Football

As Texas' frustrations mount, momentum turning against Charlie Strong

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Story highlights
  • With a 13-16 record, Strong one of only two UT coaches ever with a sub-.500 record.
  • “It’s all about confidence and kids playing with confidence. You can get that back."
  • If losses continue, speculation will grow over Charlie Strong's job status in Austin.

Posted October 2nd, 2016

STILLWATER, Okla. — All coaches can pinpoint the moment the tide turned against them. For Texas’ Charlie Strong, it was Saturday in Stillwater.

Texas’ embarrassing 49-31 loss to Oklahoma State may have permanently altered the narrative back in Austin. It’ll take a lot more than one win this week against rival Oklahoma to turn things around now.

The Longhorns (2-2, 0-1 in the Big 12) are only one-third of the way through the regular season, yet national reporters are now commenting about Strong’s job status. Indeed, the speculation will only intensify with every loss. And perhaps Texas athletic director Mike Perrin was caught off guard by reporters after the game, but he’s now on record after saying, “I’m evaluating everything.”

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“It’s all about confidence and kids playing with confidence,” said Strong, who’s now 13-16 in his two-plus seasons and currently holds the worst losing percentage (.448) of any coach in school history. “You can get that back.”

Texas's Kris Boyd gets some hand to his helmet by OSU's Jalen McCleskey during the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. Texas lost to OSU 49-31. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN
Texas’s Kris Boyd gets some hand to his helmet by OSU’s Jalen McCleskey during the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Instead of Strong being able to “fix it,” as he promised two weeks ago, the Longhorns wound up losing their 10th game in three seasons by 18 points or more. And on Sunday, Texas fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Strong and Jack Chevigny (13-14-2 in 1934-36) are the only coaches in UT history with sub-.500 records.

It’s worth noting that Dana X. Bible was 8-18-1 the three years after taking over for Chevigny and almost seven decades before the advent of Twitter. Bible famously turned things around and won Southwest Conference titles in 1942 and ’43, events parsed in newspapers rather than message boards.

Even though the Horns knew they’d have to “pack their defense,” as Strong insisted, they allowed 555 total yards and fell to 1-6 in true road games since the start of the 2015 season. Texas is allowing 38.3 points per game — five points more than the school record set in 1997. The defense still has only one takeaway in four games.

“When something’s going downhill, whether it’s good or bad, it’s hard to stop,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “Right now, we’ve got to slow down and stop the snowball going the wrong direction on defense.”

Perhaps it helps to face the 20th-ranked Sooners (2-2, 1-0) this week. Going back to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, site of last year’s emphatic 24-17 upset win, could ignite the Longhorns.

“I hope so. I hope they’re ready to grind this week,” defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “I hope starting (Sunday), everyone puts this aside and we go take out OU. That’s what’s gotta happen. It’s the only way. We’ve got to turn around our season right now.”

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes said everyone will be ready for the challenge. “I don’t think it will be hard for anyone to get ready to play,” he said.

Linebacker Malik Jefferson said, “We have to regain the momentum.”

Sure, it’s easy to get up for OU. But why weren’t the Horns ready for the Cowboys?

Multiple missed tackles led to two early OSU touchdowns. “Just run through the guy,” an exasperated Strong said. “We’re trying to reach and pull him down instead of just wrapping the guy up and getting him on the ground.”

Busted coverages were big reasons why Jalen McCleskey got free for two scores before halftime, as OSU built a 37-25 lead.

Fans are likely to pinpoint the various mistakes that go directly to coaching, or lack thereof.

The Texas coaches picked up their second unsportsmanlike sideline penalty of the year. The field goal unit didn’t get onto the field in time, prompting a delay of game penalty. A 42-yard attempt became a 47-yarder, and Trent Domingue missed wide left.

Then, Strong called timeout with 1:27 remaining before halftime after Charles Omenihu’s big sack brought up second-and-17. The team needed to get off the field. Instead, the Cowboys regrouped and scored six plays later on a long pass.

In the third quarter, UT coaches sent Swoopes onto the field facing first-and-10 while backed up to his own 7-yard line. Two running plays later, Shane Buechele came back in and threw an interception on third down, setting up another easy OSU score. The same sequence happened against Notre Dame, too.

Texas' extra-point attempt is blocked by OSU in the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN
Texas’ extra-point attempt is blocked by OSU in the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday, October 1, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

If anyone laid odds in Las Vegas that Texas would have four extra points blocked and two would be returned for scores in the first four games, you’re a winner.

All of these in-game events fuel Strong’s critics that he simply can’t handle this job. None of that changes with a singular victory, even one against the Sooners. That’s why the Horns must show considerable improvement in the coming weeks. Or the noise about Strong’s job status intensifies.

For the record, an influential source told the American-Statesman on Saturday that school administrators are not considering a coaching change at this point. And it’s unlikely that UT President Gregory L. Fenves would even entertain such an idea after only four games.

But the mere fact that these questions have to be asked at this point can’t be good.

“You’re going to be upset when you’re not winning,” running back D’Onta Foreman said. “But It’s not over for us, though. Nobody feels like it’s over. We’ve got a really good team here. We all believe that. We’ve just got to clean up our mistakes, and when we do that, we can get this thing rolling.”

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

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