Texas coordinators ready to resume play-calling as UTEP game approaches

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

First-year Texas coordinators Chris Ash and Mike Yurcich have different boxes to check off in the Longhorns’ season opener against UTEP Saturday.

Ash, returning to the role of defensive coordinator after spending 3 1/2 seasons as the head coach at Rutgers, has more generic expectations for the team’s performance: winning, not allowing points, forcing sacks and playing good red zone defense. 

Yurcich, resuming his duty as offensive coordinator after serving as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach last year, has more narrow and specific goals for the game against UTEP: the offense lining up correctly, being assignment sound and not turning the ball over.

However, both coaches are ready to get the first game jitters out of the way. The season opener against UTEP will be the Longhorns’ first game in more than eight months.

“For me, being a first-time coach here, there’s still a lot of unknowns,” Ash said in a Wednesday teleconference. “(I’ve) been with these guys a limited amount of time because of the lockout. (I’ve) never been here on a game day in this stadium with these players, watching them and coaching them to do what we want them to do. So there is some uncertainty and some anxiety.”

Some of the coordinators’ anxiety can be attributed to the public unveiling of new offensive and defensive schemes. The Longhorns are switching to a four-lineman front for the first time in the Tom Herman era and adding two new positions.

Ash said he is looking forward to returning Texas to its elite defensive standards of the past after it recorded one of the worst overall defenses in the FBS in 2019. He still has some anxiety about game day, but he is excited to see his defense be tested and challenged in a game situation.

“I think we’ve got a lot of confidence right now (as a defense), but I want to see how strong that confidence is when we get hit in the mouth and something bad happens,” Ash said. “(The players) know how they played last year was unacceptable, and they’re not passing blame on (to) anybody. They’re taking ownership in what’s happened, and they want to make it right. And the true test is going to be Saturday night.”

Offensively, Yurcich said he plans to make up for the loss of standout receivers Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay by playing “a receiver corps by committee” and rewarding production. The running back position will be treated similarly, as Texas will rotate between its three running backs.

Yurcich and Herman have both said the new offense will incorporate more tempo than in previous years, something Yurcich became known for during his six seasons as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, in addition to more heavy-type personnel packages and new route concepts.

While he has been pleased with the offense in practice, Yurcich said he’s well aware that practices and games are very different. But he doesn’t know what it will be like to play a “virtual game” in a stadium operating at 25% capacity and in front of cardboard cutouts of virtual fans.

“It’ll be a unique opportunity to see how we respond in this environment,” Yurcich said. “Everything’s new in 2020. There’s a lot of new.”