Texas 24 Ohio State 21: Fiesta Bowl Wrap

12-1, with wins over bowl participants FAU, Rice, Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Ohio State. (And little brother.) Perhaps short-thrifted of a conference championship, yes, but 2008 goes down as one of the best in the history of Texas football. And when you factor in the enormous amount this team exceeded expectations, it's certainly one of the most satisfying. 

Let's talk about it.

TEXAS 24 OHIO STATE 21

Horns_bullet_mediumThe downside of sweatervests. Wearing a sweatervest to a Christmas party might pay dividends if just the right girl is in attendance -- probably Kelly Ann Marylou, whose life goal is to get hitched to a fellow who golfs where her girlfriends' husbands golf. But even if that works out, in the long run it doesn't; you wake up one day, realize you're 40, and find that you're giving your wife a gigantic spending account so she'll leave you alone. Of course, by that point you've got two kids, and somehow you agreed to let her name them Tucker and Persephone. The boy wants to go to Exeter and the girl has a Coach purse at age eight. "Where did it all go wrong?" you ask yourself.

And you shake your in shame... the sweatervest.

So it is with Jim Tressel and Ohio State. After a first half in which they played "Tressel-ball" to absolute perfection, their grand reward was a 6-3 lead. And so it was that on a night in which Texas struggled at different times with Chris Wells, Terrelle Pryor, and their own Greg Davis demons, the Longhorns still managed to come out on top 24-21. Such is the downside of the sweatervest: There's no margin for error when you play to win the game by a field goal; sometimes the other team has the ball last.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe definition of insanity...  How did Texas manage just three points in the first half against Ohio State? In part because the Buckeyes held on to the ball for so long, but mostly it was one failed screen pass after another by the Longhorns. Texas' inability to screen is not a new problem; it's warted the offense all season. Most of all, Greg Davis seems to have a conceptual misunderstanding concerning its proper usage -- as complementary plays, they require component parts. (That would be downfield passing, Greg.)

It's simply baffling that Texas attempted exactly one downfield pass the entire game -- a 40 yard strike to Malcolm Williams that was an inch away from setting up a first and goal that would have put the game away. Beyond that, Texas dinked and dunked throughout the game -- to disastrous results in the first half, and just well enough in the second half to win the game. Not Greg Davis' finest evening as a playcaller.

 

Horns_bullet_mediumSenior MVPs.  If you had Quan Cosby and Roy Miller as MVPs on your scorecard, come on down and take a bow. Cosby finished with an astounding 171 yards on 14 catches, including 2 touchdowns, one of those the game winner. Roy Miller did all game long what he did all season - destroy the middle of the LOS. We'll sorely miss both players in 2009.

Other game ball honorees: Colt McCoy, Chris Ogbonnaya, Earl Thomas, and Henry Melton Brian Orakpo (Brain fart: wrong DE. As Big Roy rightly points out, Melton was consistently too far up the field, allowing Pryor escape angles out of the pocket. --ed, PB)

Horns_bullet_mediumOn Terrelle Pryor.  After looking so closely at Terrelle Pryor to write this preview piece, I may have been more concerned than most, but he surprised even me with his play. He definitely surprised Texas' defenders, who did a piss poor job in the first half of taking the right angles to make plays on him in the open field. Of course, that was part of Vince Young's magic -- the long strides combined with unfair agility create for defenders a world of pursuit problems. As is always the case, Will Muschamp did a great job getting his kids to adjust, but at least for a half, he routinely made Texas defenders look silly.

Even though Jim Tressel did a nice job using Pryor as a receiver, overall the system he plays in does a comically poor job highlighting his talents. One more downside of being happy to score 3 points instead of 6.

Horns_bullet_mediumWho is Malcolm Williams?  Does Greg Davis know who Malcolm Williams is? Is he aware of his abilities? Does he have any grasp at all what he can do to a defense? What lessons were learned in Lubbock? 

My goodness. As happy as I am overall with this win and this season... it almost ended on an especially sour note because our offensive game plan was so piss poor. I'm nowhere near the world's biggest Greg Davis critic, but he was inarguably the goat in Lubbock and the goat last night. 

The Fiesta Bowl squeaker was reminiscent of Texas' too-close victory in Austin over Oklahoma State, a game Texas also won because Colt McCoy was freaky enough on most of his 93 six-yard pass attempts to secure the win. But it's utterly mad dening that Greg Davis was so unwilling to get the ball down the field a handful of times. Not doing so robs the team of the chance to make big plays, gifts the opposing safeties freedom to help underneath, destroys our running game, and requires of Colt McCoy near-perfection. I do not understand.

Horns_bullet_mediumFinal Fiesta thoughts.  Criticisms out of the way, I do want to emphasize how pleased I am with the win. The nitpicking is mostly to note where things need to improve for a title run in 2009. 

And let's be clear about that: this win may do for next year's team what the 2004 Rose Bowl win did for VY's squad. The parallels are eery, from the lone loss, to the final season record, to the dramatic last-second BCS win, to the site of next year's final game in Pasadena. The 2008 season was in almost every regard a stunning success, and especially so if it ends in confetti next January at the Rose Bowl.

THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Horns_bullet_mediumAttaMack.  It sounded a little bit silly considering Texas didn't play its best game, but I and the rest of the Burnt Orange Nation were happy to see Mack Brown holler that Texas was the best team in the country last night. The Longhorns took OSU's best shot and just barely escaped with a victory, but they got it done one more time and have as plausible a claim to #1 as any of the other one-loss teams. 

There won't be any split title for Texas, but that's beside the point, as far as I'm concerned. It's also beside the point that Texas wasn't dominant on this particular evening. I still think their superior defense to Oklahoma's was the reason they won the RRS and the reason voters got it wrong in sending the Sooners to Miami to play Florida. That's the system we live in, though, and it's over with. Texas was one bad half in Lubbock away from the big enchilada. It was a great season.

Horns_bullet_mediumGo Gators!  With Utah, USC, and Texas all winning, there's not going to be any split national title, so if you were on the fence about who to root for on Thursday night, may I just remind you that it's 10:31 and OU still sucks. Go Gators.

Horns_bullet_medium2009.  Much more on this in the coming days/weeks/months ahead, but the Longhorns should start the season ranked in the top three and the schedule sets up beautifully for a title run. Win in Dallas, win in Stillwater, and don't get upset by any double-digit underdogs and Texas will be playing for it all.

Hook 'em Horns

 

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