In this week's Burnt Orange Nation roundtable, the writers discuss the plusses and minuses so far of the Tom Herman era, whether Texas is still on track for a bowl, and predictions for Saturday's game.
Seven games into the Tom Herman era and Texas sits at 3-4. What are the plusses and minuses of this coaching regime so far in your eyes?
Cody Daniel, editor: Obviously, the losses are a minus. The schedule was clearly difficult, but I didn't expect Texas to be 3-4 for the fourth straight season. But, I'm a huge fan of what Todd Orlando has done with the defense and although Texas is losing, they're clearly good enough to hang tough with some of the nation's top teams.
Wes Crochet, contributor: The Plus — The defense has improved and the team isn't getting blown out. The Minus — Even with depth issues, it doesn't feel like Herman's fingerprints are on this offense in a positive way at all.
Gerald Goodridge, contributor: The most-obvious plus is the team's ability to bounce back against adversity. A year ago, we saw players quit, both in games and on the season, when things went sideways. This team shows heart like we haven't seen in recent years. Also, bringing Todd Orlando with him from Houston is the best decision Herman has made in his short tenure. On the negative side, this is a Texas team that does not know how to win in the big games. That mindset and mentality must shift for this team to turn the corner.
Anthony Rizzo, contributor: There has been many positives and negatives about the coaching regime thus far. Herman knows how to get his players prepared and ready to execute on Saturday’s. The effort and energy is fully there. He has made some questionable decisions regarding going for it on fourth down. Todd Orlando has been excellent. Tim Beck not so much. It doesn’t help with an abysmal offensive line but Beck has been just as bad as Ohio State fans warned us about.
Patrick Lawrence, contributor: The first positive has been this coaching regime's ability to prepare a still fairly young team to play on some big stages: USC, OU, and OSU were all top 10 teams and the Longhorns' play exceeded expectations in each case, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. This season hasn't been without negatives though; clearly Tom Herman and Tim Beck haven't been able to adapt on offense from week to week and really establish anything consistent this season, which is incredibly frustrating, because this team is 6-1 if we could just figure out how to run the ball even modestly better.
Does Texas make a bowl this year? What are your expectations going forward?
Cody: I think Texas does make a bowl, but it comes down to the season finale against Texas Tech. I'd expect wins over Baylor and Kansas because anything less would essentially make this season a waste, but Texas just has too many holes right now to rip off a winning streak to end the season.
Wes: One second while I go grab a coin. And I expect every game to be somewhat of a grind. There really aren't any "sure-thing" type of games left outside of Kansas who embarrassed Texas last season.
Gerald: Maybe I'm still drinking the kool-aid, but I think there's still a good chance Texas makes a bowl game. If you count Baylor and Kansas as wins, which maybe we shouldn't, Texas needs to win just one game in three chances against TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Texas proved they can play with the top teams in the conference and I don't think Tech or West Virginia holds a candle to OU or OSU.
Anthony: Yes. There is no way Herman and the team fail to make a bowl game this year. This team is a couple plays away from being a 5-2/6-1 football team that would have New Years Six aspirations right now. I expect the ‘Horns to at least go 6-6 with possible losses on the road against TCU and West Virginia.
Patrick: Yes. Texas needs 3 more wins and I think they come against Baylor, Kansas, and Texas Tech, with maybe pulling off the upset in Morgantown. This team has shown they can step on the field against anyone and compete, so to think we'd only end up with 2 more wins and be ineligible for a bowl game is too pessimistic, even for a disappointed Texas fan base.
How does Shane Buechele potentially being in at quarterback change Saturday's game in your eyes?
Cody: It makes me feel like Texas could become Baylor's first win. As I've mentioned before, I still love what Buechele brings to the table as a pure passer, but behind this offensive line with virtually no running game, he's going to be taken with shouldering the entire Texas offense. Fortunately for him, the defense likely won't give up many points.
Wes: There likely won't be as much effective improv from the Texas QB position, especially if Buechele's bum ankle hinders him. Though, Buechele could play more comfortably knowing he can't be yanked for Ehlinger if Ehlinger is out dealing with his concussion.
Gerald: Buechele is clearly the more accomplished passer, but lacks Ehlinger's ability to move the pocket and evade pressure, a requirement with the current state of the offensive line. Since Buechele is not an accomplished runner, offensive coordinator Tim Beck should dial back on the QB runs and try to establish something with the running backs.
Anthony: Playing behind a struggling offensive line will be a challenge for a ‘less mobile’ Shane Buechele. Even though he may not be the most athletic quarterback, he certainly plays with lots of grit and isn’t afraid to take some hits. Considering Baylor has a weak secondary, it could be a good thing that Buechele is the quarterback on Saturday. IF he gets some time in the pocket, the chance of connecting on a couple deep balls will be there.
Patrick: I think we'll see the offense spread the ball more around since there won't be as many designed QB run plays as there would be with Ehlinger starting. Buechele led a 3-4 Texas team with a win over a then undefeated #8 Baylor team last season and although he doesn't have D'Onta Foreman to hand the ball off to for 250 yards on the ground, he made several big time throws that ended up being deciding factors in that game.
What does the Texas offense need to do more of in order to finally give Tim Beck's group some life?
Cody: With the little it can control given the health situation and the fact that the talent at running back isn't ideal, I'd say Beck needs to get much more creative with his passing game, especially if Buechele is at quarterback. He's proven he can make most of the throws necessary so Texas needs to take more shots down the field instead of relying entirely too much on the screen game and hoping receivers can make a play.
Wes: Change schemes with this poor offensive line. That won't happen though. So a more realistic answer would be to stick with a core group of players instead of rotating in so many different skill-position players. Give guys a chance to create some consistency and rhythm.
Gerald: The line must continue to progress. Any offensive unit, no matter how talented or well-coached, cannot function if your quarterback and running backs are running for their lives. If the offensive line can create some margin for the running backs and give the quarterback time to actually run an offense, this unit turns the corner.
Anthony: At the very minimum the offensive line was to play decent. Give Buechele some time to make throws down the field and develop some kind of run game. Also, Tim Beck needs to throw in a trick play or two in this game. Maybe a reverse pass or a quick screen to the outside and then a pass down the field. These types of plays can provide a spark for the offense. I would like to see Jerrod Heard get more carries as well.
Patrick: Establishing the run game is such an easy answer to this question, but I think it actually starts with the play calling. With the Offensive Line in the state it's in, Beck needs to improve when and how he decides to run the ball. Too many times this year we've seen Beck call QB draws or QB Powers on 2nd & long or 3rd & long situations while seemingly refuse to run the ball with his backs on 1st and 2nd down.
Texas' defense was stellar last weekend against the nation's best offense. What's the key for the Longhorns in stopping the Bears this week?
Cody: Stopping the big play. Baylor has six plays of at least 70 yards this season so keeping everything in front will be key. Oh, and keep multiple eyes on Denzel Mims.
Wes: Play great defense again, take the lead early, and don't give Baylor easy chances to beat their first opponent all season.
Gerald: The defense excels at making quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. Baylor has a formidable passing attack, so pressuring the quarterback is a must. I anticipate seeing a lot of the Lightning Package, which brings Breckyn Hager onto the field as a pass rusher, the man responsible for two sacks against Oklahoma State.
Anthony: Be aggressive and get pressure/contain Baylor’s QB (Either Brewer or Smith). Baylor has a brutal offensive line so there’s no excuse for the Texas front seven to dominate up front.
Patrick: This Baylor team, although winless on the season, has shown it has enough talent to compete with some really good teams. They have some electric playmakers on offense in WRs Denzel Mims and Chris Platt, who are really good at racking up yards after catching the football. The Longhorns' secondary can't give up big plays — two plays of 50+ yards were the difference against OU and a 60+ yard play late in the 4th almost gave OSU the game without OT. If Coach Orlando can dial up pressure from all across the field against an Offensive Line that is about as hobbled and injured as Texas' OL, then the Longhorns should get out of Waco with the win.
Because Wes wanted me to ask this last roundtable (and because it's a good question) -- who is not seeing the field enough right now and should definitely be getting more playing time?
Cody: I'd like to see Texas go all in on Toneil Carter as the primary back. He's flashed plenty of positive signs this season and unlike Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter, he brings that explosive edge that Texas' offense desperately needs.
Wes: Good question, editor Wes. Contributor Wes says Gary Johnson & Jeffrey McCulloch.
Gerald: The obvious answer is Armanti Foreman. Last year's leading receiver has played sparingly as of late, but still leads the team in touchdown receptions. As this offensive unit continues to look for playmakers seven games in, it's hard to watch one sit on the sidelines.
Anthony: Sophomore wide receiver Devin Duvernay. Although he got a solid amount of playing time last week, Duvernay needs more opportunities in the passing game. He’s a game-changer with his speed as he showed multiple times last year on long touchdown receptions. Baylor was the school Duvernay was originally suppose to go to so don’t be surprised if the sophomore has a big day on Saturday.
Patrick: I think it's Toneil Carter. Other than fellow Freshman RB Daniel Young, he has the fewest carries but highest yards per carry this season for Texas. Coach Herman has discussed how tough it is to find enough carries for the RBs on the roster and has spoken highly of Carter and Young this season (primarily emphasizing how well these two do in practice). If what he says is true, then let's give these guys more carries and see if they can't make up for what the Offensive Line is lacking.
If Texas pulls out a victory, who is one difference maker on both offense and defense to help make it happen?
Cody: Offensively, Collin Johnson needs to get back into a flow, and with Buechele likely manning the offense, he should get plenty of touches. Defensively, Holton Hill should have his hands full with Denzel Mims and that matchup may very well determine how many points Baylor scores.
Wes: Offensively, it will be Shane Buechele (assuming he starts) for playing well enough for Texas to win. And defensively, it will be Malik Jefferson for playing like the man of fire he is this season.
Gerald: Offensively, Buechele has to remind Texas fans why they fell in love with him a year ago. Defensively, PJ Locke and Kris Boyd (cheating I know) cannot get beat like the did against Oklahoma State.
Anthony: Offense — WR Devin Duvernay. Defense — DE Breckyn Hager.
Patrick: Offense — Our ability to win this game really comes down to how well Shane Buechele settles in at QB. I think he'll end up somewhere around 270 yards and 3 TD's, which should be enough to lift the Longhorns to victory. Defense — Malik Jefferson is currently 2nd in the Big 12 in Tackles this season and has been on a tear these past few games, racking up double-digit tackles in 4 of the last 5 games. It's hard to imagine he doesn't continue his bid for Big 12 DPOTY with another big game in Waco this weekend.
What's your score prediction for the game?
Cody: Texas 20, Baylor 13
Wes: 31-17, Texas
Gerald: I think Texas still struggles to score, but the defense outclasses Baylor and the Longhorns win 28-14.
Anthony: Texas 24, Baylor 13.
Patrick: Texas 31 Baylor 24