It was a trying first year for Charlie Strong as he began his tenure as the Texas football coach. The Longhorns struggled to a 6-6 record, far from acceptable at the school with its own network and the most popular program in a football-mad state. But Texas showed some strides at the end of the season and that makes Monday night’s bowl game with Arkansas all the more important for Strong to continue building momentum for his program.
Texas lost five of their first eight games. The only wins were over North Texas (who finished 4-8), over Kansas (one week after KU fired Charlie Weis) and the Longhorns barely survived Iowa State (who went winless in Big 12 play). In the meantime, the lost the following five games, listed in sequential order…
*BYU 41-7–Texas gave up 28 third-quarter points. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill outrushed the entire Texas team.
*UCLA 20-17—It was a close game in Dallas, but the Bruins lost quarterback Brett Hundley early in the game. Texas still gave up over 200 yards rushing and allowed backup QB Jerry Neuheisel to lead a late game-winning drive.
*Baylor 28-7—The defense stepped up in this game, holding Bryce Petty to 7/22 for 111 yards, but the rush defense was again pounded, as the Bears rushed for 278 yards.
*Oklahoma 31-26—Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes played his best game, throwing for 334 yards, but 11 penalties did the ‘Horns in.
*Kansas State 23-0—Texas was simply dismantled in Manhattan
Texas got off the mat with a win over lowly Texas Tech, and with the record at 4-5, it set up two big games with West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Both teams are bowl-bound, and with TCU as the opponent in the finale, the Longhorns needed to win both if they wanted to get bowl-eligible. It’s here that the signs of hope began to show.
*They beat West Virginia 33-16, with a good two-pronged rushing attack, as Jonathan Gray ran for 101 yards and Malcolm Brown rushed for 90.
*Then Texas went on the road and beat Oklahoma State 28-7, with the rush defense showing how far they had come, holding Okie State to 34 rush yards. Swoopes went 24/35 for 305 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The game with TCU went as expected, and Texas lost 48-10, as the Horned Frogs were gunning for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That’s why that game doesn’t have to be too alarming…if Texas can play well in their bowl game.
Strong’s specialty is defense, and this unit came on strong as the season went on. They were the best in the Big 12 at yards-per-play and point-per-drive in conference games. The Longhorns have a tough defensive front that can match up with Arkansas’ physical running style.
It’s the offense that’s the issue. Texas ranks 88th in the nation in rushing and 83rd in passing. Swoopes’ season-long numbers aren’t pretty. Just 6.55 yards-per-pass, a 59% completion rate and a woeful 13-10 TD/INT ratio. The fact he played well in the wins over WVA and Oklahoma State gives hope that his development is coming along. Like the rest of the team, we need to see it in the bowl game.
I don’t want to imply that a win over Arkansas means everything is destined to roll onward and upward for Strong in Austin, or that a loss means it’s all over. But consider that’s in an opponent from a neighboring state, the game will be played in Houston and the credibility of the late-season sparks of life are at stake—if nothing else, Monday night sets the tone for the offseason for Strong.
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