We’re three months away from Wyoming’s season-opener at Texas, but it’s never too early to talk college football.
Carter Strickland from ESPN asked me this week to answer five questions about Wyoming, so I asked him to answer five questions for me about Texas. So here it is. We start with my questions and his answers, followed by my answers to his questions. Be sure to follow Strickland on Twitter: @espnstrickland
Hope you enjoy it, and hope to hear your thoughts and opinions.
Texas returns one of the better defenses in the country. What are those strengths and are there some possible weaknesses Wyoming could exploit?Texas was the 11th in the country in overall defense last year and for a five-game stretch late in the season the only two defenses that were more productive were LSU and Alabama. The issue for Wyoming is that Texas is faster on defense this year and has much more depth across the line. The Longhorns added junior college transfer Brandon Moore as well as the top defensive tackle in the country Malcom Brown to the roster. They will go 10-deep across the line with both defensive ends, Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, being for sure NFL players in 2013.
The spot where Wyoming might be able to exploit Texas is at linebacker. Texas has two first time starters in Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs. While both have very good upside, they are not used to all the schemes called by defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. This could cause them to get out of their lanes every once in a while and if that happens, Wyoming needs to exploit it.
The secondary is very tough and returns three of four starters, including two corners, Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs, who are considered two of the best in the Big 12.
Will running the ball be this team’s identity this season, and how much do you think the passing game will improve? Texas wants to run the ball 60 percent of the time and has the tailbacks to do it. The Longhorns signed the No. 1 tailback in the country, Johnathan Gray, with the 2012 class. This came after they signed the No. 2 tailback in the country, Malcolm Brown, in 2011. Add to that Joe Bergeron, a back many consider better than Brown, and Texas will use a trio of guys to pound the ball.
The passing game is still in flux. Quarterback David Ash is coming off a terrible freshman season. He completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw untimely interceptions. Don’t look for the offense to use the deep ball with him every often. There are going to be a lot of passes out to the flat and underneath. Texas does have receives who can make some moves when they are in space. But, right now, they are not a deep threat offense.
If you’re Wyoming’s offensive and defensive coordinators, who are the guys they need to be aware of on both sides of the ball? Marquise Goodwin is the one to watch on offense. The wide receiver is one of the fastest players in college football. (He is an Olympic hopeful in the long jump.) He also has very good hands and is tenacious when going up to get the ball. Texas wants to let him operate in some space this season so watch out for bubble screens to him.
On defense, safety Kenny Vaccaro runs the show. The senior seriously considered declaring for the draft last season and probably would have been a third round pick. He is more than peeved with himself for not sticking with his instincts and declaring. That means he is playing with a huge chip on his shoulder this year.
If you were to game plan for Texas, what would be the biggest keys on offense and defense for Wyoming? Somehow they have to get pressure on David Ash. He does not do well with quick decision making. So if the defensive line can pinch him in from the outside and force him to make quick throws over the middle, Wyoming might be poised to pick off a couple of passes.
On the offensive side of the ball there needs to be a ton of play fakes and misdirection plays. Texas is gong to come screaming at the ball every time. So if Wyoming can just force a slight hesitation they might be able to get some yardage.
Do you think there’s a chance for an upset, and what’s your early prediction for the final score? Texas starts very slowly and the last two years at home have not been very good ones. Rice hung around in the first half last year and BYU nearly beat Texas at home. I think it will be close early and ugly late. I say Texas by at least three touchdowns simply because the Horns have the depth to wear Wyoming down in the second half. Plus after two seasons of mediocrity they are not going to show any mercy to an opponent if they feel they can run up the score.
Texas was mediocre at best in passing offense last season so with that in mind just how good is the Wyoming’s pass defense? Are there some studs that stick out there who can change the game with a pick or a sack? Wyoming’s pass defense has a chance to be good, especially with the guys it has in the secondary. The Cowboys have one of the better cornerback duos in the Mountain West in sophomore Blair Burns (Plano) and junior Marqueston Huff (Texarkana). Burns earned three different Freshman All-America honors last season and led the team with four interceptions. Huff had three interceptions and was tops on the team with three fumble recoveries, two of which he returned for touchdowns. At safety, there is senior Luke Ruff, a preseason All-Mountain West candidate and pretty much the leader of the secondary – and the defense in general. Sophomore safety Mark Nzeocha played outside linebacker last season and was moved to safety in the spring. He’s one of five players on the team from Germany, and he’s a beast at 6-3, 220 pounds. He really took to playing safety in the spring and could make things happen there. There also is some good depth in the secondary, although it’s young with sophomore cornerbacks DeAndre Jones (Killeen) and Darrenn White, and sophomore safety Chad Reese (Tyler). Senior Luke Anderson (Southlake) is the top nickel back and senior Kenny Browder (Round Rock) has played safety and corner during his career. Wyoming should be more athletic at linebacker with seniors Korey Jones and Oliver Schober. The line is a bit thin on numbers and production, but it has a good one in the middle in senior defensive tackle Mike Purcell (6-3, 303 But some newcomers will need to help along the line.
Let’s stay on the defensive side of the ball and talk about rush defense. The Longhorns are most likely going to run the ball on 60-plus percent of their plays. The hope is to wear down the opponent. How deep is Wyoming across the front four and how good are the linebackers? Wyoming allowed 232 rushing yards per game last season, but survived that for the most part by forcing 31 turnovers (13 interceptions, 18 fumble recoveries). With some uncertainty along the line, this remains a big concern heading into the season. Wyoming runs a 4-3 base but will show multiple looks. New defensive coordinator Chris Tormey likes to disguise coverages and looks to cause confusion. The Cowboys may need to rely on more of that if the defensive line struggles to progress.
Over on the offensive side of the ball what is Wyoming’s big-play capability.? Who are the threats? The big-play threats on offense starts with sophomore quarterback Brett Smith, the reigning Mountain West Freshman of the Year. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,622 yards with 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and led the team in rushing with 710 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught a TD pass. For a youngster he’s incredibly poised and mature, and the offense will go as far as he goes. Wyoming returns its three leading receivers from last year in terms of catches in sophomore Dominic Rufran, junior Robert Herron and senior Chris McNeill. Herron is one of the faster guys on the team, and needs to become more of a big-play guy in the passing game. Wyoming also is high on sophomore receiver Trey Norman (Texarkana), who had a good spring. Yet another Texas product, sophomore running back Kody Sutton (Texarkana) is just 5-8 and around 200 pounds, but is fast and showed some good things late in the season. Junior Brandon Miller can play both running back and receiver.
Channel your inner bookie and give me a line that you think would be reasonable for this game and why? I think Texas by two touchdowns, mostly because it’s Texas vs. Wyoming if you know what I mean. It’s at Texas and not a lot of people, let alone bookies, won’t give Wyoming much of a chance. Despite Texas’ struggles recently it still is loaded with talent and with this being early in the year in Austin, I see the Longhorns being a heavy favorite.
Finally, what would it take for an upset to occur? Is it beyond the realm of possibility? Or is it plausible? Wyoming can’t let Texas run the ball 60-plus times and wear it down as you stated earlier. The defense must get off the field and make some stops. It also needs to force at least two turnovers and give its offense good scoring chances on Texas’ side of the field. If the Cowboys can be efficient on offense and force some turnovers on defense, it could be an interesting game on Sept. 1. I think an upset is possible, but still a long shot.