The outcome was: Predictable? Last week Mack Brown and Texas won for the fourth time in five years against Oklahoma. This week they made it eleven for eleven in the week following OU -- for the second straight year, by throttling Missouri.
|1999||#3 Nebraska||W, 24-20|
|2000||@ Colorado||W, 28-14|
|2001||@ Okie St||W, 45-17|
|2002||@ #17 Kansas St||W, 17-14|
|2003||@ Iowa State||W, 40-19|
|2004||#24 Missouri||W, 28-20|
|2005||#24 Colorado||W, 42-17|
|2007||@ Iowa State||W, 56-3|
|2008||#11 Missouri||W, 57-31|
|2009||@ Missouri||W, 41-7|
I was informed the team's plane had a battery issue that had the team sprawled across the small Columbia airport until 3:00 a.m., but other than that, it was a great trip to Missouri. The offense was improved, the defense went four-for-four in knocking the opposing Big 12 quarterback out of the game, no one got injured, and the team cruised on the road against an outmatched opponent. After last week's nailbiter in Dallas, the comfotable win was a welcome one.
The Offensive MVP was: Colt McCoy. About damn time his name appears in this space. Texas' senior QB finished the game having completed 26 of his 31 passes for 269 yards and 3 TDs, picking apart a Missouri defense that looked woefully unprepared to face the Longhorns. Seriously, did Dave Steckel watch any tape of, say, the last 10 games Texas has played? That's Missouri's problem, I suppose, but given the way Steckel defended Texas in the first half, I wasn't at all surprised to see McCoy light up the score board in the first half.
Some credit is due to the Longhorns, as well -- Texas' approach offensively was a marked improvement from a week ago. Among the things I liked from Saturday night:
- Improved commitment to running the football in the first half. Honestly, it's hard to evaluate completely the performance here. On the one hand, Texas seemed more committed to running the football this week and did so with reasonable success in the first half (17 carries for 75 yards at 5.0 per carry). On the other hand, Texas threw the ball 23 times in the first half -- more, in theory, than I wanted to see as the team recalibrates its offensive identity. But then on the other-other hand, the way Missouri was defending us, Greg Davis was wise to pass when/as much as he did. For now, I'll say that I'm encouraged but a smidge worried that the rebound passing effort will be mis-leveraged as an excuse to revert to the comfort zone of rushing-as-an-afterthought.
- Tempering that concern was Mack Brown and Greg Davis' decision to go to the Jumbo package on multiple short distance-to-go situations. Recalling last week's disastrous playcalling on 3rd and 1 (sack, incompletion to Shipley, red zone interception), I was thrilled when on Texas' opening drive of the game the team lined up for 3rd and 2 with Cody Johnson in the backfield behind Lamarr Houston, a tight end, and Antwaan Cobb. On Texas' next drive, everyone in the universe knew the fake punt to Antwaan Bobino was coming, which is not to say it was a bad play call; given its simplicity and how well we execute the play, it's the functional equivalent of a power rush.
- Side note: If an interested reader wants to take the time to go through the box scores of the last two seasons, I'd love to see charted out every Cody Johnson rush on 3rd and 4th down with 1-2 yards to go (including goal-to-go). My guess is that such a chart would show that he's never lost yardage, he averages about 3 yards a pop, and has been successful in picking up the first down or touchdown at a rate of about 80%. If that's right, not only should Texas be power rushing almost every time in such situations, but the coaches should commit on principle to "two shots to convert it" when the game situation doesn't mandate a conservative/protective approach. If my assumed conversion rates are about right, the extra first downs gained would add up to a substantial boost to the offense.
- Until recently, it was really starting to look like winding up on my preseason "My Guys" list was something of a curse. Prior to the 2008 season, I singled out Lamarr Houston (uncharacteristic DUI), Deon Beasley (lost starting job), Malcolm Williams (barely used outside Lubbock), Sam Acho (a year early), and Michael Huey (disaster filling in for injured Tanner). Three games into this season, I was starting to fret with guilt about "My Guys, 2009" -- DJ Grant blew out his knee just one week after I posted the list, a seemingly distracted/disinterested Chykie Brown game up a smattering of big plays, and Fozzy Whittaker still couldn't get healthy enough to play. The way things were going, I was more than a little worried we'd lose Aaron Williams and Keenan Robinson to a UFO abduction; that, or kicking some bitches.
There's no getting Grant back, but amongst the other four, the worm has turned: Chykie is living up to his potential, Williams and Robinson are alive and well, and -- perhaps most importantly -- Fozzy Whittaker has been healthy and on the field the past four games. He carried the ball 4 times for 38 yards and a score in his season debut against UTEP, dropped six points on Colorado in his 4th quarter cameo (1 rush, 12 yards, TD), picked up 85 yards on 18 carries (4 catches, 21 yards) as a starter against Oklahoma, and scored again as a starter this week versus Missouri (9 rushes, 36 yards / 3 catches for 18 yards).
Four points on Healthy Fozzy's emergence:
(1) To return to a point I've been making for over a year now, Fozzy's lateral quickness is especially valuable in our rushing scheme.
(2) Not only are his quick feet and fluid hips valuable in helping him run, but it looks like there may be some cascade effect in Fozzy's cutback success helping our challenged offensive coordinator figure out how to make a run game work for the team. We'll see.
(3) Missouri invited a Colt McCoy slaughtering, but even in a secondary role (just 9 rushes on the night) you could see that Whittaker is starting to trust his body more; a week ago, he doesn't score that touchdown at the pylon as he did Saturday night. If he can stay healthy for the rest of this year, as he finishes more runs and starts forgetting about the past two years of tenderness, I expect we'll see a smattering of dazzling plays and long scores -- he's not at all as fast as Jamaal Charles, but I like Whittaker in traffic a good bit more.
- (4) If you're looking for a single factor about which to obsess over the rest of this season, you could do worse than the development of Fozzy -- both in terms of his own play on the field and, especially, Greg Davis' usage of him. More precisely, the key may be the development of the running game, generally -- lest my excitement confuse, I'm not suggesting Fozzy is some kind of singular savior; the several observations on the run game are meant to be read in concert, the big point being: While Texas needn't be (and is in fact incapable of being) an elite rushing team, there is a substantial amount of potential value to the team's title chances to be had just from committing to the ground game in the ways described. Systematically channeling our strength rushing to convert short yardage situations extends drives, reduces turnover risk, and opens play action opportunities. Committing to develop the usage of Fozzy Whittaker gives the rushing offense some real bite, improves opportunities for big plays on the ground, and, above all, also opens up play action while dictating how opposing defenses can play us.
Colt McCoy certainly can be the superior quarterback that elevates Texas above the rest of this year's national title contenders... but it's fool's gold to believe that he will -- that he can -- without a legit rush attack. I don't have to tell you again about the worries as relate to approach, scheme and play calling, but if the 2009 story has an "it all comes together" happy ending, I'm convinced that it involves Texas supplementing its established foundation -- Will Muschamp's devastating, (shamefucomically) underrated defense -- with a substantially more robust offensive attack than either Alabama or Florida appear likely to develop. That is to say, I struggle seeing either Alabama or Florida developing an elite passing offense over the rest of the season, while I'm certain it is within Texas' capabilities. But, to the point at hand, that is also to say I'm certain that Texas will be not the slightest bit advantaged offensively if Colt McCoy isn't succeeding as the director of an offense whose rushing game affects what linebackers and safeties are able to do.
While Texas realistically can emerge from the regular season unscathed without these developments, even if they do, awaiting them in Pasadena will be a defense every bit as good as their own. Without a rushing game that extends drives and opens the field for McCoy, the results won't be pretty. With them... I like our chances.
- Moving on, it was great seeing Malcolm Williams involved in the game plan, though one wonders whether he's just not a natural receiver. Frankly, that's of greater relevance to his Sunday future than the present: he's plenty capable of being a capable, useful player in our offense. We need to keep putting the ball in his hands and giving him opportunities to break big ones.
- On a related note, it looks like I can finally stop carping about moving Shipley out to Split End. For both his and Malcolm's sake, I like Shipley's full-time return to the slot.
- Marquise Goodwin wasn't a huge factor in the box score, but he wasn't silent on the field. He helped open things up and really impressed me with his blocking. We've missed that from Quan.
- I've not yet sat down for a second viewing of the game, so my notes on the O-Line are thin and I'm looking forward to Burnt In NY's excellent In The Trenches post. On first impression, the unit appeared to display the same well-documented strengths and weaknesses we've discussed all year and I'll mostly leave it at that. Michael Huey looked healthy and good; Charlie Tanner looked healthy and not so good.
The offensive Offensive LVP was: Nah. Let's take a week off from negativity and see how things go in Stillwater.
The Defensive MVP was: Will Muschamp. The defense was once again dominant, as both Will Muschamp and his players are making it look easy in year two through the conference. There were a couple issues defending receiver screens and a series of poor linebacking play that got Rod Muckelroy sidelined for some coaching, but Missouri was mostly suffocated all night long.
Muschamp gets the official nod tonight in recognition of the utter beauty of his preparation and scheming. The Texas defense was more than ready for everything Missouri wanted to do, and the way Muschamp deftly took it all away it often looked like we knew before the snap which play the Tigers were going to run. There were great rush blitzes, smart zones, consistently correct alignments -- the whole works.
The offensive Defensive LVP was: The Linebackers. In the first half, Muck was taking himself out of position with undisciplined over-aggression, while Keenan was tardy on several coverage assignments. At one point, Muschamp pulled Muckelroy out of the game for Dustin Earnest and, I assume, chewed his ass out. He was fine the rest of the game. I have nothing at all negative else to say. Even the much-maligned Deon Beasley has grabbed his lunch pail, donned a blue collar, and is earning playing time. Love it.
Oklahoma State Fear Factor: 10 out of 10. (5) is the baseline. +5 for this is that game with a big red circle around it.
Heading into next week I feel: Anxious. I'm exhausted from travel and don't have any energy left to write more about OSU right now, but suffice it to say that it increasingly looks like the regular season comes down to Saturday night. I won't rest easy until Texas leaves Stillwater.