Morning Coffee Sorts Through The Irby-Less Passing Game

Meet Greg Smith. Tight End Blaine Irby's knee injury not only ends prematurely what was shaping up to be a very solid breakthrough sophomore season, but it comes at a position on the roster without the depth to absorb the loss in stride. While through 2.5 games Irby had already caught 10 passes for 95 yards, including 2 touchdowns, his back ups include a known (blocking) commodity in senior Peter Ullman, two linemen-tight end tweeners (Ahmard Howard and Greg Smith), a redshirt freshman with zero snaps of live football experience (Ian Harris) and a redshirt sophomore heretofore listed on the squad team (Josh Marshall).

The coaches released on Sunday an Arkansas depth chart, which lists Greg Smith as the starter at tight end, backed up by Ullman, Howard, and Harris. You may recognize Smith's name as the team's deep snapper, a skill he's deployed well for Texas on the field while he's been busy bouncing around between tight end and the offensive line off of it. Now facing the worst case scenario, however, Texas coaches appear set to ask Smith to assume Irby's role as the primary tight end.

Smith is neither as athletic, nor likely to replicate with McCoy such strong rapport as had Irby, though Greg Davis reportedly was pleased with Smith's play at tight end during spring workouts, citing his "good feet for a big guy." Beyond the above, I'll withhold further commentary until we get some more information on Monday from Mack Brown's beginning-of-week visit with the press.

 

Silver lining? If there's a silver lining to latch onto, it's that a chunk of Irby's value has been in his role as an outlet for McCoy underneath, as reflected in his pedestrian 9.5 yards per reception. If it would be too simplistic to ignore Irby's ability to make plays down the field as well, it's fair to say his loss could be significantly offset if Smith proves able in the more modest role of dependable outlet.

McCoy's struggles have at times been the result of trying to do too much and his near-perfection this year a reflection of crisper decision-making when his downfield options aren't open. It doesn't seem foolishly optimistic to hope Smith (or another of the back ups) can provide value as a low-risk target McCoy knows how to find when needed. We'll learn more Monday, but I suspect that will be the goal around which the coaches make decisions going forward.

The time to find a running game is running out. Though Texas fans this morning are rightly buzzing about Colt McCoy and worrying about the situation at tight end, the biggest story not getting much air time is the third-straight mediocre rushing effort rushing the football. Though McCoy certainly did his part and second-teamers John Chiles & Cody Johnson mopped up quite nicely, the evidence against Vondrell McGee as a viable every-down player continues to mount. The sophomore picked up just 30 yards on 8 carries and once again seemed out of place in Texas' 11 formation (1 RB, 1 TE), where his north-south, from-the-I style awkwardly tries to navigate the floating, zone block schemes of our running game.

McGee has now passed the century mark in career carries--more than enough to see that he's not well-suited to be the primary back in Texas' current rushing scheme. Since Texas isn't going to put Colt under center to accommodate McGee, we're left to worry about Fozzy Whittaker's knee, which troublingly kept him out of action again on Saturday, despite the hurricane-induced off week. Unless Colt plans on shattering every passing record in the Division 1 books, Texas will at some point need to provide some help from the tailback. Only Arkansas now stands between Texas and the opening Big 12 slate (rankings as seen in Week 4 Coaches Poll):

at #33 Colorado (3-0)
vs #2 Oklahoma in Dallas (3-0)
vs #5 Missouri (4-0)
vs #28 Oklahoma State (3-0)
vs #9 Texas Tech (4-0)

Deep man discovered? Jordan Shipley was regularly mentioned as one of the top wide receiver candidates to provide a deep threat, thanks in large part to his entering the 2008 season healthy--a first since he arrived in Austin after a record-setting high school career. So far, so good as the ninth-year junior has averaged 19.8 yards on his 12 catches on the season, 4 of which have gone for touchdowns. MB-TF.com doesn't track Yards After Catch, but if we had access to that data, it would show Shipley's done a terrific job catching the ball either already in space or making the right moves to get there in a hurry.

Can it last? There are at least two reasons to think it can: First, think back quickly over the last three years to recall who was on the receiving end of the prettiest double-move touchdowns in Colt McCoy's career. Off the top of my head, I come up with one to Cosby (UTEP) and the rest to Shipley (OU '06, Tech '06, Iowa State '07, to name a few). Second, Shipley's athleticism when healthy is noticeable. Coupling the two, you get a smart, quick, and fast-enough receiver who runs great routes--which is enough to be a consistent big play receiver in NCAA football.

With none of the young receivers looking ready or, where they might be, ignored in the game plan, Shipley's ability to sustain this role looks critical.

This can't last, you know. Both the SEC and Big 12 continue to clog up the top spots in this week's rankings, with 4 teams from each conference among the Top 10. In the Coaches' Poll:

BIG 12:  #2 Oklahoma, #5 Missouri, #7 Texas, #9 Texas Tech
SEC: #3 Georgia, #4 Florida, #6 LSU, #10 Alabama

Also ranked in the Top 25 are #16 Auburn and #25 Vanderbilt from the SEC, as well as #18 Kansas from the Big 12. Lurking among the teams receiving votes are Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kentucky.

 

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