The Longhorns' look
It's one of the biggest mysteries in Texas for 2014: what will Charlie Strong's Longhorns look like?
When Charlie Strong strode to the burnt orange podium in Austin on January 5, there were many questions that needed to be answered. Some of them, Strong answered that day, but there are still many that remain to be answered.
The biggest one: exactly what kind of Texas team can we expect to see under Charlie Strong?
With most coaches – especially those that end up at a big job like Texas – we have a pretty good feel for what to expect from him. But Strong is an interesting test case: a football coaching lifer who has just four years of head coaching experience under his belt.
But you make due with what you’ve got, and what we’ve got is Strong’s four years as Louisville’s head coach. So, what can we glean about what to expect from the Charlie Strong Texas Longhorns?
Offense: Balance is key
Strong is known as a defensive coach – the biggest notches on his belt are his time as South Carolina and Florida’s defensive coordinator – so all eyes will be on the defense (we’ll get to that in a moment). But as head coach, his fingerprints are going to be on all aspects of the team, including the offense. And when looking at Louisville over the past four seasons, the striking thing is the balance of the offense.
Those last two seasons were the Teddy Bridgewater years, meaning that Strong had every reason (and the personnel) to throw the ball a ton. But while the Cardinals saw a modest uptick in passing during the Bridgewater years, this was still a balanced -- and run-first – offense. With Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline joining the staff as offensive coordinator, there’s little to suggest the theme of offensive balance will stop.
Defense: Attack, attack, attack
There are clichés that every defensive coach says when they get hired: they want to be aggressive, they want to force turnovers, they want to be fundamentally sound. But with Charlie Strong’s defense, if they’re going to get beat, they’re going to get beat being aggressive – sometimes to an extreme.
Consider the following chart, which looks at Louisville’s national rank in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. You’ll notice an aggressive theme.
|Sack Rank||TFL Rank||FFs Rank|
Aside from an overall lackluster performance from the defense in 2012, it’s easy to see why most folks in Austin are expecting the defensive pressure to get dialed up early and often under Charlie Strong.
Win the hidden game
It’s easy to say, “Oh, that team was really good at running the ball” or “That team really excelled on defense”; it’s a lot harder to measure the little things that make the big difference. But in those little things, Charlie Strong’s squads tend to win.
Take, for example, field position. According to Football Outsiders’ FEI Field Position Ratings, Louisville ]ranked 33rd or better nationally in field position in three of Charlie Strong’s four seasons.
Or take punt coverage. In opponents’ punt return average, Louisville ranked first in the nation twice under Charlie Strong, and ranked 16th another season.
Or take preventing the big play. Charlie Strong-coached Louisville teams ranked 5th, 35th, 26th and 22nd nationally in fewest plays of 10+ yards allowed.
And that – winning the hidden game – is what best encapsulates what we can probably expect to see from Charlie Strong’s Longhorns. There may not be as much flash and dash as some of the Texas teams of yesteryear, but Charlie Strong’s overall profile is one of seemingly unremarkable efficacy.
Greg Tepper is the managing editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.