Flavor of the Week at running back: Vondrell McGee. Four weeks, four different flavors at running back. Can it continue? Will the Mythical Fozzy Creature build on his strong second-half performance and first collegiate touchdown against UTEP to win the hearts of Longhorn fans for a whole week? Unfortunately, it will be almost two weeks before there is a definitive answer, but for the moment, Vondrell McGee holds a special place in the heart of all fickle Longhorn fans. There's also the bad news that the award will almost certainly have a repeat winner at some point this season. Boo.
After tweaking his ankle and losing his starting job to a more productive Tre' Newton, McGee responded against a UTEP defense that had basically given up with the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, a number McGee reached only carrying the ball eight times. The highlight was a 51-yard run during the first Texas possession after halftime and it was really a perfect example of how little the individual running back matters in the scheme, as the two guards, Huey and Tanner, opened up a gaping hole in the UTEP defense, while David Snow got to the second level to block a linebacker and all McGee had to do was run through it and then try to wring whatever speed he could get out of his still-injured ankle. He undoubtedly took a great deal of grief from his teammate for being caught from behind, but then breakaway speed has never been on of his attributes.
Perhaps more heartening was his 23-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter on a speed option, as he used his strength to break a tackle near the end zone. It might be an effective play for McGee if he can take the corner consistently, as he doesn't have to read a hole on the play.
While a specific running back may not win the job, it never hurts to have depth at the position and McGee made a strong case that he can still help the team this season and intends to do so. He'll have another week to get his ankle healthy and using him in the second half of games against tired defenses may be the perfect strategy to help him return to his high school roots of running over and through opponents.
Garrett Gilbert watch. One of the storylines going into the game surrounded getting some snaps for Garrett Gilbert after he only played one series each against Wyoming and Louisiana-Monroe. The Longhorns scored early and often to put the game out of reach essentially by the end of the first quarter, allowing Gilbert three series in the second half, two of which resulted in rushing touchdowns.
Just like both previous appearances, Gilbert looked poised in the pocket and delivered the ball with accuracy, completing five of six passes for 49 yards, leaving him at 11 of 14 on the season -- a completion percentage of nearly 80%. Gilbert mostly owes the high completion percentage to the playcalling, ashas kept the throws pretty easy for him, but the important thing is that Gilbert is executing in game situations.
It's increasingly apparent that Gilbert and Marquise Goodwin, despite their limited time together, really have something going on. In fact, I think that they should live together next year, just because it would provide such a unique, heartwarming story for Texas fans to listen to during every single broadcast for years on end. Doesn't that sound fun? On his first drive of the day, Gilbert threw to Goodwin four times, completing every pass for 38 yards. Given Goodwin's speed and Gilbert's predilection for looking in his direction, it's probably just a matter of time until the true freshman breaks a long play for a touchdown late in a game.
The connection with DeSean Hales? Not looking quite as strong, as two of Gilbert's three incompletions have come on passes targeting Hales, who is still looking for his first collegiate reception.
Tracking: special teams. As indicated in Sunday's By The Numbers post, DJ Monroe is now the first Texas player to ever return two kicks for touchdowns, not only in a season, but in a career. A career that for Monroe is only four games old. Yeah, he's that good, that fast, that historically remarkable and judging by the first four games, that number isn't likely to remain at two for very long. If teams decide to start kicking away from Monroe, the coaching staff already has a solution -- on Saturday Marquise Goodwin was back with Monroe to return kicks, putting the team's two fastest players on the field at the same time.
Jordan Shipley looks like he intends on returning punts for the rest of the season with several strong efforts against UTEP a week after his game-changing return against Tech. On the day, he gained 73 yards on his three returns, with a 52-yard return that gave the Longhorns a short field and another 20 yarder for good measure -- his current average of just more than 16 yards per return is good for 14th in the country. A natural punt returner, Shipley has excellent vision, as well as an understanding of where his blockers will be, and, of course, the quickness to blow up some angles.
Hunter Lawrence did miss an extra point off the upright on Saturday and nearly knocked through a 54-yard goal that hit the crossbar before falling harmlessly into the end zone. So a bit of a mixed bag for him and the missed extra point may heat up the competition for placekicking duties with Ryan Bailey, a competition that was extremely close throughout fall practice. The punting game was fine, as Justin Tucker just barely got a rugby kick inside the 20 yardline, but kicked it out of bounds and probably should have gotten it inside the 10. John Gold punted for the first time since the coverage problems against Wyoming and had a 39-yard punt that went out of bounds, so not the best effort from him, so apparently Antwan Cobb fixed his protection problem.
The real area of concern though is kickoff coverage. It's not to the point where the Longhorns look like they're about to have one taken to the house, but they do rank 64th in the country, behind such stalwarts as Western Kentucky, Marshall, and Tulane. Justin Tucker sent the first two kicks into the end zone for touchbacks and kicked another to the goalline, but after that the coaches starting calling for squib kicks that mostly resulted in decent field position for UTEP. It's hard to say why exactly the coaches changed philosophy in the middle of the game -- perhaps they saw a coverage problem or just plain didn't want to allow for any big plays, but it's something to watch moving forward.
Oh yeah, and Malcolm Williams absolutely waxed the UTEP punter after the long snapper sent the ball over his head and into the end zone. The definition of de-cleated, actually. Good stuff.
Tracking: playmaking defense. For the second week in a row, Texas excelled at creating turnovers, forcing three fumbles and hauling in four interceptoins. Through four games, the Longhorns have forced 12 turnovers after forcing only 16 all of last season, while the six interceptions ties the six through all of last season. Texas also sacked UTEP quarterbacks four times on Saturday, including the sack and forced fumble on the game's third play from scrimmage. In other words, this defense is much, much improved as forcing turnovers.
Earl Thomas had two interceptions on Saturday, tying his total from all of last season, and almost took the second one back for a touchdown, but stepped out of bounds while trying to run down the sideline. The pick six is probably going to happen for him sooner rather than later. Blake Gideon set off the most biggest and most sincere celebration along the sidelines in some time with his first career interception and said after the game that it took a huge weight off of his shoulders. Ben Wells also joined the party, recording his first career interception as well, and, as Scipio Tex noted, helping create a much better memory for Texas fans:
Ben Wells! Thank you for giving me a mental image beyond a Baylor WR streaking by you.
The biggest negative? Somehow Sam Acho didn't manage to recover a fumble in the game for the first time this season. The guy really let all his fans and teammates down and the BON crack investigative team will start trying to figure out what in the heck is wrong with him during the off week. The leg whip sack, though? That was pretty sweet. When you're Sam Acho, apparently it's not illegal. Was that a Mountain West officiating crew on Saturday? Naw, they didn't miss nearly enough calls to be from that conference.
Randomness, bullet style. I like bullets. Do you like bullets? Bullets are good.
- The Longhorns lined up in a bunch formation several times, which was highly unusual, and threw screens both times. It's a good way to get Marquise Goodwin the ball, but Greg Davis is going to have to break tendency for those plays to work against better teams.
- Speaking of Goodwin, the Longhorns need to throw him one of those flanker screens they've been running for John Chiles. I think good things would result.
- Eddie Jones is playing like a man possessed. Or like someone who has almost had their career ended by injuries. Really nice to see him healthy and playing well -- hopefully he can sustain it for the rest of the year.
- Apparently Trevor Walker is the fourth-string quarterback. But where was John Paul Floyd? It's gotta be rough to be the only quarterback on the roster not to get into the game on Saturday. He needs to get some game reps in case the four quarterbacks go down in front of him. I'm starting to panic here.
- Did Jeremy Hills give way to Jamison Berryhill because of the fumble or was Mack Brown just worried that Hills would break another long run on the next drive and reach the dreaded number of 70 on the scoreboad? And watch out for that ball when you're around Brock Fitzhenry, Jeremy -- he's not-so-secretly a saboteur.
- It was really hot in the stadium on Saturday. Like really, really hot.
- Besides the interception, McCoy did a much better job of not staring down Jordan Shipley in the game.
- McCoy also looked like he fixed whatever was causing him to sail his passes, looking extremely accurate on the day -- he completed 80% of his passes on the day and that number would have been over 90% had his receivers not dropped four passes. That's the McCoy we know and love.
- Malcolm Williams dropped another pass. That's the bad news. The good news is that McCoy came back to Williams two plays later on fourth down and Williams hauled in the pass and turned upfield for a 12-yard gain.
- Chykie Brown played his most consistent game of the season and seems to have dropped the "You Can't See Me" routine after the penalty in Laramie -- he's just wagging his finger now, Mutombo-style. (By the way, I just checked the spelling of "Mutombo" -- I was right, of course -- but found out that his full name is Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. Which one isn't quite like the others?)
- Nice to see Fozzy Whittaker show a little burst around the corner -- of the three running backs competing for serious carries, Whittaker is the fastest and ranks ahead of McGee in terms of versatility. I'd also like to note that I'm going to retire the Fragile Fozzy moniker until further notice. Like until he gets hurt again. Dammit, I was trying to be positive...