It has been seven months since Texas hired Charlie Strong.
And on Saturday, he will finally get the chance to unveil what he has done with his team since replacing Mack Brown.
Strong’s entrance through the tunnel will mark the first time in 17 years that Brown hasn’t led Texas onto the field, beginning a new era in Austin as the Longhorns take on North Texas at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
“Just sitting there in January and now to finally get to this time, it is a lot of emotion,” Strong said. “But you try to set it aside because you still have to go get a football team prepared and ready to go play, and it’s going to be great not only for me but also for the players.”
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Since taking over, the former Louisville head coach revamped the Longhorns’ program, gathering a staff of almost all new hires and attempting to create a new culture among its players.
Strong’s biggest change, though, comes with an emphasis on defense, which has become his strong suit. He was a defensive assistant on two national championship teams at Florida.
Last season, Texas ranked 67th in the nation in total defense, giving up 5,254 yards — an average of 5.91 per play — and 46 touchdowns.
“We want to show that we’ve worked on our fundamentals and show everybody that we’re ready to play,” defensive tackle Desmond Jackson said. “I’m not really worried about the stat sheet or the scoreboard, but to show everybody that we’re a lot closer than we were last year. All that’s going to show.”
On the other side of the ball, Texas is looking to build off its momentum after retaining much of its production players from last season.
Senior running back Malcolm Brown and junior running back Johnathan Gray, an Aledo graduate, return after gathering a combined 1,684 yards on the ground in 2013. Gray is also back to full health after missing the last four games of 2013 with an Achilles tendon injury.
“We can be great,” Brown said. “I try to work my hardest every single day, and I know J. Gray does the same thing. Then they’re the guys that are going to set the tempo, and they’re the guys that are going to let us have those big runs, and I feel like the one-one punch can be a great thing for us.”
Texas is likely to be without senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, however, after he suffered a hamstring injury early during fall camp. Strong said he would be a game-time decision.
Junior receiver Marcus Johnson is expected to take Shipley’s place.
“Marcus knows all of our positions,” assistant head coach for offense Shawn Watson said. “He’s such a brilliant football mind. He gets football easy. He has an explosive speed that you can’t coach and he’s got the hands to go along with it. He’s an easy guy for me. I gravitate to him and I want to target to him all over the place.”