We're rolling out a new Game Week feature here at The Carnival - a question and answer session where we'll look to hit the high points, low points and everything in between for the upcoming contest. As always, the questions are provided by real fake Barking Carnival readers - real real Barking Carnival readers can fire away with their own queries in the comments.
Q: So what's with the new format?
A: To combat charges of excess wordiness, we thought it best to take a more bite-size, quick hit approach to cover more ground.
Q: Do you think that will work to stem the aforementioned wordiness?
A: Hahahahahaha no.
Q: Speaking of limitless logorrhea, didn't some dude ramble for 45 minutes or so about the Longhorn matchups in this game?
Q: Is it true that this piece was originally titled The T&A before the sponsorship deal with The Yellow Rose fell through?
A: Not only that, but "titled" was spelled differently, too! But hell, we ain't here to make money no how. Ready to talk Texas-ND?
Q: Jarron Jones is a large human.
A: That’s not really a question.
Q: And we’re either starting a true freshman center who’s missed three weeks of camp or a sophomore converted DT who only started playing center this summer.
A: Again, more of a statement than a question. Maybe you’re unclear on the format?
Q: Chill out - it’s my first time doing this. OK, my question is - how scared should I be about these "statements?"
A: For the most part...yes. Even if Jones is still working his way back into game shape from injury, he’s probably the baddest NT that Texas will face this season. That’s bad ju-ju from a pure power standpoint, even if Jake McMillon has shown some good leg drive and a burning desire to raise the bar for backup Longhorn centers named "Jake."
Q: Quick aside - where, precisely, did Jake Raulerson set the bar for Longhorn centers named Jake?
A: It’s hard to saw with any real precision, but we’ll probably need Harry Stamper and compnay to drill to at least 800 feet before we find it. Anyway, Jones v. Whoever is a minus matchup that Gilbert and Mattox will have to prevent from turning into a game-wrecker. It’s obviously possible to double the nose consistently on plays like Inside Zone, and there are variants to Power that can let somebody like Perkins do the heavy lifting on Jones while the center gets at the other DT:
But all in all it’s likely that we’ll need to make hay on the edges in the run game early and try to attack the A gaps if we’re sustaining drives and the big man gets worn down.
Similarly, the prospect of middle blitzes are scary with an OL who’ll have missed valuable time together even if the nominal starting lineup of Williams-Perkins-Shackelford-Vahe-Nickelson is good to go. If Brian VanGorder can get guys coming completely untouched up the gut then it’s going to be an ugly evening. If six-man protections can give the QB a modicum of time to throw, though, you can make blitzing a less attractive proposition with things like Run-Pass Options with screen options to either side of the field:
Combined with a Slant/Flat variant that looks exactly the same for the first two steps but gives the slanting guys the chance to run through a ton of open space if the linebackers have blitzed to vacate the middle:
So the potential of getting wrecked from B gap to B gap is the scariest prospect in the game for Texas, but there should be some options for moving the ball regardless.
Q: What about Patrick Vahe? His innate Tongan rage should be enough to shrug off a mere sprained ankle...right?
A: You’d have to saw Vahe’s leg off to keep him off the field for this one, but a possibly bum ankle is a bummer for a guy who adds a lot of his value through mobility. Vahe honestly isn’t an elite in-line people mover - at least not yet - but he can pull through the hole on Power and erase a 225-pound linebacker or pull to the edge against a DE or standup OLB and have the agility to either kick him out or hit and seal him inside to spring a run to the edge. The spirit of the Haka will no doubt be willing, but if the flesh (or ligament) is weak, a crucial component of his game could be compromised.
Q: Well aren’t YOU just a ray of sunshine today?
A: Sorry - just got a tooth extracted and got shafted with a codeine scrip instead of the good stuff to boot. I’m a little crabby.
Q: Well that sucks. Let’s endeavor to make you happier - what’s the good news on offense?
A: The good news is that if Texas can protect the Maskirovka QB of the moment, they’ve got a real shot at lighting up the Irish secondary. Lead corner Cole Luke is a baller, but John Burt’s got three inches on him with long speed to burn. Notre Dame’s other corner Shaun Crawford is the Notre Dame mascot minus the beard and waistcoat - coming in at 5’8" he may need to belay Collin Johnson with a shillelagh to break up a jump ball. VanGorder may try to kick Crawford inside and roll out the 5’11" Nick Coleman against Johnson, but Coleman’s only a soph himself and Crawford won’t get to eschew ladder-climbing duties inside if Jerrod Heard is on the scene:
The 5333 is the ideal offense for punishing isolated run-first safeties, and the Domers will be rolling out a pair of those in Avery Sebastian and Drue Tranquill. While both guys can run a bit, they’re far from fliers and make their living filling against the run and robbing underneath routes when QBs get flummoxed by VanGorder’s blitz schemes. Neither has the wheels to hold up with Heard, Duvernay or even ForeWarrick shooting deep out of the slot. As we theorized in the Swoo’chele Offense piece we may see Tyrone airing it 60 yards up the seam to give one of those guys the chance to walk away from coverage and hit paydirt.
Q: This Heard picture...it gruntles me. What can we expect from him in his first game action at wideout?
A: It’s hard to say given the relative info lockdown coming out of August camp, but word has filtered out that he’s exceeded all reasonable expectations with the speed and smoothness of his move to wideout. He should be able to run slants, hitches and go routes from the slot out of the gate, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on frequent Jet Sweep action as well. That’s the sort of thing that can discourage inside blitzing and slow down linebacker flow to the interior run game, and could also tee up a nice pull-up-and-throw scenario to someone like a forgotten Caleb Blueitt on a corner route.
Q: My gruntlement grows more full and turgid by the moment.
Q: Sorry. Got a little carried away, there. So who’s the QB and what can we expect?
A: 2800 words on the topic here. I’m now out of words on it. I’ll have more words come Sunday night/Monday morning, but for now...out of words.
Q: Pussy. OK, let’s talk defense then. Can the Longhorn D-line at least break even?
A: "Don’t break altogether" is probably the more reasonable hope. The Domer OL is big, experienced (SR-JR-JR-SR-JR even if there are a few "new" starters) and nasty, with the left side of Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson sporting some top-notch road-grading chops. They unfortunately figure to square off with the less hefty side of the Longhorn DL in Naashon Hughes and The Poonatrator. The left side B and C gaps figure to be where the Irish will make the bulk of their hay in the ground game, and the threat of Zaire keeping the ball on the Read Option doesn’t make the picture any more rosy.
Q: Any hope from the frosh reinforcements?
If you’re figuring ~70 snaps for ND x 2 DT spots, you’re looking at 140 total snaps with Boyette, Ford and Chris Nelson likely to grab a hundred of those. Your best bets for the remaining 40 are Gerald Wilbon, Deandre Christmas and Jordan Elliott, probably in that order. It’s sounded of late like Wilbon’s pure power has started to come to the fore, and he may already be the DL’s best shot at occuping/slowing down a brace of blockers and getting the numbers back on Texas’ side against a running QB. Christmas probably rotates in on some passing downs with Elliott grabbing a series here or there. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before with respect to the 2016 Longhorns, but this unit figures to be a lot scarier (for opponents) come late October than it will be on 9/4.
Q: So what’s our play on defense?
A: We’ll basically need The Reverend Holton Hill (h/t to Nahlin) and Davantae Davis to play superhero ball, keep an i on Torii Hunter and keep Equanimeous St. Brown from going downtown. If they’re up to the task, they’ll free up a blitz-heavy attack with one safety close to the LOS as often as possible. We’ll probably see a classic 4-3 look with Wheeler, Malik and Edwin Freeman arrayed in some mutable order as long as ND has a back and tight end on the field and the Irish don’t throw us out of it.
Even against 11 personnel, I’d be up for trying a Dirty Nickel look with Malik split out on the field slot and playing Palms/2-Read rules to that side with with the strong safety and boundary corner locking up the TE and boundary receiver in man coverage.
That could give you the ability to pinch your DL inside and jam things up with Malik and (hopefully) DeShon Elliott locking down the alleys and giving Malik a shot to educate Zaire on any weakside Zone Read keeps. The strong safety’s man coverage job is easier with speedy soph TE Alize Jones suspended for academics. The downside here is the prospect of Dylan Haines one-on-one with Hunter or St. Brown up the sideline, so you'd want to mix in some Quarters coverage on that side so it's not an automatic call to get an outside guy singled on Haines.
Q: These X's and O's make my head hurt.
A: That does seem to be the broad consensus, yes.
Q: Speaking of heads hurting, what's your advice to anyone seated adjacent to you on Sunday who considers booing Tyrone Swoopes at any point in the game?
A: I lost one tooth this weekend. If anyone's planning on booing Swoopes or anyone else, particularly when we'll have upwards of eight high-4* and 5* prospects in the stands...I hope they're ready to lose at least two.