Wyoming defensive strategy helps slow Longhorns. Last week, Mack Brown talked in a press conference about how surprised the coaching staff was last season when teams kept on blitzing Colt McCoy and blitzing McCoy some more. Brown said that teams revealed concern over allowing McCoy to stand in the pocket and pick apart a zone defense. Wyoming might have seen that comment and decided to try a different game plan at times, rushing only three and dropping eight into coverage. Early in the game, McCoy and the Texas offense looked confused by the look as the Heisman contender often locked in on Jordan Shipley and couldn't find his roommate and long-time friend. Then, at other times, Wyoming did blitz McCoy and often left the Texas offensive line confused and struggling with their pass protection, leading to many occasions in the first half where McCoy had to scramble to try to make a play.
Greg Davis responded in the first half by putting in Greg Smith and going max protection at times. Wyoming responded by dropping eight into coverage once again and leaving McCoy with few options in the passing game. Part of that falls on Davis for becoming conservative when he needs to keep Dan Buckner on the field. At the same time, does Colt McCoy miss Brandon Collins a little bit as his hot receiver? It's certainly possible, especially considering how well Collins played late in the season.
In the second half, the Longhorns took advantage of a tired Cowboy defense that just didn't have the depth to play with Texas for more than 25-30 minutes. The concern moving forward is with the offensive line in pass protection, especially against blitzes. Opponents now have some footage of how to get to McCoy, just like BYU exposed weaknesses in Oklahoma's pass protection with delayed blitzes. Texas struggled against delayed blitzes last season as well and Davis and the offensive staff need to spend a lot of time this week working on correcting the problems or McCoy is going to take some big hits this season. Expect more teams to drop eight into coverage early in the game to try to keep McCoy from getting into a rhythm.
Running back flavor of the week: Tre' Newton. Before the start of the season, it was Vondrell McGee, supposedly more comfortable with the scheme. Last week, it was DJ Monroe after his strong performance running the football against the WarHawks. This week, it's Tre' Newton, the improbably small son of the former Cowboy offensive lineman.
Perhaps more so than DJ Monroe, who will remain a spot player for the conceivable future, Newton has a chance to not only earn the role as third-down back extraordinaire, but also earn 10 or more carries a game as the feature back. The reason is his versatility, which isn't exactly news, but hadn't truly been demonstrated on the field until Saturday. Even though Newton dropped one pass, he caught another that nearly converted a third-and-long situation and carried eight times for 62 yards and his first touchdown at Texas. Most impressively, he displayed excellent vision in hitting his creases quickly and at speed -- he looked supremely comfortable in the scheme. Furthermore, he blocked well, opening up a hole for Colt McCoy on a quarterback draw and throwing block downfield on Dan Buckner's third-down touchdown catch and run, while holding up well in pass protection.
Is he the answer to all of the problems in the running game? No, but he is a faster, seemingly more talented version of Chris Ogbonnaya and if he can continue to do the same things that OG did last year, hitting the hole hard, catching the ball out of the backfield, and blocking well, both in pass protection and on any draws Texas wants to run with McCoy, then it should be enough for the Longhorns to get to Pasadena and have an opportunity to win a national championship.
Bipolar special teams. After a blocked punt, another nearly blocked punt, a failed fake field goal, and a failed fake punt, it would be easy to conclude that the special teams were terrible against Wyoming. While there were undoubtedly bad, bad, bad moments, the special teams play ended up simply being bipolar.
Justin Tucker, when he wasn't making the unilateral decision to try to pick up a first down deep in Texas territory, was kicking balls out of the end zone in the thin air of Laramie, with only one returnable kick the whole game. He also debuted his left-footed rugby punt and delivered a 34-yarder inside the Wyoming ten yardline. DJ Monroe helped consolidate momentum at the start of the second half with a 41-yard return into Wyoming territory to give the offense a short field. Malcolm Williams had a 25-yard return and a 35-yard return, providing a nice element of physicality to the return game, as well as providing his steady, but underrated, work blocking on special teams and as a gunner on the punt team. Returning punts, Jordan Shipley averaged 10 yards a return, with another nice return called back because of penalty.
Of course, it will be the bad plays that draw the majority of attention, and they were certainly bad. Brown apparently told Tucker last season that he could go for the first down if he sees an opening in the defense and can make it without being touched. After being chewed out during hafltime, he probably won't be doing that again. Dave Christensen commented after the game that his coaching staff had seen something on film that they could exploit to get pressure on John Gold and almost blocked two punts as a result. Antwan Cobb has to do a better job as the personal protector -- replacing Rashad Bobino -- not commiting to a double team before he knows if there is someone else comingup the middle. The coaches should be able to get that fixed this week -- it's not too complicated. As for the fake field goal, several things stand out. One, the Longhorns should be able to pick up one yard in the jumbo package if they really want it. Secondly, the situation seemed ripe for a fake and it seemed even more likely when the long snapper walked back to Shipley before the play to ask him something or make a clarification -- even more indication. Mack Brown also said on Monday that the call got messed up and the play wasn't executed properly. It certainly looked like it.
The good news is that Texas is no longer as leaky as a sieve on kickoffs and Duane Akina is back coaching the special teams. The mistakes should be fixed this week and the special teams should go right back to providing the Longhorns with an advantage for the rest of the season with the embarassment of riches that Texas possesses in terms of options in the return games, a fantastic gunner in Macolm Williams, two accurate place kickers, and options in the punting game, including a kicker with the ability to rugby punt with either foot. Despite the problems in Laramie, you can bet that Frank Beamer gets jealous watching Texas on special teams.
Tracking: defensive tackles. Remember when the defensive tackle position was such a cause for concern, way back before the season started? After two games, those concerns are now squarely in the background as the play of the offensive line, the lack of gaudy stats by Sergio Kindle, and the three currently ineligible players draw the majority of the attention. And there's a reason for that -- the Longhorns have been excellent in the middle of the field, albeit against two teams that aren't exactly world-beaters.
Lamarr Houston has led the way, particularly against Wyoming, undoubtedly his best performance at defensive tackle. On one play, he sliced through a gap on the hip of Ben Alexander and brought down the quarterback in the backfield, looking positively Roy Miller-esque. Is he as good as Roy Miller? Probably not, but that's not exactly a criticism of Houston's play. Against Wyoming, he finished with four tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage, one sack, and two quarterback hurries. The only blemish? Two false starts.
Next to Houston in the middle, Kheeston Randle probably had his best game as a Longhorn and looks like he will be a reliable contributor this season who can make some plays. Early in the game, he fought off a block nicely to stop a running play, then almost managed to push the guard blocking him back into the quarterback on another play, forcing a poor throw. There will be some inconsistent moments and he needs to work on using his hands better when being cut block, but there is an immense amount of potential just waiting to be tapped. He's going to be a good one and it's going to happen sooner rather than later.
Ben Alexander also had maybe his best day in a Texas uniform, making five tackles, including one for a loss. As mentioned last week, he's not going to be the best pass rusher from the position, but he's not going to be moved much on running plays and he looks as quick as he ever has in his four years. Interestingly, Calvin Howell played some at defensive end in the 3-4, most likely to allow him to use his quickness on the edge, which he did on one play that he just ended up over pursuing, and to keep him out of the middle where things happen so quickly. Besides registering his first career sack, Howell also made two tackles, one for a loss. Derek Johnson and Tevin Mims both saw their first aciton at Texas, with Mims recording two tackles.
Tracking: third down. After another excellent performance on third down last week against Louisiana-Monroe, the Longhorns struggled to convert against Wyoming, finishing 5 of 17 (29%), numbers hurt significantly by two first downs called back because of holding. Was the performance an anomaly, or does it portend a return to Earth by the Texas offense after otherwordly results last season on third down? Hard to say after one game, but it is something worth monitoring moveing forward.
The problem early on was mostly that Colt McCoy was out of rhythm and having his passes float on him in the altitude and, as mentioned above, the Wyoming defense deserves a lot of credit for playing extremely tough early in the game and coming in with a solid game plan to stop the Texas offense. In particularly the Cowboys did a good job of defending the drag route across the field that Texas likes to use for Jordan Shipley and James Kirkendoll, a play that Quan Cobsy and Brandon Collins converted in key situations last season.
Several other problems stand out. In the second quarter, the Longhorns went three-and-out after Vondrell McGee only picked up one yard on 3rd and 2. The play directly preceeding the unsuccessful fake field goal as a 15-yard gain by Tre' Newton on 3rd and 16. A false start by Chris Hall in the fourth quarter turned a 3rd and 6 into 3rd and 11 and an incomplete pass from McCoy. On the last possession of the game by the Longhorns, Garrett Gilbert didn't get the play off quickly enough and turned a 3rd and 6 into 3rd and 11.
Overall, the slow start by McCoy was a big part of the problem, but penalties on third down are perhaps the major culprit. Two first downs were called back and two more third downs were made longer by penalties. If the Longhorns can avoid major penalties on third dow and do a better job of protecting McCoy, the numbers should increase again next week, but if the Longhorns struggle as much against Tech as they did against, then it might be cause for some concern. Remember also that the Longhorns struggled on third down against UTEP last year in a similar type of atmosphere and only converted 1 of 6 third downs.