Observations from Monday’s press conference with Charlie Strong:
Strong spoke for just under 30 minutes. He gave a 1-minute intro that addressed the bye week, Kansas, the start of Big 12 play and the importance of getting over the UCLA loss. Then there was 29 minutes of Q&A.
It took 15 minutes for David Ash‘s name to come up. And it was brought up by a media member, not Strong.
1. No news on suspended players Daje Johnson, Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle. They’ll all miss Saturday’s game. Johnson has returned to practice, at least. The other two haven’t. Strong said that my happen some day this week — but he told us the same thing on the Monday of UCLA week.
2. Don’t look for any changes on special teams. Same returners on kicks and punts.
3. As expected, with Desmond Jackson gone for the season, Hassan Ridgeway will start at defensive tackle Saturday, next to Malcom Brown.
4. For Strong, the keys to this week’s game are (a) playing defense and (b) playing well on special teams. Why? Because shutting a team down in their own stadium takes the crowd out of the game, and special teams impacts starting field position.
5. Strong was asked twice about any worries over Cedric Reed, who has only half a sack after his 10-sack season of 2013. Both times, he declined to signal an alarm. “Sometimes, someone can have a great junior year and then you come back your senior year and you just don’t have the numbers,” Strong said. “Ced’s playing fine. He’s playing well enough for us. Some are getting caught up in the numbers because you see 10 sacks last season.”
Strong also pointed out that Reed had Jackson Jeffcoat “flushing” quarterbacks Reed’s way in 2013.
6. In regards to Jerrod Heard, Strong — when given the opportunity, since the question was about redshirting Heard vs. finding him playing time — did not dismiss the notion that the freshman quarterback may play this season. “It’s going to depend on the flow of the game,” Strong said. “You just never know. We haven’t had an opportunity yet to play him. It’s going to depend on how the season goes.”
The funniest moment came when someone asked Strong if he’d decided who’d handle the coin flip on Saturday. “I haven’t named them yet,” Strong quipped back amidst laughter in the room.
On the development of Tyrone Swoopes, who’ll make his third career start on Saturday: “He realizes it’s his offense, and his confidence is building each and every week. … He’s become a student of the game. Now he realizes, ‘It’s my team now. I have to put my time in.’ And that’s what he’s doing.”
Strong’s thoughts on where Texas is at, team-wise?
First, Strong pointed out that Swoopes has progressed at quarterback.
Second, he said the defense can play better than it has been.
Third, he said the Longhorns must do better defensively on third downs. (Opponents have converted 15 of 48 third downs, or 31 percent. That ranks 29th nationally, and fourth in the Big 12.)
And fourth, he stressed the importance of finishing games. Translation — the UCLA loss.
“It’s a skill of just learning how to win,” Strong said. “When you’re finished, you go back to the punt (return), and it was more of let’s punt the ball, so let’s go down the field to cover it. You look and see guys just not running down the field. And then the double move, that’s all we talked about. You knew at some point it was going to come. You’ve got to stay locked into the game. You’ve got to stay focused.
“It’s not a lack of toughness at all,” Strong added. “It’s a matter of getting it done. You’d like to see someone step up and go make a play.”
Strong was asked whether he felt Texas would make it to a bowl game. He gave a non-answer answer. “It’s game by game. I don’t want to look down the road,” Strong said. “That’s the only way you can look at it now. Let’s take it game by game and then see where we are.”
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