Tag Archives: Sterlin Gilbert

Texas Isn’t Back…Yet

If you didn’t watch the Texas Longhorns beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Sunday night, you were one of the few, as the game attracted more viewers than any college football game on opening weekend ever.

When Tyrone Swoopes lunged forward to win the game in double overtime, viewers heard the commentator say “TEXAS. IS. BACK!”

Fans wearing burnt orange glasses liked what they saw and will agree wholeheartedly. The reality is there’s still a lot of football to be played before Texas can even be considered a contender for the College Football Playoff, or even the Big 12 Championship, for that matter.

This game against Notre Dame proved how bad the last few Longhorns teams have been. Last year, when Texas went down 7-0 against the Irish, the game was virtually over. They had no confidence in their offense to come back from any deficit, and it was evident by the body language on the field and the sideline.

Enter Shane Buechele. The true freshman showed he has ice water in his veins on the first drive, placing  a perfectly thrown football to Armanti Foreman in the corner of the end zone, where only his guy could catch it. It’s been about six years since Longhorns fans have seen anything like it.

Buechele wasn’t asked to do much in his first start, but offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert made it clear he isn’t going to be afraid to turn him loose. He completed two passes of 60+ yards on Sunday night, which matches the total from the entire 2015 season. That alone should give Texas fans hope for the year, but it doesn’t mean they’re back.

When Texas blew a 17-point lead, the game would have been over last year. When the extra point got blocked to turn a potential three-point lead into a tie game, the energy in the stadium and on the sidelines would have completely deflated. But not this time.

So who deserves the most credit? Gilbert, Buechele and running back D’onta Foreman all deserve game balls, in my opinion. But how about the play from Tyrone Swoopes?

You want to talk about a selfless kid that will swallow any amount of pride for the benefit of his team? Just look at the 18-wheeler himself. His performance was a thing of beauty as he punished any defender who got in his path. He wanted this game badly, and he picked his team up when it needed him the most.

Now, with everything good that happened on Sunday, let’s talk about why Texas isn’t back just yet.

Simply put, this program hasn’t played with a target on it’s back in a half decade. Teams haven’t been taking them seriously over the last couple years, which is why you see them upset teams like Baylor and Oklahoma last year.

I have no doubt that Notre Dame was ready for Texas, which is why the victory is even more impressive. The Longhorns have a tough schedule over the next month, though. We don’t know how good Buechele will be now that teams have some film on him.

Jerrod Heard was declared the next great Texas quarterback last September, but he was virtually ineffective at times when he faced a quality defense because they had film to study his tendencies. Now he’s part of a talented receiving group that Buechele has to work with. I have more confidence in Buechele because of his accuracy and overall demeanor, as well as Gilbert and the offensive coaching staff, but they all still have a challenging road ahead of them.

Big 12 defenses may not be the best in the country, but they know how to slow down the offense that Texas runs. Let’s not forget that this is a young Longhorns team, no matter how talented they may be. The attitude and overall confidence displayed against Notre Dame is different from what we’ve seen in at least the last six years from the team wearing burnt orange.

That gives me hope that Texas is on the right track, getting back to relevance but one victory doesn’t prove it. It’s easy to get up for a nationally televised game against a top-ten opponent, but what about the other 11 games?

Everyone will be talking about how great Texas is because of its huge upset over the Irish. How the players respond to those discussions will be telling when it comes to how good they can be. If they buy into the talk about how great they are, they will lose four or five games this year. But if they play with the same edge and attitude they had against Notre Dame for the rest of the season, then they could prove that they definitely are on the way back.

Don’t buy into the hype just yet, but there’s definitely something special brewing in Austin. Hopefully it wasn’t just the luck against the Irish.

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

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Are The Stars Aligning for Charlie Strong?

Charlie Strong hasn’t had a pleasant experience in his short time in Austin in terms of on-field results. It seems like for the most part everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.

I’m a firm believer in trends and momentum, and the Texas program hasn’t had either of those in its favor over the past several years. It takes a lot to break negative trends, and Strong has been doing his best on the recruiting trail.

Let’s rewind for a little bit to really look at more of the struggles he’s had.

When former Athletic Director Steve Patterson went to interview Strong in his home for the Longhorns football head coaching job, the rental car that he wanted to use had issues. Instead, he had to take a suspicious looking vehicle, which made his family question how serious Texas was to impress him. Not a big deal at the time, but it somewhat foreshadowed what was to come.

Then in his first season, he lost his starting quarterback and starting center in the first couple games. That began a downward spiral on the field, which caused a ton of negative momentum.

He could never get his offense on track and it lead to turmoil in the locker room as well as within the coaching offices. Patterson was fired (not necessarily a bad thing), and Strong’s future came into question.

Then something happened earlier this year.

In his search for yet another offensive coordinator, none of the top candidates wanted the job for a variety of reasons. When he got Sterlin Gilbert on campus, it seemed like he was going to be the right fit and just needed to sign the contract.

In a span of 24 hours, it went from basically a done deal to Gilbert now turning down the job and leaving Strong with no other targets. With the help of the President of the University and the Interim Athletic Director, the trio eventually convinced Gilbert to come.

That moment didn’t make national news, but it was really the first good thing that happened to Strong since he’d been at Texas. Even though Gilbert probably wasn’t the top target, he was a guy that Strong had to get.

He followed that up with yet another solid recruiting class this year, but he was still missing some pieces. He needed a couple offensive linemen, a speedy wide receiver and a kicker.

Not to make light of the Baylor situation at all, but Texas clearly benefitted from the fallout. This summer alone, they were able to sign former Baylor signees Devin Duvernay, Patrick Hudson, J.P. Urquidez and Donovan Duvernay. These signees filled most of the needs, but it also put the Longhorns at the scholarship limit.

Then wide receiver Ryan Newsome decided to transfer, opening up one more scholarship. Within a week, LSU kicker Trent Domingue announced he would leave the program and join the Longhorns as a graduate transfer and can play immediately.

Strong got all the pieces that he said he needed.

I’m seeing a trend of consecutive good things happening for Strong off the field, but we won’t know for another few weeks whether it will translate to on-field results.

After just a couple days of practice, those new enrollees are already making an impact. Most importantly, he has a quarterback in Shane Buechele that appears to be more accurate than he’s previously had at Texas, and a perfect fit in Gilbert’s offensive system.

It certainly appears like the stars are finally beginning to align for Charlie Strong, but it won’t mean anything unless the wins pile up this year.

Like Strong said this weekend, he’s got the talent that he needs, so there aren’t any more excuses to be made. The players have to be coached up and they have to believe they can win before they’re able to actually do it.

If that doesn’t happen, then everything that’s happened will prove to be nothing more than a false sense of hope.

E-mail Chase at  and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Freshmen Who Could Make Big Impacts for the Longhorns in 2016

The 2015 season was full of highs and lows for the Texas Longhorns football team. Most of the lows came on the scoreboard, but the highs came with a youth movement from a strong freshman class.

Texas played more freshmen than it ever had before, and it definitely showed at times. Now that the group has a year of experience, it’s time to look at the other potential impact freshmen for 2016. There obviously won’t be as many impact performers this year, because last year’s class basically stamped their names in the starting roles for many positions. The Longhorns don’t need as many freshmen contributors as last year, but they just need the right pieces in key positions.

Quarterback

Three-year starter Tyrone Swoopes hasn’t gotten the job done at the quarterback position. Head Coach Charlie Strong has to decide whether he wants to put his future at Texas on the shoulders of early-enrollee freshman Shane Buechele. Buechele looked more impressive than the other quarterbacks during the spring, and he’s reportedly been leading the offensive group in team workouts since then. He doesn’t have to be a superstar, and Texas fans will probably be okay if they only won six or seven games this year if Buechele starts them all. He has the most upside, and probably the most talent, than any quarterback on scholarship, which says a lot about the recruiting and development at that position over the last half-decade.

Defensive Line

Hassan Ridgeway entering the NFL Draft came as a big surprise to many, since he was expected to be the anchor on the D-line in 2016. Instead, it is looking like the weakest unit on the defense that drastically underperformed at times last year. Incoming freshmen D’Andre Christmas-Giles, Marcel Southall, Jordan Elliott, Chris Daniels and Gerald Wilbon will all have a chance to start in game one. At the very least, they will be part of the rotation and will get significant playing time. We can’t expect all five of them to pan out and be studs, but we can expect to hear their names being called a lot this fall.

Wide Receiver

It’s hard to say whether Texas has had poor talent at this position over the last few years, or if it’s just an obvious reflection of bad quarterback play during that timeframe. Regardless, the freshmen receivers will have a chance to show what they’ve got in Sterlin Gilbert’s offense.

No other receiver has turned more heads this spring than Collin Johnson. He’s a big-bodied receiver that will be a weapon in the red zone and is going to win a lot of jump-ball situations. He enrolled in January and looks like a natural skill athlete. Expect to see a heavy dose of Johnson early and often.

Safety

The safety position has been iffy, even though it features multi-year starters. Senior Dylan Haines is a game manager, but can be a step or two slow at times. Jason Hall looked like a beast his freshman year, but didn’t seem to improve much in year two. Some of that could have been due to injuries, though.

That leaves the door open for the highly talented freshman Brandon Jones. A lot of people expected Jones to be a day one starter for the team that was victorious in his recruitment. With the safety position being in question, it wouldn’t be surprising if he played significant time against Notre Dame week one and eventually won the starting job midway through the season.

Other Names to Keep in Mind

The casual fan may not hear the name Zach Shackelford much, but he very well could be the engine that drives the Texas offense. The Longhorns have lacked a true center since about 2013 when Dom Espinosa suffered a devastating injury. Shackelford enrolled in January and snapped the first ball in spring practice and is pretty much a guaranteed day one starter. The importance of the center position can’t be underestimated, especially if there’s a good chance of a freshman being your quarterback. Starting a true freshman center and quarterback will lead to a little bit of anxiety for Texas fans, but they really are the best options at this point.

There also may not be a more versatile and hard-working player in this freshman class than Andrew Fitzgerald. His motor never stops running, and that’s what you want at the defensive end position. The DE spot isn’t completely locked down yet, so Fitzgerald could come in and play right away. However, if Strong isn’t certain how his skill set will be best used by first few games of the season, then it wouldn’t be too surprising if he decided to give him a redshirt.

We shouldn’t see a huge freshman infusion this year like we did in 2015, but the ones that will play are going to have important roles, especially on offense. You could have a true freshman quarterback, center and wide receiver take the first snap in the first game against Notre Dame. You might also have two freshmen defensive lineman on the field first, in what was the weakest link many times last year.

Luckily, these freshmen have the guidance of the guys who were in their shoes last year, so they will know what to expect. No one can ever expect a true freshman to be an All-American right away, and none of these will be for Texas either. If nothing else, all Texas fans want to know is that the future (and present) is finally here.

E-mail Chase at chase [dot] holik [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Photo credit: Flikr

Flagship Programs in Texas

When you think of a “flagship” program, you probably think of a recognized brand with a lot of tradition. People may hate or love the “flagship,” but they almost always respect them.

Texas and Texas A&M are the two flagship programs in the state of Texas, traditionally, but both programs are undergoing some major issues as we head into the New Year. Texas’ issues might finally be sorting themselves out, but A&M’s appear to just be beginning.

Ever since the Mack Brown/DeLoss Dodds/Bill Powers regime ended, the Texas program has been a borderline disaster. Fans, boosters and alumni of the program have been embarrassed and somewhat ashamed at the actions that have taken place.

There can be a whole separate article on how Steve Patterson’s reign as AD at Texas began and ended, but we aren’t even touching that today.

Focusing strictly on football, Charlie Strong hasn’t been given the support that he’s needed from day one. Plain and simple. There are big issues behind the scenes that a casual fan can’t see, but they are becoming clearer every day.

The lack of production on the field is one thing, but when you can’t convince a coach from an in-state rival school (TCU’s Sonny Cumbie) to leave his gig to coach at the “flagship” program in Texas for more than twice his salary, it screams that something fishy is going on.

It all came to a head when Strong went to plan “B” for his offensive coordinator search. It appeared that Sterlin Gilbert was set to be the OC, and then something fell through that forced Strong, AD Mike Perrin and President Greg Fenves to fly to Tulsa in an attempt to clear the air. The fact that all three men had to be involved just shows how discombobulated the program really is.

Supposedly Gilbert did not sense and receive a vote of confidence for Strong, which is why he didn’t take the job initially. The severe lack of communication was evident. Yes, they eventually hired Gilbert, but they set an unprecedented standard of desperation that resonated on Twitter throughout the country. That should never happen at Texas.

Texas A&M has enjoyed the issues that their former rival has been going through, but it appears that they may be headed down a similar path soon.

Kevin Sumlin lost two five-star quarterbacks in a span of a week. Both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred from the program for similar reasons. The main reason was that they did not trust Sumlin.

Most people assumed that whoever lost the starting job would transfer, but no one predicted that both would within the same week. That shows that there are some major issues in the locker room and behind the scenes.

Now A&M boosters are having a hard time trusting Sumlin, and there’s a chance that he could be fired if the Aggies don’t win their upcoming bowl game against Louisville. Talk about a fall from grace.

The most embarrassing part about the situation is the national attention that it’s receiving. Problems like this extend past just the current players. It also affects recruits. As we near the peak recruiting season, Sumlin is going to have to answer a lot of questions that he would rather not address.

So with all of these issues that two of the most respected programs in the state of Texas are having, can we really still consider them the “flagship” programs?

TCU and Baylor have performed better on the field over the past few seasons overall, and Houston is on its way up too. Each program has its upsides and its downfalls, but it almost seems like the administration and some coaches at Texas and Texas A&M don’t realize the magnitude of the programs they are trying to run.

What Texas and A&M are going through at the same time is rare to see. However, the issues are magnified because they are the “flagship” programs in the state.

Both programs will be fine over time, but the near future outlook doesn’t look very promising. It’s difficult to say anything good about either program right now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the student athletes.

If the main problems were on the field and in the classroom, then we’d be talking about a different monster. But we are talking about trust at the highest levels, whether it is the players trusting the head coach or the head coach trusting the administration. Either way you look at it, it’s downright embarrassing for both programs to deal with and it could take some time to move forward and put it all behind them.

Sterlin Gilbert Is The Perfect Fit For Texas – Or Is He?

Charlie Strong is putting all of his chips in on new Offensive Coordinator Sterlin Gilbert turning his stagnant offense around. Now we will have to how serious Strong is about the transformation. 

I read an article recently that compared Gilbert to Jon Taffer from the TV show “Bar Rescue.” If you haven’t seen the show, it is basically about an entrepreneur that opened up a new bar business with high hopes, started failing, and then called Taffer to help save the bar and make it profitable again. The parallels to the Texas situation are scary similar. 

Like “Bar Rescue,” the Longhorns have struggled to succeed under head coach Charlie Strong. Some will argue that he’s been stubborn during his first two years and not backing down from the notion that defense will win the Big XII. The hiring of Gilbert shows that he’s willing to entertain the idea of changing his philosophy. But will he do it completely?

An offensive overhaul can’t happen overnight unless the conditions are perfect. The right coaches have to be in place, the practice methods have to be perfect and above all, the offensive coach has to be in control. That means Strong is going to have to take a step back on his defensive philosophy, as hard as it may be. 

Gilbert has the ability to turn the Longhorns around quickly on offense. I mean, we wouldn’t have seen the unprecedented event with the president, athletic director, head coach and position coach flying to Tulsa on a Friday evening during a big recruiting weekend if he wasn’t the guy they wanted. 

Strong needs to view Gilbert as a Jon Taffer. Put the pride and ego to the side and put your trust that he will get your problems fixed. Gilbert’s done it three other times at three different programs, so why try to fight it? Gilbert is the guy who will determine whether Strong’s tenure at Texas lasts any longer than 2016. 

Now what does Gilbert really have to work with?

Being a student of the Art Briles system, Gilbert runs the spread offense with an emphasis on the run game. He has to be salivating over the two-headed monster in the backfield with D’onta Foreman and Chris Warren that Texas has next year. However, he has a lot of work to do with his quarterback situation. 

It seems like there has been a quarterback controversy every season since Colt McCoy left in 2009. There’s no reason to believe that that won’t change for 2016. Many fans will assume that Jerrod Heard or Tyrone Swoopes will win the job in the offseason, but that may not be the case. 

Gilbert has already hit the recruiting trail to find a junior college quarterback that fits his system. He also has redshirt freshman Matthew Merrick waiting in the wings, along with true freshman Shane Buechele, who will be enrolling early. Arm strength and accuracy is critical in Gilbert’s offense. Don’t be surprised if this ends up being a battle between Merrick and Buechele because of that. 

Above all else, Gilbert has to have complete control of the offense. He was somewhat stubborn in the hiring process, because he wanted to see commitment from everyone, including all the way up to the president of the university. He got that. Now he’s got to see it in the meeting rooms and on the field. 

Strong has preached that he is building his program the right way, and that it will turn around. The problem is that as he enters year three at Texas, he has to completely tear it down and start from scratch. The only difference this time is that he has his own players that he recruited personally, and a coaching staff that he believes will make them elite again. He just has to follow through and allow the coaches to take the reigns in some aspects. 

If Strong doesn’t take a couple steps back like Gary Patterson did at TCU a couple years ago, then Texas will be a five or six win team again next year. That TCU team went from 4-8 and having one of the worst offenses in the country to being a 12-1 team that narrowly missed the College Football Playoff, and had one of the top offenses in the country. 

If Strong doesn’t take that to heart, and if he doesn’t follow the advice of his very own version of Jon Taffer, then he and Texas will fail again.