NCF Nation: Major Applewhite

Longhorns bounce back to set up big game

November, 29, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no better cure for a 25-point loss than responding with a 25-point victory.

That's not some old Darrell Royal saying or an axiom that coaches have been known to share. It's just a fact. And just when we thought we had Texas and its troubles figured out, this team fought to live another week.

The Longhorns who won six conference games in a row showed up again, keeping their Big 12 championship hopes alive with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayJoe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 in honor of injured Johnathan Gray, had 102 yards and a touchdown.
"Proud of our team. Proud of the way they fought," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."

There was plenty of talk in the past two weeks that Oklahoma State finally exposed Texas and its various flaws, that the six Big 12 wins that came before it were somehow less meaningful or some kind of mirage.

If the meltdown against the Cowboys revealed Texas' thin margin for error, Thursday's victory reminded how good Texas can be when it achieves everything it sets out to do.

Brown wanted a slowed-paced game, not a shootout. Texas had to control the tempo. Check.

He wanted to pound Texas Tech's recently awful run defense. Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown both surpassed 100 yards. Check.

He hoped Texas' defense could force erratic play by the Red Raiders' young quarterbacks. The Longhorns netted nine sacks, including three each from Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Check.

"It's not a pretty brand of ball. It's not very stylish," Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "But it's what we had to do."

Thursday's performance was about as close to a defensive masterpiece as Texas could have hoped for. The Red Raiders' No. 1 ranked pass offense finished with 5.8 yards per attempt. They went 5-for-18 on third downs. Tech's leading rusher on the night? Punter Ryan Erxleben, who dashed 51 yards for the first score of the night. Texas' special teams gave up that score. Its defense allowed one touchdown the rest of the night.

"It was a good game. I don't know if it was better or not. I guess you guys make those decisions," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "We played real well here against a good offense."

But since so many will discount the result, pointing out that Texas Tech lost five in a row after starting 7-0, let's cut to the chase: If this is Texas, if these are the real Longhorns going forward, can they do enough to beat No. 9 Baylor?

Ask Brown whether his team played up to its formula for victory against Tech and he'll rattle off the things his team didn't do. Texas turned the ball over twice. Other than placekicker Anthony Fera, a Groza Award finalist who's now 19-for-20 this season, the Longhorns are still a mess in several areas of special teams.

His players were no different. They see a need for improvement. They won't celebrate this win much this weekend. They know what they're up against next.

Preparing for Baylor will require that kind of perfectionist attention to detail. Like Texas, the Bears showed their vulnerabilities against Oklahoma State. They're not at all unbeatable. But they have the respect of their next opponent.

"We fully assume Baylor will win [against TCU] and be right there," quarterback Case McCoy said. "It'll be a game that, as a senior class, we want to go out with a chance to put numbers on these walls and have a Big 12 championship."

The Longhorns made their senior night count. They made the next game matter. They're not done yet.

"We're still in the race," Jeffcoat said. "We had to win this one. This was a must-win. And we have to win the next one."

Brown taking job one week at a time

October, 15, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas – Just when everybody counted Mack Brown out, when the vultures were circling and message boards were ablaze, he did it. His Longhorns beat Oklahoma. Actually, they dominated Oklahoma.

For the first time in a long time in this rivalry, Texas wasn’t just the more physical and confident team in the Cotton Bowl. This team was better coached than the Sooners, too, and that was impossible to miss on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
AP Photo/LM OteroMack Brown is showing he still has a lot of fight in him.
It was a fitting and much-needed outcome for Texas coach Mack Brown, who for weeks has repeatedly said he’s living one week at a time, focusing only on the Longhorns’ next foe and trying to ignore all the clouds and thunder overhead.

One Texas player admitted after the game that the team had to “save his career” on Saturday. Brown didn’t talk defiantly about what this win meant, though he had the right to after so few gave his team a chance.

“I think it says more about the state of college football and that anybody can beat anybody on Saturday if you play better than the other team,” Brown said. “It is all about how you play, and if you go out there and stand around, you probably can’t beat anybody.”

For all that has happened in six games, Brown’s week-by-week belief seems to be helping. He’s not letting his team ride the roller coaster of highs and lows, even if a 36-20 victory over the Sooners is about as high as Texas has known in four years.

“We can’t do that. We have to get back to work, and that is what these guys did,” Brown said.

He said all the right things on Saturday, that what mattered was that Texas is 3-0 in the Big 12 and its seniors got a final win over OU. Privately, though, you have to imagine he savored this victory as much as any in his career.

There will be many who say the victory over OU doesn’t change the end game. Perhaps Texas was already past the point of no return, no matter the result of this game, and that a new head coach will be coming to Austin this offseason regardless.

There is a time for that discussion, and it is a lengthy one. But now isn't that time.

Brown put himself in a difficult spot this season with all of his offseason vows that Texas was about to go on another big run. He set the bar of expectations high. Then his team started 1-2 and he fired his defensive coordinator two games into the season. Time to panic, right?

“I know it’s hard to believe, but as a coaching staff we really don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what media says,” offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. “We really try to keep our kids in line and make sure their minds are ready to go.”

The hiring of Greg Robinson as Texas’ defensive coordinator is showing promising results, none better than in the OU game. That bold move is, at least for the time being, paying off, and Robinson fully understood what beating the Sooners meant for Brown.

“It is all-important for Mack Brown because, let me tell you something, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Mack Brown,” Robinson said. “I just wanted to come help him, because he is that kind of guy. I think our players feel the same way and I know our coaches feel the same way.

“He’s a good person and he has had tough situations that he has been having to deal with here for a while. I’m just so happy for him; I really am. I think he deserves it.”

If his team, coming off a bye week, stumbles at TCU and takes that first conference loss, the rumor machine starts up again and the expensive chair in his office gets a little more uncomfortable. That’s the nature of college football and the roller-coaster ride.

But for one day and one game, the head coach reminded his doubters he’s not done fighting. Mess with Mack and you just might get the horns.

Texas finds what Oklahoma loses

October, 14, 2013
A critical exchange of possessions in the second quarter defined this year’s Red River Rivalry.

With the Sooners trailing 10-3, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel dialed up three consecutive Blake Bell passes. All three fell incomplete.

Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite countered with three consecutive runs between the tackles for a first down. The drive ultimately ended with Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson in man coverage that gave the Longhorns control of the game.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell and Oklahoma didn't take advantage of opportunities against Texas..
Saturday, on the same field where Texas finally uncovered an offensive identity, the Sooners completely lost theirs.

Oklahoma’s recipe for success before Dallas was simple and effective. Run the ball, take care of the ball and make the necessary plays in the fourth quarter. The game plan worked wonders in the Sooners’ convincing victory at Notre Dame. It was enough to beat TCU, too.

But against the Longhorns, once Oklahoma’s shaky passing attack was exposed, the entire offense fell apart.

Texas loaded the box and checked the Sooners’ ground game. The Longhorns dared Heupel and quarterback Blake Bell to beat them deep. And the Sooners blinked first.

Bell completed just 1 of 7 downfield attempts that were longer than 10 yards – a fullback pop to Trey Millard for 29 yards early in the game. Considering the defensive scheme Texas employed, the lack of completions downfield was staggering. The lack of attempts, even more so.

“There were opportunities there a little bit to unload the box that we're not taking advantage of,” Heupel said. “We haven't been good on the outside or in the middle of the field — anything past 15 yards. We’ve got to be better. There are explosive plays out there that have the opportunity to win. We’ve just got to make them.”

Heupel also shied away from calling many quarterback runs, which had been so effective for Oklahoma in the past and so lethal against the Longhorns this season. Against a loaded box, having the extra blocker would have been useful. But the Sooners didn’t attempt to capitalize off Bell’s power wheels, and Bell only ran three times for just eight yards.

“That’s just the way Coach Heupel and all of our offensive coaches wanted to go into the football game,” answered Bob Stoops, when asked why more Bell runs weren’t called. “Again, there were just some things we don't feel so comfortable with in some areas always with Blake.”

If the Sooners didn’t feel comfortable with Bell throwing the ball downfield or running him, maybe they should have made another quarterback change. But that wasn’t considered, either.

Now, the Sooners are left to pick up the pieces from their Red River disaster and rework an offensive identity that went to pot in Dallas.

“There’s no magical pill you’re going to take and correct it,” Heupel said. “You just go back to work.”

According to all reports, the Longhorns didn’t take any magic pills before the Oklahoma game. But they played a like a completely different team than the one that had shuffled through the first five games. And a week after calling 45 passes, Applewhite opted to run the offense through hard-nosed running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown behind the Longhorns’ veteran offensive line.

“They were determined to go play, determined to move the ball and they understood the game plan,” Applewhite said of his line. “I think we spelled it out for them in terms of where we wanted to be on third down so we could possess the ball and convert and keep the chains moving. I think the game plan was a lot more simplified; the schemes were very simple.”

The simple scheme couldn’t have worked better for burnt orange.

Texas gained five yards anytime it wanted up the middle, as Gray and Brown both rushed for more than 100 yards. That took the pressure off quarterback Case McCoy, who delivered the big plays when he was called on to.

The last three years, Texas coach Mack Brown has been trying to locate the right identity for the Longhorns offense. This past offseason, Brown indicated he wanted to speed up the tempo and spread the field.

But as Saturday showed, this offense is built to run between the tackles, then throw deep to a host of speedy receivers.

The formula worked wonders against the Sooners. And could work wonders going forward, too.

“I loved the game plan,” McCoy said. “I was confident in the plan and knew in any situation what was going on and what I was doing. We played hard and played to the plan.

“And that's exciting.”

The real Texas shows up to rout Sooners

October, 12, 2013

DALLAS, Texas -- The question of the day, believe it or not, isn’t "Did Texas just do that?" The real question is, are these the real Longhorns?

Shake off the shock of seeing Texas roll No. 12 Oklahoma 36-20 in a game that was basically over by the end of the third quarter. Shed the surprise that, after being knocked and mocked for a month, these Longhorns went out and found a way to dominate Oklahoma in all phases. Once we move past the disbelief, are we left with ... belief?

All Texas needed was something silly and unpredictable -- a defensive tackle snagging an interception and rumbling 31 yards into the end zone -- and it was all downhill from there, the Longhorns riding a medley of surprises and a sudden wave of confidence.

Maybe these Longhorns should play the underdog role more often. It certainly suits their embattled coach, their irrationally cocky quarterback and his underestimated teammates.

[+] EnlargeChris Whaley
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTexas DT Chris Whaley celebrates his interception return for a touchdown that gave the Longhorns a major spark against the rival Sooners.
“I thought we would win today,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I knew we would play really hard and I knew we would play really well. I don’t know that that would be good enough, but I knew this was going to be a different mindset coming in.”

What seemed to set everything in motion for Texas, though, was a momentum swing from an unlikely source. Chris Whaley, a senior defensive tackle who was once a touted running back recruit, pulled off the first surprise of the day when he dropped into coverage on a heavy third-down blitz.

Even he was surprised when Blake Bell's pass ended up in his arms, so Whaley stormed down the sideline and tried to run over Bell just as he ran out of gas at the goal line.

Texas had a lot more left in the tank, and much of it was simply hard to fathom:

Case McCoy dropping a perfect dime to Marcus Johnson on a wheel route for a 59-yard score, then later a perfect fade to Mike Davis.

Texas’ consistently inconsistent offensive line punishing the Sooners from the start, paving the way for 100-yard days from Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown.

Oh, and Brown entered with 23 carries for 63 yards this season and finished the game with 23 carries for 120 yards. And Oklahoma had the undisputed No. 1 defense in the Big 12 -- at least until Saturday.

The always-fiery McCoy was as prideful as ever after the game. He knows nobody expected him to pull this off, and he and his teammates finally got fed up with all the negativity.

“I grew up an underdog. I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” McCoy said. “I came to Texas and all the sudden I wasn’t an underdog. I’m back in my environment and I’m an underdog. I hope y’all keep putting us at a disadvantage, keep putting the heat on us. I love it. I love to play, I love this game, I love my teammates and we’re going to keep fighting.”

And then that Texas defense, the one that lost both its confidence and its coach one month ago, suddenly has its swagger back.

Oklahoma went 2-for-13 on third downs. The Sooners put up 263 total yards. Their best play of the day was a kick return.

“We came out and we set the tone early,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said. “Once we set the tone and everybody knows we’re here to play, we intimidate a lot of people. We did exactly what we wanted to do.”

Again, it bears mentioning that this just doesn’t make sense. The Longhorns hadn’t given anyone reason to believe this kind of a performance was coming. The past few weeks had made it harder and harder to remember how good this team could be.

That’s why there were pockets of crimson amid the orange half of the Cotton Bowl crowd on Saturday, why many sold their tickets for pennies on the dollar because they couldn’t bear to witness another beatdown.

Well, a beatdown was delivered in the Cotton Bowl. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, who came in with a masterfully simply plan and stuck with it when the early results were clicking, loved every minute of it.

When asked what identity Texas can hang its hat on going forward, he didn’t hold back.

“Playing your ass off. Bottom line. That’s our identity,” he said. “It has nothing to do with plays, it has to do with believing in yourself and playing your ass off.”

So, again, we’re now left to wonder if in fact this Texas team, one that’s supremely experienced and has plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, this Texas team that was supposed to be a Big 12 title and BCS bowl challenger, is starting to figure out how good it can be. Is this, in fact, the real Texas?

The goal of a conference championship became a little more possible. Oklahoma isn’t what we expected. Baylor is still struggling on the road. So why can’t Texas contend?

“We realize we can play like this every Saturday,” Whaley said, “and when we play like this every Saturday, there’s no limit to what we can do.”

Pressure is on for new Texas coordinators

October, 8, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas -- When you start off the first Mack Brown-Bob Stoops duel with a 17-0 deficit in the first quarter, you quickly figure out what pressure means in this rivalry game.

But on a week this important, Major Applewhite won’t be regaling his Texas players with film or tales from 1999.

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayGreg Robinson lost in his only outing against the Sooners.
“No, I won’t waste their time,” Applewhite said.

Greg Robinson still remembers his first and only Red River game with fondness … even if Adrian Peterson burned his defense for 225 yards and Oklahoma won 12-0.

“I don’t know that I ever had more fun in a game,” Robinson said. “I hated that we lost, but man, it was just a great experience. … It was a great game and it was so unique.”

The Texas team that takes the field Saturday against No. 12 Oklahoma should, with the exception of David Ash’s absence, bears a strong resemblance to the 2012 team. Fifteen guys in Texas’ starting 22 have previous starts against OU. It’s the Longhorns’ change of coordinators that could provide a unique twist.

Applewhite has five games under his belt now as play-caller. Robinson has coached three games. Both have been handcuffed to some extent by a rash of injuries and, in the case of the defense, the rapid transition required when changing defensive coordinators two games into a season.

For as much scrutiny as Brown continues to face, to say both of his coordinators have something to prove this weekend is probably an understatement.

Texas fans will be fixated on the game plan Applewhite draws up for Saturday, especially after the strange run/pass balance the Longhorn offense struck in a 31-30 win over Iowa State.

Case McCoy attempted a career-high 45 passes while Johnathan Gray got 16 carries on the night. At one point in the game, McCoy dropped back to pass on 15 consecutive plays. The Longhorns punted eight times on the night, and on six of those failed possessions they attempted no more than two rushes.

Against ISU, the game plan was loaded with run/pass options and McCoy made decisions based on the looks the defense offered. After doing more film review, Brown and Applewhite both said they should’ve run the ball more in Ames.

“I’m comfortable with Case throwing the football, but I think looking back on the other night we wanted to do a little bit more in the run game,” Applewhite said. “In the second half, there were some times when we called some things and we didn’t have success for whatever reason. In terms of winning the game, that was obviously our goal. But I’m not going to sit and dwell on it too much, it’s time to get ready for the next one.”

Since Ash went down at BYU, McCoy has led the Longhorns on 34 offensive drives -- 12 have ended in scores, and 16 in punts. The challenge for Applewhite and co-coordinator Darrell Wyatt against the Stoops brothers will be playing to strengths while still being unpredictable.

And the way Applewhite sees it, there’s no point in saying more is on the line this year than in past Red River games.

“I think it’s all on the line when you play Oklahoma, every year,” Applewhite said. “I don’t think these kids or the coaches or anybody else feel any different. It’s the Oklahoma game. It’s what you come to Texas to play for. Same thing on the other side. It’s extremely important. It’s bragging rights, it’s what you get to talk about when you’re old and tired.”

Think Robinson doesn’t want this one as badly as anyone? Exactly one month has passed since Robinson took over for Manny Diaz. Progress has been made, but Saturday will be the real measuring stick of how far this defense has come.

Robinson doesn’t give much credence to discussing the pressure that Texas’ coaching staff faces this week, because the fact is, this big-time game is what the job is all about.

“The pressure of wanting to win and of beating them is exciting,” Robinson said. “It’s an opportunity for all of us. So I think that’s how you look at it. It’s how much can you get out of your guys come Saturday to do the right things and play well. That’s the challenge. I think we’re all excited about accepting that.”

In the end for Robinson, Applewhite and the staff, all that matters is putting the Longhorns players in a position to end to Oklahoma’s reign over the Longhorns.

“Doggone it, we want to get it back on our side,” Robinson said. “I’d like to think that’s the mindset with everybody that’s involved. We all feel like we have a responsibility to our Texas fans.”
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jim McElwain was searching for the right word to describe it.

"It" being the way the offense is run at the University of Alabama. It was clear in talking with those around the program that the overarching direction of the offense is determined by head coach Nick Saban, whose meticulous, controlling nature has been well documented.

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
UA Athletic PhotographyOC Doug Nussmeier has continued to build on Alabama's success on offense. The Crimson Tide's offensive style under Nussmeier has changed very little, if at all, from previous seasons.
But calling the offense Saban's alone was too wide of a stretch for McElwain, who served as his offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and winning two national championships before leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State.

"Back when I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to coach there, we sat down and he kind of gave me kind of a philosophy, if that makes sense, a thought process, or a vision, I guess, maybe," he said on the eve of his team's trip to face the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

"The big thing was to figure out what you had and then put it together based upon what team you have," McElwain said.

Unlike many teams in college football that are strictly ground-and-pound or run-and-gun depending upon who is calling the plays, Alabama's offense has been more adaptive, more fluid based upon the strengths of its roster. There's never been an "Air Raid" type of offense under Saban, and there's never been much of a "three yards and a cloud of dust" attack, either, no matter what the national perception has been in the past.

It's been productive, averaging 30 or more points per game in each of the past five seasons. What Saban insists upon is balance and limiting turnovers, according to McElwain.

Though the coaches running the offense have changed multiple times (seven coaching changes to be exact, including three different coordinators), the offense itself has never shifted dramatically. As Saban said upon hiring current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, "this is Alabama's offense" and that means a power running game, controlling the clock and passing enough to keep the defense honest.

"Are we wholesale changing our offense and going to a whole new system, a whole new terminology?" Saban asked shortly after Nussmeier was hired. "Everybody in the building's got to learn a whole new system because one guy's changed? We're not doing that."

Nussmeier was only half-kidding when he said he wouldn't do anything new at all from the year before, just "change the order we ran them." But the truth is that from Major Applewhite to Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier, the style of the offense has changed very little, if at all. Saban's been the one holdover, a known commodity as a defensive mastermind but an unknown in his ability to form an offensive identity. He just happens to look at it from a different perspective.

"What he does is he has a great knack of looking at film, which is what he does, looking at film of the opponent's defense, and really helping you kind of understand what they're trying to take away based on what they're doing," McElwain said. "Inevitably the pieces he brings in, saying you may want to look at something in this design or something like that, they work."

Under Saban, Alabama has never thrown the ball more than its passed. Sixty-three percent of plays were runs in 2008, and that number barely changed over the years to where last season the Tide ran 63.5 percent of the time. The only time UA ever broke the 250 passing yards per game mark was in 2010 when the Tide started off the season as title favorites only to lose three games and wind up in the Capital One Bowl.

There's the idea that Alabama's offense has opened up dramatically and become more explosive in recent seasons, but the numbers show that to be untrue. Instead, it's been same old, same old, as the offense actually had fewer plays of at least 20 yards per game last season than it did the year before (5.43 to 5.46). Points per game went up, but only slightly (38.7 from 34.8 the year before).

"They made the transition very smooth," former UA center Barrett Jones recalled, saying later that it was hard to see McElwain leave going into his senior season. "They did a really good job of letting Coach Nuss bring in some new ideas, but not changing too much because, honestly, it wasn't really broken. We kept a lot of our same verbiage, our same calls, same principals, and just added a few new things, a few wrinkles. … You hardly had to learn any new stuff."

Said McElwain: "I can see the plays and probably what they were called within the system. I think the system is sound fundamentally. I think you pick your places to take your shots. The thing I see is maybe more explosive playmakers on the outside from a collective group than there were before.

"Yet you always have that dynamic that if you're going to load the box, you're going to have guys out there that will make it hurt. And then if you cover those guys, you've got those runners in the backfield with a dominant offensive line, which really helps. I mean, pick your poison."

It's the same offense McElwain would like to run at Colorado State, though he admittedly doesn't quite have the parts to do it. He had to laugh at the talent Saban's assembled through back-to-back top-ranked recruiting classes, saying, "If you've got any [running backs] you want to send our way, I'll take them."

McElwain would love to use Saban's blueprint at CSU, but at the same time, he knows that won't be easy, saying, "The one thing I know is that I can't be him -- no one can."

The continuity Saban's been able to establish at Alabama has been second to none, never missing a beat when coaches leave or star players are drafted into the NFL. The production on offense has remained as steady as the tide. McElwain credited that to his unwavering vision, which extends to both sides of the football.

There's a plan in Saban's mind, and it's never changed in seven years at Alabama.

"To me, he's the whole package," McElwain said. "He's hired great coaches who understand what he wants and then go out and execute it."

Texas learns from slow start, big stats 

September, 2, 2013
Major ApplewhiteAP Photo/Michael ThomasAfter a slow start, Major Applewhite's offense kicked into high gear in the second half.

AUSTIN, Texas – The truth about Texas’ offense is buried somewhere in the middle.

They’re not the offense that showed up for the first half. They can’t be the second-half edition every single week.

It’s not a Jekyll-and-Hyde conundrum as much as a testament to the challenges offensive coordinator Major Applewhite faces as he calls the shots from the sideline. He found out Saturday just how good Texas’ offense can be when the uptempo offense has worn down an opposing defense. He also knows how shaky this unit can look when it starts slow.

Applewhite spent Saturday night and Sunday reviewing it all with his staff, but the postgame summation he offered was apt.

“The first half was miserable,” Applewhite said. “The second half got better, a little bit more fun.”

Texas went from scoreless to unstoppable in a matter of minutes, from 0 points to 56 before New Mexico State could muster an answer. The offense that had 136 yards in the final minutes of the second quarter finished with a school-record 715.

As a coach, Mack Brown likes those kinds of results. They’re perfect motivators, tangible proof for any team meeting or film session.

“You need for them to play well enough to feel they can be good, but understand they didn’t do well enough to be good,” Brown said. “We’ve got some things we’ve got to fix. But I thought it was a great opener for us. We won. We blew them out.”

He’s glad that blowout required a humbling dose of adversity, too. As was the case in the Alamo Bowl last December, Texas' own worst enemy is too often itself.

The first of Texas' three first-half turnovers came after on a fumble after Mike Davis picked up 21 yards on third down. The second could have been an easy touchdown if thrown just a bit differently by David Ash. And Applewhite said the third would’ve been a Daje Johnson touchdown had Ash’s pass not been tipped at the line.

On all three occasions, a big play was wiped off the board by some detail, some miscue. That’s living and learning when you’re operating an offense loaded with weapons and big-play potential.

Todd Graham had a plan. He'd go to a coaching clinic, give his spiel and shake a few hands. Afterwards the recruiting would start. Afterwards he'd extend an invitation. Anyone who wants to go get a beer and talk football, follow me.

"That's when you'd find out who is passionate," said Graham, now in his second season as ASU's head coach. "If you want to have a beer, I'll have a beer with you. But be ready to talk some football. The guys that came out afterwards and wanted to learn and wanted to talk, those are the guys I that I knew had a passion for this game. Those are the guys I kept my eyes on."

And it's pretty clear that Graham has an eye for coaching talent. In just his eighth year as a head coach, he's given rise to an impressive coaching tree that includes several of college football's most well-known coaches and coordinators.

For example:

  • Gus Malzahn: The head coach at Auburn (formerly the head coach at Arkansas State) won a national championship with the Tigers as their offensive coordinator. Before that, he was Graham's coordinator at Tulsa.
  • Chad Morris: The offensive coordinator at Clemson had zero college experience before Graham hired him.
  • Bill Blankenship: The head coach at Tulsa had zero college experience when Graham hired him at Tulsa to be a receivers coach.
  • Keith Patterson: West Virginia's defensive coordinator was a graduate assistant for one year but worked with Graham at Allen High School in Texas before Graham brought him to Tulsa.
  • David Beaty: Texas A&M's receivers coach had zero college experience when Graham hired him at Rice.
  • Major Applewhite: The Texas co-offensive coordinator had one season as a quarterbacks coach at Syracuse when Graham hired him at Rice.
[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham has unearthed several successful assistants who had little to no prior college experience.
There's a trend here. And it should be obvious.

"Teachers," Graham said. "All of them are outstanding teachers who just needed the opportunity. Chad turned me down three times because he didn't think he could do it. Now he's the highest paid offensive coordinator in the country after four years. I got hammered in the media when I hired Chad Morris. They said 'How can you hire someone without any college experience.' Same with Bill. Same with David at Rice."

And Graham already has his eye on the next up-and-comer. It's his current offensive coordinator, Mike Norvell, who reportedly passed on the same job at Auburn to stay with Graham. It's not every day a guy turns down a coordinator gig in the SEC. Norvell has his reasons.

"He's someone you want to believe in," Norvell said of working for Graham. "He's been a great mentor and someone I've learned a ton from. When you look at his coaching tree, the guys he's helped in such a short amount of time is really impressive."

Graham said Norvell might be the brightest of the bunch, and it's going to be a struggle to keep him around.

That's the fun thing about coaching trees. You could actually trace Graham's origins to the coach of ASU's biggest rival -- Arizona's Rich Rodriguez. It was RichRod who gave Graham his first Division I college coaching job at West Virginia. Other trees have multiple branches. Stanford's David Shaw comes from the Jim Harbaugh coaching tree -- but his roots are inspired by Bill Walsh, Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan. Sonny Dykes comes from the Mike Leach coaching tree. Others have bounced around and taken bits and pieces from various coaches.

But one thing they all have in common is that someone gave them their first opportunity. And so far Graham has been pretty good at spotting guys ready for their opportunity.

"I've been fortunate to identify some great teachers," he said. "I get credit when things go well and I take heat when things go wrong. But the most important thing is those nine guys I hire. I spend more time with those nine guys. I want the best pay and the best contracts for them. We want to be conference champions and Rose Bowl champions and national champions. To do that, we have to keep a staff together and that's a challenge."

In his first year at ASU, the fruits of his teachings were obvious. The Sun Devils went 8-5 and many have them as the favorites to win the Pac-12 South this season. One particular point of pride for Graham was ASU's reduction in penalties. They went from being one of the most penalized teams in the country to the least penalized team in the league.

"People think it's because I'm a hardcore disciplinarian," Graham said. "It's because we are teachers. We taught them the rules."

It is obviously a transition to go from being a high school coach to a college coach. The schemes are more complex. There are different social issues with the players -- many of whom are away from home for the first time. But if you can teach, Graham will give you a look.

"We're adaptive," he said. "When you coach in high school you have to learn how to teach fundamentals and develop fundamentals. But you have to be adaptive to the skills and talents of the players that you have year in and year out. That's what's served me and those guys well."
1. The eyes of Texas will be on the Longhorns' revamped offense this spring. Texas opened spring practice Thursday, and coach Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite are promising big changes for a unit that has struggled the past few seasons. Applewhite plans to employ a hurry-up attack, which will utilize fewer personnel packages than former offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin employed. Brown said he would like to see Texas snap the ball around 85 times a game this coming season; UT averaged 68.5 snaps per game in 2012. Brown also wants quarterback David Ash to make more plays with his legs.

2. Count Brown among the FBS head coaches who are concerned about a proposed rule change that would eject players who deliver a hit to the head of a defenseless player. The proposal was unanimously approved by the NCAA Football Rules Committee earlier on Feb. 13, but still has to be approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel next month. If the foul occurs in the first half of a game, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game. If the foul occurs in the second half or overtime of a game, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game and the first half of the next contest. Under the proposed rule, officials can use replay to determine whether the hit was intentional or not. "That's a very, very serious penalty, and it's one that coaches are concerned about and that we are going to have to some consistency in calling it or it could really disrupt some players’ lives," Brown said.

3. High school football coaches might end up being the biggest winners in the recent recruiting rules changes approved by the NCAA's Board of Directors. Proposal 11-2, which was approved by the NCAA Board of Directors earlier this month, allows FBS programs to hire a recruiting coordinator and support staff separate from their on-field coaching staff, which will be permitted to participate in all recruiting activities except off-campus visits. New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has already hired two high school coaches to help the Tigers in recruiting: Chip Lindsey from Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala., and Dell McGee of Carver High School in Columbus, Ga. FBS coaches around the country might target high school coaches in talent-rich areas in hopes of getting a leg up in recruiting.
Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has admitted to a past inappropriate relationship with a student.

Applewhite is the second coach within the Texas athletic department in the past month to admit to such relations. Former track coach Bev Kearney resigned in January after disclosing to the Austin American-Statesman that she had an intimate consensual relationship with a student. Kearney had been placed on administrative leave for several months prior to her resignation.

You can see more on the story here.

The relationship was a one-time incident during the team's trip to the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, and Applewhite said in a statement that the matter was resolved with the university four years ago. Applewhite's salary was frozen for a little less than a year, and Applewhite attended counseling.

The university has scheduled a special meeting of the board of regents Sunday at 1:45 p.m. ET. The agenda states there will be a personnel-matters discussion, as well as a "discussion regarding legal issues concerning individual athletic personnel" and a "discussion regarding legal issues related to inappropriate relations between employees and students."

Applewhite was promoted to playcaller this offseason after fellow offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left to become head coach at Arkansas State. Applewhite played for Texas from 1998-2001 and has been a coach at Texas since 2008. He was also a graduate assistant on coach Mack Brown's staff from 2002-04.
Thanks for all the email this week. You can reach me here if you've got more to say.

Let's get to your emails!

Blake K. in Austin, Texas, writes: Okay I agree with your power rankings by having the Horns 5th but you really think they aren't the team to buy into for next year? Believe me the players are totally behind Applewhite and his implementing of tempo and toughness. Plus if Ash is the concern, consider his improvement this year from last year and then add the fact that his position coach is now Applewhite. He showed his potential with the up tempo against Ore State and can now develop into the Big12's best.

David Ubben: I definitely think Texas has huge upside, and a great shot to get through the Big 12 schedule for a BCS bid. For now, though, it's mostly just upside. I totally disagree with folks who want to put Texas in the top 15, but I'd probably have 'em around No. 20. We'll see how Applewhite develops his quarterbacks compared to Harsin. I don't know that I'm convinced that there's going to be a huge difference, but I do buy that we could see David Ash make another jump like we saw from 2011 to 2012. If that happens, Texas will definitely be a contender, but seeing the games they lost this year and the fashion in which they lost them (Blown out by Oklahoma, getting outphysical-ed by TCU, nearly losing to KU) doesn't make me very convinced that this team should start in the top 15. It's not very hard to believe Texas could play its way back into the top 10 or better next year, though. The defense has the personnel to be great, and we saw them do it in 2011. This year looked more likely to be an anomaly than the beginning of the new status quo.

Jay in Midland, Texas, writes: David, man it is hard to get any love from you for Texas Tech! You placed TT behind TCU in the post season power rankings? Tech shared the same conference record, beat them at Amen Carter, Tech ended the season with a better overall record and a bowl win.. Yet you see it fit to place TCU at number 5? Although I definitely agree with your top 3, I still have to say... Come on man!

DU: Let's rehash Texas Tech's finish the final six games of the season: It lost four games and needed overtime at home to beat a team that went 1-11 and 0-9 in Big 12 play. It won its bowl game, but did so against a terrible Big Ten team as a double-digit underdog, and only won when it picked off a pass on a prospective game-winning drive.

TCU had to play four consecutive ranked teams to end the regular season, and managed wins over two of them. Its two losses were to the co-Big 12 champions, including a loss on the final play to Oklahoma. If the Frogs' offense had been better, it would have been in the mix of both of those games. It dominated Michigan State for three quarters before coughing up a game it absolutely should have won.

The gap between the two isn't enormous, but there's no doubt in my mind that TCU would beat Texas Tech right now.

Rob Johnson in Scott Depot, W.Va., writes: Thanks for the coverage this year..the positive and the negative as both were deserved. My question would be: " Could you gauge the overall response of the Big 12 fan that attended the games in Morgantown and what their honest opinion of the setting and atmosphere were there in comparison to others in the Big 12? Also, how do they think they were received by Mountainer fans?" I think the negative image we have had in the past was not so deserved. Thanks.

DU: I heard only good things from the fans who wrote me, and I loved the atmosphere for the Kansas State game, the only time I went out to Morgantown this year. The game wasn't real conducive to a great atmosphere once the game started, but it was a fun day and a whole lot of buzz beforehand. I saw the atmosphere in the Oklahoma and Baylor games and both were spectacular.

We'll see plenty more great atmospheres in the year to come, but West Virginia definitely proved it belonged in the Big 12 when it came to providing big-game atmospheres.

Derrick in Fairlawn, Ohio, writes: Dave, I noticed in your chat that you said that you thought WVU was a 10-win team this past year, but you ended up being wrong, and that WVU was never that good to begin with.Now, I know a win is a win, even by the smallest of victories... and good teams "find ways to win". But, when I look at the WVU/TCU game, and the WVU/Oklahoma game, I see two games that WVU should have won. I feel like WVU played better, but handed victories over via 3-4 routine plays that had no business going bust (ahem, Bitancurt, for example, ahem).If WVU was a 9-3 team ending the season, which in all fairness they probably should have been based on 98% of the TCU/Oklahoma games, the whole season is much rosier. They were a stones throw away from that.

DU: I don't know that it's fair to say they were games West Virginia should have won, but of those two, clearly TCU is the game you could say that about. Oklahoma was basically a toss-up, but when you give up 50 points in a game, you can't complain if you lose. West Virginia did that a lot this year. The TCU game, considering that late 10-point lead, should have been a win, but when you look at where this team began the season and rose to a top five ranking ... that's simply being far, far overrated. West Virginia's probably not far off from being a Top 25 team who slightly underachieved, but more than anything, they just weren't very good outside of the Geno Smith/Tavon Austin/Stedman Bailey trio.

bitcruncher in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: What's your opinion of Geno Smith bypassing the Senior Bowl?

DU: He's got a great shot to be the first quarterback taken, and doesn't have a ton to prove. His game tape this year does a whole lot of talking. There aren't many quarterbacks this year who threw 42 touchdowns and six picks. If he goes out to the Senior Bowl, it's far more likely that he could have a bad week and introduce a whole new set of questions. If he has a good week, he mostly just confirms what scouts already knew. There's far more to lose than their is to gain, and I'm sure that's what his agent is telling him, too.

Skipping the Senior Bowl is a good call for quarterbacks who have good chances to go in the top 10. History tells us that.

Pregame: Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 29, 2012
Oregon State (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) vs. Texas (8-4, 5-4 Big 12)

Who to watch: It took weeks for both teams to name their respective starting quarterbacks, Now that they have -- David Ash for Texas and Cody Vaz for Oregon State -- all eyes will be on the two to see if they can live up to the expectations. Ash was benched for the final game of the regular season after committing three turnovers against TCU. In the past three weeks he has had to not only climb back into the starter role but also get accustomed to a new quarterbacks coach in Major Applewhite. Applewhite took over the role following the departure of Bryan Harsin to Arkansas State.

As for Vaz, he has been stellar in four games as a starter and only lost that role after suffering an ankle injury in the Stanford game. Vaz has 11 touchdowns to one interception. But, if he struggles at all, Oregon State has a very capable backup in Sean Mannion.

What to watch: The running game production for both teams should be crucial. While Oregon State prefers to throw the ball, it cannot drop back 40 or 50 times because of the potential pressure of the Texas defensive line. So the Beavers' best move could be to attack up the middle where Texas is at its weakest. The Longhorns have allowed 199 rush yards per game and at one point during the season, in five consecutive weeks, Texas allowed five different rushers season highs. Oregon State running back Storm Woods is from just outside Austin -- Pflugerville -- and undoubtedly will have a chip on his shoulder as he was not recruited by the Longhorns.

Why to watch: Explosive plays and players. Texas, with a new playcaller in Applewhite, should be more committed to getting the ball to three of the fastest players in college football -- Daje Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe. Any time any of the three touches the ball it could result in a touchdown. Oregon State has one of the top receivers in the country in Markus Wheaton. The Beavers' all-time leading receiver could give the Texas secondary fits.

Prediction: Oregon State’s pass defense might be too much for Texas and Ash to overcome. The sophomore quarterback has struggled against strong pass defenses and the Beavers are No. 16 in pass efficiency defense. Of the teams Texas has played only Oklahoma is better, and the Sooners beat Texas by 42. Oregon State 33, Texas 28.

Documents: Texas paid Willie Lyles $15K

November, 11, 2011
The University of Texas learned that scout Willie Lyles requested $3,000 from a Longhorns booster in February 2008 to ensure a recruit's campus visits.

Months later, in July 2008, it paid $15,000 for a one-year recruiting service from a company that employed Lyles.

Mike Fish of "Outside the Lines" reports:
[Texas co-offensive coordinator Major] Applewhite, according to documents, advised against making any payments and later made a statement to Texas compliance officials.

Nick Vionis, Texas' senior associate athletic director for communications, said Wednesday that university compliance officials contacted the NCAA with concerns about Lyles, though Vionis wasn't sure when or the extent of the conversation.

Billing records and invoices shed minimal detail on what Texas received for quarterly payments of $3,750. The most specific is a September 2008 invoice referencing UT as making payment for "Elite Scouting Services 2010 Book and Consultation.'' Vionis said it included "standard web-based recruiting information'' and "maybe a book.'' In its public records request fulfilled last week, "Outside the Lines" requested copies of the materials given to Texas by Elite, but nothing was provided.

"Once we confirmed there were issues surrounding him, we had no other dealings with him,'' Vionis said of Lyles. "We were committed to the service for one year. Once that commitment to Elite was fulfilled, we had no further dealings with him.''
See the full story here.
Texas just finished signing its 2011 class, but a year and a few days later, its 2010 class is finally complete.

Tevin Jackson has been cleared by the NCAA and can enroll at the University of Texas in June.

Jackson came to UT as the nation's No. 6 linebacker and No. 86 overall recruit, but missed all of last season because of an issue with his high school transcript.

You might remember him from our look back at the ESPNU 150 signees across the Big 12. He was one of a staggering 15 for the Longhorns from their 2010 class.

According to a report in the Austin American-Statesman, Jackson received the news after his high school coach got a call from Texas' co-offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite.

"He just sat down. It was a feeling of disbelief, excitement, and relief all rolled into one," the coach told the paper. "Then he gave me a big hug. He had tears in his eyes."

The Garland, Texas native is 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, and made 198 tackles and 19 sacks over his final three seasons. He committed to the Longhorns in February of his junior year, so it's been a long wait, but Jackson will finally get his chance.

Here's what our ESPN scouts had to say about him:

"Jackson has great physical tools and some of the better vertical attacking skills in this linebacker class. A bit of a 'tweener as he lacks stout between-the-tackles run stopping skills and the fluidity you like to see in a true outside 'backer. In our eyes, he projects high as a strongside 'backer with the versatility to play inside, particularly with added size, strength and improved leverage."
Texas has hired Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to call the plays for a team that struggled last season, coach Mack Brown announced Friday.

Harsin will be co-offensive coordinator with Major Applewhite.

"What a great opportunity to come to a place like Texas with its rich history and tradition," Harsin said. "We've had success at Boise State over the years, but you look at a Texas and it has been a championship program for a long, long time and it's just one of those places you want to be a part of."

Harsin spent 10 seasons on the Boise State staff, including the past five as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Broncos finished this season ranked No. 3 in total offense and No. 2 in scoring offense, and quarterback Kellen Moore was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

This marks the second straight season Boise State has lost a coordinator. Last year, defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left for Tennessee. The Broncos also lost receivers coach Brent Pease last week, when he left to become offensive coordinator at Indiana.