Failures of Approach and Leadership

Not a great weekend, so I want to find an excuse not to study.  What better than to write about our depressing football team?  PB and others are better at writing about big-picture narrative stuff, but I'll air out some thoughts and observations in the fanpost section that I've been mulling over.  Much of it isn't new, as many posters have brought similar points up, but I feel compelled to write for no reason.

The Game

In any event, I actually was not angry when I watched our game yesterday, and I watched the entire, brutal contest from start to finish.  I was a little surprised at myself, but I think it is because my expectations for this team were shot a long time ago.  Instead, I just shook my head in disappointment and burst out laughing at the myriad of horrible plays we produced.  You have to admit, if you aren't a Longhorns fan (and even if you are, like me) and you watched us play, you would have to find many of the things we do outrageously funny, in a dark way.  When Kirkendoll reversed field to turn make an already annoying horizontal pass worse, tripping himself on the turf to lose three yards, I didn't yell at him.  I nearly spit out on my food in laughter.  Yes, I'm cynical.

Obviously, I wasn't happy about what was going on, but I could appreciate the absurdity of walking into Lincoln, handling a top 5 Nebraska team with a semblance of purpose and execution, and then crapping the bed against lowly Iowa State in Austin.  Here was Greg Davis, just one week removed from complementing the run game with GG runs, misdirections, and timely throws that, while many weren't completed, kept Nebraska honest, going back to the horizontal passing game that has yielded such disappointed results this season.  I respectfully disagree with those who think that Davis came in with a good approach for ISU and the players are to blame for execution.  For all the talk about focusing utilizing the run game all season, trying to get Monroe touches now, and downhill blocking, we came out going five-wide and throwing horizontally once again.  Fozzy Whittaker had one touch.  D.J. Monroe had one touch.  What resulted was another offensive abomination that netted 6 points in three quarters against perhaps the worst defense in the entire Big 12, a team that had been thoroughly whitewashed their last two contests.  Do not be fooled in the least by the total yardage at the end of the game and our 440 total yards.  Much of that came against an ISU prevent defense.

The game should not bear solely on GD's shoulders, as the defense disappointed and Gilbert was flat out bad.  However, I am genuinely puzzled how people cannot see that the main culprit of this game, which has been true virtually the entire season, was our putrid offense and another egg laid by Greg Davis.

Defensively, we started out slow and seemed surprise by Arnaud's shiftiness in the pocket, came back strong, and then fell apart in key moments of the game.  The similarities to the UCLA game were eerie, except as bad as UCLA is, they aren't as bad as Iowa State (Iowa State was bad enough to let this Texas offense score quickly against a prevent).  Granted, we were without Emmanuel Acho, but that was still disappointing.  I can't really point to any systematic failures; it just seemed like players were missing assignments and tackles here and there that were killing us.  I think Muschamp could have dialed in a lot more pressure, and it was disappointing that we had some coverage busts.

Approach Fail

However, I do not want to key in on just this game, because this game, as our game against UCLA, did not just happen because we had a bad day or were unlucky.  It is the fruit of how the staff approached the entire season.  There was big talk in the offseason about a new, downhill running game, complete with an H-back and deep passes over the top.  Instead of committing to such an approach in a meaningful way, we come out against Rice and Wyoming with vanilla, horizontal offenses and handled Gilbert with kid gloves.  I was willing to be patient with this, wanting to trust the staff, but when the offense just fell apart in Lubbock, it became clear that there were some serious problems, and we lost the opportunity to correct those problems against our OOC cupcakes.  The offense laying a gigantic egg against UCLA was simply a continuation of these issues.

Related to this, the staff either can't identify playmakers, doesn't trust them, or doesn't know how to utilize them.  Actually, it's probably all of the above.  I am not saying we have elite offensive talent this year, but I'd be very curious to see what Chip Kelly or Chris Peterson would do if they were able to coach this offense for a year.  I guarantee this much:  They don't wait until the fourth quarter to score touchdowns against UCLA and Iowa State.

This is all on Mack and GD.  They are reaping what they sowed, and perhaps the most annoying part of it all is that they seem genuinely surprised we looked like that again against Iowa State.  Yes, the defense has not been as good as we thought they could be, but there's a difference between getting exploited and being almost completely inept.

Leadership Void

Leadership is a tricky thing to measure, but we know it's real.  We saw firsthand the galvanizing affect Vince Young had on an entire football program.  I was just as impressed with Vince Young's charisma and leadership as I was with his gifted athleticism, because the players on those Texas teams would follow him anywhere.

Obviously, in college, you don't always have the luxury of having strong field leaders every year.  Leaders graduate and perhaps the younger guys aren't ready yet.  When that happens, the coaches really need to fill the void, and this might be an area where Mack Brown has shown a lack of ability.  We did not have a mass exodus to the NFL, but we lost some key figures.  Gone are Colt McCoy, Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston, Earl Thomas, and Jordan Shipley.  In 2007, another weak year in the MB era, there was a similar leadership void until guys like Orakpo, Colt, and Cosby helped lead the troops to a remarkable 2008 season.

The coach who is closest to being able to provide that kind of leadership is the fiery Will Muschamp, who for whatever reason seems a lot more subdued this year.  I don't know what the deal is, but while our defense is talented it seems to lack a leader to help overcome lapses and frustration.  It is clear what we have:  A talented, flawed, and frontrunner defense.  I don't think it is a coincidence that our two most dominating defensive performances, in Lubbock and in Lincoln, came in games where we jumped out to an early, two score lead.  When this defense knows they are getting help from the offense and when they can dictate play with a lead, they can shut down anyone.  When they are frustrated or try to do too much, they are prone to big mistakes, be them penalties or missed assignments.  This defense smothered the Air Raid and Nebraska's run game and then let Iowa State run for 200 yards.  On the surface, that makes zero sense, but taking in the progression of those games it starts to shed light on why such a thing happened.  Unfortunately, this is not a good type of defense to have when you have an offense that can't score points reliably, because this defense is not nearly as good as creating their own points as last year, nor can they count on consistent help from special teams.  Again, I'm not calling them quitters or mentally soft, but I also don't see a field general among them that "rallies the troops" when things get ugly.

Do I really need to talk about the lack of leadership on offense?  Maybe Gilbert will get there, if he's not ruined by this season.  But it's not now.

In conclusion, we seem to have a talented but leaderless football team.  We have no effective leaders on the field and our coaches have generally failed to provide the direction this team needed dating all the way back to the offseason.  Before the season began, we knew it could be a difficult year, and Texas fans predicted that we'd have between one to three losses.  We are already at three, one of them to Iowa State, and right now it's hard to imagine that it's going to stay at three.  I would have been accepting of a "rebuilding" year, but rebuilding years need to show genuine improvement.  We still look like a team that's playing in August or September when it's nearly November, so it's no surprise when a better-coached team walks into our house with a fourth of our talent and out-executes us.

Can this year be salvaged?  In some ways.  I will be rooting for this team to finish strong.  The onus is on the staff to look in the mirror, admit where they royally screwed up (really admit, not just say it to the media to sound good), and make systematic changes.

Oh, and brief note:  I'm not calling for the firing of Greg Davis.  He ain't going anywhere, like it or not.

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