It’s finally here, the 2017 Tom Herman Texas Football season! The Longhorns will host a snappy Maryland Terrapins team looking to get an early BIG road win. While, the Terrapins aren’t favored nor expected to do great things this season, they remain a legitimate threat to a Texas program looking to rise from 3 lackluster seasons. What’s new? For starters, the Longhorns ‘2-deep’ doesn’t look much different from last season. You and I discussed the depth chart on Tuesday and concluded the few changes are mostly exciting, minus tight end. Maryland’s depth chart remains very similar to their 2016 bowl team, though it’s arguable whether that’s a good thing or not. They will bring a more mature depth chart to Austin and lucky for Tom Herman’s Texas program, the most talented young men are no longer sophomores and freshman, but juniors and sophomores. Part of my pet theorizing last season centered around the relative ages of football rosters, in particular, the relative ages of the biggest contributors on depth charts. Texas happened to be the youngest team in the Big 12 last season and faced no other team as young as themselves. Now, the tables will turn some, as nearly the entire depth chart can boast at least 2 off-seasons of growing older and strength training, let alone skills training. So, without further ado, let’s take a look and discuss what Texas is up against in their home opener.
Tale of The Tape (per footballoutsiders.com, 2016 numbers)
Overall S&P: 86
Rush S&P: 13
Pass S&P: 101
Standard Down S&P: 49
Passing Down S&P: 66
As you can see, these statistics are not impressive. What you do notice is that Maryland runs the ball well and that’s about it. Not only that, but the quarterback that helped keep them from the bottom of pass statistics is gone and the new one, Sophomore “Piggy” Pigrome didn’t appear adept at throwing the pill last season. It looks like the Texas defense will see a heavy dose of running the football this Saturday, more on that.
Overall S&P: 79
Rush S&P: 127
Pass S&P: 80
Standard Down S&P: 123
Passing Down S&P: 104
Wow, Maryland’s defense had a rough season by bowl’s end. The unit’s terrible performance against the run and on standard downs stands out. It doesn’t take a genius to see this may bode well for Texas. Then again, a defense in its second year under Durkin and Buh may gel better and lift its performance from last year. How much they’ll improve is a good question. Nevertheless, if their prior year’s performance duplicates, Texas will eat and eat big.
Overall S&P: 30
Rush S&P: 59
Pass S&P: 67
Standard Down S&P: 39
Passing Down S&P: 121
Last year’s Texas offense was a positive departure from the previous year’s (was it?). An aside, had Charlie kept Norvell and input Buechele in the same offense, my suspicion tells me the unit would’ve performed just as well. I digress, the statistic I have a HUGE problem with is obviously the Passing Down performance, yikes! That I expect to improve significantly in 2017 and Maryland along with San Jose State provide great training experiences to help that area along. As far as running the ball, we’ll have an idea how effective this offense will be, as losing D’Onta Foreman hurts some.
Overall S&P: 60
Rush S&P: 41
Pass S&P: 38
Standard Down S&P: 32
Passing Down S&P: 46
After facing and being torched by the likes of DeShon Kizer, Davis Webb, Mason Rudolph, and Baker Mayfield, the defense trended upward. It’s hard not to after facing the aforementioned quarterbacks and their respective offenses. This season, the first half of the season presents only Darnold and Mayfield. Add to that, another season together bodes well for the many talented Texas defenders. They’re muse, Todd Orlando, a coordinator I’m very excited about. This is the luckiest man on the team. He gets to unleash A LOT of talented and more mature players. Something interesting about Big 12 defense, all of Kansas State, TCU, OU, Baylor, Texas, and Oklahoma State’s defenses clustered together in the 2016 statistics. This tells me that there was not a stellar defense in the league, the league may be harder than average to defend, and for some teams, it may take time for talent to raise its nadir. Time will tell, but I expect Texas to have a great defense in 2017.
Home Opener Hot Takes
– Sugar Shane: it starts and ends with the sophomore quarterback. Look for Shane to execute core concepts, you know the ones, quarterback read game, RPO game (screen and quick), 3-Level pass game, and Verticals (Inside-9’s). I’ll be looking closely at Shane’s meshes with the running backs. This tends to improve with time. This is important because it influences not only the read (defender), but the linebackers and safeties as well. If Shane’s read-run game improves, it’ll help the offense ‘steal’ more yards with simple concepts. Also, the Herman offense will have more stretch-pass concepts, look for Shane to also improve here, progressing through coverage to complete passes in all three zones, deep, intermediate, and short. You saw the Passing Down statistic, awful. This falls on Shane progressing quickly and receivers executing their routes effectively.
– Run & Screen: you already know Texas can run the ball, but an area I’ve constantly highlighted for improvement has been perimeter blocking. Expect a very visible difference in the blocking outside. This may be the biggest reason there were some surprises on the depth chart. Not only do you need to learn the new routes, but you must also block like your life depends on it. Given the weakness of the Maryland defense, expect Herman to RUN THE DAMN BALL!
– Garrett Gray, TE: this was the spot most were concerned about on the depth chart, for good reason. With Beck out and the transfer apparently not ready, Gray will have to prove he’s not a ‘year away’. Where I see Tom helping dude out is flexing him to #3 (outside in) in trips sets more often. This will also help attack the Terrapin 4-2-5 defensive structure, as it often helps occupy a safety or linebacker outside the box to the trips side. Of course Tom will surely test his blocking in and off-line in ’11’ and ’20’ personnel. Can Gray handle it? I don’t know, but if he performs at a decent level, the added confidence only helps the team. Lastly, Brewer may also see time and he’s another we’ll have to keep an eye on.
– O-Line: These guys should have a field day. Nevertheless, I’m curious how they look this early in the season. Some of the best O-lines have trouble early before they end up dominant. I’m sure everyone is anxious to see Nickelson and Okafor at right tackle. The hope is one sticks there by season’s end. I’m looking forward to see each member execute base blocks, ‘combo’ blocks, and pulling to murder defenders. Let’s see some snot fly around, get some!
– The Backs: If all 3 are healthy, all 3 should have big days. I’m excited for Kyle Porter, as his ability to take the edge or cut up field on perimeter runs will come in handy. He does have to show he can run Inside Zone, Power, and pass-protect well to stay on the field. The latter will be a major thing to keep an eye on from both Porter and Kirk Johnson, another back I can’t wait to see, the burst! Of course, Chris Warren will play and defenders will try to tackle him.
– Overall: attacking Durkin and Buh’s 4-2-5 will make for good drill-work in live fire. Now, don’t mistake confidence with bluster. This Maryland team could prove to give Texas fits. All things being equal, the talent on each side playing their best, it’s not a stretch to say that Texas holds a clear edge. How well they come together, how physical they are, and how well they execute the offense is what we’re all waiting to see. If Texas shows out, expect big runs and maybe a few beautiful Sugar Shane dimes downfield, hang at least 40 on the Maryland defense, why not? For good measure, I’d also like to see them utilize Heard at quarterback. Why not put some ‘Heard-Wing’ on film over the next two weeks for our pals in Southern Cal?
– Elliott & Jones: perhaps the players I’m most looking forward to making a difference this season. It’s these two players that can turn an already positive trending defense into a monster. With their athleticism and especially Elliott’s physicality, these two could become turnover machines. In particular and perhaps most important, look to see how they are fitting their run defense. Against a team with 3 good backfield players at times, it’ll be very important to fill fast and hard, put players down early while they’re boxed in. If these two are cleaning up, they’ll then have a chance to smash receivers and pick off a not so great throwing quarterback, “Picky Piggy”, ha!
– Linebackers: this will also be interesting. Think of the rotation of Wheeler-Jefferson and Hager-Johnson, always fresh, always ‘hangry’. That’s quite a bit of aggression, power, and speed on the field at all times, never tiring. I’ll be looking for how quickly they recognize keys and shoot gaps to make tackles. Also, with another year under their belts, the Texas 2nd level should show improvement in coverage, whether it’s the hook-curl zones or the ‘low hole’, these guys need to be fumble and tip drill creators and pick a few off themselves.
– Roach: the funnest part will be seeing tackles deal with Malcolm. The young man is quick, powerful, and the coach’s son will even finesse you with technique. This slippery cat chases ‘that bag’ hard every down. I want to say now, good luck to all the poor pass protectors on the schedule, as they may get their quarterbacks killed this season, so much fun and to think, Charles Omenihu backs up Roach. That’s another situation that presents an always fresh pass rusher to block ALL GAME.
– DBU: it’s about time this position group truly lives up to its name. Another year, they’ve now seen enough to eliminate surprises. The combination of Hill, Locke, and Boyd should prove dangerous to throw against. More importantly, both Locke and Boyd have become two of the most physical defensive backs Texas has ever seen at nickel and corner and you better believe Orlando expects these two to come up and hit somebody.
– Overall: From the first level to the 3rd level, Texas is talented. Putting it all together from day 1 is the hard part. It’ll be important for Poona Ford, Gerald Wilbon, Chris Nelson, and Ta’Quon Graham (or Chisholm) to maintain their lanes and avoid being displaced against Maryland’s formidable run game. What Orlando does is a good question. All I can do is guess. It’s my opinion that Orlando’s system is simpler than it looks. The base seems to be quarters rules to the field and ‘Trap’ to the boundary. You saw that in my recent Orlando post. From there he’ll mix in blitzes from both man and zone looks. Where he really seems to stymie offensive coordinators, when you think the blitz is coming he drops 7. This will likely be troublesome for Maryland, as their passing game may place limits on how they attack the Texas defense. For the most part, Orlando will likely be content playing base and using some early down blitzes to create negative plays. He does that and things become dire for the Maryland offense. Let me know what you think in the comments section.