Words From Mack...

...And, Rashad Bobino is the Most Successful Ball Carrier in Texas History?

No, I haven't gone crazy. You just really have to click and read after the jump on this one...It's a real leap.

Horns_bullet_mediumTalkin' special teams: kickoff returns. The two kickoff returns for touchdowns by DJ Monroe and Jordan Shipley's punt return against Texas Tech have brought a lot of attention to Texas special teams, prompting a nearly-weekl spot in my Tuesday Morning Coffee post. That attention, in turn, has brought up concerns about the punt protection against Wyoming and kickoff coverage the last several weeks. On Wednesday, Mack Brown addressed the special teams units:

We are also trying to figure out how we keep speed on the field for the kicking teams. We are proud of our punt return team. We are proud of what D.J. [Monroe] has been able to accomplish with our kickoff return team, but we need to get Marquise [Goodwin] in there and do a better job of getting him more looks because there was a poor decision between he and Eddie Jones where we had a ball hit the ground the other day, which could have cost us in a much tighter ball game.

To play to which Brown referred occurred coming out of halftime for UTEP's second kick off and first after Monroe's touchdown return -- to keep the ball away from Monroe, UTEP kicked high and short to Goodwin's side of the field and Eddie Jones took a good long look at it before finally letting it go over his head, but Goodwin, watching Jones, hadn't gotten in position to catch the football and had to retreat to inside the five yardline to retrieve the live ball, picking it up and advancing it only three yards before being tackled viciously around the neck. Yeah, not so good there and the Longhorns no doubt spent a lot of time working with Goodwin fielding that play this week and deciding if they want to put Malcolm Williams back with Monroe again -- Williams is averaging 30 yards on his three kickoff returns and has more collegiate game experience fielding kicks.

However, Brown wants to get as much speed on the field as possible but knows not every speedster can return kicks, meaning that Goodwin will indeed get a long look before the Colorado game:

You don't know [who is good at it], it's like who can block kicks. You have to try them. Some fast guys don't get it, they'll run into piles, they're not patient, but D.J. [Monroe] has a great knack for doing it and we hope Marquise [Goodwin] does the same. We don't know that yet. He hasn't done it long enough for us to find out for sure and that's something that we really have to find out in the next 10 days.

After relating the story of a sky kick gone wrong against Ted Ginn and Ohio State, Brown returned to the busted return with Goodwin and Jones:

The other day I thought we had the perfect situation for Marquise because if Eddie [Jones] goes up (to block) and Marquise catches it, that's at the 30-yard line and we've got room, so we are working so hard right now.

Brown also noted that the poor return on that play significantly brought down the team average on kickoff returns and it would increase the average by about four yards per kick, but still keep the Longhorns second in the country behind Stanford, the only team in the country with three kickoff returns for touchdowns this season.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe Shipley conundrum. Or, the Cosby conundrum, no redux. As for seeing Jordan Shipley back returning kicks and reprising his starring role from the Cotton Bowl last season, Brown said, "Not so fast, my friends:"

We know Jordan can do it, so that's easy. The thing that we have to do, we felt like we lost Quan (Cosby) for the Texas Tech game last year and we felt like it was because we had him doing too many things. Jordan is playing the position that Quan played last year, and he's touching the ball 10, 11 times a game outside of the kicking game...But we do feel like that we've got to be smart with Jordan because he's playing so well and if we can get somebody else to help D.J. on kickoff returns, we'd rather not have Jordan in there.

Were Monroe not having such unqualified success at the position, there might be more talk about needing Shipley's explosiveness at the position, but those two touchdown returns have silenced any talk in that direction. As Brown said, there's no reason to risk injury to Shipley and not learn from a prior mistake. Shipley will take more than enough hits as it is, even on punt returns, as evidenced Saturday by an illegal hit before the ball arrived by Max Stephenson II, who then promptly picked off McCoy's subsequent pass and took it to the house.

Horns_bullet_mediumTalkin' special teams: kickoff coverage. On Tuesday I wondered about the squib kicks Texas employed for much of the game and Brown provided an explanation:

We experimented a lot the other day in kickoff coverage because kickoff coverage with the rule change is one of the more difficult things right now for college football. We are trying to look at squibs. We are looking at sky kicks. We are trying not to kick the ball to the same place two times in a row because if you do and the kickoff return team gets a beat on your coverage, then that is a very, very dangerous thing to have happen during a ballgame.

It makes sense to work on covering different styles of kicks in a game situation given the historical struggles by the Longhorns in that department and practicing those different kicks helps the Texas kickoff return team work against sky kicks and squibs after the miscommunication by Goodwin and Jones. In terms of facing dangerous return teams, however, Brown may be looking ahead to Florida, ranked fourth nationally in that department. The teams the Longhorns will face during the tough three-game stretch? Missouri is the highest ranked at no. 60, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State bring up the pack at numbers 87 and 112, not so respectively. The highest-ranked team Texas will face during the regular season is already in the rear-view mirror -- the good Pirates of the Red Raider at 29th in the country.

As much as everyone would like to see Justin Tucker kick the ball out of bounds every time, even against UTEP, that's just not a reality:

When the game got out of control, we really just wanted to try stuff. I know fans get frustrated sometimes with things that come up in a ballgame that's a blow out, but it's really a learning experience for us. We can experiment, kick it around, and we find out that a squib kick that's kicked properly is really hard to pick up and it was hard for them to pick it up. They averaged only 19 yards per return, but we still had a couple that were out to the 40 and that's what we're trying to keep from happening. If you could kick it out every time, you would.

The nature of the squib kicks makes the raw field position numbers look bad for the coverage teams against UTEP, but it may be a strategy that the Longhorns need to employ this season, most likely against Florida if both teams make it through the season unscathed.

Horns_bullet_mediumTalkin' special teams: punts and fakes. Punt coverage hasn't been a problem, but the Longhorns could be looking at developing their ability to run fakes out of their punt formation:

 

We are look at punting with our left foot, with our right foot, we are looking at what fakes are available because this is a relatively new thing for us and for college football. Those are all things that we are trying to look at and figure out.

After Tucker's disastrous decision, the odds might seem small that Tucker would try another fake this season, but I think Texas has to look at it and against put some hope in Tucker's decision-making abilities in the regard. The other aspect to fakes in the punting game involves Antwan Cobb's position as the personal protector on the punt protection unit, the position Rashad Bobino occupied throughout his entire career at Texas and the position at which he may in fact have provided his most significant contributions to the team.

Horns_bullet_mediumGratuitous Bobino digression. It was Bobino who carried the ball on fakes six times for 28 yards in his career, each time for a first down:

  • Two yards on 4th and 2 against Ohio State to keep a touchdown-scoring drive alive out of halftime last season.
  • Seven yards for a first down in the third quarter of a close 10-7 game against Baylor in 2007. The Longhorns scored a touchdown and helped stave off the incredible ignominy of losing to friggin' Baylor in football -- the type of thing that earns walking papers for Texas head football coaches.
  • Three yards for a first down on 4th and 1 early in the game against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Colt McCoy ran for a touchdown on that drive to put the Longhorns up three touchdowns in the second quarter.
  • Six yards for a first down in the second quarter against North Texas in Colt McCoy's first game. Texas scored a touchdown on that drive.
  • Five yards for a first down against Oklahoma State up 3-0 in the second quarter in Stillwater. The Longhorns scored a touchdown on that drive and never looked back in the only lopsided and relatively boring game recently in that series.
  • Six yards for a first down against Texas A&M his freshman season to help the Longhorns score a critical touchdown to take a 28-22 lead in the closest game of the national championship season.

So not only did Bobino pick up a first down each time he carried the football, but the Longhorns scored a touchdown on every single one of the drives that he kept alive, several times providing a turning point in close games. Let me amend my previous statement by saying that Rashad Bobino's most significant contributions by far came in picking up first downs in big situations to help win football games. Yes, Rashad Bobino actually helped win some football games at Texas. I know I now find myself glad that I spent 25 minutes researching each of those runs. Big ups, Rashad -- my feelings of appreciation for you may be newfound, but they are heartfelt. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and call him the most successful ball carrier in the history of Texas football -- what other back can claim a first down on each carry and that each drive in which he participated ended in a touchdown? None, I suspect.

Horns_bullet_mediumBack to special teams. In other words, Cobb has big shoes to fill at that position and didn't get off to a great start by allowing one blocked kick and nearly another. If the Longhorns did to pick up a big first down this season and want to do so with a fake punt, will Cobb be able to execute the play with Bobino's consistency and results?

Horns_bullet_mediumRunning back situation still fluid. When Vondrell McGee rushed for over 100 yards against UTEP, he not only earned the coveted honor of Flavor of the Week at running back, he also threw a wrench into Mack Brown's plan of narrowing the running back rotation, especially with the Mythical Fozzy Creature making the most of a rare appearance on the field. Of course, the offensive line also didn't help out Tre' Newton much and neither did a sore neck, as Nate's son picked up only 25 yards on nine carries.

So what's new with Fozzy and the guys, Mack?

[Fozzy]'s only had the one game, but he's doing well. He came back and he has confidence now, so we feel like he's right back in the mix. Cody Johnson looked really good on the one carry he had Saturday for a touchdown and he's at 242 pounds and 13 percent body fat, so he's really gotten in great shape and we're back to having a good mix of four guys there to compete. What we think we will do is we'll put the guys in the game and if a guy gets a hot hand like Vondrell [McGee] did Saturday, we'll leave him in.

In other words, back to square one, especially the comment about Johnson, who appeared to have been relegated to short-yardage duties after the Wyoming game. What, you expected resolution here?

Horns_bullet_mediumDefensive tackles playing well. Neurotic Texas fans have moved their attention away from the defensive tackle situation only four games into the season, which is good news all around. Brown weighed in on their performance:

Right now, it's really strong. We still need to continue to develop depth at defensive tackle, but we're really proud of Ben Alexander, Kheeston Randall and Lamarr Houston. Lamarr is playing at such a higher level than ever before, Kheeston is so much improved from last year, and Ben's a five-year senior and it's time for him to play. He's excited about playing every down. So, those three guys have given us a good base to start from. We've been able to work Sam Acho in there some and Sam's improved so much and Eddie Jones now. He was concerned a little bit about his shoulder the first couple of weeks, but the last two weeks, he's played lights out. Then you continue to try and get the young guys like Calvin Howell to come on, but we're in better shape right now than we thought we'd be at this time.

The extra practice will undoubtedly benefit the young players, as did the game against UTEP. The idea, no doubt, is for players like Howell, Acho, and Jones to get some more time against Colorado, with the two defensive ends perhaps even getter a look inside on running downs to see if they can do more than just rush the passer from that position.

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