Texas (0-1) is in trouble after just one game. It wasn't because the Longhorns were beaten by Notre Dame. It was the WAY they were beaten by Notre Dame. They were thoroughly dominated by the Irish in every phase of the game. There were many problems last Saturday. There were many mistakes made last Saturday. There were many missed opportunities last Saturday. There were glaring miscues and misjudgments last Saturday.
And there are too many questions why.
Head coach Charlie Strong believes that the problems may be centered around the offensive play calling, which is why he made a drastic change, demoting BOTH offensive coordinators (Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline) and elevating receivers coach Jay Norvell to the position. A sign of panic? Possibly, but this team has been offensively inept for three games, dating back to last season so clearly something is wrong. The real question is why wasn't this ineptitude discovered during the offseason and corrected then?
The Longhorns are now in a deep search for answers to a myriad of issues and they all need to be solved by this Saturday night, when a very talented and ambitious Rice team shows up in Austin looking for the upset the Owls didn't get last year. There could not be a worse time for a hungry team to play a traditional powerhouse, but here it is. Texas must deal with this and they must win... or the flood gates of controversy will open in ways Strong has never even considered.
Rice at Texas
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Longhorn Network (Check Local Listings)
Spread: Texas -15.5
Three Things To Watch For
1. The Texas Coaching Staff
Normally, once the weekend comes, the game is decided on the field by the players. However, the sudden coaching change Monday by Strong suggests that the reason for their loss was bad play calling, echoed by his own postgame statements that "they needed to coach better." So now all eyes will be on the Longhorns coaching staff and whether or not new offensive coordinator Norvell can turn around the offense with less than a week to prepare. And does this also mean that the entire offense will get an extreme makeover, starting with a QB change from Tyrone Swoopes to Jerrod Heard and more touches for running back Johnathan Gray?
2. The Texas Defense
While everyone in Austin is screaming at the Texas offense, no one is noticing that the defense gave up 313 yards passing and 214 yards rushing in the opening loss to Notre Dame. This simply means that the one thing the Longhorns thought they could hang their hats on coming into this season is ALSO not working properly. Strong stated that it was the defensive line that simply gave Fighting Irish quarterback Malik Zaire too much time to make plays. The Longhorns will have a similar problem against Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson, especially if the Owls can get their running game going. Running back Austin Walker picked up 107 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries last week against Wagner.
3. The Texas QB Situation
Either Swoopes or Heard must lead on Saturday. Its that simple. Both quarterbacks, when called upon, must come into the game and execute whatever play is called. The time for system mastery is now. There is no more time to wait on either of them. If Texas does not find consistency at quarterback, Strong won't have to worry about a long season, because he may not be around for it. Especially if the Longhorns lose to an in-state team they have traditionally owned.
Texas is reeling and must turn this around immediately. If there is a confidence-building opportunity for this team, this is the game for that. Rice is a talented team, but on paper, should not be able to compete with the Longhorns, especially in Texas Memorial Stadium. That would be true, except this has so far, not been the traditional powerhouse Texas Longhorns. This team is in search of an identity, while Rice is a team that appears to be molding its own identity. The combination speaks loudly and maybe that is the reason why the Longhorns lose this game. Rice is going to treat this game as the program's moment in time and leave nothing in the locker room. If the Owls can get their running game going, this will be an upset. And I think that is just what it will be.
Prediction: Rice 24, Texas 21
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.