Oh my stars and garters, it’s that time of year again! Get out your orange body paint and glitter, grab your giant foam fingers, strap on some cowboy boots, and get your behind into a seat! We’re gearing up for year two of the “Charlie Strong Isn’t Having It” tour. Are you ready? I AM.
First thing’s first…long time, no blog post. Mea culpa, dear readers. As you’re likely aware, our beloved Longhorns finished last season with a fizzle. While not entirely surprising, it’s still disappointing when our ‘Horns are on the losing end of things. Especially when “things” involve Arkansas. Six wins, seven losses, let’s move on.
For the three of you who are regular readers, you probably noticed a dearth of posts as we crawled on toward bowl season. Well, when the ‘Horns went into a kind of end-of-season slide, my doctor placed me in a medically induced coma for my own safety. I was revived only recently, so bear with me. The fainting couch was reupholstered and I have a whole new batch of organic, locally-sourced smelling salts. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get this party started.
First up! The Notre Dame Fighting Irish. If you’re a legit Texas fan, just reading those words makes you break out in hives of the worst kind, for the Irish are the eternal nemeses of the Longhorns. Rivalries with teams like the Aggies and Swooners have a long tradition, but the feels we feel about them are always there and ready to spring into action, like when one of their misguided faithful shoots a “down horns” in your direction. Liquid hot magma, about to erupt. Our feels about the Irish stretch all the way back to 1913, and they’re bad. It’s like the San Andreas fault: always some friction right below the surface, and every now and again a major event that causes widespread destruction. Notre Dame has an 8-2 advantage over Texas in the series. That makes me really angry. The ‘Horns head into Saturday’s game as a 9-point underdog. Bet wisely, children.
How good will the ‘Horns be? My Magic 8 ball refuses to say. This is the first season where Coach Strong is working with his own recruits, which is a big deal. Last season wasn’t just rebuilding, it was some scorched-earth action. Burning down the team to save it. Last season saw major attrition from primarily the offense, from injuries to players being cut for disciplinary reasons. Coach Strong has taken some heat on the recruiting trail from other coaches, based on his very strong core values and high expectations for players. Really? Really!? “Hey, parents of a brand-new adult, don’t send your son to the program that has expectations for his behavior on and off the field! Send him to me, where we don’t care what crimes he might commit, or whether he goes to class, or becomes a decent human being, so long as he helps our team WIN!”
Notre Dame enjoys incredible name recognition, an exclusive contract with NBC, the privilege of not belonging to a conference, and the ability to be ranked in the preseason almost under any circumstances. However, Coach Brian Kelly is fielding some young and inexperienced players this year. His quarterback, Malik Zaire, is starting his first game in South Bend, and his second college game ever. Zaire’s first appearance was last year in the bowl win over LSU. One key for the stout Texas defense will be to pressure Zaire early and often. He has a tremendous amount of talent and potential to be a true dual-threat QB. But, his accuracy suffers when he’s pressured. Make him throw, make him miss. Boom.
Coach Strong released the depth chart on Monday. Tyrone Swoopes is the starter at QB, and redshirt freshman, Jerrod Heard, will definitely see some on-field action. I’ll wait while you moan and gnash your teeth. Coach Strong didn’t ask me before making this decision, but I am unconvinced it’s wise. First of all, he’s starting Swoopes. Trust me; I want to believe. Considering his performance last year, I have grave concerns that Swoopes made the necessary improvements to lead the offense. Jerrod Heard hasn’t yet taken a snap in a live game, but his sheer athletic ability causes me to lean toward having him as the starter. Maybe Swoopes will blow my mind, in a good way. But put me down as giving this plan the side-eye.
The ‘Horns have freshmen who earned the right to start against the Irish. They are definitely players to watch. On offense, we have left tackle Connor Williams, right guard Patrick Vahe, and wide receiver John Burt. On defense, we have the number 10 overall recruit in the country, Malik Jefferson, at middle linebacker. Coach Strong is dedicated to putting the player on the field who earns the position, no matter how many starts he already has under his belt.
Also, according to Coach Strong, well-known spirit animal, Johnathan Gray, is back at full fighting strength. Hooray!
In press conferences, Coach Strong and all his assistant coaches expressed optimism about the team’s improvements and respect for the abilities and history of Notre Dame. We should see the same level of lights-out play that the Texas D tends to bring. The larger question mark hovers over the offense. Can Swoopes lead? Can Texas establish the running game? Will I lose my voice in the first or second half?
For now, dear readers, I have to go finish the pets’ costumes for Saturday. Everybody dresses up for games in my house. EVERYBODY. We will meet again, post-game, and discuss whether we’re ushering in a new Longhorn era or licking the same old wounds from last season.
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. For those of you
cursed by a witch to be in Indiana who have tickets and will be in South Bend, cheer your guts out! The rest of us will be doing our jobs on the other side of the teevee machine.
Hook ‘em ‘Horns! Beat the heck outta the Irish!