While the Oregon State football team has been preparing for the Alamo Bowl in regular fashion — minus that false rumor of coach Mike Riley interviewing for the open Wisconsin job — Texas has had anything but consistency.
For starters, the Longhorns scrambled to fill a big hole on the coaching staff.
Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin left the program to take the head coaching job at Arkansas State. He was responsible for calling plays, so that now goes to Major Applewhite, who is the quarterbacks coach and other coordinator.
Offensive line coach Darrell Wyatt was promoted to co-offensive coordinator to help Applewhite.
“The offensive staff after Bryan left has done a great job of moving forward,” coach Mack Brown told the media this week. “They are working together well, and it’s a difficult thing to put a plan together when you haven’t called plays in probably three or four years like Major, but he’s working hard at it. The guys are preparing well.”
Brown was appreciative of Harsin’s two years with the Longhorns. He was brought in to freshen up the offense.
Prior to Texas, Harsin worked at Boise State, so the offense resembles the Broncos with shifts and movements before the snap.
“I don’t see a lot changing before the bowl game because they were already into the game plan and so we will be pretty much who we have been all year in the bowl game, but I do see some changes coming in the spring,” Brown said.
Applewhite could have been the team’s play caller two years ago, but Brown didn’t want him to follow Greg Davis, who coached Applewhite when he played quarterback for the Longhorns.
Harsin was brought in as a buffer. When he was hired away, Brown didn’t hesitate to slide Applewhite into that role.
“He played for Greg, he coached with Greg and I didn’t think he would ever have a chance for it to be Major’s input,” Brown said. “It would always be, ‘Well, he’s still doing what Greg did,’ and that’s not fair to him or Greg. I didn’t know it would be two years. Usually our guys get jobs around here pretty quickly if they want them. I told Major, ‘You need to put yourself in position as the play caller every day, because that day is going to come fast, and when it comes, you need to be ready.’ ”
The Longhorns began bowl practice last week and Brown feels the players haven’t missed a step in the change of play callers.
“They practiced really hard and they responded to him well,” Brown said. “I think guys like change and it’s fun for them. It’s not a hassle. And Major was right there with them.”
The Longhorns have some health issues that they hope to fix by the time they face the Beavers on Dec. 29 in San Antonio.
Quarterback David Ash was named the starter now that his ribs are healed.
Standout defensive end Alex Okafor is still nursing an ankle injury.
Offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle and running back Joe Bergeron have shoulder problems.
Receivers Miles Onyegbule (ankle) and Marquise Goodwin (thumb) are hurting.
“They have been limited some in practice just because we want them to be, but I think they’ll be fine,” Brown said. “Everybody I think will be fine for the bowl game.”
The only primary player from the end of the regular season out for the game is offensive tackle Trey Hopkins with a leg injury. Brown considers him the team’s best offensive lineman.
Another problem Texas is dealing with is finals. OSU finished finals two weeks ago before bowl practice began; the Longhorns had them this week.
They will be limited to 13 practices before the game while the Beavers will have 16.
“It’s a little challenging when you have finals like we do at Texas,” Brown said. “You don’t have your whole team out there in finals week, so you have to move your practices around. You lose some players and you don’t have the whole team out there at one time to practice because of their schedules and even in study sessions.”
That has Brown concerned. The Beavers are ranked No. 15 and had a narrow loss to Stanford, the Pac-12 champion.
“They were a team that didn’t get the publicity near they deserved because everybody I talked to before we watched video said they are so much better than people know they are,” Brown said. “They are playing with a lot of confidence right now and they are playing so well on defense. ... And then offensively, (coach) Mike (Riley) has been one of those guys we’ve visited through the years because when he’s had the runner, guys rushed for 2,000 yards, or when he’s had the passer, they pass for 2,000 yards, and he’s been able to stay really balanced.”