The pressure is never turned down for an existing head coach of the Texas Longhorns. Even Mack Brown entered each season with doubters despite multiple 10-win seasons and eventually a national championship. That pressure is even higher now that the program is in its second decade of mediocrity. Steve Sarkisian was 5-7 in his first year leading the Longhorns. A repeat of that performance would place Sark firmly on the hot seat for an impatient fan base.
Optimism should be easy to come by in Austin. The Longhorns welcome a new quarterback, a handful of instant-impact transfers, and another talented recruiting class. Texas proved talented enough to compete with the top of the Big 12 conference. Just not tough enough, or deep enough, to do so for four quarters. Another year together should help in that regard.
1. Is Quinn Ewers the catalyst?
Assuming the ceiling for the Longhorns is seven or eight wins if Hudson Card starts for much of the season, either by winning the job outright or because of injury, isn’t unfounded. Card was on the 5-7 team of 2021 and couldn’t hold off Casey Thompson, who transferred to Nebraska in the offseason. The upside for Texas rests largely on the right arm of Ohio State transfer Quinn Ewers. The former five-star prospect from Southlake Carroll holds the hopes of the state’s flagship university in the palm of his hand.
That’s a lot of pressure. Let’s not forget that Ewers is essentially a true freshman who spent his senior year of high school at vocational school as a backup quarterback in Columbus behind C.J. Stroud. Ewers’ last pass attempt came in the 2020 Class 6A Division I title game against Westlake. Rust is almost assured.
Ewers is one of the top five quarterback prospects I saw in a decade spent covering recruiting on a state and national level. His arm talent is elite. His accuracy is borderline absurd. He can make every throw, and he’s not afraid to try the ones mere mortals never see. But that doesn’t mean college success is a given. For every Trevor Lawrence there is a Garrett Gilbert. Which one is Ewers? The answer to that question likely dictates the trajectory of the Texas program.
The trickle effect can’t be overstated with Arch Manning watching every move. A big year from Ewers translates to a resurgence from Texas which leads to continuity on the coaching staff which leads to big fish in recruiting (such as Manning) which leads to real national success.
2. Who is the No. 3 wide receiver?
Ewers needs bodies to the pass the football towards and Texas hasn’t fielded quality depth at that position in years. Xavier Worthy, as talented as he is, isn’t enough. Worthy needs help or good defenses can slow him down with double teams and rolled coverages. He dealt with that in 2021 and still managed 62 catches for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns. All three were records. Imagine how good he’d be if he wasn’t the only consistent threat?
Texas doesn’t lack talent. The Longhorns lack consistency, mostly due to injury. Troy Omeire missed the 2020 and 2021 seasons to injuries sustained in fall camp. Jake Smith transferred prior to last season after his own rash of injuries. Jordan Whittington was forced to redshirt in 2019 after one game. He played just five games in 2020 and eight games in 2021. He’s only started five times in his career despite obvious talent.
Texas solidified the No. 2 spot next to Worthy by adding Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor to the recruiting corps. The junior was named a second-team All-Mountain West Conference honoree in 2021 after catching 44 passes for 878 yards and 12 touchdowns. No receiver other than Worthy recorded more than 26 catches or three touchdowns in 2021. Running back Bijan Robinson was second on the team with four touchdown receptions and tied for second on the team with 26 receptions.
Whittington is the favorite to win the No. 3 spot, if healthy. Sophomore Kelvontay Dixon and senior Marcus Washington are also in the mix.
3. Can the young defensive linemen step up?
Texas’ defense must improve for the Longhorns to take a significant step forward in 2022. The defensive line isn’t the only problem, but a dominant group in the trenches can hide some of the potential problems at linebacker and in the secondary. The Longhorns should be strong in the middle of the defense with experienced big bodies such as Keondre Coburn, Moro Ojomo, and T’Vondre Sweat in front of linebacker DeMarvion Overshown. Coburn (33) and Ojomo (25) are two of the most experienced players on the squad. Sweat has played in 35 games. Still, Texas allowed 31.08 points per game and 5.2 yards a rush in 2021. Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski must lower those numbers in the 2022 campaign while also adding to the 20 sacks registered in 12 games.
The Longhorns must find playmakers along the defensive line. Coburn, Sweat, and Ojomo are solid contributors. The unit lacks stars. The good news is Texas recruits well even in poor years. The cupboard is full. Sophomore Byron Murphy II is drawing Poona Ford comparisons. Vernon Broughton and Alfred Collins were high upside recruits with the physical tools to take steps forward in year two under defensive line coach Bo Davis.
Finding edge rushers might be the determining factor for Texas’ defensive prospects. The names at the position are unproven. Counting on young players such as Barryn Sorrell or David Abiara or Prince Dorbah or D.J. Harris to make massive improvements is hard to envision. Ovie Oghoufo did start eight games in 2021 after his arrival from Notre Dame, but he only recorded two sacks. Texas might count on a true freshman such as Justice Finkley or forage the transfer portal in the summer. Former TCU edge rusher Ochaun Mathis is a name to remember.
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