Texas Longhorns: Louisville Cardinals

What Wickline, Watson bring to Texas

January, 22, 2014
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Charlie Strong has more than six months to come up with his answer to the question, but Texas fans will demand to know by March.

What kind of offense will the Longhorns install this offseason? That’s all anyone has wanted to know since Strong was hired earlier this month.

The answer he’s offered up so far: A spread attack with a power run game.

“You look at Louisville, and we weren't a spread team. We lined up and had a good mixture. It is all about balance,” Strong said last week. “You look at Oklahoma, and it is a balance and what you want to see, a balance with your run and pass.

“You can talk about all those teams that throw the ball around, but at the end of the day, if you can't line up and run downhill and punch somebody in the mouth, then you are going to have issues.”

Strong is planning to marry the concepts and talents of offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, one of the nation’s premier offensive line coaches, with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, his OC at Louisville.

Let’s take a closer look at what Wickline and Watson achieved at their previous stops. If they can come anywhere close to recreating their recent success, Texas’ No. 66-ranked scoring offense in 2013 could be in for some promising changes.

Wickline at Oklahoma State

Wickline helped oversee one of the most successful offenses in in the country while coaching the Cowboys’ offensive line. The numbers certainly back that up.

Since arriving at OSU in 2005, Oklahoma State has had the No. 3 scoring offense in FBS with an average of 37.7 points per game. Over that same nine-year tenure, OSU ranked No. 5 nationally in total offense, fifth in yards per play and ninth in yards per rush.

Just as impressive: The Wickline-coached offensive lines gave up the third-fewest sacks in FBS over the past nine seasons.

Wickline comes from an offense that was best in the Big 12 in scoring, rushing, yards per play and explosive plays of 20-plus yards over the past nine years. His QBs were kept clean, averaging fewer than 15 sacks per season, and his rushers thrived, with four different backs combining for six straight All-Big 12 honors.

You can attribute that to Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. You can credit the six different offensive coordinators OSU had during those nine years. It truly is remarkable production for that much staff turnover. But give Wickline his due credit, too.

His offensive lines protected and paved the way for six top-20 offenses. Quarterback Zac Robinson started 36 games in his career and was sacked a total of 32 times. Brandon Weeden (26 starts) went down 21 times in his career. Clint Chelf took 18 sacks.

Meanwhile, Colt McCoy was sacked 92 times in 53 starts. David Ash has 22 starts and has already been sacked 30 times.

We don’t know what Wickline brings to the table as a play-caller. But we do know he helped build the foundation for one of the nation’s best spread attacks and comes to Austin with a wealth of knowledge on how to install a similar scheme at Texas.

Watson at Louisville

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTexas hopes to see a big improvement in its offense with the addition of Shawn Watson to the coaching staff.
The three-year averages of Watson’s time as Louisville offensive coordinator are, well, average.

Since the start of 2011, Louisville’s offense ranked No. 53 in scoring and No. 58 in total offense nationally. But those stats don’t explain the growth the Cardinals enjoyed under Watson.

Just compare the offenses of 2011 and 2013. A 21.9-points-per-game offense evolved into 35.2 per game, which ranked in the top 25 nationally. Total offense went up 127 yards per game in two seasons, and Louisville went from 90th in FBS in yards per play to 12th.

The Cardinals enjoyed year-to-year improvements in nearly every major offensive statistic from 2011 to 2013, while remaining faithful to a 50-50 run-pass split.

And there is one statistic the Cardinals truly hung their hat on over these past three years: Their offense turned the ball over just 44 times, which tied with Alabama and Navy for second fewest in FBS. They had the fewest turnovers in the country in 2013 with 10, a number only three teams have bested in the past decade.

And yes, Teddy Bridgewater had an awful lot to do with this progress. You can also argue that Louisville’s conference competition weakened over this period due to realignment.

But the results are real, and it’s not hard to see why Strong brought Watson with him.

How Watson and Wickline will collaborate on this Longhorn offense remains to be seen. But if their last jobs are any indication, the future of Texas' offense appears to be in capable hands.
Hours after top commit Poona Ford decommitted from Louisville, the Cardinals lost another 2014 pledge along the defensive line.

Three-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian) is reopening his recruitment, he told ESPN.com in a text message Friday.


While a decommitment has been expected, defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) has officially backed off his verbal commitment to the Louisville Cardinals Hilton Head High head coach B.J. Payne confirmed.

“Poona Ford has decommitted from Louisville and will take official visits to Texas, Oregon and Missouri,” Payne said. “He has taken time and re-evaluated his recruitment, and decided this morning. As of last night, he was still evaluating everything with his recruitment.”

Ford, ranked No. 271 overall in the ESPN 300, plans to make official visits to Texas on Jan. 17, Oregon on Jan. 24 and Missouri on Jan. 31.

With Charlie Strong taking the Texas job last week, the Longhorns get the first shot at the 6-foot, 285-pound Ford. The nation’s No. 23 defensive tackle has held an offer from the Tigers for a few months and, after originally being high on Mizzou, Ford is reconsidering the reigning SEC East champs. As for Oregon, the Ducks are the latest to the party, having extended an offer to Ford on Thursday.

If there is to be another program that has the opportunity to quickly jump into the picture for the athletic defensive tackle prospect, it’s Michigan State although the Spartans have yet to extend an offer. Purdue is also an outside possibility for a mid-week visit.

Ford is the No. 10 ranked prospect in South Carolina in the 2014 class. He was a standout in last week’s Semper Fidelis All-American Game.

With Ford’s decision to re-open his recruitment, the Cardinals now have 20 commitments, including a quartet of four-star prospects led by local quarterback Reggie Bonnafon (Louisville, Ky./Trinity High).
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Louisville’s class is in free fall after Charlie Strong’s departure for Texas, but would Bobby Petrino be able to salvage things? And, Wednesday produced a mix of both bad and good news for Strong.

Louisville’s class needs a shepherd

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Texas offers Louisville commit Nelson 

January, 8, 2014
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Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong is already hitting the recruiting trail with a vengeance while he also works to complete his coaching staff. Strong reached out on Wednesday evening to defensive tackle Chris Nelson, who happens to be currently committed to Louisville.

“Yes, coach Strong offered me within the last hour or so,” Nelson said. “He was just asking me if I would be interested in following him to Texas and that he wants me.”

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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

January, 8, 2014
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A solid weekend resulted in a bump in the ESPN class rankings for Oklahoma. The Sooners picked up two players who should help the offense in ESPN 300 running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) and four-star offensive guard Natrell Curtis (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe). Both are U.S. Army All-Americans.

With the commitments, Oklahoma jumped from No. 21 to No. 18 in the latest rankings. Oklahoma also jumped ahead of Baylor for the No. 2 spot among Big 12 schools. Texas still leads the conference at the No. 13 spot.

Baylor fell from No. 17 to No. 19, and Oklahoma State moved up a spot from No. 24 to No. 23. Texas Tech and West Virginia remained at Nos. 38 and 39, respectively, to round out the national top 40.

Here is a more in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Texas’ hire of Charlie Strong could help the Longhorns open up new recruiting territories, but it will also be important for him to hire assistants who have ties to the Lone Star State. Louisville’s top 25 class is very much in flux after Strong’s departure.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas needed a head coach who wins and wins big. Athletic director Steve Patterson had admitted that from the start of his three-week search to replace Mack Brown.

Patterson has found a coach in Charlie Strong who has done just that.

The next head coach of the Longhorns comes to Austin armed with more than three decades of experience and perhaps just what this program has been missing. Agreeing to leave Louisville wasn’t easy for Strong, hence this long and arduous weekend, but he couldn't turn down the opportunity that Texas offers.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyIn Charlie Strong, Texas will get a national championship winner, a tenacious recruiter and a coach who will bring toughness and discipline to the Longhorns.
How he’ll fit at Texas, in a job that’s both richly rewarding and unusually challenging, can’t be answered today. But what we know most about Strong, the trait he’s worn on his sleeve everywhere he has gone, is how hungry he is to succeed.

Strong came to Louisville as a defensive mastermind after helping lead Florida to two national championships in eight seasons. He coached 13 All-American defenders, six first-round draft picks and multiple top-five scoring defenses.

Yet for all those years of success, Strong was repeatedly passed over for head-coaching jobs. At age 49, he finally got his chance to be a head man after 27 years in the business.

"I just wanted somebody so hungry he would crawl here,” Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said when he hired Strong, “and there's no doubt he would crawl here.”

Strong was just as hungry to reward Jurich’s faith, and he certainly did that. Louisville won two conference titles and three bowls in his four seasons at the helm, went a combined 23-3 in his last two years and upset No. 3 Florida in last year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Strong, now 53, nearly moved on to Tennessee a year ago. Jurich persuaded him to stay. Now he’s ready for the big stage and his biggest job yet.

A respected recruiter, Strong has wisely hitched his wagon to recruiting Florida, especially Miami, where he found Teddy Bridgewater and more than a dozen other current Cardinals. Two-thirds of his 2013 roster came from in-state and Florida talent.

His recruiting chops will be put to the test in Texas, a state where he has few ties. He spent one year coaching in this state -- as a Texas A&M grad assistant in 1985 -- and had no Texans on this season’s Louisville roster.

Establishing a new pipeline in Florida would be a significant breakthrough for this program, but Texas also needs a coach who can keep up with Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M and regain control of the Lone Star State.

That’s just one of many tall challenges facing Strong and his staff, but in his four years at Louisville he proved adept in an area Texas has struggled with in recent years: player development.

Strong won 12 games this season with a starting lineup featuring 13 former three-star recruits and eight two-stars. Bridgewater, who has emerged as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, was one of just two four-star starters.

Marcus Smith signed as a three-star wanting to play quarterback and became an All-American defensive end. Six more of the former three-stars and a trio of two-stars earned all-conference honors last month.

And by all accounts, the Cardinals players revered Strong. He’s known as a tough, fiery disciplinarian with high standards, and that might be just what this program needs now.

Still, this hire is guaranteed to come with second-guessing. It’s Texas. A big job comes with bigger scrutiny.

No matter how the Texas fan base feels about Strong, it wants to know why the Longhorns didn’t wait for Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, or why Baylor coach Art Briles never interviewed. Those were a few of the perceived Plan A candidates, and some pundits will argue that Texas didn’t make a splashy megahire. But Patterson won’t care what gets said this week. He has served as athletic director for 40 days and knew he was staking his reputation at Texas to whomever he selected.

We don’t know whom Strong will bring with him to Austin or who will comprise his first staff. We don’t know what offense he’ll run. But we do know he’ll inherit plenty of talent, endless resources and far greater expectations.

For better or worse, Strong has more in common with Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops than Mack Brown. If Patterson was concerned about finding a coach with a reputation for being excessively media-savvy, as Brown was throughout his tenure, the AD would’ve gone in a different direction.

Instead, it seems safe to say that Patterson cared much more about the other side of a “fit”: a proven, tested and respected success. A coach who’s a winner and a program changer.

That’s what Texas needed above all else, and winning is the best thing Strong can do to assure a divided fan base that he’s the right choice.
Myles TurnerCourtesy of Kelly Kline/Under ArmourNo. 10 recruit Myles Turner is down to eight finalists: Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State, Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, Louisville and Ohio State.
Myles Turner (Bedford, Texas/Euless Trinity) was unknown and anonymous just a few months ago, heading into the April recruiting period. A broken ankle kept him off the summer circuit last season and kept him off the radar for most of the elite college programs.

But it has all changed in a hurry for the 6-foot-11, 225-pound Texan, who has made an Anthony Davis-esque rise up the rankings, elevating himself from outside the ESPN 100 to No. 10 overall in the Class of 2014 to now potentially challenging fellow big men Jahlil Okafor (Chicago/Whitney Young) and Cliff Alexander (Chicago/Curie) for the No. 1 spot. While Okafor is polished and skilled, no one in the 2014 class may have as much upside as Turner.

Turner recently cut his college list to eight and has set just one official visit thus far, to Lawrence, Kan., for the Jayhawks’ Midnight Madness on Oct. 4. Turner’s father, David, told ESPN.com that the family has also already set up in-home visits with Texas and Kentucky.

Here’s handicapping the race for Turner, ranking his finalists from 1-8 after talking to those involved in the recruitment:

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ESPN.com's preseason power rankings

August, 9, 2013
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College Football Power Rankings illustrationESPN IllustrationTBD BY EDITORIAL


Not surprisingly, the back-to-back BCS champions are again preseason favorites and top ESPN's power rankings. But a number of elite programs are ready for their chance to dethrone the king.

Top 15 breakdown
No. 1 Alabama
No. 2 Ohio State
No. 3 Oregon
No. 4 Stanford
No. 5 Texas A&M
No. 6 (tie) Georgia
No. (tie) South Carolina
No. 8 Louisville
No. 9 Clemson
No. 10 Florida
No. 11 Florida State
No. 12 LSU
No. 13 Notre Dame
No. 14 (tie) Michigan
No. 14 (tie) Texas

Five-star center Myles Turner (Bedford, Texas/Trinity) has confirmed that he has trimmed his list to eight schools. In no particular order, the finalists for high school basketball’s hottest prospect are Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Arizona, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas.


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Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) already holds offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and a handful of other big-time programs, so he wasn’t surprised to get a new offer on Monday.

He was surprised, however, that it came from Texas. The ESPN 150 defensive tackle met with Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels on Monday and could look into checking out what the Longhorns have to offer this summer.


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Four Downs: Longhorns need to unite 

April, 10, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Each week Sean Adams looks at a few topics around the Texas Longhorns and college football.

First down: Somebody better be angry ...


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Longhorns 11th in Way-Too-Early Top 25

January, 8, 2013
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Alabama CheerleadersStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAlabama, with three of the past four national titles, is No. 1 in the Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2013.

There's still seven months before the start of the 2013 season, and the teams and their order figure to change frequently, but it's never too early to take a look at the Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2013.

And with three national championships in the past four years, there's no reason to change the team that's on top. Texas, with plenty of talent returning, is 11th in the rankings.

Also see:
SAN ANTONIO -- Wednesday was a day off for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl teams. Instead of working out and participating in drills, the players took in visits around the city -- including a stop at the Alamodome for photo opportunities and to see their game apparel -- and used the day to recover from two days of practice.

The teams will return to the fields on Thursday in arguably the most important practice of the week. Here are five things to keep an eye on for Thursday’s practice:

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