Texas Football: 5 Things Mack Brown Must Fix Before the Red River Rivalry
With the Red River Rivalry looming, Mack Brown has a long to-do list for his Texas Longhorns. First up will be sorting out his quarterback situation.
Every game left on the schedule is a must-win for Brown and his team. Their Big 12 hopes likely evaporate with a loss to the Sooners, and Brown will be facing unemployment if there is another blowout.
Unfortunately, the embattled head coach is facing another uphill battle. Starting quarterback David Ash is in doubt after suffering another head injury, top linebacker Jordan Hicks is gone for the season and the entire team has performed below its talent level.
There is a lot that needs fixing, but Brown has the time to do it with nine days between this week's matchup with Iowa State and the team's game of the year.
The real question is whether he will get his Longhorns back on the rails. He had better, because this game, and his job, depend on it.
The Quarterback Situation
A second concussion has thrown a monkey wrench into David Ash's status just two weeks before the season's biggest game. If he's out, Brown needs to get one of his best athletes ready to play.
Texas will not beat Oklahoma with Case McCoy under center. This is a game that, given Texas' porous defense, will almost certainly get into the 30s, and the senior is not capable of generating that type of output.
That means Brown needs to start getting Tyrone Swoopes ready to play. The true freshman may be a raw talent, but is a top-five athlete on this team and has howitzer hanging off his right shoulder. With those traits, Swoopes will be able to generate some big plays.
Between now and then, Brown needs to get the kid ready. Even if Ash can go, he needs Swoopes prepared to play. This week's matchup with Iowa State presents a great opportunity to do just that.
Brown and the Longhorns need to create mismatches to get revenge over the Sooners, and Swoopes is a bonafide matchup nightmare. If Ash is out, he has to be the first guy up.
The Longhorn linebackers were a mess before Jordan Hicks went down for the season. They will be exposed against the Sooners unless something changes.
It is the same script as last season. Steve Edmond looks lost at middle linebacker, Peter Jinkens seems too athletic for his own good, and there is no obvious candidate to replace Hicks on the weak side.
The first fix here is an obvious one, and that is naming sophomore Dalton Santos the starter over Edmond. His natural leadership fills an immediate need with Hicks out, and he is unafraid to hit with the conviction that the incumbent lacks.
As for Jinkens, the coaches have to trust that the good from him will outweigh the bad. It inevitably will, and when everything clicks for him, he will be Texas' best at the position.
Replacing Hicks is where it gets tricky. Kendall Thompson has the same amount of tackles as backup nose tackle Desmond Jackson, and Tevin Jackson has not seen the field. Neither is a sterling representation of Texas' supposed depth.
Brennan Clay and Damien Williams are both talented tailbacks, and quarterback Blake Bell is a load in the open field. Unless Texas can stabilize this linebacking corps, a repeat of last year's 343-yard rushing performance is not out of the question.
Once a calling card of this defense, the Longhorns secondary has been disappointing for the second year in a row. With the Sooners sporting a deep group of receivers, that will be a scary prospect for this year's tilt.
Just like the linebackers, these defensive backs have all had moments where they do not look like starters for a BCS program. The missed tackles and blown coverages still linger from a season ago, with no Kenny Vaccaro to clean them up.
The biggest hole is at safety, where Mykkele Thompson and Adrian Phillips have been unable to hold their ground. Perhaps, actually moving Quandre Diggs, who has yet to make an impact playing the nickel, to the position will help get a playmaker in centerfield.
If the safety position can be shored up, the Longhorns should have the corners to match up with the talented Oklahoma receivers.
The Longhorns have limped out of the gate in all four games this season, recovering to win only twice. Getting off to a faster start will be paramount to scoring the upset in Dallas.
Texas took over 28 minutes to score against New Mexico State and has gone three-and-out on its opening drive each of the last three games. The last two have been at home coming off a loss, so the lack of urgency is troubling.
The coaches and players both need to do a better job of getting ready to play. The Longhorns have managed just 12 first-quarter points during their three-year losing streak to the Sooners, and playing from behind will not bode well for this year's outcome.
Get Daje Johnson Back on the Field
Health is at the bottom of the list of things that Mack Brown can control. Still, Texas needs to get Daje Johnson back on the field.
Texas is two-deep at most offensive positions, but not at Daje Johnson's. The do-it-all slot receiver/running back is Texas' most explosive player and one of the few who is immune to matchups. When he gets into the open field, he is gone.
The Longhorns have missed Johnson the past three games due to an ankle injury sustained on the first drive of the loss to BYU. Johnathan Gray has helped pick up the slack with 245 yards, but nobody can turn the tide of a game as quickly or easily as Johnson.
In terms of creating mismatches, Johnson is an offensive land mine—one wrong step and you're dead. Whoever plays quarterback against the Sooners will need a player like this to keep the defense guessing, and that will open things up for the rest of the offense.