It was the best of times... It was the worst of times...
Tonight college football fans were treated to a classic. Even as a Texas fan, on the wrong end of one of the most devastating losses in program history, I dutifully salute the event for what it was. We won't be the ones watching it on ESPN Classic tomorrow morning, but a tiny part of us will be glad we were a part of it.
Texas. Now 8-1. Second in the South and needing help. Damn, man. That's hard to admit: After beating Oklahoma, Missouri, and Oklahoma State... someone else is in the catbird's seat? Yup. You, Tech. Got the best of us. All week, the details of this match up took a back seat to one underlying fact: Texas Tech had to win tonight... and they did. Congratulations--a ten gallon hat tip. And now... It's your turn at the top.
For Texas? Our turn at the top is over. Through one magical Saturday in Dallas we seized it, during two gut-wrenching weeks in Austin we kept it ours, and this week--finally--we lost it... just barely... in Lubbock. Texas gave 12-0 its best shot and fell short. All the credit in the world to Texas Tech: From the beginning, they made clear their intention to make a run of it themselves. And so they shall.
Now where do we, as Texas fans, go from here? The road forward, in two posts: (1) Tonight's Game (after the jump) and (2) The New Stakes.
TEXAS TECH 39 TEXAS 33
The game was won/lost in the 1st Quarter. We have to start with this point. Have to. Texas fans are bound to look at the second half and wonder, "Could the Longhorns have (should have?) beat this Texas Tech team by two touchdowns? As good as Tech is... We can do better." And it's not an irrational thought.
But if it's not irrational, Texas fans can't/shouldn't use it as Matt Leinart might to say that the "Best Team" didn't win. Why? If Texas showed in the second half what it's capable of doing to Texas Tech (when confidently attacking and properly executing), Texas Tech showed in the first half (and first quarter, in particular) what they are capable of when properly attacking and executing. For as "flat" as Texas looked in the first half in Lubbock, in truth we looked bad because the Red Raiders whipped our offensive line's ass, our offensive coaching stumbled horribly out of the gate, our receivers succumbed to the Lubbock atmosphere, and Graham Harrell delivered from the get-go.
Honestly, the game may have in some measure been decided when that Tech special teams player made a beautiful snag of his punter's kick at the Texas one-yard line. From there, Greg Davis farted away two points in a senseless I-formation run, we lost another three points on the subsequent drive following the punt, and Texas Tech seized that early momentum to keep our defense on the field for an eternity in building a 19-0 lead.
What if Colt starts that first drive from the 20? I really can't help but think that the entire game may play out differently, BUT... I bring this up not to plant any seeds with Longhorns fans looking for easy outs but rather to hammer home that Tech made the plays to win:
- The grab of the punt at the one by that Tech special teams player was not an easy play; that ball was rocketing towards the end zone for a touchback, and would have skipped right in without a perfect snag.
- From there, the Tech defensive line owned Texas, secured a safety and rattled McCoy throughout the rest of the first half. Texas' ineptitude? Was Tech-created.
- One ingredient I insisted Tech needed to win this game was a fast start. They certainly got it, but the key to the fast start was to parlay it into something tangible. And they did. On both sides of the ball.
- Perhaps no play better illustrated how Tech had rattled the Longhorns when Jordan Shipley let a 50 yard pass squirt through his hands. That doesn't happen if Tech doesn't land the game's first uppercut.
- End result of Tech making all the plays in the first half? A 19-0 lead and 22-6 advantage at the break. Enough to weather Texas' run. Texas Tech made the plays in the beginning that allowed them to win at the end.
Tonight's loss is on the coaches as much as the kids. On the one hand, Greg Davis and Mack Brown's team suffered in the first half because the players failed to make some basic plays we normally expect them to make. In particular, I wonder how much of a role the multitude of dropped balls played in how things unfolded over the first 30 minutes. Shipley's drop on the deep ball was devastating. Collins' and Buckner's early drops contributed to the desync-ing of McCoy.
But it's vitally important that the coaches not attribute the team's first half malaise solely to a lack of execution. They, too, have to shoulder a big chunk of the blame. Among the sins:
- The I-formation goal-line run made no sense.
- The pass to Greg Smith (??) was a dreadful sign of Greg-Mack's early mindset.
- The too-little-too-late deployment of Fozzy in a Race-To-40 football game was, in retrospect, a mistake.
- With Ruffin McNeil honed in on our bread and butter, we were too slow to show more.
Which... fine. I can live with the imperfection if and only if there's a lesson learned: Texas got to #1 by being the aggressors against OU. Then, at its best against Missouri and OSU, held on for the same reasons. And in the second half against Texas Tech, very nearly saved the day when they resumed the assertive role. So... yeah, Mack. Yeah, Greg. It's hard when everyone guns for you each week. But the most important antidote we've got is to be the ones gunning ourselves. Tonight we didn't do that until too late.
No, really: That was the most important lesson of the game. I'm going to stay with the preceding point for a minute, because it's so vital to everything heading forward, this season and next. I have to say that I empathize with the coaches, insofar as I know the thinking--not irrationally--was that "The horses we've been riding have gotten us this far, so..." But we saw tonight the trappings of that paradigm: If that Colt-Shipley-Cosby-OG Perfect Passing Pony Show is disrupted even a little bit, the whole rodeo is prone to fail.
And it did--Texas was a disaster on offense in the first half. And it wasn't until they showed some diversity in the second half that things got rolling again. Fozzy and Malcolm, nearly heroes. Alas, a day late, a dollar short. So if our coaches can be forgiven for having the "Dance with the ones who brung ya" mindset to start this game, the key to achieving the Big Goals heading forward involves an evolution above and beyond the delicate Pony Show which finally met its match.
Quan Cosby's injury may have... helped? Though losing Cosby helped ensure the Pony Show's first-half failure, it may well have led to a huge development heading forward. Without Cosby's injury, Shipley never returns that punt for a touchdown. And without Cosby's injury, Malcolm Williams doesn't break out as that deep threat this offense desperately needs. Conclusion:
- We'll be best with Cosby in the "Sub-B" role.
- Shipley (or another explosive playmaker) should return punts.
- Malcolm Williams is your new Split End.
This has the potential to change everything on offense heading forward. Though Colt's insanity and the team's 8-0 start forced us to shrug aside one of the summer's most pressing questions, the lack of a true deep threat meant that we were (literally) counting on McCoy completing 80% of his freaking passes to Shipley, Cosby, and Ogbonnaya to win. With Williams a legit deep threat, this passing attack becomes something different altogether.
In other words: We lost tonight's battle, but in reality, winning The War (2008 and/or '09 title goals) at some point had to include evolving on offense to more than we've been to this point. Tonight, in losing the battle, we may well have positioned ourselves to win the war.
Ten Texas-Texas Tech game thoughts. In no particular order:
- Graham Harrell was great tonight. He really was. I thought our defense did a pretty damn good job, all things considered, and Harrell just made some incredible throws--including several that, had they not been absolutely perfect, would have meant no points for Texas Tech. He earned it tonight.
- Fozzy's time is now. You'll find no bigger OG fan than I, but the evolution of the offense is upon us. We got as far as we could with the Perfect Pony Show; it's time now to evolve to something greater. And that involves Fozzy. Lessgo.
- Titles are in Texas' future because of the development now of Curtis Brown, Aaron Williams, Blake Gideon, and Earl Thomas. We lost tonight because they're young, but we're on the verge of special because these kids are being battle-tested for greatness now.
- Deon Beasley is the biggest disappointment of the team this year. I hate to say it, but it's true. (4a. We've missed Chykie Brown badly the last two weeks.)
- Michael Crabtree is so, so, so much more than a big time athlete. He's a pure, perfect wide receiver. He uses his body so well and has phenomenally amazing hands. What a player.
- In retrospect, the offensive line's turnaround from one half to the next is all the evidence I need to pin a lot of Texas' early struggles on the coaching staff.
- Forgive the stupid cliche, but you could literally see the light come on for Malcolm Williams tonight. Forget that two receptions resulted in touchdowns; even if they hadn't, you could just see him playing with confidence and purpose. He's arrived. We're a lot better for it.
- Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon both blew it on Tech's final drive. Don't forget, though, Texas fans: They're freshmen, and we knew coming in they'd have their tough moments. However painful this loss, Texas football is better off for suffering through these growing pains. We're on the right track with this young defense growing up on the job.
- Sergio Kindle was in his element tonight. If OSU turned him in circles a bit, tonight he was able to do what he does best. He was a difference-maker throughout.
- The officiating was truly, horribly unfair to both teams. I won't just say Texas got screwed, because that's not the point. Even if we were to show objectively that Texas was on the short end of the stick, when the officiating was as insane as it was tonight--both teams lose. From the tackling Tech offensive line (not a hold!) to the awful pass interference call that benefited Texas, this crew was as bad tonight as it was in Dallas. The Big 12 should be ashamed.
I'm going to stop here on tonight's game and pivot into a post on the new stakes. More on this game is likely in subsequent posts, as well as during a radio podcast with Barking Carnival's Scipio Tex, which we'll broadcast live tomorrow night at 8 pm CT.