411 from Week 5: Texas Longhorns favored in Red River Rivalry; Mad Max Duggan takes reigns for TCU

Photo by Dave Campbell's Texas Football

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The 411 is back to deliver four truths, one question, and one prediction following a Week 5 slate that resulted in a 6-5 record for the in-state FBS programs. SMU's game against UCF was moved to this Wednesday due to Hurricane Ian. TCU and Texas were the only Power Five programs to win this week with the Horned Frogs riding Max Duggan and an impressive first-half offensive performance in an upset win over Oklahoma. The Longhrons won't receive any time to celebrate with the Red River Rivalry on deck. The G5 programs faired better in Week 5 headlined by an undefeated in-conference record for the in-state C-USA teams in Week 5. 

FOUR TRUTHS 

No such thing as a low stakes shootout: My grandfather was the rehabilitation specialist for the University of Texas football program for most of my life. One of his favorite sayings was, “there is no such thing as minor surgery unless it is someone else’s body.” I’m reminded of that saying heading into the 2022 version of the Red River Showdown. Both teams enter the game with two losses and neither team is ranked heading to the State Fair for the first time since 1998. It is only the second time it has happened in over 50 years. To drive home the point, ESPN Gameday is headed to Lawrence for the TCU vs. Kansas game rather than Dallas. Who saw that coming? 

Still, despite what is sure to be a record low national writers in the press box, the bragging rights and recruiting advantages on the line Saturday morning in the Cotton Bowl never waver. Texas opened as a 6.5-point favorite against an Oklahoma team on a two-game losing streak, which is the largest margin for the Longhorns since 2005. It is the first time Texas enters as the betting favorite since 2009. Texas is 3-2 on the season and 1-1 in conference play with a loss at Texas Tech despite holding a double-digit lead in the second half. Oklahoma is also 3-2 on the season but enter the contest winless in Big 12 play with losses to Kansas State and TCU. 

The time to end the four-game losing streak to Oklahoma appears now for the Longhorns. The last time Texas beat the Sooners was in October of 2018, though, Oklahoma exacted revenge later that same season in the Big 12 title game. A win for Texas sends Oklahoma spiraling towards a losing record for the first time in ages. A loss for the Longhorns puts even more pressure on Steve Sarkisian, who is 8-9 in his Texas tenure entering the game. 

Baylor isn’t a Big 12 contender: The roller coaster ride known as Baylor football is in a dip. The Bears went 2-7 in 2020, Dave Aranda’s first year on the job. The highs of a 12-2 2021 that resulted in a Big 12 championship and a win over Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl carried Baylor through an offseason and provided hopes of a repeat despite numerous losses to the NFL Draft and the transfer portal. Most of the concerns were on the offensive side of the ball as the Bears hoped to replace most of its production at wide receiver and running back while breaking in a relatively new starter at quarterback. 

The assumption was that Aranda’s defense could handle losing star players such as Terrell Bernard, Jalen Pitre, and J.T. Woods. That assumption looks faulty. Baylor dropped to 3-2 on the season in a 36-25 loss at home to Oklahoma State. The Bears were 7-0 at McLane Stadium in 2021, and the defense never allowed more than 30 points. In fact, it only allowed 30 points one time, and that was in a two-point loss on the road to rival TCU. Sure, the offense only scored 25 points in the loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, but the 2021 defense held opponents to below that number in 12 of the 14 games last season. Even in the regular season loss to Oklahoma State in 2021, the Cowboys only managed 24 points. 

An eight-win season looks like the high mark possible for Baylor in 2022. The Big 12 is deep and loaded in 2022, something that wasn’t exactly true last season. The Bears also can’t sneak up on competition in 2022, something they did in 2021 coming off a two-win season in 2020. The Baylor offense won’t become a 40-point per game scoring offense overnight. That’s not what Aranda wants from his team. He wants Baylor to win the lines of scrimmage and slowly choke out opponents like a boa constrictor or a black belt in Jiu-jitsu. That was possible with an all-time defensive unit in 2021. The current version doesn’t allow for the same margin of error. 

Mad Max (Duggan) is the man: The quarterback controversy is over in Fort Worth. Chandler Morris emerged as the starter for Week 1 with a new coaching staff in town before an injury knocked him out of the Colorado game. The experienced Max Duggan came in for relief and he’s officially Wally Pipp’d Morris as the starting quarterback for the Horned Frogs thanks to three straight all-conference level performances, including wins in consecutive weeks over SMU and Oklahoma. There is no way Morris can be benched following those performances. 

Duggan was 45 of 58 in his previous two starts, throwing for 390 yards and five scores in the win over Tarleton State in Week 2. He added 278 yards and three touchdown passes in his first Iron Skillet win over SMU in Week 4. Duggan was at his best in the 55-24 victory over Oklahoma, which broke an eight-game losing streak to the Sooners. TCU scored 27 first-quarter points and 479 first-half yards, which was the most against an FBS opponent so far in 2022. Duggan was 23 of 33 for 302 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He added 116 yards and two more scores on five carries. 

Texas Tech wants to be on the other side of a Take 3 defense: First-year head coach Joey McGuire showed up to Lubbock with a few slogans and mantras he wants his team to live by. One of those was “Take 3”, a reference to the fact that more than 70 percent of teams win in games that they create at least three turnovers. Those statistics are holding true, but McGuire needs his Red Raiders to be on the other side of the motto. Texas Tech is now 0-2 on the road in 2022 after the Week 5 loss to Kansas State in which Texas Tech committed four turnovers to Kansas State’s one. That is the exact turnover margin the team faced in a road loss to N.C. State back in Week 3. 

The Red Raiders are 3-0 at home and have only committed four turnovers in that span. That number grows to eight total turnovers in two road games, both of which ended in defeat. The key is the play of quarterback Donovan Smith. He’s thrown two interceptions in both losses compared to just three total touchdowns over those two games. In the three wins, he’s thrown eight touchdowns to just three interceptions, and all three of those picks were thrown in an overtime win over Houston. Texas Tech is improving, but the Red Raiders aren’t good enough to lose turnover battles on the road and return with a win. 

ONE QUESTION 

Will Jimbo Fisher fire himself as offensive coordinator before the 2023 season? 

Texas A&M is 3-2 following a Week 5 loss at Mississippi State. The talking point following the loss, in which the Aggies were shut out in the first half offensively, was about Fisher’s offense and if his ego will allow him to find a new play caller in 2023. But the playing calling isn’t the only problem. The bigger issue is the play book. Fisher’s offense is too complicated and dense for modern football. It used to be called “an NFL system” but now even NFL systems resemble less-complicated passing schemes. As one college head coach in the state told me, “We install less in a year than Jimbo installs on day one.” 

Fisher is a top-level head coach and an elite recruiter. His 10-million-dollar salary is to win football games, attract the best talent, and position the Aggies to compete for conference and national titles. He’s elevated the perception of Texas A&M football, illustrated by preseason No. 5 rankings in back-to-back seasons and the top-ranked recruiting class in the country last cycle. But the on-field success hasn’t matched the off-field perception, and that’s on the offense. Fisher and company can’t blame quarterback injuries in 2022. This is his roster, and his failures. 

Texas A&M lost at least three SEC games in three of Fisher’s first four years in College Station. The only exception was in 2020 during the pandemic-season. Take away 2020 and the Aggies are 14-12 in the SEC during Fisher’s tenure. That’s all the Aggies will be until he fires himself as offensive coordinator and goes outside for help. The obvious choice is Joe Brady, who helped LSU revolutionize its offense en route to winning a national title. He’s currently the quarterback coach for the Buffalo Bills. 

ONE PREDICTION 

North Texas finishes the year with a winning record 

Fan bases rarely look at their own program with rational eyes. North Texas is no different. Scour the message boards or social media and you’ll find plenty of Mean Green faithful clamoring for a change at head coach with Seth Littrell in his seventh season in charge. This despite Littrell’s success over the past six seasons. North Texas was awful before Littrell arrived prior to the 2016 season. North Texas had one bowl appearance in the previous 11 seasons and only five total from 2000 to 2015. Littrell has led the group to five in six full seasons in Denton. The Mean Green only won six or more games four times in the 16 seasons during the current century. Littrell has three in six years. 

North Texas is 3-3 on the season and sit atop the C-USA standings with a 2-0 record. A six-win season seems inevitable for the Mean Green, which means Littrell would be responsible for more bowl berths in seven years than North Texas received in the previous 25 seasons. North Texas hasn’t had this time of sustained success since Hayden Fry was on campus in the 1970s.

North Texas will reach a bowl and finish with at least six wins. And then I guess it is on the administration and fan base to decide if it wants to walk into the AAC with its most proven coach in 50 years or start from scratch because they feel like six bowl games in seven seasons is somehow underachieving for a program that went decades without earning any type of post season success. 

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