2014 CFN Preview - Texas Longhorns
Texas RB Malcolm Brown
Texas RB Malcolm Brown
Posted Jul 9, 2014

Preview 2014 - Charlie Strong has the big gig, and his Longhorns are getting nasty. (Getty Images)

Texas Longhorns

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Charlie Strong
1st year
5th year overall: 37-16
Returning Lettermen
Off: 19, Def: 22, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Longhorn Players
1. RB Malcolm Brown, Sr.
2. DE Cedric Reed, Sr.
3. CB Quandre Diggs, Sr.
4. LB Jordan Hicks, Sr.
5. QB David Ash, Jr.
6. RB Jonathan Gray, Jr.
7. DT Malcom Brown, Jr.
8. LB Steve Edmond, Sr.
9. WR Jaxon Shipley, Sr.
10. C Dominic Espinosa, Sr.
2014 Schedule
Aug. 30 North Texas
Sep. 6 BYU
Sep. 13 UCLA (in Arl)
Sep. 27 at Kansas
Oct. 4 Baylor
Oct. 11 Oklahoma (in Dallas)
Oct. 18 Iowa State
Oct. 25 at Kansas State
Nov. 1 at Texas Tech
Nov. 8 West Virginia
Nov. 15 at Oklahoma St
Nov. 27 TCU
Is Texas going to be Michigan or Florida State?

Everyone loved Bobby Bowden, but his phenomenal run went a bit stale at the end as his Seminoles slipped off their ridiculously high perch. Jimbo Fisher took over and brought more youth and energy to the program, and it showed with elite recruiting class after elite recruiting class. The results have been tremendous with three trips to the ACC championship in four years, two conference titles, an Orange Bowl win and a national championship. All Florida State needed was a little remodeling.

All Michigan needed was a little rebuilding. Lloyd Carr won a national championship, came within a hair of playing for another in his second-to-last season, won nine games or more in five of his last six years, and won five Big Ten titles, but it wasn’t enough. Maize and Blue fans wanted more, but to get there, it required a change in how things were done with a new style and a new look. So far, the move back into the world of the elite hasn’t exactly been smooth.

And then there’s Texas, a superpower program that’s an interesting crossroads blend of 2009 Florida State and 2008 Michigan, needing a little bit of an attitude and energy burst, while at the same time needing to undergo an overhaul to go from very good to national championship great again after the Mack Brown era crawled across the finish line.

New head coach Charlie Strong appears to have realized this from the start, and now playtime is over at Texas.

He’s doing everything possible to get the most out of the team he inherited, and his Longhorns are being put through the ringer to get the right mindset right away – spring ball was far, far tougher this year. While Brown was fantastic at being the backslapper, Strong has come out as a butt-kicker.

Everyone liked Brown, and that was sort of the problem. His teams were never short on talent since losing the 2010 BCS championship to Alabama, but there just wasn’t any nastiness - it's hard to win with an offense that can't block and a defense that can't tackle. Brown’s biggest issue over his final four years was an inability to get his teams to play up to its talent level – a knock from the start of his time in Austin, but the results weren’t there like they were early on.

However, the same might be said for Strong in his last two years at Louisville.

It’s hard to argue with a 23-3 record, a Sugar Bowl win over Florida, and two conference titles, but it’s not like the Cardinals were playing in the SEC. They had a bad habit of playing down to their competition at times – struggling to get by 2012 South Florida, FIU and Southern Miss teams that finished a combined 6-39 - and losing that year to mediocre Syracuse and UConn squads. Last season, UofL faced one really good team – UCF – and lost at home, sputtered down the stretch, and rallied to rip apart Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Strong will get a wee bit of a pass this year – a very, very small one – but considering some Texas types honestly thought they could get Nick Saban or a Harbaugh, there had better be a new look to the 2014 Longhorns and the needle had better be pointing up going into the 2015 offseason. Saban went 7-6 in his first year revamping Alabama, and then it was Game On. Bob Stoops went 7-5 in his first campaign at Oklahoma, and then he won a national title the next season.

But is the talent there at Texas to come up with a big improvement right away? The quarterback situation is scary with David Ash’s ever-present health concerns, Tyrone Swoopes’ inconsistencies, and super-recruit Jerrod Heard a true freshman. The O line needs to undergo an overhaul, there aren’t any scary playmakers at receiver, the defensive line has to be far tougher against the run, the back seven has to learn how to wrap up instead of bounce off of ball-carriers, and the talented linebacking corps was the walking wounded this offseason.

Not like any of that matters to a fan base that won’t accept any excuses.

Just ask Rich Rodriguez.

What to watch for on offense: Can the offensive line become a major strength? Texas only averaged 4.4 yards per carry and almost never took over games, and while the line only allowed 16 sacks, it still wasn’t a good enough group considering the experience. That’s not the case this year. Even without Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet, the backfield might be the best in the Big 12 with several terrific options to play around with, and there’s enough speed and talent in the receiving corps to start doing far more, but the quarterbacks are going to need time – David Ash can’t get hit and Tyrone Swoopes needs as much room as he can get to operate – and the O line has to improve, and fast. Dominic Espinosa is a terrific center, but all bets are off after that. Assistant coach Joe Wickline is a great developer of lines, and he has talent to work with. Now he needs to make the pieces of the puzzle fit.

What to watch for on defense: Can anyone tackle? Time and time and time again, opposing runners had way too easy a time getting to the second level, and when they got there, it was pinball time when it came to tackling. There were a few good moments, and a coaching change appeared to fix the glitch for a time, and then Baylor and Oregon did what they wanted on the ground. Six teams ran for 183 yards or more against the Longhorns. Five of them won – accounting for all five of the Longhorn losses - and Iowa State should’ve come away with a victory. There’s no excuse this time around with the new staff emphasizing a more physical style. As long as linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond can come back healthy, and if Malcom Brown and the line does its job, there could be a night-and-day turnaround against the better running teams.

The team will be far better if … the passing game can be more efficient. The Longhorns might not have been perfect in 2012 throwing the ball, but at least they showed some pop averaging 8.5 yards per attempt with plenty of big plays coming from the receiving corps, averaging 12.66 yards per catch. Texas doesn’t have to go back to the Colt McCoy days when he was ripping defenses apart, but the days of dinking and dunking have to change to keep the linebackers and safeties from teeing off on the running backs. There isn’t a Teddy Bridgewater under center – although Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard might ultimately turn out to be more talented – but by comparison, Louisville averaged 9.3 yards pass attempt and completed 71% of its passes last year. Texas averaged 6.4 yards per throw with the quarterbacks combining to complete 57% of their passes.

The schedule: Which Texas team will show up under Charlie Strong? Who knew the Longhorns would be so miserable against BYU? They'll get their shot in the rematch in Austin after starting out the year against North Texas, and then comes the real test facing a loaded UCLA team in Arlington.

It would've been nice to get a week off somewhere in the middle of the season, but instead Texas gets a break after UCLA and before a layup at Kansas. Baylor comes to Darrell K. Royal and Iowa State is part of the first part of the Big 12 slate, but with the showdown against Oklahoma in Dallas, there are only two home games between October 4th and Thanksgiving weekend. Three road games come in four weeks – going to Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State – before getting a week off to rest up for TCU

Best offensive player: Senior RB Malcolm Brown. He hasn’t turned into the next Ricky Williams or Cedric Benson like he was expected to become right away as a superstar recruit, but he has carved out a decent career as part of an excellent running back rotation. Johnathan Gray is coming back from an Achilles heel injury - he's the team's best back if 100% - but it’s Brown’s ground game to run, and he appears ready to make one final big splash to prepare for the next level. Can the line start to give him more room to move? He’s been a plodder more than breakaway threat, but he showed last year he could be a workhorse, and he’ll be relied on right away to carry the offense.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Cedric Reed. While he’s not going to be a speed rusher like a Brian Orakpo or Jackson Jeffcoat, Reed can get behind the line and can get to the quarterback on a regular basis. Big, strong and tough, he has the NFL size and the burst to do a little bit of everything for a Longhorn line that has to improve. DT Malcom Brown is a great guy to work around on the nose, and there are several decent young prospects ready to show what they can do, but Reed is the main man who has to be the defense’s most dangerous force.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB David Ash. It might actually be the best case scenario for the team in a step-back-to-take-huge-leap-forward way if Tyrone Swoopes gets a year of experience to show what he can do, or if Jerrod Heard shows up and is the next big thing, but for 2014 and for a good year, Texas has to get healthy after suffering a broken foot, has to be okay after concussion problems, and has to be the veteran leader who helps in the coaching and philosophical transition. He needs to take command of the offense and has to make the receiving corps better by pushing the ball down the field more and opening things up. If he’s right, he’ll do it.

The season will be a success if … Texas wins ten games and beats Oklahoma. Of course Texas goes into every year thinking Big 12 title and bigger, but in Strong’s first year, just turning the ship back around and making this an it program again – Texas A&M is currently the coolest program in Texas – will be enough after four years of mediocrity. And yes, there is the meatball fan factor to take into account, and beating Oklahoma will make things much, much easier for Strong. Like last year, beating the Sooners isn’t enough, but doing that and getting to double-digit wins would be fantastic.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. BYU. Of course the showdowns with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are bigger, and the huge battle with UCLA will be a national showcase moment, but the second game of the year against BYU will be a key moment to see just how much things have changed in a year. The shocking loss to the Cougars was the real beginning of the end of the Mack Brown era - with BYU QB Taysom Hill and RB Jamaal Williams running wild on the Longhorn run defense – allowing 550 rushing yards and four scores. A dominant win over a good team would do wonders for Strong.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 99 for 884 yards – Texas 67 for 597 yards
- Sacks: Texas 39 for 239 yards – Opponents 16 for 94 yards
- Fumbles: Opponents 30 (lost 16) – Texas 16 (lost 7)

-  2014 Texas Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players