How well does Cody Johnson run the ball? The two strengths of the Central Florida defense are the Knights' ability to stop the run and similar aptitude for sacking the quarterback. Starting Cody Johnson, or at least featuring him early in the game, is a direct attempt by the coaches to test Johnson -- can he succeed at efficiently running the football against a team that stops the run well? Ross Lucksinger calls it "four yards and a cloud of dust," which aptly describes the current emphasis of the Texas running game.
The Texas running game just isn't going to make big plays unless the defense is completely worn out, that much is exceedingly clear, but consistently picking up yardage is the main priority, even if it is only four yards. A lot of that falls on the offense line to perform better and more consistently, but the coaching staff probably hopes that Johnson's ability to break tackles and move the pile can increase the number of successful runs.
There are also strategies in football for getting running backs the ball while they're already moving. Pretty revolutionary idea, I know, especially for a bigger back like Johnson. And no, I'm not talking about running to the line of scrimmage and then running the ball after a hand off from under center -- that was getting ridiculous by about the third game of the season. Now it's just stupid. Why is it, GD that only two times this season have the Longhorns thrown the ball after going jet tempo and then quick-snapping the ball? Why only once with McCoy, a screen pass that ended up getting a holding called on Kirkendoll because he didn't have time to get lined up and figure out who he was supposed to block.
Of course, there's also the pistol. How I pine for Texas to use the pistol. Call it the Colt .45. It's just too perfect, yet Davis and Brown -- might as well throw him in there, too -- ruin the beautiful opportunity.
The point, of course, is that the coaches want to see Johnson run the ball well, and more often than he ever has in a collegiate game, and maybe, just maybe, he can finally earn himself a nickname if he's successful.
Can Texas exploit the secondary, the weak link of the UCF defense? All the talk about Johnson means there will be an emphasis on the running game, but that's going against UCF's strength. Their secondary is the team's weakness, as they give up plenty of passing yards every game. With that being said, Texas probably will not and should not come out with a bunch of empty sets and four-wide packages given the good edge rushers for UCF -- with good protection, someone should be able to get open, even if there are only three or four players out in the route and one of them is EBS in the case of four receivers.
Here's the key though, play Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin early -- they need the quality game reps for an extended period of time. Play them exclusively the first two or three drives with Shipley and EBS, using Buckner on passing downs or for a change of pace. Note: that's change of pace, GD. Along with Shipley, those are the players most likely to break big plays for the Texas offense.
Hey, and while you're at, GD, how about giving the ball to Goodwin two or three times on the jet sweep, then maybe throw a pass off it. Just for fun. LIke a little experiment, see if anything good happens. Considering that Longhorn running backs have carried four times for 33 yards on the jet sweep, even though several of the plays weren't even particularly well blocked, the play works. And works well. That's an average of 8.3 yards per carry!
Here's how the experiment works, GD -- you commit to running the play four times a game. Just four -- not that many, we're just talking every once in a while, then see if the other team can stop it. Because no one has yet. In fact, it's more that the Longhorns have stopped themselves by failing to block more consistently on the offense line to avoid early penetration. On the edge, I like the chances with Johnson taking a safety or nickel back, then Williams and Shipley blocking on the perimeter. Those are the more important blocks, anyway. Put I'll take that every time, against any defense until it doesn't work.
You can even keep it really, really simple. GD, you don't even have to run the counters off of it against UCF. That's fine, save those for the magic moment.
Oh yeah, back to the issue here. About the receivers -- it was nice that Chiles had a third-down catch against Oklahoma State and that Kirkendoll turned a short pass into a nice gain early, but save them for later in the game or just put them in if Goodwin and Williams get winded. They lost their starting jobs for because they weren't producing -- treat them like back ups.
Can the defense shutout the Knights? George O'Leary's general offensive philsophy is to run the football, then run the fooball some more until they can hit some play-action to a group of receivers even Scipio Tex seems to like. You know, for Central Florida. Since Will Muschamp lives to stop the run on first and second down and Lamarr Houston, Ben Alexander, and Kheeston Randall performed extremely well against Oklahoma State, the best running team Texas will face all season, particularly inside, that strategy may not work well for the Knights, forcing them either out of their normal gameplan, common for opponents against this Texas defense, or into third-and-long situations. The second scenario will give the Longhorn defensive ends plenty of opportunities to get after the quarterback, something they weren't able to do much of last week because of concern over Zac Robinson's scrambling abilities. Personally, I'll be disappointed if I don't see a "freaky leg plant" sack, UTEP-style.
In any case, pressure on the quarterback will give the secondary chances to make plays on the football. Perhaps another pick six there might help the ol' Thorpe Award candidacy, Earl. Or a ridiculous strip like you made near the goalline against Oklahoma (one I forgot to mention, somehow, when I was discussing the playmaking defense the other day). Maybe Blake Gideon even makes another play and gets a better chance to return an interception, to shut his teammates up about being tackled by an offensive lineman last week. After all, Gideon admitted this week he hasn't had much practice with the ball in his hands, having not carried it since high school.
How do the special teams perform against strong UCF coverage units? Jordan Shipley has gone the last three games without picking up any positive yardage on punt returns. UCF has only given up 17 punt returns yards all season, perhaps because their punting ranks 113th in the country at just more than 36 yards a pop. Those aren't the type of punts that are easy to return, leaving a lesser chance of Shipley actually breaking one. If the Longhorns elect to place an emphasis on returning punts, can that unit block better?
Or will Mack Brown opt to go after the punter more often, which also means more fair catches and fewer hits on Shipley, while giving the someone a chance to join the block party. How about DJ Monroe? Chykie Brown perhaps? The special teams star from the Oklahoma State game, Kenny Vaccaro? Malcolm Williams, even? C'mon Mack, go after a couple.
Even if the defense doesn't play lights out and gives up a touchdown or two, Texas isn't going to have many chances to return kicks, unfortunate because good things happen when DJ Monroe has the football. In fact, in the last five games, the Longhorns have received only 14 kickoffs, of which Monroe has returned seven, good for 240 yards -- more than 34 yards a return. UCF is fith in the country in covering kicks, giving up an average of only 16 yards. The Knights will have to kick off at least once in the game -- can the Longhorns return it if it's not well into the end zone?
Can the offensive line protect Colt McCoy? The two best players on the UCF team are probably also their sack leaders -- of UCF's 22 sacks, good for 17th in the country, tied with Alabama and a host of other teams, edge rushers Jarvis Geathers and Bruce Miller account for 12.5 of those. Can the offensive line avoid the complete breakdowns in protection that seem to occur once or twice or more every game, particularly of the kind where no one decides to block an edge rusher? Those are kinda dumb. Also annoying. And dangerous. Maybe Texas could even use some constraint plays like the draw that Texas used to start the game off against Oklahoma or the screen pass that has been successful two out of three times in recent games? That would help slow down Geathers and Miller, which is one of the highest priorities for the Texas offense and an early in which they cannot afford to fail.