seemed as if Bill Cosby was administering the Gatorade on the Horns sideline.
The BYU game started off fairly well for Texas, with the defense keeping them in the game, trailing 6-0 at halftime. But at that point the Horns attitude seemed to shift to “we already played one half; why do we have to play another?” BYU scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of the second half to build up a 34-0 lead and BYU’s quarterback Taysom Hill became a Heisman contender, with the clip of him hurtling a whiffing DB Dylan Haines showing on ESPN about 20 times a day. Can’t imagine Haines was too distraught after Hill’s season- and media exhaltation- ended with an injury a couple games later.
With an offensive line that blocked as well as an eighth-grade boy takes off a bra, the Horns got pushed around by BYU. Let’s put the OT back in Texas! Diaz laughed his ass off as linebackers guessed wrong and missed tackles, and DBs took bad angles. Meanwhile, coaches showed no confidence in Swoopes, whose lone downfield pass looked like the third place throw in a Punt, Pass & Kick competition. You can’t change a culture in one game, but you can open it up a little on offense when you’ve got nothing to lose.
Game three: UCLA 20, Texas 17
The 2014 Texas Longhorns can afford to gift victories to opponents like Cher can give away her Oscar- there are not going to be a whole lot more chances. But the Horns put a bow on their loss to UCLA at Jerrymart in Arlington. Leading the Bruins 17-13 with four minutes to go, UT recovered a fumble and it seemed like the game was in hand. Except that when the offense came in, they started running plays like they were behind. A three-and-out used up just over a minute. The punt was then returned 45 yards and everything changed. UCLA backup QB Jerry Neuheisal then pump-faked his way into a 33-yard touchdown pass and UCLA won 20-17.
It was a game in which the Horns turned the ball over before the opening kickoff. But even the player who botched the coin flip, giving UCLA the ball to start both halves, musta thought the Longhorns offensive play caller Shawn Watson is a moron. Who was in charge of clock management for Texas, Flavor Fucking Flav?!!! This game could’ve been a great coming out celebration for Tyrone Swoopes, who was 24-34 for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Instead, the Horns were 1-2 and mentally wrecked going into the bye week..
Game four: Texas 23, Kansas 0
Sometimes the other team is just plain bad. The Texas Longhorns mixed a sluggish offense with a defense that gave up yards, but no points, to beat the Kansas Jayhawks in Lawrence, KS.
The Horns D was relentless all afternoon and forced befuddled Kansas QB Montell Cozart into four interceptions, including a key 4th quarter pick by LB Hicks. But the offense wasn’t nearly as impressive, with the O-line looking like “O.C.” Joe Wickline picked them up in the parking lot at Home Depot before the game. This group, depleted by injuries and suspensions, will continue to be a weak link, but QB Tyrone Swoopes (19-34 for 218 yards and two TDs) seemed to get more comfortable with the lack of protection as the game wore on. It was a must win- as all are when you’re undefeated or at .500.
Game five: Baylor 28, Texas 7
As a combination of the pitcher in baseball and the point guard in basketball, the football quarterback is the most valuable player in all of team sports and the Texas Longhorns just don’t have a good one. Charlie and the Corevalues could continue their doo-wop into the hearts of Longhorn fans, but Texas will remain mediocre until Swoopes gets better or Strong lands a five-star ready to earn his gold-star pronto. Be patient, coaches say, Tyrone wasn’t built in a day.
Texas played hard against “mean and scary” Baylor, but lost, when two special teams plays and a fumble at the goal line proved to be the Horns undoing. The botched snap was especially gutting, coming as it did after a 99 yard drive. Instead of tying the game 7-7 and heading into halftime with momentum, UT went in heartbroken. After the score was 14-0, the game was pretty much in the bag, as our offense couldn’t score if Courtney Love gave them directions and a wad of cash.
Impotence is a sad thing (I’ve been told), but it’s even worse when your offense can’t chub up at home against a team that, although ranked #7, wears Baylor unis.
Game six: Oklahoma 31, Texas 26
Although they lost 31-26, Texas led Oklahoma in every offensive category Saturday at the Cotton Bowl, including total yards (482-232), first downs (24-11), time of possession (37:58- 22:02), and third down conversions (7-1). But the Longhorns also led in penalties and turnovers and wasted time-outs.
The Texas defense also dominated the OU offense, holding the Sooners to only one first down in the first half. But two returns for touchdown–a kickoff and an interception–put points on the board the Longhorns were slow to match. UT held Oklahoma to 29 yards of offense in the first half, yet trailed 17-13. One thing that became apparent before the 27th AT&T commercial with the cute customer rep zombie was that Oklahoma isn’t as good as hyped. But they took advantage of their ops, while the Horns punched the gift horse in the mouth. Like a virgin wearing three condoms, the Greenhorns have got confidence problems and don’t know how to finish. They’re now 2-4, the worst start at Texas since new cars had fins. It’s kinda ironic that a team that has such a problem with execution is from Texas.
Game seven: Texas 48, Iowa State 45
Texas had been in that position before, playing well enough to win against UCLA and Oklahoma, both ranked teams, but failed to produce a late drive to cinch the victory. But in those games, the Horns had a different quarterback than the one who had 28 seconds against Iowa State to take his team into field goal range.
Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes connected on double rainbows, the first bomb to #8 Jaxon Shipley and the next to #9 John Harris, to take his team 70 yards in 20 seconds and set up a 22-yard game-winning field goal by emo kicker Nick Rose. A pair of 2-4 teams put on a show with the thrills of a prime time playoff game. Horns offensive play-caller Shawn Watson certainly didn’t react to Harris’ catch as if this season’s best case scenario is a spot in the Chia Pet Bowl. The vastly-improved Longhorn Network used Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin’” as bumper music all night, when “Caught In a Crossfire” would’ve been just as fitting for this shootout.
Game eight: Kansas State 23, Texas 0
If you’ve ever wondered what happened to disgraced former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson, apparently he was working the review booth for Saturday’s Texas- Kansas State game in Little Manhattan. Down 16-0 in the fourth quarter, but playing the #11-ranked Wildcats tough all game, the underdog Horns were deep in K-State territory and went for it on fourth and one. RB Johnathan Gray appeared stopped, but spun out of a tackle without his knee touching and reached across the first down mark. That’s what replays showed. But officials refused to overturn the call on the field and gave possession to KSU.
That was the ballgame, as Kansas State marched down the field for an insurmountable 23-0 lead. Texas got Creamed in Kansas on the day rock trio’s greatest bassist Jack Bruce died. The only good thing that happened Saturday was that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit will have to lay low for awhile after he picked a Texas triumph. Now all I wish is for Herbstreit to predict I won’t get laid this week.
Game nine: Texas 34, Texas Tech 13
You know what they can’t say about the 2014 Texas Longhorns? They can’t say they didn’t go up to Lubbock and beat the hell out of Texas Tech. The Horns opened tight, with sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes fumbling on his own two and Tech pouncing on the Gift Six. But the big play of the game was a vicious, but clean, hit on Tech QB Patrick Mahomes by Quandre Diggs. Mahomes was out on Queer Street for a minute, or, I should say Same Sex Lane, and never came back into the game.
On the offensive side, receiver John Harris upped his draft status with 165 yards on five commanding catches. Last year he was paying full price at Player’s and this year he’s got life-changing eyeballs on him. He’s the Horns’ big play receiver while Jaxon Shipley is the all-hands guy, whose third and goal catch for a touchdown in the 4th quarter pulled Texas ahead 27-13 when the game’s outcome was still in question. Swoopes finished with 228 yards on 13-25 passing, but threw a few dazzling long balls as a tease for things to come. The deep threat opened up the running game and Malcolm Brown (22 carries- 116 yds) and Johnathan Gray (16 carries-76 yds) both scored touchdowns.
Game ten: Texas 33, West Virginia 16
Johnathan Gray ran for three touchdowns and the Texas Longhorns beat #23-ranked West Virginia 33-16 at home to go 5-5 on the season and keep their bowl game hopes alive. A jubilant Horns team hoisted coach Charlie Strong above their heads and he crowd-surfed in the locker room after his first bigtime victory in Austin.
The Horns running game and defense were the keys to the win, making up for mediocre play from QB Tyrone Swoopes who was 11-29 for 124 yards and an interception.
But even going up 24-3 at the half, Texas fans had to hold their breath late in the game, as the Horns finish about as well as a cleaning service you pay in advance.
Game eleven: Texas 28, Oklahoma State 7
Charlie Strong is taking Texas bowling! Led by a dominant defense and clutch passing from Tyrone Swoopes, the Texas Longhorns wiped the field with the Oklahoma State Cowboys 28-7 in Stillwater for a 6th win, which means they’ll be playing a bowl game. In previous seasons, that was automatic at Texas, but this year fans were practically turning over cars on Guadalupe.
Swoopes was terrific, passing for 305 yards on 24-33 and converting on two crucial third and long situations on a 91-yard drive that answered the Cowboys’ only score, with 9 minutes left in the game. More significant than the stats was the way the Horns closed out the game with a knockout 45-yard touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman, instead of just running down the time and holding on to a big lead. Swoopes was in control all game and the players seem to really believe in each other. This is a different team than the one that started the season 2-4 and the biggest improvement Saturday was the play of Swoopes.
Game twelve: Texas Christian University 48, Texas 10
Well, that was disappointing. The Texas Longhorns ended Charlie Strong’s dramatic first year as their coach by confusing TCU with BYU, the team that kicked their asses in September. It was if almost no progress has been made, as UT finishes 6-6, with a bowel game coming up.
Sophomore quarterback Tyrone swooped his pants, with four fugly picks and a fumble that was returned for TCU’s first touchdown. You hate to put the whole game on one kid’s shoulders, but it was Swoopes’ fault. The character guy, who had shown such progress in leading the team to victory on the road against Oklahoma State Nov. 15, looked befuddled by the TCU defense, which closed the run option and still made downfield reek of havoc. A third quarter pass in the flat to freshman Armanti Foreman, who then ran the 73 in 4.4, proved to be the lone offensive highlight, as Texas executed the three-and-out drill perfectly.
Swoopes was better running the ball than throwing it. Actually, he was better carving a turkey with the ball than he was throwing it.
Longhorn fans gave Charlie Strong a pass this year. Those were Mack Brown’s recruits, not Charlie’s. And the stricter ways of Mr. Strong will take time to take hold at Coddle U.
It’s only a fucking game. UT pays Charlie Strong $5 million a year to tell us that. Now let’s get to that Texas Bowl game against Arkansas and start next year on Dec. 29.