Charlie Strong was listed at the top of most preseason hot seat lists because Texas’s offense had been one of the Big 12’s worst in his first two seasons at the helm. Now, his position may be as insecure as ever because he can’t field a good defense.
The Longhorns have an up-tempo attack that can compete with most Big 12 offenses. The problem is that they can’t stop any of their opponents. Just two weeks after surrendering 50 points to Cal in an upset loss, the Longhorns surrendered 49 more in their 49–31 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday afternoon in Stillwater.
In a strange game that featured four blocked extra points and 62 first-half points, the Longhorns wasted another strong performance from standout freshman Shane Buechele because of its sheer inability to stop the run, pass or appear to have any idea what direction Oklahoma State was going. Despite outgaining the Cowboys 568–557, the Longhorns were flummoxed by quarterback Mason Rudolph, who finished 19–28 for 392 yards and three touchdowns. Head coach Mike Gundy has long been known for his offensive acumen, but Oklahoma State’s running game was a surprise that helped tilt the game in its favor. Freshman running back Justice Hill finished with 135 yards rushing and a touchdown, which allowed Rudolph to camp in the pocket and pick out his receivers with ease. The Longhorns have solved their offensive woes of years past because of new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, but defensive coordinator Vance Bedford may be the next coach to go after the defense’s awful performance on Saturday.
Bedford arrived with Strong from Louisville in 2013, and survived this off-season despite leading the Longhorns to the 107th-ranked total defense last season. After the Longhorns 50–47 double-OT win over Notre Dame, most of the focus was on the professional potential of Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer, not how porous the Texas secondary looked. In a surge of media hype, the Longhorns shot up to No. 11 in the polls, with most pundits seemingly unaware that Notre Dame’s defense was every bit as bad as Texas’s. The focus shifted after the game against Cal, which features a potent offense that resembles most of the Big 12’s aerial attacks. The Golden Bears shredded the Longhorns for 396 passing yards, 507 total yards and 50 points.
Saturday’s performance was even less competitive. Even with the presence of Malik Jefferson in the front seven, the Longhorns hardly put any pressure on Rudolph during the Cowboys 37-point first half, and the secondary surrendered two touchdown passes of over 50 yards (a third went for 36 yards). Probably the most disheartening part for Longhorns fans was how easily the Cowboys were able to dismantle the defense, which is supposed to be Strong’s forte. The forecast for next week is grim, too, as Texas is set to face an Oklahoma team that features one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield) and two star running backs (Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon).
With Strong in his third season and trying to avoid the Texas boosters racing to hire Tom Herman from Houston, his first move may need to be firing Bedford. The Longhorns haven’t been able to keep up in these shootouts, and the losses may keep coming if they can’t make strides defensively. Strong’s survival depends on shoring up that side of the ball to protect his new shiny offense. If he doesn’t, he may not be around to oversee the maturation of the star recruits he’s signed since arriving in Austin.