Longhorn blogger Wescott Eberts and HawkeyedFrog get into the holiday season by exchanging questions for answers.
I'm jetlagged like you wouldn't believe after a 40 hour November 20th, but still it's game week and that means no sleep for the Hawkster until work is done. Fortunately this time work was in the form of asking one of the superstars of Burnt Orange Nation, one of the biggest college sports blogs on the net, some questions about the Thanksgiving day matchup between the Frogs and Longhorns. I forgot to ask him what he would think of playing for a trophy shaped like a horned frog with giant bevo horns called the LongHorned Frog, but the questions I did ask received one heck of an answering.
HawkeyedFrog: Record wise Texas is right about where I thought they'd be coming into the TCU game at 8-2, but there seems to be a growing discontent among Longhorn fans with the team that Mack is putting on the field. Is it just frustration with being beaten by OU again, or are there deeper issues that the Horns have with Mack this season?
Wescott: To put it succinctly, I think that the deeper issue is losing to Oklahoma yet again. Other than that, the only real complaint is a missed opportunity to beat a West Virginia team at home that hasn't been as good as everyone thought they were at that time.
So a lot of Texas fans find themselves in an odd spot right now -- they saw the Oklahoma game as a breaking point with Brown because the fourth blowout in his tenure seems to have been one too many for a lot of fans, including myself. Scipio Tex said in his recap that The Rationals had abandoned Brown at that point because of his consistent inability to get his team ready to play Oklahoma, which has always been ready to play Texas under Bob Stoops.
But now the team has righted the ship, aided by the furious comeback against Kansas and two solid games that have shown some demonstrable improvements on both sides of the ball, so it's a bit hard to know how to feel about things other than relief that the terrible month of October has given way to November and better performances.
Is the fact that Brown will certainly be back next season a grim reality? The history against Oklahoma suggests so, but in terms of this season, Texas has now put themselves in a position to win the conference and go to a BCS game with two wins and a little bit of help. As terrible as another blowout loss to the Sooners was, it's hard to still feel terrible about where things are right now.
HawkeyedFrog: Manny Diaz went from blitzing mad genius DC and hot SEC head coach candidate for Arkansas to having pieces written about him whether or not he should keep his job this season. Texas' defense seems on the upswing after putting together good performances against Tech and Iowa State though, so what issues have faced the Texas D this season and are they fixed?
Wescott: The three main issues were missed tackles, the youth of the linebackers, and Diaz playing games along the defensive line.
Throughout much of the season, the Texas defense gave up big plays because of it missed tackles. The Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma games provided ample evidence of that. Many attribute it to a lack of physicality in practice, but it was odd in that players who had previous tackled well were having some serious issues.
Those problems have mostly gone away in recent weeks as Texas has gone back to the basics in practice.
When Jordan Hicks went down in the Ole Miss, the Longhorns were left without their only experienced linebacker. Demarco Cobbs was expected to be a rangy type along the lines of Shaun Lewis, but has been an absolute disappointment and has mostly been benched. Steve Edmond and Kendall Thompson hadn't played much as freshman and acted like they had never played the position before for a few weeks.
But Edmond and Thompson have both improved, especially at avoiding blocks and keeping themselves alive in a play instead of running themselves out of it. Additionally, freshman Peter Jinkens is starting to emerge and Diaz has found a role for Tevin Jackson as a blitzer, while benching the ineffective Cobbs.
Overall, the group is playing at a much higher level than it was several weeks ago.
In games against Baylor and Kansas, many of the issues for the run defense were a result of Diaz twisting his defensive line on nearly every play, which resulted in players losing their gap integrity and opponents finding creases as a result. Diaz has mostly abandoned that strategy, but is still blitzing a great deal and stunting his linebackers, strategies that haven't yet resulted in the same problems.
Are all those issues fixed? Well, the bottom line is that the longest play the group has given up in the last two games went for 25 yards, so the issues with giving up those long, backbreaking touchdowns has been solved for the moment. Throw in some strong redzone defense against Texas Tech and there has been serious improvement in the two areas that really matter in the Big 12 defensively.
Maybe not fixed, but at least mitigated to the extent that Texas hasn't been giving up the high point totals they were earlier in the season.
HawkeyedFrog: TCU's unique defense is coming off their most impressive showing of the season in holding Klein and the KSU offense under 300 yards, what will Brian Harsin and the Texas offense have in store for the Frogs on Thanksgiving day?
Wescott: There's always the chance that Harsin could dial up a trick play (Ed.: Don't remind us. Frickin' Broncos) -- which he likes to call funk plays -- but the basis of the Texas offense is running the football to set up play-action opportunities on early downs. In the last two games, the Longhorns have had two one-play touchdown drives that featured play-action passes to Mike Davis, aided by the running game forcing opponents to commit safeties early in run support, which has resulted in one-on-one opportunities for Davis.
With the effectiveness of the base Texas run game, the perimeter game on jet sweeps, and the play-action passing game, the Longhorns are starting to pick apart whatever defenses are allowing, because loading up against the run and getting Texas behind the chains is much more difficult now that they are one of the best teams in the country in avoiding negative plays, sitting at second nationally.
The offensive line still isn't physically dominant, but Harsin is starting to mold his offense into a balanced unit that isn't as potent as a lot of the spread attacks around the country, yet still has the ability to register explosive drives because of the emerging downfield passing attack.
Texas will want to take some shots early to create big plays, especially on first down. TCU's ability to take away those shot plays will play a major factor in which team wins the game.
HawkeyedFrog: So, TCU/Texas on Thanksgiving... That's weird. What do you guys think of the new Big 12 alignment, and are you still happy to be rid of the aggies, or is the nostalgia starting to creep back in?
Wescott: For me personally, not having to deal with playing the Aggies every year has made it much easier to deal with them. Hard to feel nostalgic about having to deal with that fanbase.
As for the new alignment, it was big to be able to add a program the caliber of TCU to the conference to replace another Texas school and West Virginia has been a bit of an upgrade from Missouri this season, even with the struggles. Moving forward, both programs continue to trend positively overall, so I agree with assessments that the league has never been stronger, because it appears to be as good from top to bottom as any in the country.
HawkeyeydFrog: It's coaching speculation time- right now what's your gut feeling for how long Mack Brown will actually be coaching at Texas?
Wescott: I think it all depends on what happens in 2013. The thought heading into the season was that the Longhorns would be peaking in the quest for a national championship with an experienced team. Losing to Oklahoma derailed that narrative a bit, but it's started to get back on track.
If Texas does somehow pull out a national championship, it would be the perfect time for Brown to walk away. Anything less than would probably cause Brown to take serious stock of the situation and ask himself how close Texas is at that point.
My guess right now is two or three more years for Mack, but it happens on his terms unless things absolutely crater again.
HawkeyedFrog: Finally we're onto the prediction portion. TCU's first matchup with Texas since 2007 (which was a tale of two halves if there ever was one) and first conference game with Texas since '95. Who wins, what's the score and what's Texas' end of season record?
Wescott: This is a game where the hyper-aggressive style of Manny Diaz could help create the negative plays that can put Trevone Boykin in some tough situations. The TCU offense has had some struggles recently and I think the improved play from the Texas defense can keep the score low on the Horned Frog side and the Texas offense does enough to get the win. Call it 24-17 Texas and then the first win over Kansas State since 2003
HawkeyedFrog: We're agreed on the score, but not on who ends up with the 24. Either way, this should be a fun game where we see if great defense and bad offense can triumph over good offense and not great defense. Thanks to Wescott for answering my questions, and be sure to check Burnt Orange Nation for my answers to his questions later in the day.