In the Trenches - Digesting the Cupcake Feast

Another superb bit of analysis on Texas' line play from burnt in ny. --PB--

It's like Thanksgiving afternoon on the UT blogs today, as fans sit satiated with great plays and haul in their bloated bellies from a 64-7 smacking of UTEP.  I'm digesting the last icing on the final cupcake of the afternoon for the Horns, thinking on what we learned about play in the lines this week.


The human metaphor for the Longhorn fanbase at the moment


Yes, there were astounding plays by Kindle, Houston, Sam Acho and Ben Alexander on defense. Yes, the Horns rushed for more than 300 yards for the first time in a coon's age, and yes Colt was smiling on the bench for the first time this season. But hey, this was UTEP, a team that largely gave up after Colt McCoy's 16-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Shipley's back shoulder made it 33-7 with 7:08 left in the second quarter. You always have to wonder about how much you learn from a game like this, so let's go to class after the jump.

First, let's consider the Big Points following the namesake of this weekly piece.

Loaders and Backhoes


Recognition and the Texas running game

The Horns handed the ball to a running back only 7 times in the first half, so all the griping from fans and analysts about the first half rushing stats (and Tre Newton now NOT being the answer) are a bit hysterical. One run went only 3 yards because it was a touchdown (standing up I might add). Two runs gained negative yardage, and I'll get into these in a moment, while the other runs gained 4, 7, 7 and 3 yards, respectively. Points of excellence were excellent seal blocks to the outside by Ulatoski and Hix on the DE or LB (depending on how the defensive formation was shifted. The negative plays were a microcosm of the problems in the Texas running game and illustrated quite clearly: THE PROBLEM WITH THE TEXAS RUNNING GAME HAS LITTLE TO DO WITH THE RUNNING BACKS. The problems have been, and continue to be, inconsistent play by the guards.

So what do they have to do with? Recognition and technique by the interior OL. The first negative running play (-3 yards) was a zone read to the right from the UTEP 6, when tackle Kyle Hix kicked out the LB as planned, but RG Michael Huey, in his shift to the right, failed to react to an interior twist by the UTEP DE and allowed his man to penetrate into the backfield. This forced Newton to shade backwards, running him into Hix and allowing the DE to make the ankle tackle on Newton. Had Huey made his block, Newton might have scored on that play. The one-yard loss occurred later from the UTEP 45 on the same type running play. This time Chris Hall attacked the middle LB successfully and Huey and Hix sealed off the right side, with Huey successfully leaving his man to block the outside LB that was attacking the middle. However, Charlie Tanner reacted very slowly to in inside slant by the DT and allowed him to slide right into the otherwise gaping hole, stopping Newton for a loss.

Numerous other recognition problems plagued other plays. For example, John Chiles ran a WildHorn counter play later in the third quarter and might have gone for 10-15 yards, except Charlie Tanner, who was pulling from left to right, didn't see the UTEP safety attacking from his left and instead went after another safety 7 yards further down the field, leaving the first safety untouched to make the tackle for only a 3-yard gain.

It's not clear how many of these little problems are fixable, since they seem to result from Tanner and Huey not seeing the field as well as they need to, or just getting out-quicked by smaller linemen.. At any rate, the OL remains, to quote Mack Brown, "a work in progress."

Hell Hath No Fury...Except When the Smarter Play Is...

Many commentators are lauding the defense as being the best at Texas in a long time. The tendency is to think of it as a ferocious unit that takes on Will Muschamp's personality, with Sergio Kindle, the Achos, Lamarr Houston, and Muckelroy laying the wood. The team has 12 sacks in its last 3 games, a pace that if continued would smash last year's nation-leading 47.  It is clear, however, after 4 games, that the Horns are as much a smart team as they are a ferocious one. It was fun to watch Houston, Ben Alexander, and Muckelroy make initial rushes and then peel off early when they read a screen pass. Come to think of it, none of the last three opponents has really run a successful screen against the Horns. This contrasts sharply with last year, when OU, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech ran screens with impunity.

Picks and Shovels


Some of the finer points of mention In the Trenches

1. It was amazing to see DT Ben Alexander on a zone blitz in the third quarter, 10 yards deep in the zone, come within a foot of breaking up a pass. That's what you call OPTIONS. It's great to know that Alexander is more than just a potentially immovable object.

2. One thing I was interested in was how Dan Buckner was helping or hurting the Texas running game. This was a difficult evaluation, given the opponent and the small number of times Texas ran the ball when it wasn't garbage time. But a few things pop out. One, Texas rarely uses Buckner as anything other than a downfield blocker from his flex TE position. Without a true TE, I think this puts enormous pressure on the five offensive linemen to make their blocks, as there are fewer of the double-teaming options along the line that are critical to making the zone-blocking scheme of the Longhorns work. Look for more boom and bust in the running game in that regard, as Texas' downfield blocking with Buckner, Williams, Chiles, and Shipley is outstanding and leaves gaping areas if the backs can get into the secondary, but occasionally a defender will make deep disruptive penetration.



3. Adam Ulatoski is known as a good pass blocker with liabilities as a run blocker. In the last two games, big number 74 has done much better at run-blocking than pass-blocking. He's given up, by my count, 4 QB hurries against Colt, and seems to be struggling against inside moves. In the run game, he's been a monster on those counter plays when he pulls from left to right, and he has been strong at sealing the DE inside and the LB outside on zone reads and sweeps.



Adam Ulatoski staring down a LB on a sweep.

4. Texas' offensive line depth, while not overwhelming, is better than many think. Trey Allen was in for a lot snaps, even early in the game and played well, often absolutely smothering his man, but keeping his head up to look for delayed blitzers. David Snow came in for Chris Hall after Hall dinged a shoulder and played well, as he pass-protected well and shows excellent speed in getting upfield to block safteties and LB's. Britt Mitchell also played well at RT early in the thrid quarter. He looked a bit overmatched at times, but there was no ole' in his two-step against the pass rush. But before we get too excited, I was underwhelmed by the play of Luke Poehlman, the Horns' first runner up at  LT. He had problems recognizing blitzes and was getting beaten routinely on inside moves.

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