A big thanks is in order for Gerald Goodridge for answering my extensive list of questions. It’s been a full season since I got to do this, so I may have went a little overboard. In any case, Gerald’s work for Burnt Orange Nation is great, and his podcast (which I joined back in the spring) is even better.
1- So, week 1 seemed to go pretty well for you guys. UL Monroe may not seem like much, but I vividly remember a Nick Saban-led Alabama squad losing to the Warhawks. In a general sense, how did the game feel for Texas fans? Did it feel like a complete game, or were there specific areas of the team that maybe didn’t perform as well as you had hoped?
In my opinion, it was a pretty ideal opener. You went and leaned on a team you’re more talented than, came out injury-free, but had plenty to coach up during film sessions this week. The defense did exactly what you want to do against a team like ULM. They swarmed tackled better than I’ve seen in a decade and really just played some bully ball. I still have some questions about giving up the middle of the field to a quarterback with wheels, which is terrifying based on the next two games on the schedule, but overall my mantra for the defense this year is “just don’t suck” and they lived up to it.
We’ll talk more about Ewers in the next question, but offensively the things that felt the most “different” from a year ago was seeing offensive linemen finishing blocks and wide receivers bodying folks. You can go back and see both in action on Bijan’s one touchdown run from the game (he saw limited action for obvious reasons). Much maligned tackle Christian Jones took his man about 10 yards all the way to the end zone, while slot receiver Jordan Whittington darn near sat his man on the bench.
It seems like little stuff, but the little things have been the differentiator for Texas in years past, so seeing them improving in the little things is a positive for me.
2- How’s the Quinn Ewers experience going? It feels like he’s been the talk of the town for like 5 years now, but is only now a freshman? It’s definitely been a weird start to his career. Is he THE GUY? Or do you think there’s a short leash before Hudson Card sees the field?
Honestly, it started off as another “here we go again,” with Quinn Ewers starting the game 0-2 with an interception. It was pretty typical stuff you see from a young QB with a big arm, passing up the six-yard pass underneath to try and force a ball downfield more. Honestly, my biggest positive in the game was how Ewers responded to and grew from that mistake. The next drive, he took the check down to the tight end on 4th down to keep the drive alive and that’s when he settled in. Two plays later, he connected with the same tight end as a first read for a score, and Texas cruised from there.
Steve Sarkisian has said that he plans on rolling with Ewers barring injury, so I don’t think we see that happen. Especially given what we saw from Card in his limited dropbacks, he seems to suffer from the same bad habits that lost him the job a year ago.
3- Alabama fans are very familiar with quite a few of your skill position guys on offense. Xavier Worthy was a recruit that we followed closely and was actually a blow that he stuck with Texas. Keilan Robinson was also an exciting backup for us that likely would have gotten significant playing time last year if he hadn’t gotten impatient. How’s he looking?
I’m a big fan of Keilan Robinson. Texas didn’t use him a ton a year ago, really because of the depth in the RB room, but they’re finding ways to get him on the field this year. Texas lined up in a two-back set a few times this weekend and he was the back opposite Bijan Robinson. Sark has talked about using him in multiple roles, splitting out in the slot, catching out of the backfield, and any other way to get him involved.
He’s honestly carved himself a niche as a special teams stud for the Longhorns, thanks to Jeff Banks’ philosophy of putting your best athletes on that unit. A year ago, he blocked a few punts, would have had another one if someone held hadn’t jumped, and often provided a spark on that unit. Already this year, he was the beneficiary of a blocked punt, finishing the play with the scoop-and-score.
We also know that Jahleel Billingsley is suspended for a bit (unfortunately... I guarantee every Alabama fan was very much looking forward to watching him getting smacked around against our defense). But the real question is... What happened to Agiye Hall???
I’ve never seen a fan base go from frustrated to understanding as fast as I did when we got details about Agiye Hall. The “final” event that got him sidelined was first reported as misdemeanor destruction of property and we were all puzzled. Then we found out he used his tire iron to break a Campus Parking enforcement boot off of his car and we all were metaphorically rocking “Free Agiye” shirts.
If you ask a Texas student or alum who they hate more: OU and Parking Enforcement, the parking cops are running away with that poll.
When he was suspended, Sarkisian said he ran afoul of the team discipline committee in other ways leading up to it, so clearly there’s a pattern of behavior dating back to his time in Tuscaloosa. As a former youth pastor, I’m always a fan of giving kids a second (and now a third) chance, so hopefully, this is the wake-up call he needs to not squander this opportunity.
4- How’s Kyle Flood doing as an OC? He was a decent OL coach for us, so I’m always interested to see how our former guys do with promotions elsewhere. In case we want them back in the future, you see.
Kyle Flood as the OC is a bit of a weird situation because Sark is obviously the one calling the plays. That being said, having Kyle Flood on the staff has been the biggest win of the Sark Era. I’ll never forget talking about the pipe dream of luring him away from Alabama after another lackluster game by a Herb Hand offensive line and getting laughed out of the group chat. Texas is seeing dividends already, with the best OL recruiting class since the one that blocked for Vince Young.
It’s really summed up by former Texas tackle Tope Imade, who said he grew more in one year under Kyle Flood than he did in the four previous years. It sucks in retrospect, given just how much OL talent Texas squandered in those years, but it makes me hopeful for the future.
5- We made fun of the Longhorns last year for a pass rush so anemic that Ben Davis of all people led the team in sacks. Where is the pass rush going to come from in 2022?
I don’t know if you all made fun of the pass rush any more than I did a year ago. It was legitimately one of the most frustrating aspects of the year for me.
Aided by the development of a young linebacker and a transfer, Texas has amassed the personnel needed to shift DeMarvion Overshown to a more roaming role, playing some linebacker and then playing closer to the line in pass rush situations. Overshown is the proof case for those oversized, talented, tweener safeties that should just bulk their way down to LB and make some money in the league. His emergence obviously is huge, but it also allowed the other players on the line to face fewer blockers, with sophomore Barryn Sorrell becoming the big beneficiary.
Overshown was all over the field defensively, but Sorrell was the one that lit up the stat sheet. Sorrell finished with 1.5 sacks of the Longhorns’ three sacks on Saturday, which frustratingly would have been the high-water mark a year ago, so I feel encouraged.
That being said, they did not face the wall of humanity that is coming to Austin, so maybe ask me again Saturday an hour after kickoff.
6- Your defense features a LOT of upperclassmen in starting roles, especially in the secondary. Is this an experienced group that you have a lot of confidence in, or more an indictment on a lack of young talent?
When you look at Texas recruiting rankings and talk about how well Texas has done, Tom Herman floated the average with high-caliber players in a few spots, while neglecting the trenches, and the secondary is one of those spots. There was a ton of underdeveloped talent at safety, but relatively thin at cornerback — especially the types of bodies that Sark and Pete Kwiatkowski like to play. So with a year of development under a staff that *hopefully* should be better than the previous staff at development, I think it’s confidence in the older players.
D’Shawn Jamison is a supremely-talented, yet undersized defensive back that has an opportunity to make a splash this year. He’s one of the fastest players on the team, but for some reason they had him playing boundary corner rather than field, something that was remedied in the offseason. Putting him in a position to better use his speed and athleticism, while leaning on Ohio State transfer Ryan Watts to play boundary corner opposite him.
7- What’s your general feeling on Steve Sarkisian as a head coach so far?
After four years of Tom Herman, it feels nice to have a coach that comes off as likable and genuine. That is an improvement in and of itself. It’s year two, so it’s definitely still really early to call, but he came in with a very clear plan and vision on how to make this team look more like one he thinks can be successful and he executed it well.
From the moment he got on campus, he was very clear about his displeasure with the roster construction and was honest about his plan to flip the roster. He literally said “we could have upwards of 35 new faces on the roster next year” then signed a top-five class with 28 players and brought in seven transfers. That being said, Texas has won recruiting championships dating back to Charlie Strong, but clearly never did anything with it. For me the differentiator in this class is while Herman and Strong seemingly floated the average with receivers and safeties, 14 of the 28 incoming freshmen were linemen, five of which in the top 150 including two five-stars.
He definitely has a clear direction of how he wants to take the program and has the full support of the athletic director (and as it stands right now the booster community), so I feel as good as you can when you’ve spent the last 12 years watching the next big coach fail.
8- Does Texas win the Big 12 this year?
This is a crabs-in-a-barrel year for the Big 12, so I think that there is a shot for Texas to find its way into contention. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Black Friday game against Baylor serve as a play-in game for the conference title game. The margins were always thin and got thinner when the starting guard tore his ACL, but with the way Big 12 tiebreakers work, Texas could lose two conference games and still have a shot at Dallas.
Now that I’ve hedged enough, I honestly think Texas is still a year out from winning the conference, but I think they can make it to Arlington and give themselves a shot at it.
9- Feel free not to answer this if it violates any superstitions... What is your prediction for how this game goes?
I suck at predictions, which is why I don’t bet on football, but I like to think through scenarios.
I’m a raging Texas fan who was a student when Vince Young and Colt McCoy walked campus, so the fan side of me will always say Texas by 100. As someone who has played and watched football for a long time and who went to school to be an objective sports journalist, it’s pretty easy to see that this is one of those years that Saban is in Terminator, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” mode thanks to the offseason antics of a certain thin-skinned coach in Maroon.
My gut says that this is probably a crock pot game, where it’s relatively close for 2.5-3 quarters, but Alabama runs away late.
The winning proposition for Texas is to feed Bijan Robinson and keep Bryce Young and the offense on the bench, in an effort to keep things close and hope the freshman kicker has the stones to win it late. The inherent flaw in that plan is Will Anderson, the People’s Heisman winner, leads a defense that is chock full of talent.
10- What are your feelings on the 12 team playoff?
I love it. I think there are still issues with the selection criteria, but the structure is really solid. It’s the right call to give the top teams byes to limit the number of games their guys have to play and I absolutely love the option to have opening-round games on campus. It’s going to create some incredible experiences for fans and teams alike.
That being said, I have been waving my flag that the issue with the BCS was never the selection process, but the number of teams. I think there needs to be an addition of objective criteria for measuring teams, much like the “computer” rankings from the BCS era. All the computers were doing were doing advanced analytics and the realm of sports analytics has come so far in the last several years. Take a few of the awesome models out there (FEI, SP+, Beta Rank, etc) and use them as a data point for rankings.
I have a natural distrust of committees, so give me numbers or give me death.
11- Finally, are you ready to join us in the SEC?
Yes. Dear God yes. I am aware that Texas is going to struggle in the realm of football, but hopefully what they’re doing now will at least keep the floor from falling out completely. As someone who follows all of the sports, we’re all talking about super conferences in football, but SEC basketball, baseball, and football are going to be awesome to watch. I’m also a massive volleyball fan, so I look forward to welcoming Kentucky and Florida to Gregory Gymnasium in the future.