Kansas plays its final home game of the season this week against the Texas Longhorns. Because everything is bigger in Texas, there are actually two SB Nation sites that cover the team. I reached out to both of them this week for their perspective on this matchup. Next up is Jason Chilton (aka Nobis60) from Barking Carnival.
This season has been quite the roller coaster for Texas, hasn’t it? From looking phenomenal out of the gate to falling apart surrounding the Oklahoma game to suddenly jumping up to upset Baylor to a disappointing loss to West Virginia. What is your overall assessment of the season so far?
It’s kinda been a tale of two seasons for Texas. The first half was marked by a largely high-flying offense and a defense that was baffled by the simplest assignments, particularly among the cornerback corps. The second half has seen a major decrease in defensive disorganization (though fundamental linebacking against Read Option looks and other run schemes can still be vexing) while the offense has hit some snags against a few of the conference’s more accomplished defenses. If the whole season had looked like the second half, Charlie Strong would probably be in solid shape even if the team only sported a 6-4 record. But the outright defensive disaster that Texas rolled out against Cal, Oklahoma State and OU was a tremendously bitter pill to swallow for fans expecting a step forward in that department thanks to the Longhorns’ (very young but still substantial) talent on that side of the ball with Strong’s defensive pedigree.
On a related note, there has been a lot of chatter about Charlie Strong being on the hot seat. He seemed on his way out the door until the Baylor game. What does he need to do in order to assure himself another season in Austin? Do you actually want to see him back?
Any real assurance probably went out the window with the Longhorns’ loss to West Virginia last week. The two biggest pay sites on the Longhorn Interwebz are hyping up conflicting rumormendo because they don’t have writers capable of delivering substantive and engaging football conversation, but the fact is that no one really knows anything about Strong’s fate at the end of the season aside from Texas’ President and AD - and even they may still be in evaluation mode. Anything short of winning out almost certainly seals Strong’s fate, but even a 7-5 finish has him standing on the edge of a knife. Some of Texas’ defensive struggles this season were explicable by youth and the installation of a HUNH offense (which almost always brings corresponding defensive decline in its inaugural season,) but watching the Longhorns bottom out at 99th in Defensive S&P at one point did tremendous damage to the notion that Charlie can be the guy to take Texas all the way to the mountaintop.
As for me, I absolutely love Strong as a person and an exemplar of much that’s right with college athletics - and these days there ain’t much right with college athletics. With that said, I share the same concerns that anyone would have given the depth of this year’s defensive disaster and continued wilderness-wandering on special teams. I’d personally need at least a two-hour sitdown with Strong and get a LOT of good answers before I’d be comfortable on signing off on him as Texas’ coach for the forseeable future, and as I’m unlikely to be granted such an audience I find myself sitting on the fence but with one-and-a-half cheeks on the “time to make a change” side.
Which player(s) has been the biggest surprise for the Longhorns this season? The biggest disappointment(s)?
D’Onta Foreman would be an easy choice for biggest surprise, but everyone who saw him in limited action last season expected him to be really good - not likely Heisman Finalist good, but really good. I’m actually going to go with a guy who hasn’t seen a ton of snaps but who has definitely maximized them in sophomore guard Jake McMillon. A converted DT, McMillon was thought to be an attrition candidate in the Spring but immediately exhibited power, poise and face-ripping meanness to earn a starting guard spot midway through the season. Naturally he’s out on Saturday and his loss probably played a significant role in Texas’ defeat against WVU last week, once again proving the popular aphorism that “Some coaches are snakebit - Charlie Strong is crushed by the snake, swallowed alive by the snake and then regurgitated from the snake like Jon Voight in Anaconda.” OK, maybe that’s not all that popular an aphorism, but it’s been a long season - cut me some slack.
I’ve got a three-way tie for biggest disappointment between sophomore defenders Davante Davis, Holton Hill and Malik Jefferson. Davis and Hill were supposed to be this season’s lockdown cornerback duo, but instead they played like they’d been locked out of the film room all Spring and Summer and Hill has found himself locked in the doghouse for much of the season to boot. Jefferson has turned in a remarkably meek season for the Big XII’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year - he finally started exhibiting more physicality, aggression and some stirrings of actual inside linebacking instinct over the past few games, though. Of course, he promptly got concussed in the first quarter against West Virginia which also played a major role in that crucial defeat...because snake aphorism.
Which Longhorn player should we expect to hear a lot about on each side of the ball on Saturday?
Again D’Onta Foreman would be the obvious choice on offense, but I’m going to go with true freshman wideout Collin Johnson. A 6’5” AJ Green clone, Johnson has been beating defenders at all three levels over the past few games and Texas finally seemed to realize that he can get about two feet higher than most of the players trying to cover him when he’s at full extension.
On defense I’m going to go with DT Poona Ford aka Puma Forward aka The Poonatrator. Ford went from an undersized occasional gap shooter in 2015 to a frequent one-man wrecking crew this season to lead an unexpected resurgence from the Longhorn defensive front.
Prediction Time! How do you see the game playing out? Does Kansas take advantage of the home environment and make the game a lot closer than it should be?
It’ll be up to Texas’ mindset as much as anything - there’s no denying the significant talent gulf between these two squads, but coming off a dispiriting loss with rumors swirling around Strong’s future may sap the team’s focus (which has seldom been laser-sharp on the road to begin with). I think a semi-squalid first half gives way to a reasonably comfortable 38-14 victory for Texas.
What is the longest scoring play and who gets it?
76-yard TD run from D’Onta Foreman - I had to get him in there somewhere.
BONUS - Which would you prefer, a personal chef or personal assistant?
I figure the personal assistant could go pick up gourmet meals and/or Torchy’s Tacos for me whenever I pleased while also being able to knock out a lot of other tasks, whereas a personal chef would probably spend his downtime just sitting around and sullenly muttering in French. So I’m gonna go with personal assistant.
A big thanks to Jason for helping us out today. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him as well. And if you haven’t had a chance, take a look at the Q&A we did with Burnt Orange Nation.