Above image courtesy of Rodolfo Gonzalez American-Statesman
Without further ado, the 2016 season opener preview, Notre Dame-Texas! It seems like such long time ago, the Irish summarily whipped the Longhorns. Thank goodness time and talent changes, as things are starting to look up for this year’s edition of Texas Football. So, how in the world does Texas win this game!?
THE NEW TEXAS OFFENSE
Sterlin Gilbert & Co. debut the new show. Let’s just hope it’s not a shit-show like last year’s season-opening Watson production. Out with the old and in with the new, it’s time to ‘ball’, as Sterlin put it on Tuesday.
Quarterback – The big mystery, as every Texas fan awaits to see who starts at quarterback. Most suspect it’s Shane Buechele, but some seem worried that Tyrone Swoopes may get the nod. Sunday fast approaches and we’ll be praising or cursing Gilbert by night’s end, one way or another. Whoever gets the call, cool, calm, and collected will be the order of the day.
Plan of Attack – Spread’em and shred’em.., Notre Dame has an experienced and large defensive line, green linebackers, small corners, and slow safeties. Also, how good is their 5th defensive back? I prefer Texas force Notre Dame to keep their nickel on the field, which they likely will.
Attack the linebackers – These young men need to be tested and exposed. Gilbert-Mattox have many concepts that either get an OL on a LB, use misdirection to provoke missteps, as well as run and pass concepts that allow the QB to key the Mike or Will. Expect Van Gorder to blitz from this position to give them easier jobs, but even that can have consequences, as it vacates valuable space in the zone.
Safeties – These guys’ names are Tranquill and Sebastian, not exactly ‘lit’ names at the safety position, nor uber-athletic types. This is an advantage for Texas, especially considering the talent at the slot receiver positions, Foreman and Heard stand to make big impacts in this game. Force either safety to cover down against the spread and I like Texas’ chances inside.
Corners – I like Cole Luke, but don’t know the others very well and they are all ‘smallish’. Let’s assume Shane does get the start. If he’s anywhere near as accurate with the ball as during the spring game, that spells trouble for Notre Dame. Again, I can see Texas using a lot of ‘10’ personnel, which will isolate one of John Burt or Collin Johnson fairly often, another clear advantage for the Texas offense.
Summary – I think the Texas OL will be okay. Williams, Vahe, and Perkins make for formidable match-ups. That said, the OL must perform well as a unit and Van Gorder will bring pressure and will likely test Shackelford at center, early and often. Texas will have more team speed in both ‘10’ and ‘11’ personnel, I suggest they use it. If I were Sterlin Gilbert, I’d have a jet sweep series ready to constantly threaten Notre Dame’s flank with speed. Adding to that, I’d have Jerrod Heard prepared to execute a single-wing package with the same idea in mind. As mentioned above, the linebackers should be tested early and often. Both aforementioned personnel packages will help accomplish that, as vicious blocker, Caleb Bluiett can deploy as a moveable battering ram and decoy, to provoke confusion. Lastly, to Notre Dame, this offense is novel. They are not used to seeing this type of spread or pace. Trust in the system and play fast.
Malik & Co. – This year’s Texas defense will not be anywhere near the same as last season. None of the starters will be green and they’ll all be a little more grown. The season opener is the perfect atmosphere to pull an ole’ stashed away can of whoop-ass and open it on the Irish. They will face a very talented Notre Dame offense and what many are saying, one of the best OL units in the country. Not to mention, the Irish have both Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer at quarterback, both will play. Nevertheless, one thing stands out to me, besides the size and athleticism of the OL, they lack valuable time together. Texas gets the first crack and fans can definitely expect Charlie to have something special planned.
Plan of Attack – Despite their talent, the Notre Dame OL lacks a lot of starts together. The pot of gold at the end of their OL rainbow is left tackle, Mike ‘McGoo’ McGlinchey. He’ll hold his own, but I can’t say the same for the rest of the OL. I’d like to see Strong and Bedford isolate McGlinchey, always cover him, and vary who attacks him. Given who we know is capable of attacking the edge, that job is left to players Bryce Cottrell, Charles Omenihu, Naashon Hughes, Malik Jefferson, Edwin Freeman (4-3), and PJ Locke (nickel). By keeping him occupied, however easy it may be for him, it allows the remainder of the Notre Dame OL to be relentlessly attacked, on both run and pass plays. Behind that, Texas will play their typical mixture of single-high safety man, zone, and combo coverages with one added layer. I want to see this Texas defense bring more pressure, specifically 3-deep 2-under zone pressure. It plays like zone outside, man inside, and brings 6 rushers with it, including Predator, GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!
Offensive Line – I already discussed this, but it is the biggest challenge of the contest. Texas needs to bring pressure against both the run and the pass. In Notre Dame’s case and considering the talent and depth of the interior tackle positions (Chris Nelson, Poona Ford, Paul Boyette, & Freshmen), I suggest Texas spill all runs. Notre Dame loves to run zone, stretch, power, and what I’d term power sweep. The front should be focused on making the Irish run sideline to sideline.
Quarterback – I think Kizer starts and Zaire serves in a single-wing package. One thing that will be vastly different at this point in the season, as opposed to last year, the coverages will be tighter and more variable. Last season, the linebackers weren’t even pattern-matching at this point and the corners were entirely different. Not this year! Bring pressure and bring it often and when needed, feint pressure to provoke poor decisions. If Texas can stump Baker Mayfield, it surely can stump Kizer and Zaire. No, Sooners, that is not a compliment!
Receivers – This is an enigmatic unit. I don’t like it. They have one big man and the others are small. There is seemingly no game-changer among the group. The only way this group makes hay is with unusual accuracy from the quarterback position or if the Notre Dame OL is dominating and the Texas defense succumbs to play-action. Let’s hope neither occurs. The Texas secondary is a strength and I don’t anticipate ‘DBU’ having any significant issues on the back end, especially considering the linebackers know what they’re doing now.
Summary – Pour on the pressure in a measured way. I think Texas can press inside while playing some deep zone and off-man outside. Again, none of the receivers scare me. This likely allows Charlie and Vance to get creative with their 8-man fronts and their zone pressures. The main concerning issue is at the interior tackle positions, but it’s my opinion, if Texas seeks to plug interior gaps and spill runs, it may mitigate any potential issues there. Lastly, it’s the defense that stands to improve the most this season. Look for them to come out with their hair (dreads for some) on fire and bring the hits.
Prediction – It’s early in the season. Texas gets first crack at Notre Dame with a fairly large element of surprise. Fans have seen many on this roster rise up and turn in great performances. This is one of those times. It’s time that sour taste in the team’s mouth turns sweet. Texas somehow overcomes the odds in DKR this Sunday and wins.
Gabe – Texas 38 Notre Dame 34
Andrew- Notre Dame 35 Texas 21
I think Texas shows improvement on both sides if the ball. But I feel like the lack of practice time together with injuries hurts the OL and holds back D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren from really breaking out. Also the DL wears down late in the game for Texas and Notre Dame breaks off some big runs late to pull away.
Super K – Naw, I don’t do predictions… y’all go ahead 🙂