Bohls, Golden: These eyes on Texas see questions, concerns but also some hope for Horns
New coach. New quarterback. New offensive and defensive coordinators .And a new season. As Texas' Sept. 4 kickoff at home against the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns approaches, American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden weigh in on 10 Longhorns topics:
1. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about Texas this season?
Bohls: I’m more optimistic, but only slightly, and I think they have a window of eight to 10 wins. I worry that there hasn’t been more obvious separation between the two mostly even quarterbacks. I have concerns about the stability of the offensive line. Joshua Moore appears to be the only truly alpha receiver because others such as Jordan Whittington and Troy Omeire have health issues and Marcus Washington keeps dropping passes. That said, the presence of legitimate Heisman candidate Bijan Robinson, the deepest defensive line in the Big 12 with a lot of star quality, and playmakers on both sides of the ball such as DeMarvion Overshown, D’Shawn Jamison, Josh Thompson and pick any D-lineman provide hope for what appears to be a solid coaching staff for Year One.
Golden: I’m pessimistic because I’m worried about the quarterback position. For the first time since David Ash was lost in Charlie Strong's first game back in 2014, there is major uncertainty at the position. And when you have coach Steve Sarkisian not hiding his displeasure with the spotty play of Casey Thompson and Hudson Card in the middle of August, there is cause for concern.
2. What one quality would you use to pick Texas’ quarterback?
Bohls: Decision-making. Accuracy is important but largely an innate talent. So making the right choices ultimately is the most important quality because it speaks to ball security, checkdowns rather than forcing the ball into tight windows, not taking sacks, defensive reads and the ability to inspire confidence from his teammates.
Golden: The great Bill Walsh always said you can’t teach accuracy, and Card has the edge in that department. He's the more inexperienced of the two but has globs more upside and hasn’t been as turnover-prone this summer.
3. Is the lack of separation between the quarterbacks troubling?
Bohls: Yes. One would think with Thompson's three years on campus, his tremendous second half in the Alamo Bowl and the fact that he has been given every opportunity to seize the reins that he would have been a clear choice for the starting job over a redshirt freshman, even one as gifted as Hudson Card, who throws better on the move, has God’s gift to spirals and is athletic.
Golden: It is, and it would be especially troubling for Thompson fans, whose guy has been on this campus for three years and is struggling to beat out a redshirt freshman. Card fans should be excited because any perceived tie should go to the quarterback with the biggest upside and most remaining eligibility.
4. What nonstarter could really surprise this fall?
Bohls: I’ll go with Bastrop sophomore Alfred Collins, a man-child on the defensive line who will emerge into a dominant talent. He will be a major impact player on defense. But I could probably make just as big a case for fellow lineman Vernon Broughton.
Golden: Tight end Jared Wiley is a matchup nightmare, too big for defensive backs and too fast for linebackers. I expect him to become Texas’ biggest receiving threat in the red zone and in third-and-long situations. A good tight end is an inexperienced quarterback’s best friend. The 6-foot-7, 251-pound Wiley is poised for a breakout season.
5. After quarterback, what position is the biggest key to the season?
Bohls: The offensive line, without question. There’s not a Samuel Cosmi or Connor Williams — at least not yet — in terms of a projected high NFL draft pick in that unit. Derek Kerstetter is as versatile as they come, a big-time player and a tremendous leader, but this group has the biggest burden after quarterback and must evolve as a strong unit if Texas is to accomplish anything remotely spectacular this season.
Golden: Running back. If Bijan Robinson doesn't produce at least 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns, Texas will be in trouble. These quarterbacks just aren't ready to shoulder the offensive load carried by Sam Ehlinger. Robinson must match the preseason hype or it will be a long season in the 512.
6. Would you let Cameron Dicker handle punts too, if needed?
Bohls: I would not. He’s too valuable as a place-kicker to overuse. He’s too valuable after kicking three of four field goals from beyond 50 yards the past three years with game-winning boots to beat Oklahoma and Kansas. It behooves Steve Sarkisian to spare him the challenge of handling all three jobs because that almost certainly would lead to fatigue and perhaps a critical field goal miss at the wrong time.
Golden: No way. He’s a talented cat, but the Horns have the look of a team that won’t be lighting it up on a consistent basis, so a fresh-legged Dicker will be essential to this team's success. Hopefully Ryan Bujcevski is fully recovered from last November's torn ACL and can punt effectively enough so Dicker the Kicker won’t have to change his nickname to Dicker of Assorted Duties.
7. Besides OU and Iowa State, what's the most challenging game?
Bohls: At the risk of listing TCU in Fort Worth — the Horned Frogs are 7-2 against the Horns in their last nine — I’ll seriously pick the season opener against a veteran, dangerous Louisiana team that's entirely capable of pulling off maybe the biggest upset in that school’s history. The Ragin’ Cajuns return 20 starters, are ranked in the preseason Top 25 for the first time and might have the best non-Power Five coach in the FBS in Billy Napier.
Golden: Louisiana. It would be a huge mistake to sleep on the Ragin’ Cajuns. Texas rarely opens with such a tough game, and with a trip coming against future SEC mate Arkansas the next week, the opener has trap game written all over it.
8. Would you give Bijan Robinson 25 touches in a game?
Bohls: Probably not. In certain games, such as Oklahoma and maybe Iowa State, yes, but it wouldn’t be smart to wear out the workhorse. Remember he had more than 10 carries in only four games last year. He probably needs about 20 touches a game. Luckily, Sarkisian doesn’t have to overload him since backup Roschon Johnson looks better and more physical than ever and transfer Keilan Robinson has Sark’s trust from their Alabama days or the coach wouldn’t have plucked him out of Tuscaloosa.
Golden: Only if I want to win. The Horns will face some loaded fronts, but their best bet is to feed Robinson like a guy who walks into Golden Corral after fasting for a week. If he can get 20 carries with some decent blocking and four or five targets in the passing game, the Horns will put some points on the board.
9. Would you keep playing Ja'Tavion Sanders at tight end or move him to defense?
Bohls: I’d move him today. He’s at the deepest position on the team outside of defensive line, and even though he’s talented enough to play on both sides of the ball after doing that in high school, he could make a bigger and more immediate contribution sooner on defense as an edge rusher. That said, the fact that he is still auditioning at tight end underscores how strong the defensive front is without him. Just don’t waste a year of him.
Golden: It’s only a matter of time before we see Sanders with his hand on the ground as an edge rusher. What offensive tackle out there wants to block a 6-foot-4, 256-pound man mountain with Allen Iverson’s first step? Let’s hope he’s racking up sacks sooner rather than later.
10. What advice would you give Sarkisian before his first season?
Bohls: Beat Louisiana is the most obvious advice. But I’d say don’t go overboard in recruiting out-of-state talent. At least not early. Warming to the tight Texas high school coaching fraternity is of the essence (read: Charlie Strong). It’s fine to cherry-pick an out-of-state linebacker here or a running back there, but Sark is smart enough to build his foundation with Texas talent.
Golden: Don’t lose. Seriously, with the high expectations around here, Sark would be well served to just be his most authentic self, not just in his interactions with the media and the people he has to deal with as UT's head coach/CEO, but especially in the locker room. Developing meaningful relationships with his most valuable assets is crucial to any success in Season One.