Texas coach Charlie Strong, left, talks to defensive coordinator Vance Bedford in the first quarter against Notre Dame at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Vance Bedford is holding Texas back from taking that next step

Posted September 18th, 2016

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BERKELEY, Calif. — In the span of two short seasons, Charlie Strong might as well have installed a revolving door in the coaches’ office.

So many assistant coaches were coming and going, it was amazing they didn’t run into each other.

All totaled, seven assistant coaches were either fired, demoted or left for other jobs. That list included three offensive coordinators.

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Maybe the wrong coordinators left.

Vance Bedford just may be the one coach holding Texas back from getting the Longhorns back where they belong as a national powerhouse that’s always prided itself on bone-rattling defenses. A pathetic defense cost the 11th-ranked Longhorns their perfect early season in a stinging 50-43 loss to unranked California on Saturday night.

Cal Golden Bears #23 Vic Enwere celebrates touchdown agains the Longhorns during the first half of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Cal Golden Bears #23 Vic Enwere celebrates touchdown agains the Longhorns during the first half of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

His defense flat didn’t show up in Texas’ first road game, but Strong refused to point fingers. He didn’t have to because plenty of others were, and they were all directed at Bedford, who hasn’t even come to post-game press conferences since a loss to UCLA in Strong’s first season.

“I don’t blame Vance for a bad gameplan,” a resolute Strong said. “I don’t blame no coaches. It’s not on him.”

If not Bedford, who then?

Texas (2-1) has now given up 47 points to Notre Dame and 50 to an unsung Cal team. This game was all about blown coverages, missed assignments and a lack of defensive pressure on Bears quarterback Davis Webb, who picked apart the Longhorns and threw for 396 yards and four scores.

“It’s just people knowing their assignments,” defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. said. “We underachieved tonight.”

In a big way.

The performance that wasted an outstanding 307-yard rushing effort couldn’t be blamed on youth because sixth-year senior Sheroid Evans was burned twice for touchdowns by Cal’s electrifying receiver, Chad Hansen, and both safeties Dylan Haines and Jason Hall are upperclassmen.

Cal #18 Marloshawn Franklin Jr. picks off a Longhorn pass during the first half of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Cal #18 Marloshawn Franklin Jr. picks off a Longhorn pass during the first half of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“It aches your heart,” Evans said. “We’re still trying to find our identity. Today the secondary didn’t hold up their part. We’ve got to get that straightened out.”

They didn’t come close on a chilly night in northern California on a liberal campus where they burn bras and draft notices and apparently secondaries. Bedford’s defense gave up 245 yards passing and three touchdowns.

In the first half alone.

RELATED COVERAGE:  Golden: Vance Bedford’s defense has a Manny Diaz feel to it

He switched to the defensive package that was so effective against offensively-challenged UTEP and exerted more heat on Webb with ends Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach, but the Longhorns still couldn’t stem the tide.

Bedford is all about accountability and representing the university and playing and coaching with pride. In that vein, he has to know he’s not getting the job done. Not even close.

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Texas survived the opener when it allowed Notre Dame 47 points in overtime, thanks to the 50 that Sterlin Gilbert’s prolific offense put up. The Longhorns suffocated UTEP’s one-dimensional offense, smothering the Miners’ inept passing game.

On Saturday, Texas couldn’t withstand a withering attack from Webb and would have been drubbed for 57 points, had not the Mr. Early Celebration Vic Enwere dropped the ball a half-yard shy of the end zone on what would have been a 55-yard Cal touchdown run.

The Longhorns probably should have been awarded the ball on a touchback since Haines retrieved the loose ball in the end zone. But the refs misfired as much as Texas’ defensive backs.

Sadly, this outcome also further damages Strong’s credibility as both a decision-maker late in games as well as his ability to properly manage a staff as a CEO. It was borderline incredulous that he punted on fourth-and-10 in the final minute-plus, knowing his defense hadn’t stopped the Bears all evening.

Shawn Watson was a bad fit in Austin and never should have come with Strong from Louisville. Strong realized that too late, demoting him one game into his second season. The co-offensive coordinator reins that offensive line coach Joe Wickline held were nothing short of ceremonial as well as disastrous. Jay Norvell, a very good receivers coach, might have been retained as a position coach but had no shot at being the play-caller after the offensive trainwreck of 2015.

Texas Longhorns Defensive coach Vance Bedford against Cal Golden Bears during the pre-game warm up of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas Longhorns Defensive coach Vance Bedford against Cal Golden Bears during the pre-game warm up of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But Bedford, Strong’s guy, has been safe. Too safe. And it may cost Strong his own job security.

Bedford’s long been a favorite in this corner, but he’s coming perilously close to becoming the reason Strong has yet to turn this program around. Granted, the six salty playmakers he inherited in the first season all left for the NFL, including junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown.

But that 2015 defense statistically speaking was the worst in school history.

We all know Bedford’s the funniest coach this side of Abe Lemons at press conferences, those he does attend.

RELATED COVERAGE: Decision to punt late in game backfires on Texas in loss to Cal

But Strong doesn’t need a defensive coordinator with a sense of humor. He needs one with a sense of urgency and a better grasp of how to stop spread offenses that have proliferated the landscape of college football.

Asked if a team should win when it scores 43 points, a forlorn Strong said, “I would like to think you would.”

So would the rest of Longhorn Nation. Bedford has failed to consistently put on the field a unit that plays with focus and smarts for 60 minutes.

And it’s holding Texas back.

It certainly did Saturday.

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