Despite low fan support, Texas has chance to take step forward against Rice

Nick Castillo

Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium will be emptier than usual this weekend. Entering Texas’ home opener against Rice, 15,000 tickets remain unsold for Saturday.
But whether fans show or not, the Longhorns have a chance to redeem themselves after their Notre Dame performance.

Texas is in the midst of an offensive identity crisis after its third consecutive blowout loss. After a 38-3 beatdown in South Bend, Indiana—where the offense only managed to produce 163 yards—head coach Charlie Strong adjusted his staff accordingly. Strong relieved assistant head for offense and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson of his play-calling duties, promoting wide receiver coach Jay Norvell to fill the role.

Strong said he wants the changes to improve the offense’s productivity.

“We need to get first downs and score some points,” Strong said. “It’s all about making sure the playmakers touch the ball. We have some playmakers and the ball needs to spread out and get the ball in their hands. You just got to watch a total improvement.”

Strong made a tough, yet necessary move. The Longhorns’ production against Notre Dame slotted dead last among 123 FBS teams in total offense. In Texas’ last three losses stretching back to 2014 — TCU, Arkansas and Notre Dame — it has been outscored 117-20. With a new play-caller, the Longhorns can try to move forward and take a step in the right direction against Rice.

“Jay [Norvell] has been familiar with the spread coming from Oklahoma,” Strong said. “We just want to make sure we talk about a spread offense and that’s what everyone wants to see. It’s still about just making sure you play with good fundamentals and technique. And making sure we can move the football.”

The players see this week as an opportunity to get the season rolling. Senior wide receiver Daje Johnson said he’s excited that Norvell wants to get the ball into the offensive playmakers’ hands. Senior running back Johnathan Gray added the team has “to get it done” on the field.

“We always want to go out there and show what we can do,” Gray said. “After last week, that was not Texas’ standard. I think as a team we know that. We’re just trying to get this thing back on track. Guys got to step up to the plate and bring it.”

While the focus is mainly on Texas’ offense, defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said the defense also needs to improve. The Longhorns failed to stop Notre Dame as they gave up 527 yards on Saturday. He said the mistakes made against the Fighting Irish are correctable. He also said he understands the gravity of the changes made on offense.

“[Strong] has always been serious,” Bedford said. “Everybody works hard for one goal and that goal is to put the University of Texas back on top where it needs to be.”