AUSTIN (AP) – Charlie Strong had to do something.
After one game – the third straight humiliating loss dating back to last season – Texas ranked dead last nationally in total offense and tied for last in scoring.
So Strong reshuffled his offensive staff, stripping lead play-calling from assistant head coach Shawn Watson and whatever was left from offensive line coach Joe Wickline. He turned the unit over to wide receivers coach Jay Norvell in search of some inspiration Saturday night when the Longhorns (0-1) face Rice (1-0).
Doing so meant Strong rejected two of his biggest staff hires at Texas to lean on a first-year assistant who hasn’t called plays in almost 10 years. It also showed Strong is desperate to avoid a second-consecutive losing season.
Strong is two seasons into a five-year, $25-million guaranteed contract, but losing to Rice would turn up the heat to levels few thought possible so soon.
“We have to get this program on track. … We expect more, want more and the fans deserve more,” Strong said. “It was a tough decision. Shawn and Joe and I have been friends for a long time.”
Texas’ pro-style offense simply wasn’t working. Strong acknowledged as much after a 6-7 finish in 2014 with a promise the Longhorns would incorporate a spread attack. But eight months later, Texas reverted back to its old form and managed just 163 total yards in a 38-3 loss.
Texas fans certainly want more and expect to see improvement soon. By mid-week, the school had more than 15,000 unsold tickets for Saturday.
Norvell spent the past seven seasons at Oklahoma, including four as offensive coordinator, before he was fired last year. But the title didn’t include play-calling, something he hasn’t done since UCLA in 2007. He wasn’t made available to reporters this week, but Strong said Norvell is familiar with a spread offense.
For Rice, that means having to make a surprise adjustment if the Owls hope to get their first win since 1994 in a historically lopsided series. Rice dominated FCS opponent Wagner 56-16 in the season-opener.
“When a team struggles like that, they are more determined the next week,” Rice coach David Bailiff said of Texas. “What would have been best for us was for them to beat Notre Dame.”
Other things to watch when Texas plays Rice:
TEXAS QUARTERBACK JERROD HEARD: Whether Heard gets his first career start or is back on the bench will indicate the direction Texas wants to go on offense the rest of the season. Heard couldn’t beat out Tyrone Swoopes in Watson’s pro-style offense. But he’s a gifted runner who won two Texas state high championships running the spread.
LONGHORNS LINES: The Texas offensive and defensive lines were dominated by Notre Dame. On offense, the Longhorns started two freshmen who played like youngsters and Swoopes was constantly on the run. A weak defensive line was more of a surprise. The big guys up front are supposed to be the strength of the team. If they get pushed around by Rice, it could be a longer season than anyone thought.
OWLS QUARTERBACK DRIPHUS JACKSON: Dual-threat quarterbacks have given Texas fits and Jackson could be the latest to do it. The senior passed for 143 yards and a touchdown and ran for 79 yards and a score against Wagner.
HISTORY: The series with Rice is so lopsided for Texas (71-21-1) that even President John Kennedy joked about it in a 1962 speech, comparing Rice playing Texas to being ambitious enough to send a man to the moon. Rice will wear “Froggy” helmet decals to honor Froggy Williams, who kicked the game-winning field goal against Texas as time-expired in 1949
MALIK JEFFERSON: If any Texas player stood out against Notre Dame, it was the freshman middle linebacker who had nine tackles. The Longhorns are leaning on him to shore up a defense that gave up more than 500 yards in the first game.
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