Chip Brown's weekly newsletter is out this morning, with lots of questions reovolving around the Jekyll and Hyde nature of this Texas football team. Chip does a nice job trying to maneuver through all the intricacies, but it struck me reading the Q&A just how strange a year this has been for Texas football.
You can literally see Chip Brown walk the tight rope throughout his mailbag, trying to place appropriately both the blame for the blunders and praise for the guts Texas has displayed this year. As someone who writes about Texas football every day, I can absolutely sympathize. This has been an incredibly difficult year to try to analyze the team.
Oddly, the team has managed to validate both Mack Brown's biggest critics and biggest supporters. If you dislike this coaching staff, there's a mountain of evidence of mismanagement, slow adjustments, and poor game planning. The home loss to Kansas State was inexplicable and inexcusable. The wins over Arkansas State, TCU, UCF, Baylor, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State were replete with mistakes - on the field and in the coaching booths.
And yet, the Longhorns have also scrapped their way to 8-2. Though the critics will rightfully credit the players for getting things done, Mack Brown's biggest supporters are right to point out that the state of Texas football remains - overall - very strong, even in what's been perhaps its toughest year to date. The team is 8-2, with realistic BCS dreams if it wins two more games. Many of the best players on the team are sophomores. There's a wave of exciting young players who are freshmen or redshirt freshmen. And so on.
It's just been a crazy, wild, and damn interesting year. And one that's been really tough to talk meaningfully about. I swear, each week when I sit down to try to sort through my pregame thoughts, I'm developing a new storyline in my head. The only thing that's been consistent seems to be that this team is not consistent. But it usually finds a way.
I think just about everyone would be pleased if the 'Horns pulled things together and won the final two games of the year. But I doubt that anyone is counting on it.
While I think Chip Brown's done a fine job this season of sticking it to the coaches when appropriate, the Statesman's Suzanne Haliburton continues to tow the line that the coaching staff is more or less above reproach. From this week's Q&A:
A: Statistically, Texas has had the worst defensive performance for any two straight games in Brown's 10 years. Still, the Longhorns are 43rd in the country in total defense, meaning 76 teams are statistically worse than Texas. Trust me, I've seen far worse. It also should be noted that four key defenders for Texas left the game with injuries against Oklahoma State. A fifth didn't even travel to Stillwater because of injury.
Q: Has there even been the remotest discussion regarding the possible demotion or firing of coach Duana Akina? I know I'm not alone when I say that his abilities as a defensive coordinator are somewhat lacking and his services seem better suited for a junior varsity soccer team.
A: See above. I haven't heard any discussion about an Akina demotion, other than those that are initiated by fans. There is reason for concern as to why the defense has been so porous the first three quarters of the past two games. The problems involve mental errors. Linebackers allowed Nebraska receivers to run their routes uncontested up the middle. Members of the secondary couldn't figure out Oklahoma State's throw-back screens. It may get worse before it gets better. Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell threw for 364 yards in the first-half last year against Texas. But the Longhorn defense then held Tech scoreless in the second half.
On the first point - the 43rd ranked defense - Haliburton touches on, without meaning to make, the appropriate point. Yes, Texas has had two atrocious performances in a row. And yes, Texas is still ranked 43rd nationally in yards allowed per game. And yes, there are worse defenses out there than Texas.
But let's connect these dots here. Heading into the Nebraska game, Texas had faced a long string of uninspiring offenses: Arkansas State (67th nationally in total yards), TCU (84th), UCF (50th), Rice (87th), Baylor (90th), and Iowa State (98th). Only Oklahoma (18th) and Kansas State (36th) fielded top-50 offensive units. In other words, pointing to the total defense rank for Texas isn't particularly meaningful if they've faced mostly incompetent groups on offense.
Second, the suggestion that the problems on the defense are attributable to "mental errors" is comical, akin to saying that Full House sucked as a show because the actors would trip on their lines from time to time. Every team in the nation suffers from mental errors and mistakes made by 19 and 20 year old kids. But it's terribly difficult to watch this Texas defense and not be worried sick about how they're being coached right now. Whether it's the reckless blitzing, stubborn personnel decisions, or poor tackling, the sum of the parts screams: coaching error. Shoveling the blame on to the players alone is just absurd.
Kirk Bohls has a column on the deep stable of strong quarterbacks in the Big 12 in 2007, noting that 5 of the nation's top 21 quarterbacks in terms of completions per game reside in the conference.
This is a point we discussed throughout the summer, though it's come about a bit differently than we expected. Sam Bradford has exceeded expectations, Zac Robinson has capably supplanted Bobby Reid, and Todd Reesing has led Kansas to a 9-0 record. Regardless, the Big 12 conference ain't your meat-and-potatoes running conference it once was.
Is it finally time for the Mike Singletary era in Waco? According to sources, Baylor coach Guy Morriss will not be retained after this year, opening up the job for the coach fans have been licking their chops for. I haven't much idea how good a head coach Singletary would be, but it would certainly be a great name to have associated with the program again. And could only help in recruiting.
Friday Four Questions coming later this morning.