It took 13 minutes before Texas Tech was even mentioned in Charlie Strong‘s weekly press conference, perhaps a statement that, at least among the media that regularly covers this team, there are more important things to address than simply this week’s matchup between two 3-5 teams with sub-.500 conference records.
What’s the mood and psychology of this team?
Is Tyrone Swoopes your guy for 2015?
Why not give Jerrod Heard a shot over these next four games, looking ahead to 2015?
Is there a problem with the coaching staff? As in, who’s really in charge of deciding who’s playing and not playing, or who’s in or out of the rotation during the game, and who’s really calling plays here?
It was that kind of day. We gave Strong multiple chances to answer things about Malcolm Brown‘s non-use during the second half of last Saturday’s 23-0 loss in Manhattan, and about how he can get this team three more wins out of the final four games to reach a bowl, and about how this staff is run on game days. Some of those, he answered. Some he didn’t.
Strong started the day by addressing the obvious: Texas is 3-5. “That is not acceptable within this program,” he said.
Regarding Brown — Texas’ leading rusher (109-417-4) who yielded to Johnathan Gray and D’Onta Foreman in the second half at Kansas State — Strong was asked four different questions, spread throughout the presser, which means reporters felt they had to return to the subject either because (a) they didn’t feel the question was answered or (b) it’s important to figure out how a head coach is OK with giving one of his position coaches the final say on who is and isn’t playing.
On Brown’s lack of second-half touches: “Well, we rotate three running backs. It turned into a throwing game, (so) he didn’t get the touches. Plus we didn’t run the ball as much as we needed to.”
(The Longhorns had 27 carries, coming off games where they had 39, 40, 40, 36, 30, 35 and 40).
Later, on whether it’s truly up to position coaches to decide who’s in the game: “Each coach is responsible for these guys. You’ve had two backs, Malcolm and J-Gray, and then D’Onta had a really good week of practice, so it was, let’s give the kid some touches. At some point, he’s going to be an outstanding player here. It’s all about just getting guys in the rotation. When you have enough players at those positions that you can rotate, you like to see that.”
And then, as an immediate follow-up, whether he ever literally tells Shawn Watson or Tommie Robinson something like, “I want Malcolm in there”: “I don’t get into it. That’s their job. That’s why I have them here. Now if a guy’s not ready, I’ll say something to them.”
And, later, on why neither Strong nor Watson knew after the game why Brown hadn’t played: “Well, it’s up to each coach to substitute his players.”
For the record, Swoopes led the team in rushing with 8 carries for 31 yards. Gray had 10 carries for 24, Brown had 6 for 21, and Foreman had 3 for 14.
On the team’s mindset: “You still have four games left to go play and you have a chance to get to a bowl game, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s never what someone else does. It’s what we do. Now we’ll see just how good of coaches we are. You can’t allow the players to check out.”
On whether that fumbled reverse was reeeally supposed to be a pitch or handoff: “It’s not a handoff. Wide receivers don’t take handoffs on Saturday. It’s the pitch we always do. We just didn’t execute it.:
Translation: Blame Jaxon Shipley, the senior, for that play. Not Foreman, the freshman.
On the status of …: Left tackle Desmond Harrison (suspended) will not play this week; right guard Kent Perkins (knee) is day to day, and will be evaluated during practices; wide receiver Daje Johnson (hamstring) may play, since he’s practicing again, but “we’ll see how he moves around.”
On whether Strong knows what he’s got at quarterback for 2015 in Swoopes, or whether giving Heard a shot should be considered in these final games: “Last week at this time, we were all just praising Tyrone over how great he played. That’s the thing with this position. It’s all about consistency with him. (The quarterback) is always going to get the praise when he plays well. … Tyrone is still young, still growing, still developing, and it’s hard to put a guy on a pedestal so quickly. He’s going to get better and better.”
(If you noticed the lack of answer to the question there, you are correct. No mention of the thinking about playing Heard in advance of the offseason and spring.)
On whether he’s concerned about the Joe Wickline/Oklahoma State lawsuit: “You’re always concerned. He’s a part of our staff. At the end of the day, it’s why he has lawyers, and we’ll let that settle, and that’s going to be settled the right way. He’s my guy.”
On whether Texas should change things up: “There’s no need for us to change up. There are four games left to go play, so we need to go play these four games. It’s all about the seniors, got to get them to a bowl game. You look at our schedule, I know there’s sitting on it two ranked teams, and we haven’t beaten a ranked team.”
And then, finally, the first light moment came more than 20 minutes into the presser when Strong was asked how he gets his team to turn the page after these types of losses.
“We have struggles, yes,” he answered. “But we create our own struggles. It’s all about executing. You think about those five losses. Against BYU we didn’t play well, and got embarrassed. You had a young quarterback playing for the first time. Then against UCLA, with four minutes to go you have a lead, but give up a double move on the outside TD, and a big punt return before that. Then you get into the Baylor game, you expect to play well at home. That’s gotta happen, when you defend your home surface. The Oklahoma game, we get down 18 but fight back and get back into the game, and then on third-and-3 and you don’t get the stop on defense. And then back on the road at K-State, anytime you’re on the road, you have to play great defense. You just move the ball and just getting down to execute. We haven’t executed. But you still have four games left to play. It’s Texas Tech this week, so let’s get ready to go play.”
At which point our own Kirk Bohls, who had the microphone ready to ask about all the false start penalties, instead said: ‘You know you have a future as a play-by-play guy.”
There was laughter.
On the false starts: Strong blamed it on players not being able to hear the snap counts, on guys jumping, on guys not focusing, and on guys not locking in.
On which players are leading this team: Strong named, in order, cornerback Quandre Diggs (“doing a really good job”), defensive tackle Malcom Brown (“who’s only a junior”), linebacker Jordan Hicks (“doing a great job”), linebacker Steve Edmond (“even 33 is doing a great job”), running back Malcolm Brown and running back Johnathan Gray (“they’re doing good jobs”), wide receiver Jaxon Shipley (“though he doesn’t say much”) and wide receiver John Harris (“Harris is good.”)
On the hazards of recruiting when you’re 3-5: “A lot of times, you’re sitting at 3-5 and they think they can play for you,” Strong quipped. “What sells, seriously, is that the University of Texas has everything you need academically and athletically. They see your record, but they also see the university, and the opportunity for you to go play at a great place.”
On Heard, and how he’s progressing, and whether the offense would need to change with him: “Jerrod has been in the offense, so you wouldn’t have to change it up. You might have to cut it down, like we did for Tyrone in the beginning. But he’s progressing well. … He’s going to be an unbelievable player. He just needs to continue to develop.”
And, the final question, on Strong’s learning curve here as a coach, and how he’d grade himself: “You’re always learning. When you’re not winning, then the grade’s not very good for you. I look at it like this: When players start trusting you and start believing you care about them, then you can get done anything you need to get done. Me personally, I don’t think I’ve done a great job or we wouldn’t be sitting here at 3-5.”