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Texas HC Charlie Strong sets goals and expectations before Notre Dame

The Longhorns’ head coach wants his team to execute and finish on Sunday.

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Texas v Notre Dame Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

If you walked into Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong’s press conference on Monday, you would never guess he’s a man with worries about his job security. Then again, maybe he doesn’t have any.

Playfully joking with reporters and sporting a radiant smile, Strong seemed like a man who was returning from a National Championship game, not a 5-7 season.

Whether his cool, joyous demeanor is genuine or a well-constructed façade, the third-year head coach knows this year needs to be different than his first two, especially if the Longhorns wants to achieve success against 10th-ranked Notre Dame. Strong is setting clear expectations for his team on Sunday, expectations he opened up to media about on Monday.

For the Longhorns to have any hope of beating the Irish, the Texas head coach knows his team will need to do a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage.

“It’s gonna be a big challenge, they beat us pretty heavily up there in South Bend,” Strong said on Monday. “We have to play physical. We have to win at the line of scrimmage. Last year, we weren’t able to stop the run. We got to run the football.”

When Texas visited Notre Dame last season, they conceded 214 yards and gained only 60 yards on the ground, resulting in a 154-yard advantage for the Irish. Thanks to monstrous units on the line of scrimmage, Notre Dame established its presence and never looked back, knifing through the Texas defense and applying consistent pressure all night on the Longhorn offense.

The talent level for the Irish won’t change this season either. The Golden Domers boast the top offensive line heading into 2016 according to Pro Football Focus, but the defensive line may be an even bigger worry for the Texas coaching staff.

“Defensively, their front four with Jones and Rochelle will probably be most physical front four we’ll face all season,” Strong said.

Going against a physical, experienced group, Strong knows he’ll have his hands full, but still expects the offense to establish an all-important running game behind the duo of Chris Warren and D’Onta Foreman.

Heading into a primetime game on Sunday night, Strong also expects the Longhorns to play ready and loose, something he felt the team lacked in their trip to South Bend. This season, he wants the game plan to be simple for his coaches and players, allowing the Longhorns to jump out to a better start than they did in 2015.

“I told the coaches, we need to simplify the game plan,” Strong said. “Give our players the chance to play loose and play with a lot of energy and be very relaxed.”

Coming out ready to play could be Strong’s biggest point of emphasis. Since he arrived at Texas, he has gone 0-11 in games when the other team scores first and 0-11 when the opposing team leads at halftime. Undoubtedly, a quick start will be crucial on Sunday.

Though a faster start will alleviate some pressure, Strong emphasized he needs his team to also do a better job of finishing, specifically on defense.

“We got to make sure we finish. We didn’t do a good job of doing that,” Strong said. “Last year, we got them in some long-yardage situations, and we didn’t get off the field on third down.”

In that respect, the Longhorns were one of the worst in the NCAA in 2015. Last season, the ‘Horns ranked 104th in third-down conversion rate on defense, allowing first downs 44.2 percent of the time. Against Notre Dame, the defense allowed eight first downs out of fourteen attempts, or 57.1 percent. To have success, the defensive unit will need to do a better job of getting off the field.

Above all other goals, however, Strong just needs his team to follow his plan.

“We got to follow the plan,” the Texas coach stated. “We need to play great defense, win the turnover battle, win in the red zone, and then win in the kicking game.

While his plan may be simple and tangible, it’s unclear if Strong has built a winning formula yet for a big contest against Notre Dame. But if Texas obtains all of the head coach’s goals on Sunday, there’s no doubt it will be a better contest than it was in South Bend.