The outcome was: fantastic. Though Texas has for some time been locked into "win and they're in" territory, even now not all wins are created equal. We're 11 wins deep into this thing, and tonight's punishing win over the Jayhawks might be my favorite to date (OU excepted, always).The offense turned in its most encouraging performance, the defense got a healthy test from Kansas' strong receiving corps, and -- I'm damn happy to say -- the seniors walk out of DKR one last time, having played well, won impressively, and remaining on track to achieve all their goals.
As noted in the celebration thread: this is as good as I've felt about the team all year. Join me after the jump to discuss.
We can't say what his final legacy will be until the season ends, because the only thing he's missing are rings. First and foremost, I hope he gets the conference championship he was robbed of last year. And of course, if he leads Texas to a national title in Pasadena, he joins Vince Young atop the Texas pantheon -- the absolute best of the best.
Even if the team falls short of that goal, it is remarkable to reflect on just how many games he's won; if his predecessor were anyone else, we would by this time have forgotten what it is like to be quarterbacked by anyone other than Colt McCoy. An NCAA record 43 career wins, 3 of them against Oklahoma. Every passing record in the books. He's a great kid and fine representative of the university and football program. And he's earned everything that he's accomplished.
Fittingly, I thought tonight's performance was his best of the season. He completed 32 of 41 passes for 396 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs. Though he fumbled once and took three sacks, they were the result of McCoy having his most active game of the season -- the good kind of chaos, in which he uses his feet to scramble, extend plays, and break down defenses. Removing the 3 sacks and 11 yards lost on them, he rushed 9 times for 40 yards. He wasn't his most accurate throwing the ball tonight, but he was absolutely at his best as a playmaker, mixing short, intermediate, and long passes across multiple receivers: 10 completions to Shipley (108 yards), 6 to Malcolm (103 yds), 8 to Kirkendoll (86), 3 to Newton (36), 2 apiece to Goodwin (34) and Chiles (16), and 1 to Buckner (13).
It was his best performance of the year. Congratulations to a damn fine quarterback.
Texas racked up 532 yards of total offense on an outstanding 6.5 yards per play, picking up 29 first downs overall and converting 9 of their 15 third downs. The Horns rushed 37 times for 151 yards (sacks excluded), led by Tre Newton's impressive 12 carry, 66-yard (1 TD) performance. The ground game was modest, but it was sufficient: Texas needn't be a strong running team, but it must commit to rushing the ball for the good of the passing game. We've been seeing much more of that in the five games since OU, and it's no accident that McCoy's numbers have improved:
Colt McCoy, first 6 games: 156-223 (69.9%) for 1,537 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs
Colt McCoy, last 5 games: 130-169 (76.9%) for 1,477 yards, 12 TDs, 2 INTs
In this regard, the commitment to rushing the ball isn't even about doing so successfully -- the 3-4 yards per carry the staff apparently seeks is actually fine. So long as Texas runs with sufficient purpose that defenses cannot completely ignore it, the mission is accomplished. The real prize is the boost that commitment provides to the passing game -- in particular, with play action. Whether he was saving his good stuff for mid-season, or just slow to figure it out -- an indictment either way --has gone bonkers using play action the past five games. And it's working. Well. More, please.
On a related note: Davis is doing some really nice things in this belated diversification of the offense. In focusing on the need to improve the vertical passing game, we mostly focus on it as an end unto itself, but there are ripple effects from regularly attempting intermediate and long passes, including an opening up of enough space to strategically use short passes as runs. Without the deep passes, there's no room for it to work, but as the field gets stretched and defenses align to cover larger swaths of the field, there are opportunities to hit designed passes that have little-to-no big gain potential but are valuable as a boost to a mediocre rushing team.
McCoy's not the only one who's gotten it together since OU: what about the performances we've seen from James Kirkendoll the past three weeks? The junior wideout contributed 5 catches for 40 yards and a TD against UCF, 6 catches for 43 against Baylor, and 8 for 86 and 2 TDs tonight against Kansas. For a guy whose season-defining moment had been his Killebrew imitation, he's clearly gotten his head on straight and done what he needed to in practice. Most of us groaned when it was announced Kirk would replace Goodwin as a starter, but he's made the most out of the opportunity. That's all you can ask, and it's great seeing him out there working well with McCoy.
I'm almost afraid to say it because I'm terrified I'll jinx it, but Malcolm Williams is... emerging. Ignoring the Baylor game (in which we barely tried to pass at all), the outrageously athletic wideout has been consistently productive: 5 catches for 53 yards against Missouri, 2 for 55 (1 TD) against the Pokes, 5 for 67 against UCF, and 6 for 103 (1 TD) tonight. It's taken awhile, but as the passing offense diversifies to involve Goodwin, Kirkendoll, and Williams, the offensive attack is starting to have some real bite. For all the deserved criticism he's received this year, Greg Davis' extreme increase in the use of play action passing has this offense approaching its potential. If that trend continues, Malcolm will continue to find the end zone.
The season-long game of musical running-backs has been hilarious, and makes ridiculous any attempt to discuss it meaningfully. We opened the season with McGee, went to Newton, dabbled with Fozzy, changed to Cody, and now return to Newton. Would you even blink if Jeremy Hills was announced as next week's starter?
All that said, it looks like the coaches are settling in on Tre Newton as The Guy. While for the most part it still seems like Texas can plug-n-play with anyone and get roughly the same results, I like the move. Newton has the speed and agility to break runs Big Cody will not, and a toughness and downhill running style that separates him a bit from Whittaker. The bottom line is that Newton is the only tailback who is proving solid in all four aspects of the position: downhill running, speed to break a run, pass blocking, and receiving. He's like my boy Ogbonnaya with slightly better top-end speed: not particularly flashy, consistently productive, versatile, and strong as a finisher. Given our modest aims as a rushing team, that's the guy we want.
Turning to the O-Line: To be honest, I've been too busy (and maybe a little fat and happy with our commanding position) to sit down and re-watch our last three games, so I can't offer much more than just general observations picked up from live viewing. But this much I'll say: things are better than they've been all season.
As for rush blocking, there's no question it's better. You wouldn't put it on a video and try to sell it, but it's better. Last week I had to do a double-take when a replay revealed Michael Huey and Chris Hall perfectly executing zone blocking -- doubling the tackle at the snap before Huey quickly released upfield to get his hat on a linebacker. Our pulling guards on misdirection are finding guys to block. If this is the line performance Texas will get at A&M and, especially, against Nebraska, I'll feel great about not having to worry that the offense could suffer some sort of season-spoiling meltdown.
[Edit: Most everyone I've talked to since the game thought the line played poorly. As noted in the comments, I watched at a bar with friends and didn't watch terribly closely, so take my observation with a grain of salt. I'd have to re-watch to offer anything substantive. --PB--]
Though they didn't dominate the stat sheet like they have of late, let's start with a salute to the two senior starters on the defensive line -- Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston. Though Kindle gets most of the attention, as the career of Lamarr Houston draws to a close, he's not only my favorite Longhorn on the team (that's been true for a long while now), but he joins Casey Hampton as my favorite Longhorn defender of all time. While I'm certain that loving an average defensive tackle might not be the most rewarding fan experience, there is nothing I enjoy more than watching a great one wreak havoc -- and especially when the big guy is someone you also admire as a person. The best DTs can uniquely impact a game and utterly destroy the strength of the opposing offense. I've watched Hampton do it for 15 years with the Longhorns and Steelers, and I couldn't be more pleased with the exceptional quality of Houston's senior season. That he was perhaps the team's best defensive end as a sophomore just makes it -- and him -- all the more amazing.
No fanboy salutes for Kindle and Rod Muckelroy, but no less fond a DKR farewell. They're both guys who had to battle to get to this level of senior success, though in different ways. Kindle arrived on campus overflowing with athletic talent, but raw as a football player -- a weakness that was only compounded by ankle trouble that slowed his development. But by all accounts he is a humble, hard worker, and when the perfect coach showed up his junior year, he had put himself in a position to take advantage of it. Amazingly, he's still pretty damn raw, but no one plays harder, and whatever short-term setbacks he faces as the difficulty elevates in the pros, that room to grow will prove a good thing. If he stays healthy, he can get there as a Sunday starter.
For his part, Muckelroy all but had to have his finger amputated when early in his sophomore season he severed a nerve. It is practically unfathomable to imagine an athlete that good having to sit on the sidelines because of a numb finger, but he bode his time, kept preparing, and closed his career fulfilling the promise he showed early on. A string of nagging injuries have held him back from having the gaudy senior season he's capable of, but as he returns to full health, he'll be as important as anyone on the entire defense if/when Texas matches up with Alabama or Florida.
It's hard to be anything but sappy about all of these guys, because everyone's so clearly worked so hard and contributed to the team so selflessly, and that goes for Deon Beasley, as well. It was Beasley -- not Chykie Brown -- who got put on the fast track as a freshman, but after he struggled with the big play as a sophomore and underestimated the importance of physical play as a junior, he lost his starting job to younger talent. Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown, and Curtis Brown haven't relinquished those spots, yet the demotion wasn't the death knell for Beasley, either. It would have been easy for Beasley to look at his impending graduation and his diminished role and coast to the finish line, but he clearly did just the opposite: though his role is more limited, when he's been out there he has played physically and hungry. It not only says something good about his character, but if Texas suffers an injury down the stretch, Beasley has shown he's ready to play. Heavy applause, sir.
Last but not least, I hope Ben Alexander is as proud of himself as we the fans are of him. When asked over and over on radio interviews this summer about the defensive line (the unit's presumed Achilles' heel), my go-to line that I repeated time and again was that "Alexander isn't much more than a situational space eater." But when the season started, there was Alexander, regularly rotating into the line, visibly slimmer and demonstrably quicker. And he has now played in all 11 games this season -- including one start -- accumulating 27 tackles and 7 tackles for loss. Texas needed Ben Alexander this year, and he put in the work to ready himself to contribute. Congrats, big fella.
He's not a senior, but the way he's playing football, I think we have to ask whether Earl Thomas is NFL-bound. Earlier in the season, I hung my hat on his diminutive size masking from scouts just how good he really is, but he's been so utterly exceptional over the past six games that it's becoming harder and harder to believe the secret's not out. I trust that Muschamp will help him make the decision that's best for him, but if the pro scouts are on to his excellence, "what's best for him" may, gulp, mean "going pro after this year."
Thomas was brilliant again tonight, whether shedding blocks to make a tackle before the marker, smothering Kerry Meier in coverage (5.1 yards per reception), or making another great play with the ball in the air to snatch a turnover. Again, he's just playing too well to be a secret. This is not a complaint.
Curtis Brown got his first taste of an NFL-caliber receiver since whats-his-name caught that pass at the end of regulation last year, and it wasn't terribly pretty tonight. I mentioned at the outset that I thought Kansas' success in the passing game was healthy: as thoroughly as this defense has dominated almost every opponent this year, I'm not opposed to a challenge providing a spark to keep everyone focused on improving. Curtis is so quick and athletic that he's capable of defending 98% of college receivers without worrying too much about technique, but Briscoe is not among them. The senior wideout repeatedly worked Brown with inside moves and then surprised him with his professional grade strength and speed. For the team and for Curtis: a good lesson and motivation to keep working.
I was away from the television for the kickoff return so I haven't had a good look at what went wrong, but kickoff coverage had been solid the previous five games and outside Briscoe's touchdown we held Jayhawks returners to a perfectly acceptable 19 yards per return. Texas only punted twice, one of which was returned for 32 yards, so I'd expect that'll be a point of emphasis in the coming week of practice. Given the overall strength of the kickoff and punt games on the season, I'm not going to lose much sleep over it, at least until there appears to be something systemically wrong. I didn't get a good look at either return live.
The big story on special teams to me was Hunter Lawrence, who buried kicks from 49, 47, and 35 yards out, raising his season totals to 8-of-9 from 40-49 yards and 7-of-7 from 30-39 yards. All told, Hunter has knocked through 20 of his 23 kicks, and among the three misses, only one is his fault -- a 28-yarder he jerked to the left; the other two were a miss from outside 50 yards and a block. Lawrence is 52-of-53 on PATs. Bottom line: if Texas finds itself in a game that comes down to a Lawrence field goal try, I like our chances. The senior has been absolutely nails all year long.
And with that, I'm out, with a short week before us until the final regular season game at A&M, who cost me a bottle of whisky by whipping the Bears today. I hope we beat 'em by 50.