1. Protect David Ash
Every 2014 season outlook seems is prefaced with "If David Ash stays healthy...." Part of that plan will be executed with an offense reminiscent the 2012 Horns, with a slower pace, heavy motioning, and reliance on the run game. Another step is Ash making a point to protect himself by not taking defenders head on.
But the biggest impact will be felt by the offensive line now led by OC/OL coach Joe Wickline. The line will need to show it is a completely different unit than the squad that couldn't withstand three man pressure against BYU last fall, the game in which David Ash frequently scrambled before taking one too many hits, ending his season with a concussion.
Ideally, I'd love to see 0 sacks and little need for David Ash to buy time with his feet. And that goal isn't entirely unreasonable to ask of the Horns, as the North Texas defensive front is fairly small. Despite the Mean Green being a top 25 team for sacks in 2013, they lose the majority of the front seven that produced those numbers. Kennedy Estelle will need to show he's a stabilizing force on the left side, and one of the options behind suspended Desmond Harrison will need to step up in his stead, whether it's Darius James, Marcus Hutchins, or Jake Raulerson.
2. Dominate Special Teams
Remember how the last several years we've all been baffled about an inability to dominate all facets of special teams given roster talent and depth? I'm ready for that to be a distant memory.
The changed attitude and emphasized discipline should pay immediate dividends in special teams over teams with inferior talent. No more blown lanes in kick returns that lead to good opposing field position. No more punt returns that change a game's momentum. And for goodness sake, nobody run into the kicker or punt returner!
Charlie Strong noted in his press conference this week that offensive and defensive starters will play on special teams. Hopefully that's successful in returning some pride to the unit, and serves as a point of competition in practice to play as clean as possible.
Certain aspects of the special teams may be rough, as punting and field goal duties get distributed to a new cast of characters. But at the end of the night, I'd love to see the Horns did no favors to the Mean Green in field position and were able to set up their own offense with some favorable positions to begin drives.
3. Never in doubt
The first half against NMSU in 2013. Stretches against Wyoming and UNM in 2012. Rice and Wyoming in 2010. The slide in the last four years featured plenty of lackadaisical performances against the easier portions of the non-conference schedule. Whatever the reason for that was, I'm expecting it to be a distant memory.
Don't take this to mean I'm expecting a 70-0 bombing where the offense sets records and the defense holds UNT to less than 100 yards. But I certainly am not looking to trail 7-0 late in the second quarter while the offense sorts through 3-and-outs and the defense struggles with basics such as defending the zone read.
I want to see points in the offense's first drive. Show me some 3-and-outs on defense, or maybe an early turnover. Give me reason to believe this team will come out each game focused on the task at hand with an understanding of what the opponent is trying to do.
That's what I'm looking for against North Texas. My expectations might be a little low for the first week, but I think they're realistic for an entirely new coaching staff. Next week, I'll want blood.
What are you looking for against the Mean Green?