Texas-Arizona State Holiday Bowl Report

Wooo hoo hooooo! Texas wins the Holiday Bowl!

You can read that one of two ways, and each is applicable here. No, it ain't winning the Rose Bowl. But yes, that was a damn fun win for this team and its fans. I'm leaving the official Trip Diary to 54b and sticking mostly to football thoughts, but let me just say that we had a damn great time in San Diego. Special thanks go to the folks who run HornFans, Ross Jurwitz, and the dozen or so readers who tracked me down at the game to say hello. Enjoyed it immensely.

My brother, cousin, 54b, his buddy Brad, and I all made the most of our San Diego vacation, enjoyed the game, made some new friends, and didn't get arrested. That's 'bout perfect.

HOLIDAY BOWL GAME REPORT

The outcome was: Fun! This team can be fun! Really, there was only one regular season game this year that was truly fun from start to finish for Texas fans: Texas Tech. Blowing out Rice and Iowa State is more or less expected, and the Nebraska and Oklahoma State games - though fun at the end - were more like surviving an airplane ride in which three of four jet engines go out. Yeah, everyone claps and hugs at the end, but for most of the ride it's just a terrifying shitstorm.

This year's bowl win, though, was just a lot of fun. Colt played good football, Jamaal was oh so sexy, and we actually got pressure on the opposing quarterback. We scored early, we never let them get too close, and there was an absurd play involving Mack Brown's stepson trying to scoop up a live football. It wasn't exactly picture perfect, but it was genuinely fun. As disappointing as it can be not to win your conference championship, the Holiday Bowl can be a fun consolation prize. And this year it was.

I'd caution fans not to read too much into the outcome. I preached before the game that the process was more important than the actual outcome, and that remains as true following a win as it does a loss. We heard a lot heading into the Holiday Bowl about reinvigorating Texas standards, about making starting jobs a meritocracy, about holding people accountable for their mistakes, and about playing with intensity/drive/passion/etc. All of these are good things, and based on the performance, there's reason to believe it made a difference. Those standards need to carry over to spring workouts, to the summer offseason, and of course into August.

But the problem for this team has not been that it is incapable of playing strong football; it is that it has not played strong football on a weekly basis, from start to finish. Inexcusable losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M. Uninspiring wins over Arkansas State, TCU, UCF, Baylor, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State. Few demand perfection from their team, but the reality of Texas' situation is that a more consistently excellent performance is required to win the Big 12 South. And though there are some things to be excited about heading into 2008, let me just take one sobering moment to note that Oklahoma - already ahead of Texas right now - returns the vast majority of this year's team. If Mack Brown settles for mediocrity in any phase of this game (on and off the field), Texas will find itself on the outside looking in again a year from now.

The Offensive MVP was: Jamaal Charles and Colt McCoy. Arizona State fans watched Jamaal Charles with raised eyebrows, utterly wowed by his Holiday Bowl performance. He's fast, he's breaking tackles, making the right cuts and, now, protecting the football. He's the 2007 MVP, a short list Heisman frontrunner in 2008 if he returns, and an emerging leader on the team. I'll say this: if he doesn't return for his senior season, he'll wind up one of the most underappreciated Great Longhorns of all time. If he comes back, I'm guessing he'll enter the pantheon of Longhorn players fans never forget.

As for Colt... the kid played well. Our pass offense isn't anything to brag about (5.4 yards per attempt), in large part because we have no deep threat at receiver. Colt managed this game very well, though, and in particular excelled with his scrambling ability. He was a touch sloppy protecting the football, but it didn't prove costly in this particular game. The most important thing was that Colt took what was there for him and continued to use his feet when the pass he wanted wasn't there. With our resuscitated running game, that's all we need from Colt. And that's what he gave us. Good job from him; good job from Greg Davis retooling our offense away from a Colt-centric game plan.

The Defensive MVP was: Brandon Foster. The undersized cornerback has endured a lot of criticism over the years. To his credit, he's kept his nose down, worked hard, and made the most of his talent. Without the size and athletic ability of some of Texas' more prized recruits, he's accomplished quite a bit just by working hard and doing his part for the team. His final game as a Longhorn was probably his best: 7 tackles, a fumble strip, and 2 interceptions. Congratulations to Brandon on a successful game and career. Many players with more talent have accomplished far less. Best of luck in whatever's next for him.

John Chiles Watch: 5 carries, 21 yards, 1 TD. Not only did Chiles play, but he was used in the red zone and - I was delighted to see - ran more fluidly than we've seen to date. Up until the bowl game, Chiles had been running tentatively - straight ahead without much juke. Finally, we saw some shake n' bake from the freshman, and it paid off. He'll never be Vince Young, but he's a terrific athlete and potential playmaker on a team that desperately needs one to complement Jamaal Charles.

Vondrell McGee Watch: 5 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD. McGee's 28 yard touchdown run put Texas up 45-20 and buried Arizona State for good. McGee hasn't yet shown that he's an elite runner like Jamaal Charles, but he did some very nice things as a redshirt freshman, and he still hits holes hard and isn't afraid to plow straight ahead for a tough yard in short-yardage or goal to go situations. McGee will make an excellent backup to Charles if JC does return for one more year.

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

  • I've heard some complaining from fans about the 305 yards of passing from Arizona State, but it's a little bit misleading. Though I wasn't overly impressed with some of the coverage in our secondary (Erick Jackson is just NOT a cover safety), the overall numbers were fine. ASU managed a meager 6.1 yards per attempt - a number we can easily live with over the course of a season. Most importantly, we actually pressured the quarterback, which helps when you're trying to hide a weak secondary.
  • Speaking of the secondary, the situation at safety is frightening heading into 2008. If Ishie couldn't beat out Erick Jackson in an open competition for the free safety spot during bowl workouts, one wonders exactly how much ground he's got to make up to be a reliable starter heading forward. And beyond Ishie, there simply isn't any experience. Griffin and Jackson both graduate, so you do the math... Who plays safety for Texas in 2008?
  • As predicted, Adam Ulatoski slid over to play left tackle for the bowl game, and he had what was probably his best game as a Longhorn. I kept an eye on his battle versus Dexter Davis and Ulatoski was very solid more often than not. The line as a whole, in fact, played one of its best games to date. We're still young and a bit green on the line heading into 2008, but I think the worst may be behind us. We'll see.
  • Nice job by Greg Davis of taking advantage of Arizona State's lack of speed at both OLB positions. It was a huge weakness, and Davis did a good job exploiting it.
  • A standing ovation for Frank Okam and Derek Lokey, who went out with a fearsome performance on the line. And Lokey, of course, caught a touchdown pass on a cleverly designed play by Davis. Both guys had ups and downs throughout their careers, but each went out on top. They utterly destroyed the middle of ASU's line.
  • I'm worried about filling the shoes of Okam and Lokey next year, but I have no concerns whatsoever about the situation at defensive end. There's an embarrassment of riches returning in 2008.
  • What was up with our kicking on Thursday night? Short punts and kickoffs all game long. Fortunately, the coverage was stout throughout the game.
  • Texas yards rushing: 300.  Arizona State: 22.
  • Priorities for the offense, in order, heading into 2008: (1) Figure out how to maximize John Chiles (in whatever capacity), (2) Stabilize the O-Line, (3) Find a deep threat at receiver.
  • Priorities for the defense, in order, heading into 2008: (1) Find two safeties (yikes), (2) Develop the tackles to play with Miller, (3) Keep Muck-Norton-Kindle healthy.
  • Finally, a word on the coaching: though this was a performance to like, it was a season to regret. It's going to be very interesting to see what Mack Brown does with his coaching staff in the coming weeks. I personally don't think Akina's shown enough to bring him back for a repeat trial at DC. John Tenuta is out a job right now... As for Greg Davis, the decision is undoubtedly his. Odds are very, very high that he's back in 2008. Though we have every reason to be skeptical, he's going to have a pretty nice unit to work with next season. Let's pray he evolves a little himself. We've got too much talent to sputter offensively as often as we do.

So, all eyes on Mack Brown. They say you can't change, Coach. Is that true?

--PB--

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