Charlie Strong‘s first Texas-Oklahoma press conference was generally loose and relaxed, punctuated with two or three moments of laughter amid all the questions of rivalries, rivalry games, expectations, offensive shortcomings and, of course, core values.
He acknowledged frustration over the loss to Baylor in his opening remarks. He took partial blame for Baylor’s final touchdown, a 30-yard pass from Bryce Petty to Corey Coleman that made it 28-0 in the fourth quarter, saying the Longhorns were caught in the wrong (man-to-man) coverage. And he set up this week’s game by saying he told the team on Sunday that since it happened last year, it can happen again this year.
Then, he opened up questions with, “Go ahead, Alex,” acknowledging a reporter who has asked every week about the status of suspended players.
That was the first burst of laughter from the room. The other was when our own Brian Davis set up a question on the impact the Texas-OU game has on Longhorns head coaches by referencing how “we’d kill Mack Brown after a loss to Oklahoma.” Strong, not missing a beat, interrupted him and deadpanned, “Are you saying I’m gonna get killed next week?” And the last came late, when he was asked to give a midseason grade for his team. He answered, “We’re sitting here at 2-3 … midseason grades? Wow.”
On suspended tackle Desmond Harrison: No news on that front.
On Tyrone Swoopes: Strong repeatedly mentioned his quarterback, inserting him into questions that weren’t necessarily about Swoopes himself.
When asked about what it was about Jerrod Heard preventing him from playing: “It’s not so much that he may not be in the equation; he just hasn’t had the opportunity. Look at Swoopes. It’s his second year, so you still have a young quarterback that you’re still developing. We’ve got to get other guys to make plays for us …”
When asked later about what this team’s strength is: “We’re always going to be playing to win on defense. Our offense, you’ve got to be good down the middle. Losing (Dominic) Espinosa has hurt us more than losing any player. Then you lose your quarterback in Ash. You think back to the spring game, and no one every thought Swoopes would be in the position he’s in right now. …”
When asked if he felt the offensive line took a step forward against Baylor: “It has to be a combination. You have to be balanced with the throwing game and the running game. Right now, teams don’t feel you can throw the football, so they load the box. But I think we can (throw). Even Saturday, we had throws. The first play of the game, we had (tight end Geoff) Swaim wide open when the safety ran to the right side. If he’d (Swoopes) just thrown it to Swaim, it’s a touchdown. It’s a young quarterback you’re dealing with, and sometimes things have to be almost perfect for him. But it’s not always going to be perfect. He just hasn’t been in that position long enough. That’s why losing Ash hurt you. It’s water under the bridge now. But every week is something new for him (Swoopes).”
And when asked about what the problem is on offense in the second half of games: “You’ve got to develop a rhythm. Offense is all about rhythm. When you’re good on offense, it’s going to come from your quarterback position. So when he gets going, your offense is going to get going.”
Other things covered in Strong’s presser:
On the Texas-OU rivalry: “The players have been in that atmosphere. It’s a momentum swing (game) anytime with rivalry games. It’ll be one-sided, then all of a sudden someone makes a play and it changes to the other side. It’s always where the first five minutes of the football game when everybody’s juiced up, and then after that, it settles down. And it’s never quiet. The stadium’s split down the middle, so then everybody’s going to be yelling for someone.”
On his relationship with Bob Stoops: “Bob and I are friends. When I was at Florida, I was leaving Florida as he was coming in. Even at the Big 12 meetings, we sat and talked (with) each other. I really respect him and the job he’s done at Oklahoma. Think about it, he goes in and in his second year wins the national championship. I’ve always respected the job he’s done. He’s an unbelievable coach and, beyond that, a good person.”
On how to approach a big game: “I like to try to embrace the emotions. They know how big it is, the buildup, everyone’s talking about it, it’s all they ever hear. I said to them yesterday that last year, this is what we did, so don’t think we can’t do it again. But you’ve got to be a step faster in this game, hit a little harder in this game. This is one of those special games.”
On Nick Rose’s problems: “We can do much better in the kicking game. We hit that field goal every day in practice. I tell him, it should be no different for you. You should want them (the crowd) to see you go make this field goal.”
Strong then was asked again whether Rose would be the kicker this week. “Yes,” he said. “Stay with Nick.”
On what he’s learned about this team, since August: “I would like to be better than what we are. It’s lacking confidence, and it’s confidence where you go and finish the game, and it’s confidence on Saturday when I said we’ve got to go learn how to win. It’s a building process, and when you don’t have success early and you’re dealing with a young team, you just go continue building it. It’s all a process.”
On offensive line coach Joe Wickline not staying out for “The Eyes of Texas”: “It’s nothing medical, or anything wrong. I just think sometimes coaches may get so frustrated with the results, they walk away. We understand ‘The Eyes of Texas’ and would never jeopardize the university for our own personal feelings, and that won’t happen.”
Assuming he meant, “and that won’t happen again.”
On where he’d grade Texas right now: “Let me say this: I don’t know if we can put a letter grade on it, but we can play better. We’re not playing up to our ability. We can play a lot better than what we’re playing. … Look back at UCLA, there’s an opportunity we let get away from us. It wasn’t just the touchdown pass. It was the punt return, (and) when we had a chance and couldn’t make a first down. And then look at this (past) Saturday, we had opportunities. We still have a lot of work to do. I just don’t want to set a letter grade. But I will say this, if it were my letter grade, it wouldn’t be very good.”
The Longhorns (2-3 overall, 1-1 in the Big 12) and 11th-ranked Sooners (4-1, 1-1) are playing for the 109th time. Texas leads the series, 60-43-5 and also holds the edge in Dallas, at 48-39-4. Texas won last year, but Oklahoma has taken three of the last four.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 11 a.m., on ABC.
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