Jordan Hicks and the linebackers have plenty to prove Saturday (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images).
This is not your father's Texas Longhorns football team. Er, maybe it's not your older brother's Texas Longhorns football team. Okay, well, maybe this isn't conveying the point particularly well, but this team is different. Has been different, for about 21 months.
It started last year, when the coaching overhaul started to take effect. New co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin decided to play freshman quarterback David Ash during the first game against Rice instead of leaving him on the bench to redshirt -- he thought Ash could contribute, so he devised a package of plays to get him on the field.
Harsin even called the pass play for redshirt freshman wide receiver John Harris, who delivered a strike on the run to freshman Jaxon Shipley for a touchdown that got the fans at DKR on their feet. No small feat, that.
All in all, 18 freshman Longhorns played that warm September evening.
Head coachwasn't afraid to get his young players in the game (even though it was by necessity, in many cases), and his co-OC wasn't afraid to show some things on offense, which former offensive coordinator was wont to do before the Oklahoma game.
That attitude of aggressiveness now permeates both sides of the football, from the fire zones of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who loves to pressure the quarterback, to the trick plays from Harsin. Texas will come out aggressive against Wyoming.
Here's what Harsin had to say on the subject on Monday:
I think the mentality on both sides of the ball is to be aggressive. You know, obviously you want your defense attacking and you want your offense attacking. By no means do we want to sit back and let things happen. That's offensive football. You want to be aggressive and you want to attack. Now, does it mean we are going to throw in four verticals every time? No. It doesn't mean that. But it means that if you're running the ball, you're attacking running the ball. Your mentality is really to come out there and be aggressive in whatever play call it might be. I think that's just the whole mentality of the team. And so, the offense through fall camp, we felt good about just the understanding of where we are at and I think the guys are playing faster because of that, kind of like we talked about. And so we want to come out there with that same mindset like we have had through camp and go out and do our very best from that standpoint and defense to come out and do the same thing. So that's the an overall team mentality.
It's a good thing, because it would be a major mistake to sit back and let the ground game wear down a defense that is a bit undersized at linebacker. A mistake for the development of sophomore quarterback David Ash, who still needs game reps to feel completely comfortable heading into the season-defining three-game stretch that starts conference play.
Ash believes that the aggressiveness consistently preached and demonstrated by Harsin will carry over to the game.
You never want to go into a game with the attitude of trying not to lose it. We want to go into the game with the attitude, "We are going to win this thing." That's what we plan on doing.
Is it bad to drop a "Boom" in almost every post?
Even without a full fall practice to prepare, senior wide receiver Marquise Goodwin feels much more comfortable in the offense, which should aid the overall aggressiveness:
We are definitely excited. Defense has always a rich tradition around here of being really great in what they do. And the offense, we'll definitely get a chance to show what we can do. Last year was the first year we had the new offense put in, so coming up this year, we are very confident in our new offense. It's not so new to us any more. Since we have installed it, we have really gotten a lot comfortable with the coaches, as well as each individual player, and we know what everybody can do. We look forward to playing on September 1 and showing everybody else how confident we are.
It's not just about confidence, though, it's about having that edge. If some past Texas teams were a bit soft in that area offensively -- content to throw the ball around 40 times a game, mostly in the short passing game, there's now an increased level of aggressiveness on that side of the ball, according to Harsin:
I think from the quarterback standpoint, from the receivers standpoint, those guys have a chip on their shoulder and they have done a nice job in camp and they have really worked over the summertime together to come into camp and be prepared and show the timing and the accuracy and all that is there for them to be successful. I just think overall, again, on both sides, and obviously for the offense, but there's a chip on their shoulder at all times. I think no matter who you are, you have to have that type of attitude out there; run game, goal line, running game, pass game, wide receivers, quarterbacks, tight ends, backs. Anybody that's going to have an opportunity to touch the ball, there's got to be that mentality. There's something to prove, each and every week. I just think that's something that overall, offensively, that that's a mentality that we have got to come out there and fight and play as hard as we can and play to the standard that we have set for ourselves and don't let down on that. And that's really what we are trying to do.
The best part about the increased aggressiveness with the wide receivers? A major emphasis on the blocking game, courtesy of wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt. Even junior wide receiver Mike Davis bought in, and his blocking effort prior to the spring was about on par with former receiver James Kirkendoll. Which is to say, disinterested.
On the defensive side of the ball, aggressiveness is really about comfort level, too. An increased comfort level in the defense that Diaz runs entering his second year in the program. It took the group a while to get there last year:
Last year, we thought we knew what we were doing. We looked like a team that we were pretty sure about our assignments, and I hope this year we are a team that knows our assignments and that there's just a little bit more aggression last year that you saw as the year went on. We can't wait six games this year to finally let it go. So that's really the difference this year, as opposed to last, is what I'm looking forward to; I'm looking forward to a team that plays fast from the opening snap.
The talented group of defensive ends, headlined by senior Alex Okafor and junior Jackson Jeffcoat, may not be able to tee off against Wyoming since head coach Dave Christensen will use screens, the quick passing game, and the quarterback run game to keep his sophomore quarterback Brett Smith being under constant pressure, but the secondary in particular should be able to play faster this season after junior cornerback Carrington Byndom and sophomore Quandre Diggs stepped into starting roles last season and excelled.
The questionable group is the linebackers, with all three starters short on significant collegiate experience. But, of course, the only way to gain experience is trial by fire, and Diaz is ready to see what he has with those players:
We are going to find out. We have no choice. I know Jordan Hicks has provided great leadership. Jordan is ready to go. I think Jordan is ready to sort of piggyback off the performance he had in the Holiday Bowl last year. I know Demarco Cobbs is eager to get in there and play. We think very highly of what he's able to do, and Steve Edmond, as well. Just have to go in there and do it. That's part of what this game is experience is all about. You have to go in there and play, and find out what it's like being a down for every down player, and once that happens, it just becomes easier every time there afterwards. I'm just looking forward to those guys getting in there, getting their first game under their belt and then being able to move on from there.
There may be a learning curve, as there always is in such cases. By the end of the season, though? This should be a fun group to watch.
The leader of the group, the junior Hicks, agrees with the aggressive approach of his coordinator:
I completely agree. Every time we go out there and step on the field, we are trying to be dominant. Obviously we are an aggressive defense, the way Coach Diaz calls the plays and puts us in position to attack the quarterback and get after him. I think those are two perfect words to describe us.
Throw in the phrase "high expectations" with aggressive and dominant and that probably sums up the Texas defense this year. Hopefully. In the sense of the latter two, anyway.
The good news is that Texas will come out firing on both sides of the ball on Saturday night, even if Oklahoma will have something on film. No worries about that, especially if both coordinators have a little something still left in their back pockets, as they sure will.
Aggressive football is fun football. Let's have some fun.