Postgame React, Week 2: Texas at UTEP

The outcome was: Unimpressive. I started the summer thinking this team's likely deficiencies would net  2-4 losses. The annual end-of-summer surge of optimism combined with our season opening beatdown of FAU to make me think heading into El Paso that this team might challenge for the conference title. After last night... I'm back where I started.

On the one hand, it was a night game against a funky opponent whose fans thought they were in the Rose Bowl. On the other hand, the '05 Longhorns would have beat those Miners by 60. And this year's Sooners might have, too.

If there's a silver lining, I thought last night's contest was just plain strange, lacking any semblance of the normal flow of a football game--like a night visit to Lubbock or something. Of course, that's not much of a silver lining to hang your hat on: Texas gets Tech on the road this season in a time To Be Announce. Odds we'll kick off at 7 pm? 99 percent.

The Offensive MVP was: Fozzy Whittaker. The night on offense really belonged to Colt McCoy (20-29, 282, 4-1) and Quan Cosby (8-154-1), but the sparkling debut of Fozzy was most important. In terms of long-term value, his emergence was the story of the night.

When asked on the radio this summer about the offense, Whittaker was always the wild card I cited as the potential game breaker, and I always described his running style as "looking like he was being controlled by a joystick in a video game, his fluid hips and quick feet allowing him to change direction laterally with remarkable smoothness." He certainly looked the part last night, but I think the analogy can be extended a little further: Whittaker also emerges from piles of bodies without being tackled just as only happens in the NCAA Football video game series, in which brushing shoulders with defenders who don't secure the tackle is commonplace. The little dude's like a pinball, with a low center of gravity and strong legs.

I'm calling right now for at least two 50+ yard touchdown runs this year in which he appears lost in a pile of bodies before squirting out the other side to burst through the second level and gone.

The Defensive MVP was: Roddrick Muckelroy. Again. Christ, looking back at last week's piece, I needn't change much of anything:

Fellow linebacker Sergio Kindle was the most fearsome athlete on the field today, but Muckelroy was the only Longhorn  in the back seven who played consistently great football. Not only did Muck lead the team with six fourteen tackles (including one for a loss), but he was one of the only defensive players who was always right where he needed to be, whether it was backside contain or manning a zone in pass coverage or picking up a fumble to return for a touchdown.

The offensive Offensive LVP was: Greg Davis. Games don't just "lack flow" on their own. Generally, either the players are bumbling or the coaches are lost. In this case, we saw a version of the latter, especially on offense in the third quarter, when Texas time traveled to 2007, complete with the "We're gonna pass with McCoy whether it's a good idea, a bad idea, or a wholly nonsensical idea" game plan. Such incompetence doesn't ding a team like Texas A&M in the loss column against a squad like Arkansas State or UTEP, but if you're looking for reasons why losses may await the 'Horns against Missouri, OU, Texas Tech, Pokie State, or Kansas look no further than last night's disappointing stretches of offensive football.

Whereas Texas had no trouble picking apart the oh-so-soft zone Florida Atlantic sat in last Saturday, the chaotic blitz party from UTEP at times gave Greg Davis fits. I say Davis, instead of the players, because it was so clear that when whatever UTEP was doing on defense was what we expected, the result was a hugely successful play for the 'Horns. For example, the O-Line''s ability to open up enormous holes by pushing around the smaller Miners was apparent... but only when UTEP was doing something basic with their defense. As they mixed it up, our ability to dictate a play was mystifyingly neutralized.

Not only shouldn't that happen, but it provides our far more competent upcoming opponents with the game plan for defensive success. Brent Venables filled with drool at least two cheat-wagons last night.

The offensive Defensive LVP: MLBs. Both Jared Norton and Rashad Bobino were disappointments last night. I don't wanna talk about it. 

John Chiles Watch: 2 carries, 5 yards / 0-0 passing. He simply was not a part of the game plan, so the question is: Should he have been? In my mind, absolutely.

Greg Davis has this mistaken notion that when Texas is facing a hyper-aggressive defense, the only possible solution is to heave everything on Colt McCoy's shoulders and try to pass our way out of the pressure. Again: nightmare flashbacks to 2007.

Dear Greg: there are alternatives. They involve misdirection and using the defense's aggression against them--not just by trying to complete a deep heave (EPIC FAIL), but by, oh let's say... a reverse! Or a naked bootleg. Or any of a number of other things which John Chiles could have done to calm the UTEP defense. Part of the reason they so fearlessly blitzkrieged our offense is because we weren't giving them any reason to pause and consider alternatives.

Colt McCoy is doing a mostly great job with everything so far. But you know what? Chris Leak did a mostly great job with his offense as a senior, and Urban Meyer didn't conclude, "We can't use Tebow where he can help us. No." Gregory, please try using that which you have on hand. Thanks.

The Q Package: Non-existent. There was one neat play, in which Chiles came around on a fake reverse and was starting to turn down field on a wheel route which would have been wide open, but our line couldn't hold off the Miners and Colt threw the ball inside before Chiles could move into his peripheral vision. This package has potential, but we haven't seen it yet.

Cerberus Watch: McGee: 6-18-3.0, 0 TD / Ogbonnaya: 1-1-1.0, 0 TD / Whittaker: 12-72-6.0, 0 TD. The game plan sucked and the stretch plays to McGee were painful to watch, but I'm taking the Fozzy debut as my point of focus because I don't want to cry in my beer any more than I have already.

Foz-zy! Foz-zy! Let's just hope he's our central point of attack for the rushing game heading forward. He needs 15-20 touches per game, period.

Arkansas Fear Factor: 2 out of 10   (5) is the baseline. (-1) for this; (-1) for this; (+1) for Greg Davis' UTEP performance; (-1) for Fozzy's debut; (+1) for the distance between our secondary and Good; (-1) for Casey Dick's inability to throw a ball out of a wet paper bag; (-1) for improvement when Texas' coaches see the film and realize they crapped the bed.

Heading into next week I feel: Fine. If I weren't so locked in on this year as a training ground for 2009, I'd conclude from the above that my hopes in a Big XII title were depressingly far-fetched. As is, I see the potential of this team and I'm fine with bumps in the road to whatever extent they serve as lessons for improvement.

That of course requires the coaching staff to do their part, and you can't blame a Mack-Davis pessimist for seeing last night's game as a bad sign for the times ahead. I'll wait for more data to draw any long-term conclusions, noting only my to-do list for Greg Applewhite:

  • More Chiles to keep defenses honest
  • Whittaker to the starting spot and majority rush weapon
  • Steady development from Williams, Buckner, and Collins
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