That was it, the last week of regular season Big 12 football for the 2019 season. It was an interesting year, we’ll recap it in a variety of ways over the coming weeks including with my All-B12 thoughts and some breakdowns of Baylor v Oklahoma round II.
The final weekend spelled out well some of the early trends with the three new head coaching hires inaugural seasons. Neal Brown finished strong at West Virginia, going 2-2 over the last four games after putting Jarrett Doege at QB and sending Gary Patterson into a tizzy by eliminating TCU from bowl game contention. My sense watching WVU this year was that Neal Brown really was a fantastic hire who’s staff clearly gameplans their opponent well and coaches up a sound team, they just didn’t have anything at QB until Doege took over.
Chris Klieman had a mixed season with some big wins and head scratching losses but the Wildcats took down Iowa State in “Farmageddon” leading to some K-State fans crowing in my Twitter timeline about comments I made a year or so ago about how the Campbell Cyclones could supplant K-State as THE physical, overachieving B12 North team. 8-4 is a fantastic year one, even if three wins were gimmes from what turned out to be a really easy non-conference slate. Klieman went 5-4 in the Big 12 and showed a real knack for winning the Snyder way, doing it on the margins with really smart situational play from an older team.
Matt Wells had a tough year one, losing several close games and jumping on Texas early only for Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns to wake up and bury them 49-24 in Austin. The Red Raider defense was terrible this season and the offense struggled to adjust to the new approach and the injuries and losses they had at QB and WR. Perhaps they’ll hire Todd Orlando and reunite him to Wells this offseason. The Red Raider O will have brighter days in the future, Jett Duffey played hard and both Alan Bowman and Maverick McIvor could be upgrades.
Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State, of course. Watching Dru Brown against West Virginia from the week before it was clear to me that he wasn’t going to be able to make plays to put the Cowboys over the top against a defense gearing their whole effort around stopping Chuba Hubbard.
I was surprised to see Charlie Brewer play against Kansas. The gritty Bear QB took a helmet crown to the side of his head against Texas and was asked by officials to go to the sideline. Later Matt Rhule said he “rolled his ankle” and “probably could have gone back in.” I rewatched the play, his ankle was not rolled. My best and most generous guess, and it’s only that, is that they held him out against Texas as a precaution and to check back later, and then he never showed any concussion symptoms and avoided going through the protocol. I didn’t watch him against Kansas but assuming he didn’t get knocked around I’d guess he’ll be fine against Oklahoma this next weekend. I’ll peak back later before breaking down the title game.
Who lost week 14 in the Big 12?
Tom Herman’s staff lost week 14 and the overall season in a big way. As of me writing this, multiple Texas assistants are out. DC Todd Orlando has been fired, WR coach Corby Meekins has been reassigned to an off field role, OC Tim Beck has been reassigned (either moving to WR or perhaps he’ll be removed at a later time), WR coach Drew Mehringer has been fired, and I think there’s more still to come.
Meekins and Mehringer were a mess at Texas. The former is around for his recruiting connections in Houston, but his charges on the field rarely showed any exceptional development. Mehringer clashed with Herman and likely would have been fired even had his job performance been exceptional (it wasn’t). Beck was a valuable coach for Texas who was a skilled recruiter and a strong developer of QBs but a weak coordinator/play-caller that Herman took the call sheet from after 2017.
It would appear that Texas is going to drastically alter course and hire the “child Raid bro” Graham Harrell, who as the Texas Tech QB that followed up Kliff Kingsbury, Lincoln Riley, and Sonny Cumbie is now due to step into the spotlight in a big way. I’ll comment more on that if and when it happens but that’d be a significant move that would likely impact other staff developments for the Texas offense.
Todd Orlando flailed about his last two years at Texas. The design of the Longhorn unit was intended to be a zone blitz structure that could allow them to be “positionless” with players moving from different areas to threaten to blitz or drop. Orlando’s embrace of dime personnel in 2017 and 2018 made it more effective and B12-friendly when they could threaten the offense with blitzing from multiple angles without also conceding matchups in the passing game. The problem is that Texas hasn’t had good linebackers to make the most of this style, didn’t cover particularly well in the secondary while isolated by the blitzes, and utilized over-aggressive and dangerous tackling techniques that contributed to seven different DBs who started games this season missing time with injuries. Typically shoulder injuries and stingers incurred while trying to land head down kill shots on ballcarriers.
The zone blitz defense is no good without impact linebackers and Texas’ best linebacker, aside from some of the safeties, was Joseph Ossai. The 6-4, 240 pound warrior is a natural DE/OLB that was forced by Texas’ use of dime personnel and three-down structures to play off the ball at sam and will linebacker all year. He was effective in the former role, but couldn’t rush the passer as often, and he was not super effective in the latter role. Ossai finished the year with 81 tackles, 7.5 TFL, two sacks, two INT, and a shoulder injury (of course) that limited him for much of the year.
There’s a lot of scuttlebutt out there on who’s next. Football Scoop has Chris Ash as the favorite, I’m not sure if that will actually go down. Typically Herman has preferred to explore the Mormon mafia coaching tree of zone blitz schemers from Kyle Whittingham’s tree. That tree has not borne fruit since being contrasted with B12 offensive stylings though so it’ll be interesting to see what Herman and Texas decide to do here. For all the benefits of three-down defensive structures, Texas would probably be well served by a simpler, four-down scheme to make the most of having more DL and DE talents on the roster than most B12 schools as well as having very few, good three-down LBs (arguably zero, currently).
Gary Patterson is another big loser in week 14. That’s two consecutive seasons with less than eight wins. He’s built a reputation this decade as being a guy you can’t keep down for more than one bad year, but that will be put to the test this coming offseason. It seems likely that he’ll let OC Sonny Cumbie take the fall for this season and make a new hire on offense. Obviously the Frogs stand to improve in 2020 when they’ll have an older defense with better options at the all-important DE positions and an older QB that isn’t feeling his way through college football for the first time. Patterson really needs to just open things up on offense and stop trying to protect his defense with ball control strategies. I really doubt that choice was being made by Cumbie and I wonder if the 2020 OC will have that freedom.
Who won week 14 in the Big 12?
Big win for Chris Klieman, running the ball on the Iowa State defense and securing the big Farmageddon victory. Skylar Thompson went 5-12 passing in that game for 57 yards with zero scores and an INT, but the Wildcats were able to control the football and the game by running it 49 times for 231 yards. They got freshman and possibly 2020 feature back Jacardia Wright involved, he ran for 60 yards on six carries with a TD, while a healthier looking Jordon Brown took the main workload with 19 for 91 and another TD. Add in a Snyder-esque kick return by Joshua Youngblood (three on the year!) and you have a recipe for a perfect Klieman-formula win.
The big key in this game was the play of O’Rien Vance, who really struggled fitting up the I-formation run game that K-State relied on in this game. Vance was very effective early in the year as a “shock-trooper” against the spread, blitzing interior gaps and using his size and downhill power to cause problems. But against a wider front where the DBs behind him have gaps of their own to plug rather than just cleaning up the mess he can create by crashing into the line? Iowa State had a problem.
Now Kansas State has a problem, though not a debilitating one. They started five senior OL against Iowa State, a pair of senior LBs, and a pair of senior DTs. Lots of infrastructure pieces will need to be replaced and Klieman’s vision for this program is to take the longer, developmental path towards building dominant teams in the trenches. He’ll inherit another wave of Snyder recruits along the OL that he can seek to beef up and mold and I think the DL might actually be in strong shape with Drew Wiley and Wyatt Hubert returning, but 2020 could be interesting. Consider the Jimbo Fisher Texas Aggies, he found Jace Sternberger in the JUCO ranks and Arizona transfer TE Trevor Wood and between them and NFL bound Erik McCoy built a functioning run game for Trayveon Williams and won nine games in year one.
In year two, with some initial momentum established and a 10-year guaranteed contract, Jimbo took his foot off the gas. He elected to play tons of freshman and sophomores, including at TE, and the Aggies went 7-5 this year with zero wins over P5 opponents with a winning record. Klieman probably won’t elect to take that path since he’ll have a senior Skylar Thompson and still some pieces to work with, but it’ll be interesting to see if he’s content to see what he can do with some younger players or if he’ll hit the JUCO and transfer market for some pieces that can help K-State push through a little harder in year two. Thus far they do have a JUCO DT and OG in the 2020 class.
Also, Baylor and Oklahoma earned minor wins beyond the ones over Oklahoma State and Kansas that earned them each 11-1 finishes. Jalen Hurts threw 16 passes and had 16 carries against Oklahoma State while Kennedy Brooks carried the bigger load with 22 carries. Charlie Brewer threw 25 passes and had just two carries while dispatching Kansas, leaving the real work to his RBs and then back-up Gerry Bohanon.
Hurts will get 40 carries if that’s what it takes to beat Baylor (probably not that many) and Brewer will get a much heavier run game workload in this game as well.
With Christmas looming at the end of the month, consider buying my book on the spread offense’s history with the Big 12 conference!