Texas comes to town stinging from a near loss to Kansas a week ago to face a TCU team that has plenty of questions of their own. We chatted with Gerald Goodridge of Burnt Orange Nation to get the inside scoop on just what exactly is going on with the Horns.
Frogs O’ War: Texas allowed 48 points to Kansas and needed a late field goal to beat the Jayhawks at home last week -- was that injury related, a Red River Rivalry hangover, or something else?
Gerald Goodridge: I think it’s a mix of injuries and not knowing what to expect from Kansas. The Texas defense is banged up and even some of those that are playing have upper body issues that keep them from making successful tackles. KU also made a change in their offensive coordinator during the bye week, so it’s hard to scheme against a team that you don’t know what to expect. They made a concerted effort to establish Pooka Williams on the ground, which then opened up a lot in the play action and RPO game for them. That being said, Texas has just be flat bad defensively due to the injuries and tackling issues, with three 500-yard games already this season.
FOW: Sam Ehlinger continues to be both one of the conference’s most productive quarterbacks, and somehow, one of it’s most underrated. What have you seen from the junior gunslinger in 2019, and what’s his ceiling as both a QB and a pure passer?
GG: I honestly have no clue why Sam remains weirdly under the radar. I think some of it has to do with the context and contrast of some of his best games this season. He put up stupid numbers against LSU in a losing effort and was out-dueled by my Heisman pick Joe Burrow. He also had to put up monster numbers against KU, but the focus has been the absolute breakdown of the Texas defense in that game. I think because the narrative about him was so skewed toward his ability as a runner people are having trouble accepting that he is an incredibly accurate and poised passer and that when he has the ability to go through his progressions he can fit a ball into tight spots. He’s been blessed with one of the most talented receiving groups that I’ve seen in my 15 years of watching Texas football, but he’s still got to get them the ball.
FOW: Tom Herman is in year three as the Texas head coach, coming off of an appearance in the Big 12 Championship game and a Sugar Bowl victory -- after which, Ehlinger proudly declared “we’reeeeee backkkk”. What have you seen in Herman’s tenure so far, what’s this team’s ceiling this season, and how close is Texas to being “back”?
GG: This is such a tough question, because how do you define back? Since 2000, Texas has really only had a handful of really elite seasons and it took two of the greatest players in school history to accomplish that; the 2004 and 2005 seasons with Vince Young and the 2008 and 2009 seasons with Colt McCoy and only two of those four seasons were conference championships. I have no clue what their ceiling is this year and it really all depends on how quickly the contributors in the secondary heal up. Tom Herman has recruited really well, but has not really been able to put all three phases of the game together. In 2017 the defense was the star of the show, while the offense sputtered and they lost a ton of close games because they couldn’t score. The last two seasons, Sam Ehlinger has put the team on his back and this year is having an all-time season, which is sad because the defense has let him down in so many ways.
FOW: The Texas defense has been depleted by a rash of injuries that seems almost obscene in numbers (we can relate over here at TCU). How do you expect the Horns to adjust their play this weekend, if at all, to account for the missing pieces?
GG: In spots, Todd Orlando has gone from a 3-3-5 to a more traditional 3-4 scheme if a team has shown a tendency to be more ground-oriented as TCU has, so we may see an additional linebacker come into play. You will also probably see Brandon Jones, one of the better tacklers in a secondary that is absolutely awful at it, play more nickel to be in a better position to come up and support the run. Texas is really without an elite linebacker like they’ve had in the last two seasons, but a guy like Joseph Ossai is on the verge so expect to see him early and often run blitzing.
FOW: The offense has also had its share of injuries and replaced a lot of talent from last season as well. Who are some of the name’s TCU fans should be paying attention to and what kind of success do you think they can have against a TCU defense that has been inconsistent?
GG: Sam Ehlinger loves the slot, so expect to hear Devin Duvernay a ton on Saturday. He leads the country in receptions per game and in his two years as a key contributor he has one career drop, which came against Kansas on a ball that was put way out in front of him. He really didn’t have any business getting his hands on that ball, but he tried to make a play and because it hit his fingers it technically counts as a drop. Also expect to see a heavy dose of Collin Johnson, likely running drag routes and cutbacks to take advantage of his route running ability. On the ground, Texas doesn’t really have an RB1, so you can expect to see both converted QB Roschon Johnson and Keaontay Ingram in the backfield, but whenever the coaches figure out who is on that day, the other disappears from the stat sheet.
FOW: All that being said, why oh why did TCU start out as a favorite in this game? Does Vegas know something? Do you?
GG: Did you watch Texas play Kansas? Pooka Williams had a field day, which I think could bode well for the TCU ground game. Texas is playing just its second true road game of the season, coming off of an abysmal performance against Kansas. Add into that Gary Patterson’s absolute ownership of Texas since joining the conference and you have yourself a recipe for a win.
FOW: Chris Del Conte was a part of TCU Athletics for a good long while prior to leaving for Texas -- and helped broker the Frogs addition to the Big 12, of course. In year two of the CDC era, what do you see as his biggest impact and what is his next big step in Austin?
GG: The enhancements to the gameday experience have been nothing short of miraculous. For years, Texas has rightfully been the butt of a lot of jokes stemming from the terrible home field experience. Del Conte established a massive gameday experience, designed to make the entire day an event, driving fans to get there early and be excited. Comparing the gameday experience I had going to a game last year to 10 years ago when I was in school, it’s a night and day difference.
FOW: Lastly, pretty much everyone in the Big 12, especially the schools in Texas, think of UT as a rival. But, outside of Oklahoma, few programs have actually had success against the Horns in the last few years comparable to what TCU has done in winning four of the last five contests. Where do most fans rank the Frogs in the pantheon of conference rivals? Is there still a respect for Gary Patterson and TCU, or have the last two seasons dropped them down a peg or two?
GG: There’s this weird elitism in a lot of Texas fans, which is probably why a lot of people hate us and/or consider Texas to be their rival, but for me rivalries come down to teams that can beat you every year. I think a lot of Texas fans have a healthy reverence not only for what Gary Patterson has done against Texas, but for what he’s done for that program in the last two decades. I feel like if you’re a Texas fan and you don’t have a healthy level of fear playing against Gary Patterson and TCU, you haven’t been paying attention.
FOW: Give us your prediction for Saturday.
GG: I think this game goes one of two ways. One way is that the Texas defense comes out pissed about the talk this week and finds a way to clamp down, while Sam Ehlinger continues to do what he does and Texas wins big. I think the more likely outcome is a game where TCU takes advantage of the Texas defense, Ehlinger has to will Texas to win and Cameron Dicker bails Texas out again late for a three-point win.