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How Does Texas Get 'N Sync During the Bye, Bye, Bye?

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, that's my headline.  That's a boy band.  Why would I do this to you?  Use that anger building up inside you. USE IT FOR YOUR KARATE.  Now look at Justin Timberlake's hair back then.  Pretty great.

The season goal for the Longhorns is simple: go bowling.  Get extra practices.  Suggest to recruits that the program is on the upswing.  Play a directional school in Shreveport or Calcutta or some other place that God abandoned on a Tuesday evening in late December.  Most of us knew a 2-4 start was well within the fat part of the probability bell curve, but that also means a 4-2 or 5-1 finish is possible.

This bye comes at an excellent time - the hardest schedule in college football will take a bit out of a young team - and the Horns need to reinforce good habits, get difference makers healthy, log some instructional time for our young DBs and QB and do some specific game planning for the opponents yet to come.

Here's what we need out of this bye week:

Health

Malik Jefferson is the future of the defense but Hassan Ridgeway is its present.  A healthy Ridgeway creates a half dozen extra pressures, a hit or five on the QB and shaves a yard per carry off of the opponent run game.  Without him, we lose both ceiling and floor.  He has a dinged up shoulder and we need him at 100%.

On offense, while Marcus Hutchins and Tristan Nickelson have competed (after Hutchins very much did not compete in his first start), the drop off to them from Kent Perkins is significant in both pass protection and run blocking.  With Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams blossoming right before our eyes and our offense finding a little something running inside zone, counter draw and QB leads, now would be a great time to add Kent Perkins to our running game.  Dare I say his addition might actually make our OL nearly respectable?  I dare say it.

Daje Johnson certainly gives us some juice on special teams and if he'll drop less than two balls per game, he could be a big play asset.  One we're currently lacking.

Poona Ford is banged up, too.  After the OU game, I want to see if he can continue his gap stunting success.  Get healthy, little Poona.  Lil 290 pound fella.

Personnel Reassessment

First, let me be clear: this staff is extremely aggressive in upgrading personnel.  Fans who still whine about playing time for Player X are living out some weird late era Mack Brown narrative.  When Strong can replace a player, he does.  The evidence is conclusive there - even if it means we're playing guys who don't shave yet.  Until he does replace someone, there's probably a reason the other guy plays, even if those of us on the outside looking in can't explain it.

Johnathan Gray would be running 4th string at Baylor right now.  He's good out of the backfield, a solid blocker and a fantastic teammate, but he left meat on the bone again on Saturday.  D'onta Foreman isn't great - and no I don't want to have a RB argument with hoopleheads who can't distinguish what the play is blocked for vs. value add - but he's certainly a game runner who is getting better each time he sees action.  If D'onta can use the bye to work on his pass blocking, conditioning (I suspect he's a tad out of shape for a feature back) and his run blocking on our QB lead play, he could be logging the lion's share of carries.

Lorenzo Joe barely registered on the box score on Saturday (1 catch, 9 yards), but he's a willing blocker and his fumble recovery TD was a good sign of hustle.  If the Longhorns want to continue with a running identity, Joe should continue to see some reps.

The Tyroneasaurus package deserves consideration outside of short yardage and goal line situations.  No, I'm not suggesting some QB controversy madness.  I'm talking Bryan Harsin style manufactured yardage and points that takes some of the burden off of Heard.  Heard is the man, but he's 195 pounds and 21 carries a game isn't going to work running leads, draws and scrambling. Let's get Tyrone in there to spell him - particularly when we're backed up on our end or need a little running game spark.  We do a pretty nice job of getting hats on people when the QB is the ballcarrier and we can play even numbers.  Let's tinker some.  That pop pass sure was open, wasn't it?

Malik Jefferson and Naashon Hughes were an intriguing combo outside when we went to odd fronts.  I'm not claiming they're the next Roper and Wallace, but they complement each other very well.  If Peter Jinkens can continue to hold down the middle (particularly when we walk Jason Hall up a bit) we suddenly transform from a defense incapable of a pass rush to one that can drive QBs into the dirt.  We can squeeze inside, jam up the run and let Jefferson and Hughes run down the bounce outs.  This relies on DT and ILB play, but if we can get it, our defense could be transformed.

Obviously, we'll continue to integrate the freshman DBs as quickly as possible.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that they will get their asses kicked a time or two down the backstretch (probably by at least one team you wouldn't expect) and they'll also make some exciting plays.  Respect the process.

Veteran Contributions

Much has been made of the paucity of talent in our upper class and Strong's inability to unite the freshman vs. the rest of the team.  Guess what?  It's football.  It's kind of violent.  Beyond the Xs and Os, the basic goal is to make the other guy quit by physically dominating him and hurting him.  Tension in the locker room is positive if it's taken out on the opponent.  This team got a little edgy before OU and it worked for them.  Teammates bowed up to each other, words were exchanged, people got eyeballed.  Testosterone spiked.  Let's do some more of that.

The upshot is that we saw a number of older players truly play their roles and excel.  The freshmen and Strong attacked their pride and they got a little testy.  Jinkens, Johnson, Bluiett, De La Torre, Hutchins, Boyette and Thomas to name a few.  A team's ceiling is provided by the stars, but its floor is provided by veterans and reliable role players playing their asses off and doing their part for the team.  We will not have a successful second half run without these players performing well.

This bye week is about reinforcing that to them and the freshmen alike.  Their interests are co-mingled.

Getting Smarter

#13 does a pretty good job of taking care of the ball, but Heard takes sacks he shouldn't.  He doesn't always understand game context.  He has taken points off of the board doing unwise things.  He may not fully understand the grounding rules in the heat of the moment.  It may not be clear to him when we're in 4 down territory.  This is all normal and expected for a young inexperienced QB.  The bye week is a great time to work on this one simple developmental area for him.  When and how can he safely live to fight another day?

Our DBs need work within the scheme, in how they relate to each other and trusting the defensive call.  You can see it in how we play zone and there's a clear lack of "just do your job" as veterans and freshmen try to do too much to compensate.  That doesn't bode well for teams like KSU that live to put you into decisional conflict.  Once you start to break down in the defensive backfield, everything schisms and a palpable sense of panic sets in.  The freshmen lose their minds.  I'm not entirely sure why DB play works this way, but it does.  There's no other unit where mayhem and panic can set in more quickly without strong leadership and experience.  Go watch the TCU game if you have the stomach for it.

This is a good time to reinforce basic habits and reaffirm Football 101.

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