Charlie Strong hopped on a private jet to Tulsa, Oklahoma, last December. He had just finished a 5–7 season in his second year as the head coach at Texas, and offensive inefficiency was heavily to blame.
So when Strong and University President Gregory Fenves landed in Tulsa, they weren’t going to without securing Sterlin Gilbert as the Longhorns’ next offensive coordinator. They departed successfully.
But unfortunately for Strong, a lack of execution on offense ultimately led to the demise of his tenure in Austin. Gilbert’s offense mustered a measly nine points in Strong’s last game — a 31-9 loss to TCU — on Friday.
“Our players on offense are frustrated because we've been there, we've scored a lot of points,” Strong said. “When you get in the game, you can't press, you got to just let it happen for you. That's what we didn't do.”
The Texas offense kept the team afloat for much of the season. It manufactured 44.7 points per game in the Longhorns’ 2-1 start, including 43 points against California in a high-scoring loss on the road.
The narrative to start the season centered around the defense’s inability to keep Gilbert’s high-powered offense within reasonable striking distance. But when Strong took over defensive play calling duties midway through the season, he turned his unit into a turnover-forcing machine.
Gilbert’s offense struggled to convert those takeaways into points. And through the final three games of the season — all losses that lead to Strong’s departure from the program — Texas averaged a mere 16.7 points per game.
“We just didn’t execute the stuff we had,” Gilbert said. “We just needed to continue to execute and do well, and we weren’t able to do that at times down the last three games.”
Sophomore safety DeShon Elliott set the offense up nicely with a timely interception late in the first half. He returned the pick inside the Horned Frogs’ 10-yard line, giving Texas an opportunity to take a 10-7 lead into halftime if it cashed in with a touchdown.
But the Longhorns gained just two yards on the drive and settled for another short field goal, their second attempt from less than 25 yards in the game. They weren’t any better in the second half.
Sophomore punter Michael Dickson, a Ray Guy Award finalist, came on to punt five times in the final 30 minutes of Texas’ loss to TCU. Still, the defense let Texas linger within one possession for much of the half. But the Longhorns never found the end zone, and the defense finally relented with two fourth-quarter TCU touchdowns.
Junior running back D’Onta Foreman said TCU’s ability to stymie the Longhorn offense in the red zone, and throughout the rest of the game in general, came down to a simple scheme.
“TCU had a great game plan,” Foreman said. “They blitzed off the edges and had extra men that we didn’t block. That’s pretty much it.”
The Horned Frogs weren’t the only ones to zero in on a successful game plan against Texas. Though Foreman broke loose down the stretch of the season and surpassed 2,000 yards rushing for the second time in school history, it didn’t translate to triumph on the scoreboard.
Much of Strong’s stay in Austin revolved around the idea that he had the right players to secure ample victories, but he could never get them to show success on the turf. That notion lived on even through Strong’s final contest on the 40 Acres.
“I don't know if they were that much better than us,” Strong said. “I think we had opportunities, and we didn't take advantage of them.”