Tag Archives: Sam Darnold

2017 Report Card For The Texas Longhorns

2017 brought a lot of hype to the Texas football program, but that’s really nothing new. Expectations were high with Tom Herman coming in and taking over the program, and to most people, those expectations didn’t come close to being met.

There were plenty of positives throughout the season, but we’ve seen this story before. Herman’s job this offseason is to build on those positives and eliminate the negatives. Previous regimes haven’t been able to do so successfully, and the result has been a below average team for the last several years.

Here are my thoughts on how each position unit graded out for the Longhorns in 2017.

Offense: C-

I believe Texas found it’s quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. Shane Buechele is a good quarterback, but he just can’t stay healthy enough to be relied upon. With that being said, Ehlinger is essentially the sole reason for three out of the six losses Texas had. He fumbled the ball in double overtime against USC, threw a dumb interception in overtime against Oklahoma State and made a terrible mistake by throwing the ball on a third down late in the game against Texas Tech that resulted in an interception.

Eliminate those three plays and Texas finishes the season at 10-3 instead of 7-6. That’s a brash statement, but it’s just an indication of how close the Longhorns were to meeting expectations. It was clear to me that the coaching staff sent a message to Ehlinger during bowl practices that he has to be smarter on the field. He tries to do too much at times and it hurts his team. I saw a smarter quarterback in the Texas Bowl against Missouri, so there is some promise that he could build on his maturity over the offseason.

Defense: A

There’s no question this Longhorns team wouldn’t have won seven games if it weren’t for Todd Orlando’s defense. In fact, this is probably a three- or four-win team if the defense hadn’t played stellar all season. The Texas defense faced a top-tier quarterback week in and week out, and pretty much contained them as much as possible.

Consider this list of names Texas faced: Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Drew Lock. Three of those quarterbacks will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, and the fourth likely will be next year. The common theme is Orlando’s defense held those quarterbacks in check and did not allow them to take over the game, as they do against other opponents.

It appears Herman and the UT administration is working on a contract extension and a raise for Orlando, which could be the best thing they do all offseason.

Special Teams: B-

The only reason I’ve given this high of a grade for this unit is because of punter Michael Dickson. There’s a reason why he’s a Ray Guy award winner for the best punter in the nation. He was the best offense in many games for Texas, with his ability to flip field position and put the defense in a better position to succeed. The Longhorns are going to miss his leg next year as he heads off to the NFL.

Special Teams would have received an “A” grade if it weren’t for the field goal kicking woes. Herman was forced to either go for it on 4th down or punt numerous times instead of attempting a long field goal. In some cases, he passed up field goal attempts of under 30 yards because he couldn’t trust his kicker. Look at every good Texas team in the last 15 years and you’ll recognize the name of the kicker. It’s a critical part of the success of any program, and the Longhorns didn’t have it this year. Hopefully, Herman will solve the kicking woes in recruiting this offseason, because it was clearly an issue in 2017.

Recap

2017 was mostly a year to forget but could be a turning point for the program as well. Stability within the UT athletic department could be a sign of good things coming for Texas, and bringing back a pretty decent amount of experience will help. Herman now knows how fragile of a group he was working with all year, especially from a mental standpoint, so now he has to go to work to address those issues. Otherwise, we will be talking about a similar story at this point next year.

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo: Flickr

Are There Any Good Football Teams in 2017?

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Alabama.

Ok, maybe I made up that third one but since Nick Saban took over you can basically pencil the Crimson Tide into one of the top couple spots in the polls. Saban already has his team locked into the number one spot in the polls and everyone else is right on their heels… right?

The entire offseason has been filled with stories about how great other teams were going to be. That Texas was back (they aren’t) and that Josh Allen is the next big thing at quarterback (not so far).

So I guess that leaves us with the question… who’s actually any good? Three weeks in and I’m really not sure who’s any good. I know who I’m being told is good or going to be good but so far, the game has told another story.

Let’s start at the top of the polls.

You’ve got Alabama who took apart Florida State in week one. It’s hard to read into what they did against Fresno State and Colorado State too much but this is the one team in the polls that I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to. Why only Alabama? Well, because more than anyone, the Tide have a recent track record of excellence. Not a good few years in a row or a couple good years in the last decade, basically a decade of domination. There’s a reason you always see “We Want Bama” signs. 

Clemson is the only other team you can maybe convince me right now is any good after beating Louisville but dial it back a week and the Tigers only managed two touchdowns against Auburn. Auburn doesn’t seem to be very good (Sorry Bird) after only scoring 24 points against Mercer and turning the ball over five times. Louisville is a good win but the rest of the resume is lacking.

Then we’ve got the Sooners. How much can we read into the win over Ohio State? Everyone but Urban Meyer is calling for a quarterback change due to an anemic offense but Ohio State does have a good defense. We’re not going to find out if Oklahoma is any good until week nine when they play in-state rival Oklahoma State who is currently ranked sixth. The Cowboys have the offense but haven’t faced a dominant defense. That showdown is going to tell us a lot about both teams.

I know that I’m supposed to be the Big Ten guy but of the four Big Ten teams in the top ten, three of them are frauds. Both Michigan and Ohio State are downright anemic on offense. Wisconsin is only this high because of favorable preseason ranking and a weak schedule. Sure, the Badgers beat BYU but BYU is bad so all they’ve got is a name now. They’ve got a favorable schedule in their favor and at some point, Michigan’s defense isn’t going to be able to bail out the offense.

Penn State is the only legitimate Big Ten school in the polls. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley are absolute studs and the Nittany Lions return almost everyone from their Big Ten Championship season. I’m betting on Penn State until proven otherwise.

I actually forgot Washington was in the top ten. I’m not even kidding, I didn’t realize it because they’ve done absolutely nothing of note. Washington is that team that’s ranked highly because of achievements in the previous season. What happened when Washington played a good team last season? Alabama did what they do to everyone.

Then we’ve got what could turn out to be the most over-hyped team in the preseason in USC. All I heard was that USC was “back” and that quarterback Sam Darnold had already won the Heisman and put his team in the playoffs. Instead, they struggled with Western Michigan in their season opener and then had to use double overtime to beat what is not a good Texas team. Darnold doesn’t look like he’s holding up to the expectations either as he’s thrown seven touchdowns to six interceptions. I don’t care that the Trojans beat Stanford, right now this is not a good football team.

Who else is even left?

Georgia? The Bulldogs will start hot until their running back has a catastrophic knee injury like always.

Florida? They had a great hail mary win last week but we all know they’re bad.

Miami? Maybe, but that team has only played one game. There’s no way to tell.

Virginia Tech? I like what Justin Fuente did last season and so far but the Hokies only have a win over West Virginia. Going to need to see more than that.

Mississippi State? Don’t make me laugh. Dan Mullins’ team beat an LSU team with one good player in Derrius Guice.

Where’s this leave us then? Is anyone actually any good? Well at the moment, no.

But they will be. There’s a lot of good coaches out there in Harbaugh, Meyer, and Jimbo Fisher. At some point, one of these teams is going to start showing us that they belong up at the top with Alabama and probably Clemson. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll get a hilarious year like 2007 where teams like Missouri, Kansas, and Hawaii were routinely seen near the top of the polls.

I don’t think we will but it’s something that college football could use. We’re so entrenched in the idea that there are basically only 25 or so programs that are actually any good according to the polls. Washington broke the mold last season but we need more of that. There’s more than these 25 to 30 out of over 100 programs that are good at football but because they don’t have the right name, they never even get considered.

But let’s be honest: 2017 is Nick Saban and Alabama’s season. We’re all just waiting for them to be crowned at this point unless something unexpected happens.

Image courtesy Flickr

E-mail Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

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Pac-12 Links: Arizona, California, and USC Quarterback Issues

The USC Trojans typically get a ton of love from writers, whether it’s actually deserved or not. The Arizona Wildcats get dismissed quickly until they prove they deserve different. And, the California Golden Bears are not even in the discussion unless they have a number one draft pick at quarterback. What do all three of these teams have to do to get into and to stay in the discussion for a bowl or conference title for 2016? Let’s take a look.

Arizona

This program won the Pac-12 South division in 2014, but took a dive last season. A big part of that dive last year was due to injuries to key players like Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright.

Arizona is one of those football programs that takes a backseat to their basketball program. They have won in the past, but not to the level that would create a buzz every time a new season is on the horizon. How do they get back to what they were in 2014?

Somehow, someway, the Wildcats coaching staff has to come up with a way to keep Anu Solomon off of his back. Do they venture away from the read-option and try develop Solomon as a better pocket passer? I would.

I know the read-option is the fashionable kind of offense, and there are aspects of it that I like, but if you want to have a solid quarterback, you have to develop his pocket presence. I’m not convinced he knows how to break down a defense at the line of scrimmage yet and he’s going to be a true junior this season. This will be something I’ll be watching this year.

A player to watch in case Anu Solomon gets injured: Brandon Dawkins.

Dawkins is a big -framed player who has a big arm which means he can throw the deep ball. The deep ball is something that Solomon can’t do, so if he struggles, look for Dawkins to come in and lead the offense.

California

In the post-Jared Goff era, questions abound in Berkley. Who is going to lead the offense? One of the possibilities is Davis Webb, the Texas Tech transfer. Webb originally transferred from Colorado, but when head coach Sonny Dykes came calling, Webb changed his mind and enrolled at California.

With Webb on the roster what does this mean? Does Webb automatically take over the offense and become the starter? Possibly, but nothing is guaranteed in college football. Does it mean that Sonny Dykes already has a starter in mind and will have Webb as their capable backup? Again, possibly.

My thought is that Dykes will go with the proven commodity in Webb. Having played in the wide-open offense of Texas Tech, the transition to Sonny Dykes open offense should not be much of problem. Anytime you switch schools and have to learn a new offense, growing pains will occur.

Part of me says that this is Sonny Dykes trying to figure out who is going to give him the best chance of winning games in 2016. Webb may be that guy and if he doesn’t take advantage of Webb’s game experience then he may not have the chance to figure it out next season.

USC

In the City of Angels, the question about who will play quarterback is at the top of everybody’s list.

Clay Helton may not have a bigger question in his first full year as the head coach of USC. What are his choices?

Coach Helton has a choice between junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. Browne is the presumptive nominee to take over the quarterback position for the Trojans, but did not separate himself from the Darnold during spring ball.

Both quarterbacks have the “look” of what coaches want. Max Browne is 6’5”, 220lb, and supposedly has a great arm. Sam Darnold is 6’4”, 215lbs, with a good, accurate arm and has something that Browne doesn’t. Darnold has mobility to help extend plays and put additional pressure on defenses.

Who gets the starting Trojan quarterback job?

Max Browne will. I don’t think Clay Helton will put a redshirt freshman under center against Alabama. Helton doesn’t want to possibly ruin a young player’s confidence by having him destroyed by the Crimson Tide defensive line. Now, I am not saying that Max Browne won’t be spending a lot of time on his back, but he has a bit more maturity so the coaching staff may be counting on that to mean something in the early part of the year.

Final Thoughts

I have said over and over that this is a transitional year for the Pac-12 because of the turnover at the quarterback position. Out of the three schools discussed here, Arizona is the only school with a returning quarterback, but he has questions about his health. California and USC are looking for replacements for their NFL-bound former quarterbacks. What will happen is anybody’s guess, but if the coaching staffs are worth their salaries they will figure these questions out.

Image: Creative Commons

Pac-12 Links: Spring Practice and Games Are Done

Spring practice is finally over for most of the Pac-12 and that means the spring games (really scrimmages) are done with as well. These games give fan bases around the country and in the Pac-12 optimism with the future crop of school stars. Personally, I don’t get it with these games. To me it’s a glorified scrimmage and doesn’t really accomplish all that much. However, the spring games are played and here’s what the thoughts are around the Pac-12 Conference.

Arizona State

Down in the desert for the Sun Devils the spring game wasn’t a spring game. It was a practice on the soccer fields at ASU due to the fact that Sun Devil Stadium is under major construction. The quarterback competition is still up in the air. When Coach Graham walked off the field after their final practice and was asked about who the starter would be, his response was typical coach speak.

“It’ll be the guy in the single digit number.” Graham said.

All the quarterbacks, Manny Wilkins, Bryce Perkins, and Brady White wear single digits, so in other words, the battle for the starting quarterback position is still underway.

The other part of this quarterback battle is that this will be the first quarterback starting for ASU that Todd Graham has signed. The previous two, Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici were Dennis Erickson signees. In essence, this is a new chapter for the Sun Devil program at the quarterback position.

According to Todd Graham, the starter will not be announced until the week of the first game against Northern Arizona. In my opinion, let’s hope it gets announced before that, so the offense can start blending together.

Oregon State

In Corvallis, the spring game showed some positive signs in the passing game, especially with new transfer quarterback, Darrell Garretson. Garretson transferred from Utah State and showed what he was capable of when on the first play from scrimmage he threw a perfect 43-yard strike to Jordan Villamin. That raised eyebrows for the fans in attendance and the media who are really wondering what this season will bring for the Beavers. They struggled mightily last season and head coach Gary Andersen needs to show improvement to give the fan base something to latch onto.

The other parts of the passing game that looked good were wide receiver Jordan Villamin and tight end Noah Togiai. Villamin, who has speed and good hands, had four catches for 108 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Togiai had a similar good game with seven catches for 107.

A player that is impressing the coaches, according to people around the program, is freshman Trevon Bradford. Trevon caught a nine-yard touchdown pass during the spring game and showed why the coaches are liking him. Keep an eye on this young man moving forward into the 2016 season.

Darrell Garretson showed why Gary Andersen is high on him. He was 21-32 for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Consistency at the quarterback position is something the Beavers are going to need if they are to improve upon their dismal 2015 record.

USC

Welcome back to Trojan Nation Lynn Swann. That was the big news surrounding the program this past week and once again the twittersphere went nuts. Many people, including myself, criticized the move by USC because it was the school once again reaching back into its past to fill an important job with somebody that had no experience doing that job. It’ll be interesting to watch how Swann approaches this new role with USC.

As far as the spring game goes, the Trojans showed its fans there is reason for optimism with this version of the Trojans.

The quarterback position garndered the most attention because Cody Kessler is gone and they need someone to step up and lead the Trojan attack for next few seasons. It appears that the competition has come down to two guys, Max Browne and Sam Darnold. After the conclusion of the spring game it was still not apparent to  Clay Helton who he was going to name the starter.

One thing that is of note is that new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast wants to have an aggressive five-man front, but for the spring game that idea was put on ice due to injuries to the defensive line. A five-man front? It appears that Pendergast wants to bring a ton of pressure on the opposing offensive lines and with the talent that the Trojans have that will be something to watch for next season.

These spring games give coaches a chance to see what they have and how their players’ winter work has paid off. Other than that, it’s only April and to say that a team is going to do this or that is really tough to do. Injuries, unforeseen suspensions, or anything else could creep up and bite a team at any given moment. So at the end of the day, these spring games are what they are. A gloried scrimmage.

 

Image: CreativeCommons

Pac-12 Links: The Conference of Quarterback Battles

Once again it’s time to see what is happening in the Conference of Champions with its football teams. There are plenty of things happening with these Pac-12 teams with spring ball, quarterback issues, and not having satellite camps, which to me is just ridiculous. Who cares where these kids practice or where these recruits get to be seen. Anyway, let’s get into the Pac-12.

In Tucson, head coach Rich Rodriguez has to answer to questions about his ability to get his team back to winning the South division. He can get a little irritated when questioned about it, but he says it’ll turn around in 2016.

“We got more questions now than in our first year.” Said Rodriguez heading into spring practices.

He absolutely does. He has a returning quarterback in Anu Solomon, but is Solomon going to be healthy enough to endure the season?

At Arizona State, Todd Graham is looking for a new quarterback after Mike Bercovici graduated. He has to decide between three guys, but in reality to me it’s down to two. I believe the job is between Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins. What do I know though? Based on what I have seen at practice, those are the two that I would be looking at to lead the team in 2016. Coach Graham and new OC Chip Lindsey have a big decision because the Sun Devils can not have another season like last year or an up and down year from the quarterback position again.

What’s happening for California right now? Quarterback/safety Luke Rubenzer asked to be permanently placed at safety after seeing he was falling behind in the race to replace Jared Goff at quarterback. It was matter of seeing the writing on the wall for Rubenzer who came to Berkeley from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. According to head coach Sonny Dykes, Rubenzer is whatever he can to help the team in the long run, but it’s also a good move for Rubenzer because projected starting safety Damariay Drew will be undergoing knee surgery in about two weeks.

Colorado wants to break through in 2016 and has more talent than it’s had in recent years, but is it enough to spring ahead of teams like ASU, Arizona, or even Utah? I know they are trying to build something in Colorado, but can it be done in the Pac-12 South? With coach MacIntyre now having a full recruiting cycle in his fourth year, fans want some results and that includes just not being competitive. Everything in football starts up front and the inexperience on the O-line is something to be addressed by the staff. Time to work that out in spring ball.

Oregon is just happy to have all their quarterbacks on campus at this point. In the long run that will only benefit the high flying Duck offense. People may think there will be questions at the quarterback position, but they are not bringing in Dakota Prukop, a graduate transfer, to sit on the bench. What it calls into question for me is their ability to develop young quarterbacks. At some point they will have to develop some young quarterback, so there is a bit more stability over a longer period of time for the Duck offense.

Meanwhile down on The Farm at Stanford, things are getting a little testy with head coach David Shaw or I should say that people are getting a little testy with Shaw’s comments about the recent ban on satellite camps and his veiled reference to SEC academics or lack of academics. To me, coach Shaw is spot on with what he is saying. He’s not hiding that the facts back him up. Stanford graduates 90 percent of its football players, while the SEC doesn’t even come close to that. Vanderbilt graduates 70 percent of its players and that leads the SEC. While these SEC fans get all bent out of shape about this, Shaw just sits behind the data. Don’t back down coach Shaw, you are right.

At USC, there is an intense quarterback situation brewing and it may not be over for the Trojans. The competition has boiled down to two guys. Max Browne, who was thought by many to slide into the spot left by Cody Kessler, has been pushed by redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. As a result of this competition, head coach Clay Helton has yet to name a starter which leads many to believe that this quarterback job may be open through fall camp. This is an important decision for Helton because this may set the table for the next few years for the program and the sooner a starter is named, the sooner the offense can get in rhythm for the Alabama game at the beginning of next season.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Image: Google