CCM: Let's start with the good. The Longhorn defense has shown gradual improvement over the first half of the season, highlighted by an impressive performance against Baylor on Saturday. Give us the strength and weaknesses of the Texas defense.
HS: The strength is the defensive line. Even without Tank Johnson (lost for the season due to an injury), the defensive front is the straw that stirs the drink. Malcom Brown is an All Big 12 caliber DT that has constantly disrupted offensive backfields and Cedric Reed leads a group of athletic ends that get after quarterbacks. The Texas 'backers and DB's have been productive in their own right, but a lot of that is because of the stellar play up front.
At this point, the weakness of the defense is the Texas offense and special teams. The defense is being challenged throughout the game by an offense that isn't scoring points and a special teams unit that doesn't make plays. The issue is obvious when you compare defensive statistics for the first half and second half - the defense has only allowed 9 first half points through 5 games, compared to 80 in the second half. Yards allowed and yards/play tell a similar story.
CCM: Moving on to the bad. Are the special teams' miscues a result of coaching, personnel, or a combination of both?
HS: The Texas special teams units have been a serious drain on the team throughout the first five games. Returns (kicking and punting) and field goal kicking have been particularly bad, while punting and kickoff coverage have generally been good.
The return game can't be blamed solely on coaching - I'd say an equal part to that is execution. In terms of field goal kicking, Nick Rose has not shown to be a gamer. The guy has a strong leg and reportedly kicks really well in practice, but Rose is 3/7 in games and has even missed an extra point.
My biggest criticism of the special teams coaching is that the staff started the season knowing that they need special teams to help the offense by scoring points and giving them a short field. To date, both areas are a weakness.
CCM: Here's the ugly. The Texas offense is ranked 97th nationally in rushing, 104th in passing, and 117th in scoring. How much of this is attributed to the loss of quarterback David Ash and the suspensions? Is there any hope for the offense to turn it around the second half of the season?
HS: The changes up and down the offensive line are really hampering the offense's abilities. Before the season started, senior center Dominic Espinosa was viewed as the 2nd most important player to the team's success (behind David Ash). Espinosa went down in the team's first game. When the suspensions and dismissals started, the OL had already lost their upperclassman leader.
The result can only be described as a 'work in progress'. The unit has shown game-to-game improvement, but additional personnel changes have continued to limit progress...the talent/personnel might be improved, but communication and cohesiveness reset to zero every time another change is made.
This week it looks like Jake Raulerson will be replaced at Center by Taylor Doyle and Raulerson will slide out to Guard. Doyle has a better chance at physically holding up against Phillips, but again, tinkering with personnel will result in a unit that hasn't played together in the contemplated alignment.
Between his inexperience and a patchwork offensive line, Tyrone Swoopes was dealt a losing hand. Swoopes exceeded expectations in his first two starts and has struggled in his last two games. I'm not nearly ready to dismiss Swoopes as a long-term answer - my fear is that he is caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy...he feels pressure to win, so he tries harder instead of relaxing and playing football; the more he presses, the more the offense struggles. As offensive struggles build up, he feels more pressure to win.
That isn't as sexy as saying he lacks the "it" factor, but when you're 19-years old, the mental game is very significant.
CCM: How is the Texas fanbase taking the 2-3 start? Are they being patient or critical?
HS: The fanbase is divided. There is a large silent majority that is willing to give Charlie Strong time to build a championship program. On the other side of the fence, there are fans that have lost faith in the offense. After the dismal showing against Baylor, the criticism of the Texas offense changed from (OC) Shawn Watson's playcalling ineptitude to Charlie Strong's insistence on hiring Watson over other well known OC's.
With every loss, a few more burnt orange believers lose faith and cross the fence. If Texas loses to Oklahoma and fails to score many points in doing so, the Watson bandwagon will have plenty of open seats.
CCM: TCU laid out the blueprint to beating the Sooners last week (spread out the Sooner defense and then stop Oklahoma's rushing attack). Does Texas have what they need to follow that blueprint or will they need to come up with a different plan?
HS: Defensively, Texas has the talent to limit the Sooner rushing attack and confuse Trevor Knight. Again, the question is whether or not the Texas defense gets support from the offense and special teams. If not, Samaje Perine will enjoy the second half.
To replicate TCU's performance isn't a realistic goal for the Texas offense. Instead of spreading out the OU defense formationally, expect Texas to rush toward the boundary at the snap of the ball. One of the primary weapons to accomplish stretching the Sooners out wide, Daje Johnson, is nursing a hamstring injury. True freshman Armanti Foreman is one to watch if Johnson is limited.
Rather than throwing quickly to a wide receiver, Texas will roll Tyrone Swoopes out of the pocket in an effort to keep OU honest defensively. Swoopes has a very strong arm and throws well on the run (when he keeps his eyes downfield). Texas won't throw many wide receiver screens to get the ball on the edge, so keep an eye on pre-snap motions and formation changes.
Ultimately, the Longhorn offense will go as far as the OL takes them. Look no further than the Oregon Ducks to see how much of an impact changes along the line make. If the line keeps Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray clean until the reach the line of scrimmage, then Texas really sets up well for what they want to accomplish.