2014 BYU Football Opponent Preview: Who are the Texas Longhorns?

Williams takes the ball into the defense - George Frey

As BYU's biggest game of the season, can the Cougars catch lightning in a bottle again? Or, can the new coaching staff of the Longhorns get revenge for the Texas fans embarrassment in last year's loss?

BYU Football Opponent Preview: Who are the Texas Longhorns?

2013 Record: 8-5 (7-2)

2014 game date, location: Saturday, Sept. 6th Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Previous game recap: BYU-40 Texas-21.

BYU opened the flood gates after waiting out the rain storm in last year’s game against the #15 Texas Longhorns.  Thanks to Taysom Hill, the Cougars set multiple records by rushing for 550 yards and breaking the all-time single game rushing record for BYU as well as shattering the record for most yards given up by a Longhorn defense.  Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz was fired the next day.

Coaching staff

The reign of the legendary coach Mack Brown has finally come to an end in Austin, Texas.  Whether he got kicked out or willingly left is another topic, but more importantly is the next chapter in Longhorn lore.  Charlie Strong has taken over the reigns and is trying to continue his success from his days at the University of Louisville.  Although Strong was not at the top of the wish list for Texas fans, he does bring a blue collar, defensive minded attitude (sound familiar?) as well as a diverse staff.  Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford followed Strong from Louisville and hopes to have the same defensive success (top ten in almost every defensive category) in the Big XII as he had in the Big East/AAC.  Ex-Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson comes in as the Quarterback Coach after developing Teddy Bridgewater into a top NFL prospect.  He also brings a more run-first pro-style offense.  This leads to the big question of what offense will be employed under new offensive coordinator Joe Wickline who left the Big XII foe Oklahoma St. after spending nine years building up their Air Raid offense as an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.  The Texas fan base is hoping that this new coaching staff can cure their exceptionally talented but unmotivated football team.

Key Players

In the pass happy Big XII conference, the win-loss records for most teams mimic the success of their quarterback.  For Texas to be successful next season, junior quarterback David Ash needs to be at the helm of the offense.  Since Vince Young, Texas has missed out on RG3, Johnny Manziel, and others, which influenced the coaching change.  The Longhorns offense needs David Ash to be consistent and healthy.  The offense has had so many weapons in the last few seasons but has been without a leader to run the offense efficiently.

On the other side of the ball, Texas will be without the talent of All-American defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as he graduated and signed with the Seattle Seahawks.  Charlie Strong will now look to the senior defensive end Cedric Reed and the junior defensive tackle Malcolm Brown to wreak havoc at the line of scrimmage.

Offense

David Ash will return as QB for the Texas offense for as long as his health permits.  Offensive coordinator Joe Wickline will try to protect him by coaching up the slightly improved offensive line featuring senior Dominic Espinosa who has 39 starts at center.  The o-line as a whole is very big but struggles with speed off the edge as was apparent in last year’s game against BYU and David Ash getting knocked out of the game.

Wickline will also have a talented and experienced stable of running backs as senior Malcolm Brown, junior Johnathan Gray, and senior Joe Bergeron look to start the stampede for the offense.  Texas should look to rely on the run game as they try to hide the weakness of a fragile quarterback and slow offensive line.

If Ash gets time to complete his passes, the receivers holding the pigskin have the physical advantage of gaining yards after the catch.  Senior Jaxon Shipley will be relied upon as BYU relied upon Cody Hoffman last year.  He is consistent, surprisingly athletic and makes big plays.  Junior Kendall Sanders is known for being a speedster and will likely get the most deep routes called his way with Mike Davis now gone (Skye Povey letting out a sigh of relief).  One of the questions marks on the offense is what role the ever dangerous but inconsistent Daje Johnson will play.  Against BYU, his threat was minimized and he eventually left the game with an ankle injury.  While the Longhorn receivers can make defenders miss, those who will be contributing next season are on the shorter side with the tallest being 6’2’’.

Defense

Seniority and experience come to mind when looking at the projected starters for the defense.  7 seniors and 4 juniors could be chasing Taysom Hill around when he takes the field.  Whether or not he has the same success as last year will depend on the coaching.  Texas will consistently have the talent of 4-5 star recruits, all-americans, and future NFL draft picks (except this year, boom roasted.)  What they did lack last year was good coaching.  Manny Diaz brought in a complex, overly aggressive scheme which led to players being slow to react and out of position.  (Exhibit A: last year’s game).  New defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has promised to simplify the scheme, and focus on fundamentals so that the players can react rather than think.  As mentioned before, DT Malcolm Brown and DE Cedric Reed will be hard to contain, but once an offense gets past the first level, a big question mark is what they will get next.  The linebacking core does have experience and talent, but coach Charlie Strong is looking for players who can make tackles and get the job done.  The projected starters at LB could be scrambled around until Bedford finds his guys come fall camp.  The secondary follows suit as they have the talent and seniority with 3 seniors and 1 junior projected to start but the defense as a whole has been deflated due to bad coaching and a lack of leadership.

Despite their record of 8-5 (7-2), when the Longhorns fell behind in a game, the defense gave up as all of their losses were by more than 19 points.  Charlie Strong may have to re-energize his senior leadership on defense to show more maturity and dedication.

Special Teams

Texas has the thoroughbreds to plug in at returning kickoffs and punts but they find themselves trying to replace All-American placekicker/punter Anthony Fera who was a Groza award finalist.  Through spring camp, the punter position is still up for grabs as Nick Jordan will most likely be the placekicker come fall.  Be aware that he has shown struggles in the past.

X Factor

Texas could very well be a sleeping giant awakened by a new coaching staff.  They could also be a few years away from shaking off the rust of Mack Brown’s decline in recruiting and coaching.  This game is a toss-up but a couple things could be the X-factor for the winner of this game.  Darrell K. Royal stadium can be home to 100,000 screaming Texans or it can be as painfully silent as an ex-girlfriend’s roommate’s glaring stare.  Whichever team can jump out ahead first will most likely cruise to a victory.  That leads to execution being the priority.  BYU went through the growing pains of learning a new system on the offensive side of the ball last year.  Texas will be going through that same process on both sides of the ball.  The Longhorns will want their revenge but it is doubtful that they will be running on all cylinders by the second week of the season.  BYU will also have the perspective of playing it’s biggest opponent of the season, while Texas may be looking to the big matchup against UCLA the following week.  That’s why I think, coaching will win this game not with x’s and o’s but mental preparedness.  I hope BYU is prepared to mess with Texas on September 6th.

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