The Texas Longhorns football program is in a difficult place. The Longhorns have one win against four losses (and two of those losses were rather ugly) and things look grim. Coming off a merciless 50-7 beating administered by the TCU Horned Frogs, head coach Charlie Strong's men seem to have hit rock bottom, publicly lashing out at each other using both traditional and new media.
Many of the basic issues facing Texas football are long-term problems with long-term solutions. But not all.
In fact, there are a handful of changes that could be quickly implemented in time for the Red River Rivalry against the Oklahoma Sooners this weekend that can make things better. These changes won't fix all of Texas' problems, particularly some of the most damaging ones, but they can surely help.
1. Give the ball to D'Onta Foreman
Senior running back Johnathan Gray is suffering through the worst year of his college career, averaging only 3.9 yards per carry. At this point, he should be getting a limited amount of carries per game.
Gray's greatest asset to Texas football at this point is as a blocker and (to a lesser extent) a pass receiver. It makes sense to have him on the field during third downs, and to play a relief role, but at this point Foreman needs to be the starter.
This transition may already be happening. In Texas' last game against TCU, Foreman carried the ball 18 times for 112 yards, compared with 15 carries and 55 yards for Gray. Give Foreman the ball 20 or more times a game, and don't look back.
2. Play defensive backs in the right spots and with the right roles
And what should those roles be?
Redshirt freshman cornerback John Bonney's lack of speed and his decent tackling ability makes him better suited as a nickel back or safety.
Freshman cornerback Kris Boyd's useful violence is best suited at nickel right now, but he can't be trusted in man defense.
Freshman cornerback Holton Hill is the best long-term field cornerback -- he's by far the best cover guy on the team and he has the height to match up with any X reciever in the nation.
Freshman cornerback Davante Davis isn't quite as good as a cover corner as Hill, but he's a little more physical, making him a sensible choice at boundary corner.
Sophomore safety Jason Hall should be playing close to the line of scrimmage when he has to be on the field.
Junior safety Dylan Haines should literally never be blitzing.
3. Improve Jerrod Heard's option game
Something is wrong when the redshirt freshman quarterback runs the read option. He is either often reading the play incorrectly or else is being given pre-defined reads. He is frequently making the wrong "decision" -- handing off when the defensive end is crashing to stop the running back and keeping the ball when the end has him contained.
We saw similar issues with former starter Tyrone Swoopes last season. Fixing this would make Texas' run game much more dynamic, which could help loosen things up for an offense that is struggling as opponent quality improves.
4. Play Caleb Bluiett more
Tight end is not an area of strength for Texas but it could be better with more action for former defensive end Caleb Bluiett. Bluiett is a better blocker than sophomore tight end Andrew Beck. He's a better receiver than Beck. He's bigger than Beck. And he's a better athlete than Beck.
5. Play four defensive lineman
I appreciate Charlie's efforts with the 3-3-5, but this roster isn't exactly loaded with versatile defensive linemen who can switch back and forth between two-gap play and rushing the passer, depending on the play call. There is no Malcom Brown on the roster this season, although a fully engaged and healthy Hassan Ridgeway helps, as the junior defensive tackle represents the only hope for disruption along the defensive line.
A scheme that uses four defensive linemen, and asks less of each of them, could help improve Texas' defense up front.
6. Rethink roles in the front seven
Texas' defensive schemes tend to put Naashon Hughes in a defensive end pass rushing role that doesn't seem to match his abilities. He is probably better suited at linebacker.
With the dearth of pass-rushers on the team, finding ways for Malik Jefferson to go after the quarterback could greatly improve the pass rush. Instead, he is spending whole games diagnosing gaps and taking 15 yard drops into coverage. If this takes doing something wacky like putting Poona Ford at DE to create an advantage in the running game, what harm could it do to try?
These are just six simple suggestions to make Texas football better in the short term. What other ideas do you have?