How Texas RB D’Onta Foreman is trying to save Charlie Strong’s job
When I spoke to D'Onta Foreman last Tuesday, I asked him about his goals for the rest of the season. The first thing he talked about was trying to save Charlie Strong's job.
“I've tried to block out all that talk but every time you turn the TV on, it seems like they're talking about whether Coach Strong is gonna keep his job or not,” he told me, “but we love him and we want to do everything we can to try and make sure they keep him here.”
Well, Foreman is certainly doing his part. I was on the field for FS1 during Saturday's jaw-dropping performance where he rumbled for 341 yards, leading Texas to its first road win of the season and giving the “Save Charlie” movement a lot more momentum. The 45-37 win over Texas Tech marked Foreman's 10th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, moving him to just one game shy of the legendary Earl Campbell's all-time Longhorns record for most consecutive 100-yard performances.
“It's really big,” Strong said moments after the game of UTs first road win. “We talked about building off what happened last week. For them to come out here and compete, it was just a battle. We had our chances to put it away. We didn't put it away. The defense went out there and we played really hard.
“(D'Onta) is special. Look what he did today. All the players feel that way (about trying to help keep their head coach at Texas), and I tell them, 'We're gonna take care of business. You guys keep playing hard.' To watch him come out here and gain 300-plus yards, it was special. I'm happy for him.”
Last week, I inserted Foreman into my weekly Heisman Top 5. Even after another awesome display, my hunch is Foreman can't win the stiff-arm trophy, but he certainly is earning his ticket to New York as a finalist. His lowest rushing output of the season was 124 yards against the nation's No. 12 run defense, K-State. What's impressed me most is how he's put this program, a program that has had all sorts of turbulence regarding Strong's job status, on his broad back. The one-time two-star recruit who patterns his game after Marshawn Lynch is now averaging 193 yards rushing a game in-conference.
Texas Tech's staff has seen more than its share of talented running backs in the past year. They had to deal with LSU's Leonard Fournette in the bowl game and saw OU's Joe Mixon two weeks ago. When I had asked the Red Raiders staff before the game about how Foreman compares to those other standout running backs, they said he doesn't have the wiggle those other backs have. They dip and are more elusive, but this guy is a load to try and bring down.
“He's such a downhill runner,” said one of the Tech assistants, “But it did shock me at how many times he can get the edge (beating guys to the corner with his burst).”
A testament to Foreman's determination occurred in the second quarter at Tech. UT was down 16-14, Foreman was carrying a pile towards the end zone, about to punctuate what would've been a 99-yard drive. However, somewhere in that scrum of Red Raider defenders on the Foreman Express, the ball was yanked out as he was about to cross the goal-line. Instead, a Tech player grabbed it and ran it back 100 yards to give Texas Tech a nine-point lead.
Foreman told me after the game that play definitely provided him some added motivation for the rest of the day. “I went into halftime and I was pretty down about it,” he said. “I kept telling (my teammates) 'I gotta make up for it. I gotta make up for it.'
“We have a long game and I couldn't let my teammates down. I had to keep fighting and my teammates told me just, 'Keep working, keep workin', keep pushin', and you're gonna get it.'”
Expect to see Foreman on a lot more Heisman lists this week and suddenly, it seems Strong has a very real chance of keeping the job with UT at 5-4. West Virginia visits Austin this week, then there's a trip to face a dreadful Kansas team before the regular-season finale against TCU in Austin. Going 8-4 now looks quite possible. Foreman's getting some good support from a young O-line, freshman QB Shane Buechele and budding WR star Collin Johnson, another true freshman. In addition, the defense, which was so shaky earlier this year, looks like it is turning the corner, especially since Strong took over the defense from DC Vance Bedford one month into the season.
The young Texas D, which starts eight sophomores and has a whopping 17 freshmen and sophs on its defensive two-deep, held an explosive Tech offense to just four offensive touchdowns on Saturday. Not too bad when you consider Tech came into the game averaging 47 points per game. Seven of the Horns' eight top-tacklers in that game are sophomores. Texas has now held its last four opponents to 10 points per game under their season averages. In that stretch, the Horns also have 19 sacks and 33 TFLs. They've also forced 12 turnovers since Strong made the defensive shake-up.
“They had a great game plan,” said Tech QB Patrick Mahomes on Saturday. “They were dropping a little bit, but they were blitzing four and five a lot of the game, and they were trying to contain me. Malik (Jefferson) spotted me the entire game. He's a great athlete, so they were just trying to make me throw from the pocket, and throughout the entire game I didn't do a good enough job.
“I think it was a mixture of me holding on to the ball too long and then them playing good coverage and having a good rush. They have a lot of talent. They can cover people, so a lot of my reads — if I went to my reads — weren't open.”
Strong deflected credit for sparking the defense. “It's not me,” he said in our post-game interview. “Our guys are working really hard. They're playing really hard and it's the whole team — from the offense to the defense to the kicking game.”
His star running back is excited about where Texas is headed.
“I think we made a big statement (Saturday) but it's not over,” he said. “We've gotta keep going, keep fighting. We've got another road game. We gotta go win that and we gotta take care of our home. So right now, we've gotta go back to practice and keep working. I trust in all those guys and I trust coach Strong and the coaching staff, and I feel like we can win these last couple of games.”
*Alabama D by the month: In September, allows 4.6 yards per play. In October, allows 3.9 yards per play. In November, allows 2.5 yards per play. Granted it's only one game so far, and people can knock LSU's QB play, but the Tigers still have one of the best offensive weapons in football in Leonard Fournette; lots of speed at receiver and a veteran O-line. The Tigers had averaged 536 yards a game and a gaudy 8.6 yards per play in October. Then, 'Bama showed up.
Some people saw a 0-0 game to start the fourth quarter and scoffed. I think it was just more a case of great defense than inept offense. Yes, Danny Etling missed a few easy-looking short throws that likely would've extended drives, but the pressure generated by both defensive fronts was relentless, and even more impressive was how few missed tackles we saw in the first three quarters.
Whenever you watch a college game these days and you see 1,000+ yards of offense in a game, which is quite common now, you see more than a dozen missed tackles usually on both sides. That wasn't the case in Tiger Stadium for most of Saturday night. Leonard Fournette runs wild against everyone else, but not 'Bama. That's great defense.
By the way, the LSU player who said the Tigers would “dominate” Alabama, Dwayne Thomas did his part. e had nine taHckles, three for loss, two pass break ups and one QB hurry on the night.
*Lamar Jackson's grip on the Heisman keeps getting tighter. He just scorched what was the nation's No. 9 defense for seven TDs (four passing and three rushing). He now has 45 total TDs in nine games. BC coach Steve Addazio has seen his share of elite players in his days, especially when he coached at Florida in the SEC. I thought his comments about Jackson after Louisville blasted his team were interesting.
“There were a few times we had him completely boxed, and he came out of there and hit a crease and he's gone. He's electric. I think I've been around some of the best quarterbacks in the country in my day, and this guy is really something now. He's got a great arm. He's got a great release. He's got a real knack of knowing what's around him and coming out of trouble. He can throw it, and he's as elite of a runner as I've ever seen. He reminds me running like Percy Harvin reminded me when we had him at Florida. He's that kind of runner, but yet he can throw the rock, and when he's on, he's on. He was on tonight.”
*The Washington D is nasty. The defensive front, even though, it's been banged up, is still pretty fierce, and the secondary, led by safety Budda Baker, is legit. The Huskies went on the road Saturday night to face a good Cal offense with a terrific QB in Davis Webb and UDub rolled. Webb did become the first opposing quarterback to even throw for 200 yards against the Washington defense this season, but he had a very long night. He tested lock-down CB Sidney Jones, and that didn't work out too well for the Bears. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones had only been targeted 17 times this year, but Cal went after him 13 times. They managed four receptions for 51 yards, but Jones also picked off two passes and broke up another.
*Hats off to Gary Patterson who again showed why he's one of the best defensive minds in football. A week ago, he broke from his 4-2-5 D to play a three-man front, double-cloud scheme that gave Texas Tech and Pat Mahomes fits. This week, he went to Waco and faced a team with three terrific RBs and a very athletic QB in Seth Russell and the Horned Frogs held Baylor to just 3.0 yards per rush on 45 carries in a 62-22 romp.
*A few weeks ago Auburn ran for like 800 yards in a rout of Arkansas. This week, Bret Bielema's team had quite a bounce-back performance, thumping No. 11 Florida, 31-10. Even more impressive is that Arkansas dominated without much from their best D-lineman, Dietrich Wise Jr., who has been hurt. Young McTelvin Agim made his first start and the Hogs got terrific play from DL Jeremiah Ledbetter as they held UF to just 12 rushing yards on 14 carries.
“People had accused me in the past of running up the score, and I never really thought the flip-side of it because we'd always been on the giving end of it,” said Bielema. “Some 70-10 games, 80-7, and to come out of that game (against Auburn) and realize we couldn't stop the run, I just said, I don't care what we do, we're going to stop the run on defense. I don't care if we play 11 guys, if we have to play with 12, I'll take the penalty.
“We are not going to have somebody run the ball on us. And I think they had 12 yards today, so that message was delivered and sent and accepted, and I think that was really good.”
I'm very curious to see what happens next week when the Hogs get a visit from Leonard Fournette and LSU a week after getting crunched by 'Bama.
*One of the best coaching jobs from any first-year head man is going on at UTSA. Frank Wilson took over a program that went 3-9 last season. This weekend, his team was a 20-point underdog and they went to 6-2 Middle Tennessee and blew out the Blue Raiders, 45-25, to move to 5-4. After averaging 22 ppg in their first four games, the Roadrunners are averaging 39 ppg in their last five.
*Stat of the Week, Take I: Michigan State has now lost seven in a row and is an unthinkable 0-6 in the Big Ten after losing to Illinois. The Spartans had only lost two league games in the previous three seasons and just nine in the past six years.
*Stat of the Week, Take II: Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis has been in coverage for 161 snaps this year, according to Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus. He's given up just four catches and has two INTs and five passes broken up.
*Stat of the Week, Take III: This one is courtesy of USA Today's Paul Myerberg: Since the start of 2015 season, Fournette against everyone else but 'Bama has run for 2,792 yards on 364 carries (7.67 ypc). Against the Tide: 66 yards on 36 carries (1.83). Ouch.