It’s almost that time Husky fans! In just a few days time, your Dawgs will take on Texas in the Sugar Bowl! Ahead of the matchup, I caught up with Gerald Goodridge of Burnt Orange Nation to get the skinny on the Longhorns:
MS: We’re in year 3 of the Sark era at Texas! Steve Sarkisian, of course, served as Washington’s coach from 2009 to 2013. How has he changed in his approach to coaching (and play calling) from then to now? And, most importantly: in your estimation, is Texas back?
GG: I can’t speak to a ton of what Sark did at UW, but the game has changed quite a bit in the last 14 years and he seems to be fully embracing the waves of the future. He leans heavily into using motion to create leverage and mismatches, messing with the defense’s numbers to create space in the open field for his playmakers.
As far as the second question, I think it’s how you define “back.” I was on campus for the two Rose Bowl games, plus three of Colt’s four seasons so back to me is a bit skewed. I think Texas is doing the right things to be nationally relevant for something other than memes, has constructed the roster from the lines out, and has created legit momentum, not just on paper, for the first time since 2009.
MS: This offense has a lot of weapons, but it arguably runs through the quarterback, Quinn Ewers. With 3,161 yards, 21 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, and a 9.0 YPA average, Ewers has definitely shown some marked improvement, even while missing 2 games this season. What do you like about his game, and what are his weaknesses?
GG: Quinn Ewers has evolved his game from season to season and is showing off the arm talent that got him the 5* status as a prep player. He’s shown the ability to throw with anticipation and lead his receivers better than he has in years past to make things easier for his talented pass catchers.
He is a self-admitted perfectionist that is afraid of failing, which shows up sometimes in his game. When he’s at his worst, he’s holding onto the ball for too long, which by my armchair estimation accounted for 40% of Texas’s sacks this year. I also wish he would freaking slide when he runs. I clinch up every time.
MS: The running game was led by Jonathon Brooks, but due to a torn ACL, he will not be available for the rest of the season. This leaves a running back by committee approach as Texas’ only option. They have plenty of talent to choose from, including CJ Baxter, Jaydon Blue, and Kielan Robinson. Which one do they go to the most, and what’s your opinion on each one?
GG: In the first game post-injury, Texas went heavy with CJ Baxter and bludgeoned Iowa State with his tough and physical running style. However, in the last two games, it’s been an almost even split between the two, showing off their complimentary skillsets. Baxter is very much your traditional between-the-tacklers runner, who has shown an ability to put a foot in the dirt and find a crease in the inside zone game. He hesitates too much sometimes for my liking, but he’s a guy who can get you four yards when you need it. Jaydon Blue, who in his junior year was the No. 1 running back in the country, is more of an explosive threat that can catch an angle off of the tackle and outrun pursuit. He feels like he’s constantly wound up to break off a big run.
Keilan Robinson has honestly been more of a schematic and package choice, in both the passing game and in the running game, employed on sweeps and quick screens. This takes advantage of his elusiveness and acceleration, getting him into space quickly.
MS: The pass catchers for this team are very good, with Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell leading the way. Worthy is close to 1,000 yards and Mitchell has double digit receiving touchdowns. Who do the Dawgs need to watch out for and who is an underrated player who will give the defense fits?
GG: You can’t call Ja’Tavion Sanders underrated, but he’s one of the mainstays for Texas and Sark’s offense. He’s a big target in the red zone and looks like one of the new school tight ends that can split out and create mismatches in multiple ways for defenses. Jordan Whittington isn’t one of the big play targets for Texas, but from the slot he’s the guy Sark likes to try and sneak underneath coverage for a quick five or six when you need it.
He’s also a guy who loves to block, which makes me happy.
MS: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Longhorns’ defense, coordinated by another former Husky assistant, Pete Kwiatkowski. What is the Texas defense best at, and who are the key players Dawg fans need to keep an eye on?
GG: This question has the same answer for both phases. The Longhorns’ interior defensive line is led by the Outland Award winner in T’Vondre Sweat and his running mate Byron Murphy, who will probably be drafted in the third or fourth round. Those dudes are a terror inside, shutting down opponents’ running games and accounting for multiple blockers on every snap. Since blocking schemes are just counting exercises, they screw up the math for offenses in every phase.
They get the most shine for their ability against the run, but their ability to generate inside pressure has shown an ability to disrupt the rhythm of a quarterback dropping back. This has sometimes resulted in sacks for the pair, but more often creates rollouts and broken plays, which swings the pendulum toward the defense.
MS: It’s time for a score prediction! What will the score be in this Battle for New Orleans in the Sugar Bowl and who will punch their ticket to Houston?
GG: I’m bad at predicting scores, which is why I don’t bet. I’m 12-1 picking Texas this year so I have to pick Texas, 38-35. That being said, I wouldn’t be shocked to see yet another late-game commanding drive from Penix that makes me sweat and/or cry.
Thanks Gerald! For my answers to his questions, be sure to check out Burnt Orange Nation! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the writers who collaborated with me this season, it was a lot of fun to pick the brains of opposing fans!