Taylor Doyle

Junior center Taylor Doyle and the offensive line have helped to spark the Longhorns’ late season run. The line’s renewed vigor has helped boost Texas’ running game.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ offensive line doesn’t do anything on a small scale. 

Against West Virginia on Saturday, junior center Taylor Doyle and company weren’t just trying to open small gaps for their running backs. Instead, they created large holes and allowed the running backs to rack up 227 rushing yards, including 101 yards for three touchdowns by junior running back Johnathan Gray alone. While the running backs claim partial success for this production, head coach Charlie Strong said the offensive line deserves credit, too.

“They realize how focused and tight they have to be for everyone to believe in them,” Strong said. “Now, the running backs are trusting them. You probably could’ve driven a car through those gaps.”

Gaps warranting such hyperbolic praise are one example of the offensive line’s tendency to go big or go home. But each of the team’s tendencies seems to loom large, and breakfast is no exception. The offensive line gathers at 7 a.m. Monday mornings to watch film of the upcoming opponent over breakfast. Feeding an entire offensive line, Doyle said, is no small feat.

“In the weight room, they give out these [granola] bars, and that’s pretty much the best option,” Doyle said. “We’ll take down seven or eight a piece.”

The Monday film sessions are one way the offensive line bonds, but their overarching mentality and common background invite similarities as well. With suspensions, injuries and personnel shifts, the offensive line started nearly from scratch at the season’s start, but, now, it has grown together.

“No one foresaw where this season was going to go, what the offensive line [would look like],” Doyle said. “There have been plenty of surprises, but I think everyone’s risen to the challenge and accepted where they stand on the team.”

Doyle’s teammates agree. Although players such as senior wide receiver John Harris have had breakout seasons, the passing game isn’t fully formed, as sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes climbs the learning curve as well. Harris said the offensive line stepped up when he played his worst game of the season against West Virginia.

“We knew they weren’t that great of a run-stopping defense but [the offensive line] made [West Virginia] pay for it,” Harris said. “Our offensive line made them pay big time. They stepped up big when the pass game wasn’t there for us.”

Swoopes, too, appreciates the running opportunities the line has given him, as he’s seen the running backs’ performances reflect the growth of the unit.

“They came a long way from the beginning of the season to now,” Swoopes said. “They work hard during practice and games and don’t complain, so I feel like they’re great.”

It’s a term you’re more likely to hear in your grandma’s sewing room than in a football locker room, but for the Texas offensive line, there’s no better description than patchwork.

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline’s group has been through the wringer this season. A combination of dismissals, suspensions, injuries and underperformance has forced the offensive line coach to use 10 different linemen through the team’s first nine games.

Pair the constant flux with the incredible inexperience along the Longhorns’ offensive front, and the result hasn’t been pretty.

“It’s definitely been an interesting process,” junior center Taylor Doyle said. “I don’t know if anyone saw it happening like this, but it’s been exactly that — a process.”

That process has been a difficult one, as the offensive line’s inability to open up holes in the run game and protect its quarterback has taken a lot of the blame for the offense’s inconsistency.

But, in being forced into a position they evidently weren’t prepared for, the ragtag bunch has developed at an incredible rate and is making obvious improvements on a weekly basis.

“We have guys, including myself, who have come a long way and had to step up,” said Doyle, who has become one of the leaders up front despite having only played in two games prior to this season. “But we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we’re in a great position with Coach Wickline leading the way and teaching us as we go.”

Wickline is certainly deserving of a lot of the credit. Long revered as one of the top offensive line coaches in the country at Oklahoma State, he was handpicked by head coach Charlie Strong to join the new staff at Texas with the added title of offensive coordinator.

No coach inherited a more inexperienced group than Wickline, and that was before his two best players, senior center Dom Espinosa and tackle Kennedy Estelle, were lost for the season.

Despite the slew of personnel issues, compounded by the compensation lawsuit Oklahoma State brought against him, Wickline has found a way to make the most of a bad situation.

“I say it all the time, but we squeeze every ounce out of that offensive line,” Strong said. “It’s fun to watch that group because they just go out and compete.”

But, as much as Wickline may be responsible for the exponential improvement, it is the five guys on the field who are going out and performing each week.

In doing so, they’ve earned the respect of their teammates.

“It’s just a whole lot of stuff this offensive line went through, so it’s definitely great to see them succeeding,” senior running back Malcolm Brown said. “I’m proud of those guys for adjusting the way they did.”

Brown, of all people, should be most excited about the offensive line’s development. Last week, when the big guys in front of him turned in their best performance of the season, Brown did also, surpassing the 100-yard plateau for the first time all season and scoring a couple touchdowns.

“Coach [Wickline] put a lot of emphasis on drive the five — get our five guys on their five guys — and it was exciting to see us have a little success,” Doyle said.

As they’ve had a chance to develop chemistry on the field, the once misfits have grown closer off the field, too, and the coaching staff is taking notice.

“That group of guys [is] kind of finding a nucleus,” Strong said. “The offensive line is such a special bond, and they’re just playing as well as they can play.”

Like a well-made quilt in grandma’s sewing room, the Longhorn offensive line appears to be slowly going from a patchwork bunch to a tight-knit group.

It’s a process.

Texas’ loss to Kansas State on Saturday marked its first shutout since 2004. The Longhorns will look to improve by living up to their normal standard of play.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Although head coach Charlie Strong first came to Texas in January, he understands traditions that date back long before his arrival. Texas historically secures winning records, glides smoothly to bowl eligibility and even spends many weeks in the top-25 rankings. As Texas’ winning percentage continues to plummet following the program’s first shutout in a decade, Strong says he needs to reevaluate.

“We’re sitting there at 3-5, and that’s just not acceptable in this program,” Strong said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing. That will never be the standard of this program.”

The “standard” of this program is a reality that players and coaches alike are trying to reconcile. They know that the inconsistencies plaguing Texas aren’t the standard, but, under a new coaching staff, the Longhorns look to redefine what that standard actually is. Redshirt junior center Taylor Doyle says Joe Wickline, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, gives the players one interpretation.

“Go out there and play tough football — you have to be perfect,” Doyle said to summarize Wickline’s advice. “There’s no room for any errors as far as who you have to block.”

If perfection is the standard, the Longhorns know they haven’t reached it. Doyle attributes the struggles to “growing pains,” as new players and coaches adjust to the program. In contrast, senior cornerback Quandre Diggs doesn’t think growing pains sufficiently characterize the shortcomings. Instead, he believes some of his teammates don’t buy into Strong’s program, and, until they do, the team won’t succeed.

“Hopefully, a light clicks for some people, and it all comes together,” Diggs said.

For Diggs, the light never turns off. He says he clings to optimism, hope and faith because he doesn’t see another way. He tries to balance the optimism with realism but doesn’t believe the two mind-sets conflict.

“I don’t ever go into a game and think I’m going to lose,” Diggs said. “Why would I do that? I might as well not practice.”

Even with the practice, Texas faces a historically bad team. The Longhorns hadn’t sustained a shutout in the past 132 competitions, and their offense currently ranks No. 109 in the country, averaging 348.3 yards per game. Now, the Longhorns look to avoid another historic milestone: missing bowl eligibility for just the second time since 1997. Senior linebacker Jordan Hicks, who played for Texas in 2010, the only other bowl-free year, says he doesn’t want to graduate during that decline.

“I don’t want to be a part of a class that started off not going and ends not going [to a bowl game],” Hicks said. “I don’t feel like that class would’ve done its part in making Texas better.”

For players like Hicks, Doyle and Diggs, the only things each one says he can do is practice hard and try to motivate his teammates. Strong, too, is determined to rebound and won’t be content with the status quo.

“You’re always learning as a head coach,” Strong said. “When players start trusting you, you’re able to get done what you need to get done. Me, personally, I don’t think I’ve done a great job because if I had, we wouldn’t be sitting here at 3-5.

Taylor Doyle

Prior to the Red River Showdown, redshirt junior Taylor Doyle had made three starts at guard this season. But last Saturday, Doyle lined up at center against Oklahoma for the first time in his collegiate career.

Doyle made a couple of errors but played well given the hostile environment. It was especially impressive as Doyle didn’t play center in high school and didn’t start to snap the ball for Texas until the new coaching staff arrived.

“[Doyle] did a really nice job,” said Shawn Watson, quarterbacks coach and play caller. “He was a hard spot for us that we needed, especially against the nose guard that we were playing. I thought he battled and held his own and did a really nice job for us. Center is like quarterback; it’s a hard transition because now you’re captain for the entire offense — the entire offensive line’s blocking patterns.”

After a solid performance against the Sooners, it will be Doyle’s responsibility to continue to play at a high level. The offensive line has been a liability for Texas this season, and Doyle could be the answer at center. He needs to step up and prove he can anchor the offensive line.

Marcus Hutchins

Hutchins, a redshirt junior, had a rough day at the Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. Oklahoma threw all sorts of looks at the left tackle from DeSoto, Texas. Whether it was linebacker blitz or defensive line stunt, Hutchins struggled to protect sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes.

The Longhorn offensive line has continued to improve throughout the season, but Hutchins appeared to regress against Oklahoma. He needs to needs to step up at the tackle position and protect Swoopes.

Adrian Colbert

Redshirt sophomore safety Adrian Colbert made some costly mistakes on special teams against Oklahoma. His first mistake was failing to contain his gap after slipping on a kickoff return, which resulted in a touchdown. Colbert followed up that mistake by running into Oklahoma’s punt returner before he was able to field the ball, costing Texas penalty yards that resulted in the defense yielding a field goal.

Head coach Charlie Strong said Colbert and the special teams can’t afford to take plays off.

“You don’t take a play off with special teams,” Strong said. “You have offense, you have defense and you have special teams, and that’s not the time to take a play off.”  

Colbert’s mistakes were big and cost the Longhorns 10 points. He needs to step up on special teams and help prevent the big play. 

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Taylor Doyle isn’t sure what’s more challenging: starting against Oklahoma in a position he had never played before or drinking the team-mandated beet juice. Both challenges energize him — the beet juice quite literally. But both also come with fair shares of adversity.

“I have to hold my nose, but I do partake in the beet juice — just a little bottle,” said Doyle, a redshirt junior offensive guard. “It’s a lot to handle; the taste will stick in your mouth.”

Doyle’s memories of the lasting taste of beet juice date back further than his memories of playing center. He produced a successful career as an offensive guard at Lake Travis High School in Austin, carrying his offensive line to three state championships, starting for three years and meriting a hoard of all-state, all-area and all-district honors. 

His playing time dropped off when he joined the Longhorns, competing in just two games during his sophomore season under then-head coach Mack Brown. But when head coach Charlie Strong brought in a new group of coaches, Doyle found another chance.

“This coaching staff came in and gave everyone an opportunity to play, and I was excited to be able to contribute to the team,” Doyle said. “We didn’t know what to expect at first, but Coach Strong has come in and been a great leader, as has the entire coaching staff. They put us in a position to win games, which is all we can ask for.”

Sometimes, however, the coaching staff goes beyond just putting players in position to win. Offensive coordinator Joe Wickline also likes putting players in new positions.

“Wickline is a huge proponent of moving guys around and having them playing each position,” Doyle said. “You never really know where you’re going to fit in until you’re going into the game
with him.”

Before the Red River Showdown, Doyle had tallied three starts at right guard this season. He also had minimal experience as center in practices when senior center Dominic Espinosa needed breaks.

“Oklahoma had a great defensive front, and we sure had a great challenge going out there and moving those guys around,” Doyle said. “But every team in the Big 12 has a solid defensive front; that’s pretty standard in our conference.”

Sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes said the offensive line played well in Texas’ near-comeback 31-26 loss to the Sooners.

“Those guys are kind of a young group — young and inexperienced — but these past two or three games, they’ve been playing hard, and they play well,” Swoopes said. “I couldn’t ask any more of them. It helps me a lot to have confidence in them.”

Doyle’s new position is far from permanent. He competes with redshirt freshman Jake Raulerson, who has a background of playing center, for playing time, but Doyle said the competition only makes both of
them better.

“Wherever the coaches decide they need me, I’ll gladly do it,” Doyle said.

That is, unless it’s in the beet juice room — there, Doyle might leave center for someone else.

At 6-feet-5-inches and 270 pounds, Taylor Doyle has signed, sealed and delivered his letter of intent to play Longhorn football.

The Lake Travis High School offensive lineman brings with him three Texas state championships, as well as confidence in Texas football and Texas coaches. This is in spite of witnessing a disappointing year at Texas, a 5-7 season marked by staggering losses and the exit of offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and offensive coordinator Greg Davis, two coaches that recruited Doyle.

“I was bummed out to see the departure of coach McWhorter and coach Davis because I know they have a lot to offer, but I understand the coaching changes,” Doyle said.

The recent hire of former Boise State offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin in addition to Major Applewhite’s promotion, who will work together as co-offensive coordinators, doesn’t disappoint Doyle.

“I’m really excited about this new coaching staff that was brought in,” Doyle said. “Now [we’ll] be getting the best from Boise State and the best from the Texas program in the past with Applewhite, so I think that can only benefit us.”

Doyle is expected to help rebuild a Longhorn offense which struggled last season. Texas ranked 50th in passing, 66th in rushing and 88th in scoring in 2010. The Longhorns will be under pressure to turn their offensive woes around. This will be something of a routine for Doyle, who has faced high expectations from a community that expects greatness.

“I definitely think there will be more pressure at the collegiate level, but our coaches at Lake Travis always stressed that ‘pressure makes diamonds.’ Without pressure, all you have is a lump of coal,” Doyle said. “I think pressure can only be good for us. It can either make or break. I know the new coaches are going to demand a lot from us, which I think will benefit in the long run.”

Amassing 85 knockdown blocks during his senior year, the all-state recruit was also taught a little about confidence during his time in
high school.

“At Lake Travis we knew how to win. Going into every game, we always knew we had a chance,” Doyle said. “I think it goes a long way when you go into a game expecting to win, while still realizing you have to work hard and play well to beat the other team. I think that confidence factor that they instilled in us at Lake Travis can carry over to the next level and help me be a leader.”

The all-state offensive lineman joins a recruiting class ranked third in the country according to <em>Rivals.com</em>. While Doyle has been talking extensively to different coaches from the Texas staff, he’s also been able to meet fellow recruits and players throughout the recruiting process.

“I had a chance to meet all guys during my official [visit], and it was cool to kind of be in the same situation. We’re coming in with a new coaching staff, so its like we’re all in the same boat,” Doyle said. “I got to meet some of the offensive line guys like Josh Cochran and Garrett Greenlea, and they’re all really good guys. I think Texas did a great job with recruiting because all these guys I meet have a lot in common with me. It’s easy to build relationships with them. I can’t think of one guy who I didn’t like.”