Last season’s loss to Kansas and Bo Davis’ bus tirade after the Iowa State defeat highlighted just how important Steve Sarkisian’s year one to year two offseason would be. Beginning with December’s crucial recruiting flourish, Sark and his coaches had a laundry list of things to accomplish. So far, so good.
They caught some breaks after the season, but the finish to the 2022 recruiting class raised the floor and the ceiling of the program considerably, beginning with the offensive line. Numerous members of that O-line class will play this season.
We mentioned in early December that UT would be one of the biggest winners in portal recruiting and that worked both from the standpoint of imports and exports. A fun, but probably unnecessary exercise would be to rank all the players gained and lost during the offseason. Quarterback Quinn Ewers and wide receiver Isaiah Neyor in particular look to play massive roles this year. Tight end Jahleel Billingsley will make his share of plays, too. At a minimum, Ryan Watts on the defensive side should become a solid starter. One of the few negatives of the offseason was the inability to land TCU transfer defensive end Ochaun Mathis.
With Stan Drayton departing to become Temple head coach and Andre Coleman not being retained, Sark was afforded the opportunity to upgrade both running back and wide receiver coaching. Drayton did good work, especially landing Bijan Robinson, but he was otherwise an average recruiter while Coleman was clearly subpar. Thanks to the hiring of Tashard Choice and Brennan Marion, Texas is in position to land the best running back class in the nation with the wide receiver haul not too far behind.
In addition to giving recruiting a youthful, energetic jolt, the new coaches have added the same to the program. Marion in particular provides schematic and technical value-add, with hints of his Go-Go offense being sprinkled in and the receivers running noticeably crisper routes during the spring.
In a nod to Davis’ post-Iowa State rant, Sark had to address lack of team leadership. He did that through player-driven competition where teams were drafted by team leaders. The result was that players knew exactly where they stood within team hierarchy and clear leaders emerged. How well this works likely depends on how much adversity the team faces this season, but the program is clearly in a better place year over year.
Relatively early on, Sark made the call to keep the defensive staff completely intact but that didn’t stop him from increasing experience and IQ on that side of the ball. The addition of Patterson not only helps the defense, but also Sark as head coach. Patterson‘s unparalleled familiarity with the conference should benefit game planning week to week. However, I think his biggest task lies ahead of him this August as he peer-reviews Pete Kwiatkowski’s year-two defense.
This successful offseason goes for naught if the program doesn’t show marked improvement this season. That makes August extremely important as all these aspects are collated together. During the lost decade we’ve seen Texas teams, no matter the head coach, discovering who they are through the adventure of 12 Saturdays. Actual games should be used for fine-tuning, not finding out who you are.
The greatest task for August will be to establish team identity on both sides of the ball. To accomplish that, the staff needs to understand what players can and can’t do, and therefore which schemes, plays, and personnel packages work and don’t work. Even Texas pessimists trust Sark to navigate this on the offensive side of the ball, but great head coaches are able to do the same on the opposite side of their background.
Fortunately, I think Kwiatkowski has a plan more custom tailored to his personnel for this season and we should see improvement. We’ll be covering that throughout August, along with many other storylines.