Silent but "Strong"
Charlie Strong's inaugural season at Texas was similar to riding the Texas Giant at Six Flags over Texas. It began with some bumps, with nine players being booted from the team. Then followed the dive off the platform where-in Texas lost four of its first six games including 41-7 beat down in game two against BYU. After bottoming out, Texas began the slow ascent winning four of the last six regular season games including a victory over #23 ranked West Virginia. The winning streak wouldn't last long as Texas limped to the finish line losing to TCU and then Arkansas in a game where their offense clearly didn't stack up.
The Charlie Strong era was always going to take sometime to get off the ground, and last season was a good example of the process Texas must go through if it hopes to achieve success under Strong. The offense is clearly behind the defense, especially since Texas still lacks a bona fide star at QB. Even Bret Bielema admitted the Texas offense was easy to prepare for, and Strong has already mentioned making adjustments from last seasons offensive game plan. Let's take a look at the new Longhorn offense that Kansas State can expect to face in the coming season.
A Two-QB system?
Last years offense was putrid. There's no sugar coating how bad Texas played on offense, but this season Charlie Strong confirmed on National Signing day the replacement of last years offensive system. Even incoming QB recruit Kai Locksley (he's just asking for a Robin Hood themed nickname) mentioned the offensive changes and how they impacted his official visit.
The QB run game is featured much more prominently as both QB's, Tyrone Swoops and Jerrod Heard, were asked to execute the zone read rather than simply faking a zone read. Last season's scheme relied heavily on checks and adjustments at the line of scrimmage, whereas this season those checks have been removed in favor of a simplified system. The simplification is designed to increase the tempo, and the Texas offense easier to learn. Besides the tweaks to the offensive game plan itself, Strong appears committed to finding the best QB to run the new system going so far as to predict that both QB's will play during the Notre Dame game.
The other goal of Texas' offensive revamp is to create explosive plays, something this team struggled with last season. Senior play-maker Daje Johnson was featured in a series of jet sweeps during the spring game, which allowed him to get out into space. In addition to utilizing their speed better, the no huddle nature of the offense allows the offense to catch the defense on their heels. A good example of this was late in the OU game last season when Swoops thrived in a simplified hurry up style offense. While I doubt this offense will be as effecient at creating one on one match-ups like Bill Snyder's, I do expect a better offensive performance from the Longhorns this season. The addition of Jay Norvell to the already stout offensive coaching staff almost demands a stark improvement over last season.
Defense 2014=Strength, 2015=Weakness?
While the offense tries to find cohesiveness behind a new system, the defense looks to solidify its role as one of the best in the conference. Last season Texas finished 25th in the nation in Total Defense, which helped to keep opponents close even when the offense struggled. It may be tough to repeat that performance this season as key players: Jordan Hicks (LB), Cedric Reed (DE), Malcom Brown (DE), and Quandre Diggs (CB/S) have all departed. These stand out defensive players will need to be replaced and the biggest question mark for the defensive side of the ball isn't talent, it's depth. The starters on defensive will almost exclusively come from junior and seniors, however look for true freshman Malik Jefferson (the top rated linebacker in the country), and Anthony Wheeler to see playing time in a linebacking corp that has only three upperclassmen.
I don't expect much fall off from a Charlie Strong coached defense, however, I think the offense and defensive units will be much closer in terms of production this season. Whether that is because the offense progresses forward and catches up to the defense or because the defense sags back remains to be seen. My prediction is somewhere in between where the youth and inexperience shine through for the defense, but the improved offensive scheme and production helps balance out the team.
At Big 12 media day Bill Snyder predicted Texas will return to prominence in the Big 12. As Kansas State fans, lets hope that isn't the case this season as Kansas State will travel to Austin to face the Longhorns after playing games against, Oklahoma State, TCU, and Oklahoma. From here on out I'm going to refer to this part of the schedule as the gauntlet. If K-State can somehow get to the final game of the gauntlet against Texas with at least one victory I'll be happy. On the flip side Texas has its own gauntlet to navigate beginning with Oklahoma State, followed by TCU, Oklahoma and ending with our favorite purple Wildcats. For some reason the conference just loves having Texas play Kansas State right after the Red River Shootout. Why that is I have no idea, but I hate playing Texas after Oklahoma because it gives Texas the opportunity to ride momentum from a victory over OU, or it gives them a chance to recover after losing to OU. Either way I hate it.
Regardless, this season I think K-State has a good shot at a victory. (No I won't be picking Texas again, after picking them last year to beat K-State and looking like a moron after the Wildcats shut them out at homecoming). Kansas State 38- Texas 28.