Baylor is ranked; Texas is not. Iowa State and UCLA pushed around Texas. At home. Up is down, down is up. It's a confusing time to be a fan of Texas football.
Fear not, ye of the faithful. We are here to help. Below, our first-ever fan guidance publication, intended to help you sort through this bizarre new world in which you find yourself.
Q: Did we really lose to UCLA and Iowa State at home?
A: We did. If you're still in the denial phase of grieving, we urge you to move immediately to anger. The quicker you can begin to bargain, the better.
Q: What if I'm already angry? How do I begin bargaining?
A: Prior to Saturday, we recommended BCS Bowl fantasies.
Q: And after Saturday?
A: We recommend skipping ahead to depression.
Q: Is this guide supposed to make me feel better?
Q: Could things get worse?
Q: Are you saying we could lose to Baylor?
A: I am.
Q: Will we lose to Baylor?
A: It doesn't seem likely, but then again, we lost to UCLA and Iowa State. At home. It's hard to rule anything out, at this point. The scary thing about Baylor is that their offense is diverse and balanced, they have legitimate big-play threats at skill positions, and a quarterback whose legs can neutralize some of our pass rush effectiveness. Which is to say, we could play well defensively, and if Robert Griffin and Co. play very well themselves, they'll put points on the board. And if our defense takes the day off, they'll put more than a few points on the board. All of which is to say, there are realistic scenarios in which a win would require us to score 30+ points. Baylor's defense isn't anything to fear, but our own impotence is.
Q: Do you still have an enormous man-crush on RGIII?
A: I very much do, and while I'll be taking a week off from cheering for him, there will be longing gazes.
Q: What about our quarterback? Is Gilbert awful?
A: He is playing awfully, but he is not awful. He's just in an awful situation. Lord only knows why, but a week after the inspired approach in Lincoln, Texas abandoned the commitment to running the ball, abandoned the throws down the field, and started slipping into the Colt McCoy offense, complete with dinky throws, five wide sets (WHY, LORD, WHY?), and superficial attempts to run.
The great Colt McCoy often struggled to make it work, and had the help of two of the toughest, best receivers the university has ever fielded. Garrett Gilbert doesn't have McCoy's skill set and the closest thing we have to a Cosby or Shipley is a dinged up Mike Davis. Gilbert is awful in the same way that Ben Roethlisberger would be awful trying to run the zone read.
We're running incoherent offense with a quarterback who isn't anything close to the kind of improvising magician such an offense requires to function. Asked to execute something along the lines of what we saw in Nebraska, with coordinated runs, downfield passes, and play-action, he wouldn't be awful. He might even be good.
Q: How much of the problem is the offensive line?
A: Actually, I think the situation along the line isn't as dire as it once seemed, although we're inconsistent, weak at right tackle, and sorely lacking in depth. But I sat there in the stands in Lincoln and saw a legitimately strong performance from this group, and for the most part they've been pass protecting well enough. Our biggest line-related problems are again related to our overall approach and from some bizarre assignment practices our coaches employ.
Q: What should be made of this year's defense?
A: It is a very good defense, at times great, and occasionally stupid and/or unfocused. It's also a really tired, banged up group right now, both of which I thought were big factors in the inconsistent performance against Iowa State. We missed Jeffcoat, Hicks and E-Acho, while Randall and Okafor looked tired and lacked drive in their legs. At fulls strength and health, this is a very imposing unit, with lots of speed, but it is a unit with specific weaknesses that can be attacked.
I wrote in this year's Eyes of Texas magazine that the single biggest question for this defense was how big the drop off would be from Earl Thomas to Christian Scott, and we have our answer. Scott is a powerful north-south runner who supports the run well, but his acceleration is average, he struggles to turn his hips and run, and he has very limited lateral range. Earl Thomas was a tremendously fast and agile player with sideline-to-sideline range. Paired with Gideon, that leaves Texas with two safeties who can't run and cover, and only one who supports the run well. Teams that understand this can attack us in targeted ways, as Iowa State did. I'm interested to see how Muschamp responds. So far, he's been content to let the deficiency hide between our excellent pass rush and first-rate linebackers. That didn't work so well last week with several key players hurt.
Q: So you're saying that Greg Davis and Will Muschamp are equally flawed.
A: D'oh. You're on the wrong message board.
Q: Besides Florida Atlantic, are there any sure wins left on the schedule?
A: Well, I'm confident that we're going to win at least a couple of them, but the answer is no, not really.
Baylor: See above.
Oklahoma State: Like Baylor, they have no defense, but they can score, and we're not well-equipped to win any shootouts.
Kansas State: It's a road game, and their offense revolves around a committed power rushing game, which has given this defense trouble.
Texas A&M: The Aggies showed last year that when Johnson is hot and making plays with his feet and legs, they can be dangerous. The defense is improved under DeRuyter, whose aggressive blitzing style has successfully produced gobs of turnovers over the years.
It isn't hard to imagine how Texas could lose any one of those games. If the offense completely implodes, it's at least conceivable Texas could lose them all.
Q: Wait, is it 2007 all over again? Or 1997?
A: Scary, isn't it?
Q: What's the worst case scenario for the Texas program right now?
A: Your mileage may vary, but digging deep into my well of fears, the nightmare scenario is a blasé finish to the year after which Mack Brown doubles down yet again on his ability to succeed with Greg Davis. That would disappoint a whole lot of fans, but my bigger worry is the impact that might have on Will Muschamp. Because that would be the point when I would for the first time think, "I'd think about leaving if I was Muschamp, too."
Q: What would you prefer Mack to do?
A: Assuming Mack Brown wants to continue coaching for another, say, two years after this one, I'd want Mack to sit down with Muschamp after the season and ask him who he wanted to have as offensive coordinator upon taking over. Assuming further that Muschamp is sentient, his answer will be "Not Greg Davis."
At that point, there are any number of acceptable options. Davis could be let go, or retained but demoted to quarterbacks coach. And then it would be a matter of vetting the top options and making a good choice.
Q: Everyone says that Mack and Davis are a package. Is that true?
A: If it is, then Mack will be walking away at the end of this year. But assuming Mack Brown intends to return, I expect he will part ways with Davis, or demote him from offensive coordinator.
A: He won't have a choice. There's a lot of money at stake in all this, and that money is not going to pay for another year of Greg Davis.
That's my prediction, anyway. A lot of smart people don't agree with me on that.
Q: What if they're right? Is there anything I can do to feel better about this?
A: Have you tried blaming Rick Barnes?
Q: Anything else?
A: Don't forget: no matter how bad things get, it could always -- always -- be worse.