Strong looks to right ship in second season at helm

Ezra Siegel

Coming off a disappointing inaugural season at Texas, head coach Charlie Strong knows he needs change.

The Longhorns made headlines last season when Strong dismissed several players for breaking the program’s core values. He successfully changed the program’s culture, but the Longhorns stumbled to a 6–7 season while battling growing pains. With a new culture in place, Strong’s focus now shifts to winning.

“It’s all about last season. 6–7 ­— I said it over and over again — it will never be the standard here,” Strong said July 21 at Big 12 Media Day.

The Longhorns’ inconsistent 2014 campaign still fuels the team’s fire. Some moments showed glimpses of hope. Others, like the Horns’ 59 total yards of offense against Arkansas in the Texas Bowl, seemed utterly hopeless.

Now, heading into his second season, Strong is doing everything possible to right the ship.

The Longhorns took their first major step forward this offseason by accruing the nation’s No. 9 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. The class gives Strong more than just a foundation for the future. Some members of the class will likely be immediate starters, including freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, a five-star recruit.

“From offense to defense, all of [the freshman class] came in ready to work,” Strong said. “They’re ready to follow and to get to the next level — to win a championship here.”

In addition to collecting a robust recruiting class, Strong’s staff worked to design a new offense for 2015. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and company struggled last season in a pro-style offense, finishing No. 109 in the nation in points per game. The new-look spread offense operates mostly out of shotgun sets and will rely on an increased tempo.

“We’re playing really fast, and when you play fast, it really simplifies the game, because you’re playing to the abilities of your athletes,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said.
While the new offense may prove helpful, the Longhorns will still need playmakers to step up, especially at quarterback, where redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard has pushed the incumbent Swoopes for the starting job. Both have improved in camp, and while Swoopes remains the favorite to win the first snap, Strong said both quarterbacks will see playing time this season.

“It’s very exciting to see [both quarterbacks] compete and build each other up and make each other better,” senior center Taylor Doyle said. “They both have a lot to offer Texas, and it’s been exciting watching them work and lead the offense and play good football.”

Defensively, the Longhorns will look to improve upon last season’s sound unit, which ranked No. 25 in opponent yards per game and No. 12 in sacks. While the defense lost several key pieces, including cornerback Quandre Diggs and linebacker Jordan Hicks, the unit still has an abundance of talent, especially on the defensive line, where Strong said he has 12 or 13 potential contributors.

“I think this front can be even better [than last season],” junior defensive tackle Paul Boyette Jr. said. “We had an outstanding front last season, but I feel it’s a higher standard, and we hold people more accountable.”

Texas opens its season with a high-profile matchup at No. 11 Notre Dame on Sept. 5.