Wescott Eberts covers Texas football for burntorangenation.com and knows the team as well as anyone. We asked Eberts five questions to gain better insight into what BYU will be facing this Saturday.
Here's what he had to say.
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DN: Texas was a bit down last year, but ended the season strong with a bowl win against a very good Oregon State team. What are the expectations for Texas this season?
Eberts: There are a couple of expectations that tie together — the bottom line is that Texas has to beat Oklahoma this season or the pressure is going to increase significantly on Mack Brown to the point where some shot-callers may start increasing the pressure on athletic director DeLoss Dodds to make a change. Even if that's the only loss during the regular season, the firestorm after that loss would be pretty incredible. It's time to compete for the conference championship again, if not win it, and reach a BCS bowl.
Mack Brown has been talking about the long-term upside of this team as being at those levels and there aren't any more excuses now. The young kids are grown up. Brown said it best in his opening fall press conference: "Now we've got to shut up and do it.”
And shutting up and doing it means reaching the expectations that Brown himself set.
DN: Talk about Texas on offense. What type of offense does it run and who are the playmakers?
Eberts: After former co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin bolted for the Arkansas State head job, Major Applewhite took over the offense prior to the bowl game and has been installing a no-huddle, spread offense similar in tempo to what BYU is running now with some elements of the Greg Davis passing game on quick concepts and coverage reads.
The Horns were expected to use some packaged concepts like Oklahoma State likes to run (stick/draw, inside zone/bubble screen), but didn't show them much against New Mexico State, instead using some formational variety including a diamond look to get Daje Johnson the ball and feature an H-back blocking on the move and running back Johnathan Gray's threat. The base personnel grouping looks like three wide receivers, a running back, and an H-back, with few looks with an attached tight end. It's not cookie-cutter, but Applewhite is taking the best of what Greg Davis ran and pairing it with the cutting edge spread schemes that all the best offenses are using. Think Baylor, Oklahoma State, etc.
Johnson's the best playmaker right now for Texas — a threat down the seam as a receiver, from the diamond as a running back, and on jet sweeps and reverses. He can truly take it the distance every time he touches the ball with laser-timed 4.34 40 speed. The idea is increasingly to get him the ball in space as much as possible, but Texas now has a pretty deep stable of talent at running back and wide receiver, too.
DN: Same question on the defense.
Eberts: The Horns are still reliant on using a lot of fire zones to pressure teams into drive-killing plays — that's the specialty of defensive coordinator Manny Diaz — but it looks like the secondary is going to be less aggressive in press coverage and the overall approach more base and conservative to avoid the massive breakdowns in gap control against the run and allowing big spaces for opponents to break a tackle and score touchdowns in the passing game.
The defensive line has a number of playmakers, including sophomore defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, and an emerging force in junior defensive end Cedric Reed, who was extremely active in the opener. At linebacker, junior Jordan Hicks, the former five-star recruit who missed most of last season with a hip injury, should help a linebacker corps that was inexperienced and lost in his absence, while junior nickel back Quandre Diggs is the most likely member of the secondary to make a difference-making play.
DN: How does Texas regard BYU? What does BYU present that can give the Longhorns problems?
Eberts: There's no doubt that Texas has respect for BYU, especially defensively. On offense, the concern is the zone read game with Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams and stopping those two couple powerful athletes while dealing with the tempo that the Cougars are running now.
New Mexico State ran some zone read peel looks using the H-back coming across the formation to block the read player for the quarterback and the Horns had some trouble with it because the linebacker wasn't scraping to provide assistance outside. Play-action complements working in the flat to the tight end also worked, as the Texas linebackers were getting caught inside defending the run and a deep safety had to come up to make the tackles. Without a vertical passing game, that seems like a good strategy for BYU to continue attempting on Saturday, though Texas did adjust better in the second half and mostly stymie New Mexico State.
The biggest thing that will give Texas problems, though, is the BYU front. In the last several years, the Horns have trouble dealing with physical defensive lines and the Cougars certainly seem to possess one. Having any type of significant advantage there seven-on-seven would be a pretty big surprise from the standpoint of considering the Texas offensive line's history. And how well BYU played against Virginia despite the departures.
DN: What does Texas need to do to come out of Provo with a win?
Eberts: Texas has to take away any big plays by the BYU passing game and limit the effectiveness of Hill and Williams in the middle of the field. Offensively, it has to be a space game for the Horns and that means Daje Johnson has to touch the ball as a wide receiver and David Ash has to avoid turnovers — losing in that area makes it extremely difficult (to) win on the road in what should be an extremely hostile environment.