Texas coach Charlie Strong is soaked with the water cooler as the Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners 24-17 during the 2015 AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Football

Unpredictable Longhorns should channel Sooners’ old ingenuity

UT's Charlie Strong will assume the defensive play-calling against OU's Bob Stoops, no stranger to new defensive wrinkles himself

Posted October 7th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Longhorns, Sooners have a split 5-5 record against each other in the last 10 games.
  • Texas will be without RB Chris Warren III, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
  • Texas AD Mike Perrin: “I haven’t given up on the football team or any aspect of it.”

DALLAS — This would have been the perfect week for Texas coaches to study some older Oklahoma game tape. Perhaps start with some Texas-OU game film from the turn of the century, back when “Big Game Bob” truly ruled the Midway.

Watch how Roy Williams came flying over the line of scrimmage in 2001. Or go examine how Dan Cody lined up everywhere in the “spinner” formation in 2004. Look at OU’s intensity in 2011, when the Sooners returned three turnovers for scores.

Bob Stoops’ Sooners routinely show up at the Cotton Bowl and play with gusto. Charlie Strong’s Longhorns did that last year. This time, Texas should keep the series momentum going with new wrinkles, some trickery and a dash of dramatic flair.

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After all, “it’s OU-Texas,” freshman quarterback Shane Buechele said.

Ahem, come again?

“Did I say OU-Texas?” Buechele said. “Oh, that’s just how I grew up. That’s just how it is.”

The Texas Longhorns celebrate after a 24-17 win against the Oklahoma Sooners during the 2015 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The Texas Longhorns celebrate after a 24-17 win against the Oklahoma Sooners during the 2015 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

We’ll see how Buechele, who hails from a family of Sooners, feels after three hours in the Cotton Bowl cauldron. He sat in the stands as a junior in high school. But this will be Buechele’s first on-field experience in the Texas-OU rivalry. Same goes for UT offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.

“Growing up in Texas as a Texas high school football coach, I’ve never been fortunate enough to go to the game,” Gilbert said. “So Saturday will be my first Red River Shootout.”

This is old hat for Strong, though. He was wearing a golden one last season after a 24-17 upset of the 10th-ranked Sooners. OU (2-2, 1-0 Big 12) comes in ranked 20th this year, while Texas (2-2, 0-1) has fallen out of the polls after getting as high as 11th. Both coaches are trying to keep the wolves at bay.

During a meeting with a handful of reporters Friday, Texas athletic director Mike Perrin said, “I haven’t given up on the football team or any aspect of it.

“We’re going to have young players that make mistakes, sometimes get in the wrong place or don’t execute,” Perrin said. “But I feel real good about the people we’ve recruited the last two years, and the coaches have succeeded at every level. So I remain very excited about football — I really do.”

Since 1989, Texas is 6-2 in the series when the Longhorns were unranked and the Sooners were in the Associated Press Top 25.

However, Strong’s seat is unquestionably hotter after he demoted Vance Bedford earlier this week. Strong, who is 13-16 in two-plus seasons, will assume the defensive play-calling duties and take full responsibly for the entire unit. With that being the case, now’s the time for Strong to truly be unpredictable.

Move Malik Jefferson around. Unleash Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach. Keep mixing and matching players in the secondary until the unit hits on the right combination.

Offensively, try Jerrod Heard in the wildcat formation, something UT has shown only once this year. Take some deep shots with John Burt or Armanti Foreman. And this idea is really out there, but perhaps, you know, block the defensive linemen on extra-point attempts.

“Right now, we’re at a point where we can go up or down,” Hager said. “I’m telling everyone it’s time to go up. It’s time to show Longhorn nation what we can do. I’m very excited for this week.”

Texas coach Charlie Strong celebrates after the Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners 24-17 during the AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Texas coach Charlie Strong celebrates after the Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners 24-17 during the AT&T Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Last year, Texas looked like a team in complete disarray leading up to the OU game. Players were sniping at one another on Twitter. Strong faced questions about the team’s 1-4 start, and national pundits were lamenting the downfall of UT’s brand.

All that changed come kickoff. The Texas defense brought down OU’s Baker Mayfield six times. Outside of a 50-yard completion to Sterling Shepard, Mayfield finished 19 for 27 for a rather pedestrian 161 yards. “Had to show the world that we can still play Texas defense, Texas ball,” defensive end Naashon Hughes said afterward.

The Horns are in a similar position this year, having lost two straight and allowed 99 points in the process.

“It’s very hard to have fun when you’re giving up 50 points,” Jefferson said. “You try to give people excuses and stuff like that. No, we need to take ownership of what’s happening on that field.”

UT President Gregory L. Fenves posted a tweet Wednesday meant as a show of support for Strong. A university source told the American-Statesman that Strong will not be fired in midseason no matter what happens in the final eight games.

Texas President Gregory L. Fenves announces the rules for carrying concealed handguns on campus during a news conference in the Main Building on Wednesday February 17, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas President Gregory L. Fenves has been one of coach Charlie Strong’s biggest supporters. Here he’s seen at at press conference on Wednesday February 17, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas has never fired a coach of any major sport during the season in its 133-year history. Some have resigned, citing too much fan pressure. In October 1911, Billy Wasmund died four days after an accident while sleepwalking. That happened just before the season opener.

So it would take something monumental for Fenves to dump Strong before it’s all said and done. Strong has two years remaining on his guaranteed five-year contract worth more than $5 million annually.

With eight regular-season games left, there is simply too much football still to be played.

Strong has every opportunity to save his program, beginning Saturday against OU. If he shakes things up, then the Longhorns have a chance to beat every opponent left on the schedule.

“If we get off to a good start and just relax and just have fun in this game and just let things happen,” Strong said, “it’s going to be a really good day for us.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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