San Antonio • Texas coach Tom Herman’s firing of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando spoiled a natural story angle for Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl, as Utah would have faced a formerly successful Utah State assistant coach.
The staffing change also made Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig’s life more difficult.
The unanswered question, from Utah's perspective, is how Orlando's absence will affect the Longhorns' strategy. One obvious possibility is less blitzing, after Orlando's ultra-aggressive style apparently cost him his job. Orlando is “a dammed good ball coach, and he has a great system in place,” interim coordinator Craig Naivar said. “We would be foolish as ever to try to reinvent the wheel and try to create something different than what we're doing.”
Even so, Ludwig is ready for some variables.
“I don't expect wholesale changes,” Ludwig said during a news conference Sunday, “but all the statistical data we've accumulated in terms of breaking down film is pretty much useless with a new play-caller calling the defense.”
Those 12 games of evidence just give him “a starting point,” Ludwig said, and “we feel very confident in our preparation so far, and that needs to put us in a great position to adjust on the fly, which is going to be an absolute necessity in this football game.”
In defense of his former boss, Naivar pointed out how the Longhorns played better in their last four games of the regular season against good offenses. Texas still allowed a minimum of 23 points in those games, losing two of them. So the Utah offense has both an opportunity and a responsibility to perform better in Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl than it did in a 37-15 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. The Utes likely will need to score something close to their 34-point average to keep up with Texas’ prolific offense.
The Utah offense will challenge a Texas defense that played poorly enough all season to cause the firing of Orlando, whose rise in the profession included a strong performance at Utah State under Matt Wells (2013-14). Herman has hired Chris Ash as Orlando’s successor, effective after the Alamo Bowl. Naivar and other defensive coaches will work Tuesday, while not knowing about their own futures.
Texas’ offensive staff also is in flux, with former coordinator Tim Beck having been demoted to quarterbacks coach as Herman searches for a replacement.
“We'd be complete fakes and phonies to sit in front of these young men and and lecture them on being mentally tough, responding to situations, fighting through things like this, and kind of mailing it in [Tuesday] and not having a great demeanor in how you go about things,” Naivar said.
The Longhorns are more healthy for the Alamo Bowl than earlier in the season, when they allowed point totals such as 45 to LSU, 48 to Kansas and 37 to TCU. “We can give a million different excuses of what and why things happened this year,” Naivar said. “But it’s been fun to get those guys back.”
Texas' defensive players learned of Orlando's firing two days after a 49-24 win over Texas Tech to conclude the regular season. “I think we handled it a lot better than I initially thought, and we really just came together as a defense,” safety Brandon Jones said.
“It was tough, especially because I haven’t been through anything like this,” linebacker Joseph Ossai said. “... It’s hard when you lose a family member. We had our differences, but it was all love at the end of the day. But we’ve got to move on, and we have a great, great system in place.”