So there were the Horns, having a 21-0 lead on the road, with the ball and all the momentum. Three plays later, Texas comes up a yard short and has to punt. Missouri then takes the ball down the field with a series of running plays, eventually scoring a touchdown when Missouri's offensive formation resulted in Chykie Brown having 1 on 1 coverage of Jared Perry. An excellent throw by Gabbert yielded 6 for the Tigers. OK, it's 21-7, and the offense had looked weak again on the previous series. In days gone by, the track meet would be on, with the opposing offense marching up and down the field and the Texas offense would have had to keep pace. Think Texas Tech 2007. But not in 2009. Not with Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator. First the offense did their part, overcoming a dropped pass by Malcolm Williams with a brilliantly executed screen to Fozzy Whittaker and then once again using Marquise Goodwin as a decoy to free Shipley for a TD pass. Then it was back to the defense, and, as we fans have become almost spoiled to experience this season, came the MUSCHAMP ADJUSTMENT.
Exactly as I planned, men, exactly as I planned!
As the offense, and ergo the offensive line, finally found itself in the first half, I decided to focus the majority of this week's column on the defense. And the epitome of the defensive effort in this game was a subtle but critical change in defensive strategy that largely shut down the MU running game. As an example of many such adjustments Muschamp has made over the past 19 games for Texas, I'll analyze it in detail along with a few comments about the offense after the jump.
In one drive, Missouri outrushes Texas' four previous opponents combined.
So what happened? Missouri got an extra "tight end" on the field in the form of starting left tackle Elvis Fisher (72). Fisher was replaced by backup center J.T. Beasley (67). This effectively put six offensive linemen on the field with three wide receivers still to spread the field. They lined up Denario Alexander in the slot to the opposite side of the two tackles, whilch pulled Earl Thomas to that side of the field. At the same time, Texas lined up Kheeston Randall and Lamarr Alexander in gaps 1 (between the center and guard) or 2 (over the guard) (see purple circles in diagram below). During the drive, Missouri shifted their strong side with Elvis Fisher as tight end. The coupling of these formations left Texas in an unbalanced defense with their arguably four best defensive players (circled in yellow) on one side of the field and allowed Missouri to exploit mismatches on the opposite (strong side)
On the drive, Missouri mostly ran away from Kindle and pulled either guard Kurtis Gregory (78) or tackles Dan Hoch or J.T. Beasley to provide extra blockers at the point of attack. No play epitomized Missouri's success, and the source of it, more than Derrick Washington's 13 yard run for a first down to the Texas 14 yard-line with about 8 minutes left in the first half. The formation allowed MU to double team Sam Acho (81), put a tackle on Rodderick Muckelroy (38), let center Tim Barnes (62) push Kheeston Randall out of the play and pull J.T. Beasley (67) to block Keenan Robinson (1). Sergio Kindle is never blocked on the play.
Note how the play looks defended because of Randall's penetration and Robinson flying in to fill the gap behind him. Instead (see below), because of the mismatches on Acho and Muckelroy, Washington cuts inside Randall into a huge hole created by Dan Hoch (77) doing a niceuncalled infant grip on Sam Acho (purple circle) and Kurtis Gregory getting off the initial block on Acho to double team Robinson. Blake Gideon, for some reason is late getting over and has to take a deep angle on Washington to avoid giving up a TD.
So the next series, Muschamp ADJUSTS by essentially shifting to a 3-4 alignment, with Randall at the nose (0 technique) and Kindle as an extra linebacker. Houston is now the strongside defensive end playing over the 4 or 5 gaps, with no one outside him. Perhaps anticipating Muschamp's adjustment, Pinkel changes to a 20 personnel, with an extra back, Matt Davis (35) in the backfield, and two WR to either side. The only (apparent) advantage MU has in this formation is the ability to double team Randall in the middle.
Note the more balanced distribution of Texas best players (although part of this is the placement of Denario Alexander in the slot opposte the tight end, which puts Earl Thomas behind Kindle).
The example play from this ultimately ill-fated drive is on second down, a sweep with MU's speed back De'Vion Moore (26). The idea is for Alexander to crack back on Kindle and for Davis (35) to block upfield on Earl Thomas, and for Dan Hoch (77) to seal Lamarr Houston. As you might suspect, all these matchups favor Texas, especially now that Kindle is not playing DE and can turn to face Alexander's block rather than being hit from the side.
The result? Houston blows by Hoch like Hurricane Katrina, Randall ties up three (!) MU blockers in the middle (purple circle). Kindle abuses Alexander, and Thomas just runs by Matt Davis for a joint collision and a loss of a yard. All three plays on the drive were disrupted by Houston, who could no longer be double-teamed. On every play, Randall stood up Missouri's double teams, freeing Acho and Houston and Robinson to fill gaps or harass Gabbert. In retrospect, one wonders what Pinkel was thinking in his playcalling and why he got away from the 3-tackle offensive line formation that produced the success on the previous drive. Perhaps, because of the poor field position and only 1:45 left in the half, he thought he needed a more pass-friendly formation but regardless, Muschamp's adjustments shifted the advantage from Missouri to Texas, with immediate results.
Missouri is pinned inside their 10, decides to rugby kick, and Curtis Brown blocks the punt, Malcolm Williams recovers, and it's Texas 35-7. Game. Set. Match.
The Screen Game
Now that Fozzy Whittaker is the #1 RB and is playing well on all 3 downs, including pass blocking, Texas has added the screen to their arsenal in a big way. This puts new expectations for the offensive line, and over the past three games, we've learned a bit about how successful these screens are likely to be. Against Missouri, the Horns ran two screens. One went for 17 yards, following excellent downfield blocks by Michael Huey and Chris Hall, and a solid block against a defender chasing from the rear by Charlie Tanner. The other screen went for one yard even though it was equally well set up and timed because Charlie "Tunnel Vision" Tanner didn't see the nearest and most threatening defender, who sliced in behind the blocking to stop Whittaker. Against Oklahoma, the screen was moderately successful (7 yards), but again, defenders sliced in behind Tanner to make the tackle. Texas also ran a screen against Colorado out of the flex TE formation, but Dan Buckner's missed block caused the play to be stopped for a minimal gain.
Prognosis: The screen pass to Whittaker could become an excellent component of the newly diversified Texas offense, but perhaps it needs to be run to the right behind Michael Huey instead of to the left behind Tanner.
Offensive Line Report
After six games, the "sick child" of the 2009 Longhorns is officially the offensive line. It is the leading cause of sleepless nights for fans and lost thumbnails for Colt McCoy. Against Missouri, they earned these grades.
Adam Ulatoski A- An absolute rock in the run game, number 74 is still showing vulnerability to bull rushes followed by quick inside moves from defensive ends in the passing game.
Charlie Tanner B+ Tanner seems to have gotten over the hurdle of picking up blitzes but still struggles at times with picking out the right defender to block on downfield runs and screens (see above).
Chris Hall B- Struggled with his snapping all night - Colt made him look good with a couple of athletic grabs, but one bad snap led to a sack. Chris still struggles with the cut blocking needed for effective double teams in the Horns' zone blocking schemes. Nevertheless, his blocking calls are usually on and the whole line plays better when Hall, as opposed to David Snow, is in at center.
Michael Huey A- Slowed by a high ankle sprain since the ULM game, Huey was replaced by David Snow after a miserable Colorado game, but came back in to start and play well in the second half against Oklahoma. Huey blocked magnificently on several running plays and was solid in pass protection except for one play where Terrell Rosonno (I believe it was) blew him 5 yards backward. Huey should become stronger as his ankle continues to heal.
Kyle Hix C Texas' largest lineman seems to get physically dominated early in every game, and it's not clear why. Perhaps being matched up against future NFLers Gerald McCoy and Jeremy Beal of OU is too much for Hix, but redshirt freshman Aldon Smith of Missouri? His early failures can make Colt have a short clock in his head before he feels like he has to throw, which can lead to an inefficient passing offense and an over-reliance on short looks to Jordan Shipley. The domino effect of Hix being dominated early in the game may even affect the playcalling, although Greg Davis' eclectic portfolio prevents any real analysis. But early game failures, which fortunately had no impact on the outcome in this game, start sending the message about what you can't do rather than what you can.
Greg Smith Saga
The player who easily leads the team in fan groans over the past two seasons is Greg Smith, an offensive lineman converted from a high school TE to a guard and then back to a TE. Known misaffectionately on the site as the "Extra Blocking Surface" or EBS, Smith is now the favorite son of Greg Davis, who lauded what having Smith enabled the Horns to do once again on his "From the Film Room" report (now up on page 2 videos on the main page of MB-TF). Greg had a typical game against Missouri: decent but somewhat inconsistent run-blocking, and a presence that allowed Texas to block well on zone read and counter plays in the first series. He also caught the only ball thrown to him, and seems to have improved speed in escaping the desultory linebacker usually assigned to him. In some big game in the future, Smith will make a couple of key first down catches.
On the other hand, Smith is still a liability in pass protection. Against the Tigers, he was manhandled by Aldon Smith, on one play that led to one of Colt's two sacks on the day. In some big game in the future, Smith will get overwhelmed again leading to pressure or a sack on McCoy and a turnover.
That's a risk the Horns are just going to have to take, because Smith's presence on the field shifts the blocking schemes to allow the offensive line to have two initial double teams up front, a greater likelihood of the backdoor cut for Whittaker, and greater opportunities in the zone read. It is clear that the Horns want to be able to run the ball up to 5-6 plays in a row, and that's just not possible without a true TE on the field.
The Man in the Middle
Kheestion Randall and Ben Alexander have been incredibly pleasant surprises this year at defensive tackle (see the section above on the benefits of putting Kheeston Randall at the nose. Kheeston has emerged as the clear starter over Alexander in the last two weeks, largely because he has become the first DT since perhaps Frank Okam who is big and strong enough to take on two gaps. That is he lines up in the nose or directly in front of the center and stands him up, and then shifts to the right or left if a running back tries to come through either hole. Randall has shown outstanding quickness on slants, and has gotten close enough to the opposing QB enough times to draw 3 personal foul roughing the QB penalties. Randall is just a sophomore, and if he keeps developing, he could remove worry about the center of the Texas defence and free playmakers like Eddie Jones, Alex Okafor, and Reggie Wilson for the next two years.