Trend Watch: Texas Versus Oklahoma

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DJ Monroe, sophomore Texas running back: If Mack Brown is still wondering why Texas fans were talking about a third-string wide receiver (and fifth-string running back) several weeks ago, he can stop now. One would think. At least pause for reflection.

The cause for relection, as nearly everyone who frequents this space can surmise, was Monroe's burst through the line and into the endzone, an electrifying bit of speed Texas fans haven't seen since Jamaal Charles in 2007. Considering that the kickoff coverage unit is blocking incredibly poorly for Monroe, the only way to get him the ball with a chance to make a play right now is handing it to him. Take note, coaches.

Oh yeah, and as much as it's against the nature of the award, Monroe is the first repeat Flavor of the Week at running back this season. May you receive the ball enough to keep it that way moving forward, DJ.

Some competitive fire: Conventional wisdom after the UCLA game had the defense giving up at the end of the game and the effort over the course of the entire game feel well short of all out. Following a different but almost equally devastating loss against Oklahoma, perhaps the only saving grace of an ugly football game was the fight Texas showed until the ball bounced out of the hands of Aaron Williams to end all hope.

Intensity and a competitive fire should be the baseline for a proud program that has aspirations to play in BCS games every season and sadly that hasn't been the case from the start of the season against Rice, which Mack Brown was quick to note. With all the other issues surrounding the team, the fact Texas battled back from 14-0, 21-7, and 28-10 deficits to have an opportunity to tie the game when Landry Jones fumbled the football deep in Longhorn territory late may not amount to something to feel happy about, but at least it's one thing Texas fans don't have to feel terrible about.

Comparisons to 2007: More than the two consecutive losses, the first such streak since 2007, it's a less tangible but readily apparent feeling that makes the comparisons seem so strong right now. It's that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach (perhaps accompanied by some laughter) when Greg Davis calls two horizontal passes to start the game, the sickening understanding that every game is a toss up, the frustration with a coaching staff that is clearly not coaching or communicating well with the players, the anger at the stupid mistakes on the football field.

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Penalties: The official numbers are up and they reflect extremely poorly on the Texas coaching staff and players. The team ranks 99th in the country in penalty yardage per game at 68.6, 104th with 8.2 penalties per game, and 113th in overall penalties. The bad news is that the presence of McCoy/Shipley/Kindle/Thomas/Houston last season only helped to camoflouge what has been a problem for several season -- the 2008 and 2009 teams both ranked in the 80s nationally in penalty yardage per game, though the 2007 team managed what is a respectable mark for Texas by finishing 66th.

The players change, the constant is the coaching staff and it's clear right now that for whatever reason the team is not playing with the discipline necessary to win. Sure, some of the calls may have been questionable, like the personal foul on Keenan Robinson early in the game -- he said that the play was still alive when he made contact -- but when penalty piles upon penalty, game after game, the players start losing the benefit of the doubt.

The impact is clearly and painfully felt, regardless, as all four Oklahoma scoring drives were extended by Texas penalties, none worse than the personal foul on Jackson Jeffcoat after the Sooners failed to convert 3rd and 20. It wasn't the first time this season either -- Jeffcoat helped extend a similar Wyoming drive late in the game on a similarly stupid penalty. Eddie Jones lined up offsides on the play that resulted in Jeffcoat stripping Landry Jones of the football, a fumble Texas recovered deep in Sooner territory and exactly the boost the bumbling offense needed.

The offense had their share of stupid mistakes, as usual, from the usual suspects. Kyle Hix had a false start on 2nd and 3 after one of the few positive first-down plays, his sixth penalty in five games. Surely, no one needs me to tell them how inexcusable that is. Greg Smith followed it up with a false start of his own and EBS is another repeat offender in that category. James Kirkendoll was called for holding downfield on another positive play, at least somewhat excusable since the senior receiver is so new to the whole idea of blocking at all.

It's to the point now that this writer waits with bated breath after a positive play on either side of the ball, hoping no one does anything stupid after the whistle. Third downs are the worst -- waiting for the drive-extending pass interference call or late hit. But punts are bad, too, although the coaches seems to have mostly abandoned any attempt to block them after Kenny Vaccaro's recent penalty. In the interest of being (somewhat) positive, at least the offense likes to commit pre-snap penalties.

Excuses for not playing DJ Monroe: Mack Brown directly contradicts his stance about not making excuses when he starts talking about Monroe. When Monroe only touched the ball three times after his touchdown run that possibly saved the game from becoming a blowout, it was because Texas got behind and had to throw the football and because he doesn't know the pass protections and because he doesn't know the playbook.

The real problem is that the coaching staff failed to adequately identify the playmakers in the spring and during fall practice and work on scheming ways to get them the football. Does the Florida coaching staff make excuses about how they can't get small players like Jeff Demps the ball? Does it make sense to play the fastest guy on the team at wide receiver when said player is a former high school running back and the running back position is in year three of trying to find some type of spark, any type of spark?

The effectiveness of the five-wide formation: Last season, Texas coming out in the empty set was an open invitation to opponents to send overload blitzes to one side of the formation to force quick throws. Then, in the critical moment of the national championship game, the Alabama defense showed pressure to one side of the formation to force Texas to slide the protection, leaving a free pass-rusher from the backside, resulting in the back-breaking fumble that essentially ended the game.

This season, the Texas offense is so terrible that it's amusing how teams don't even bother blitzing, instead content to know that if the Longhorns manage to get the play off, there's a strong chance that the pass rusher going against Britt Mitchell will get to the quarterback and dropping seven or eight players into coverage. Some teams run a variety of sweeps, including jet sweeps and inside and outside zone plays from those formations as constraints, but Texas doesn't do that of course. And also can't run the ball in general. So, yeah.

Gilbert the confident gunslinger: Throughout spring practice and even in fall practice, optimism surrounded Garrett Gilbert, and with good reason. Though his arm strength often seemed overrated by those who wanted to say that he possesses a cannon for an arm, what was immensely heartening was that he wasn't afraid to throw the ball downfield and often did so into tight windows. Somewhat dangerous, yes, but the results from the practices and the spring game indicated that even against one of the best secondaries in the country, those passes into small spaces weren't resulting in interceptions.

What happened to that Garrett Gilbert? The Garrett Gilbert that was willing to throw the ball 60 yards downfield on any given play in high school? The new Garrett Gilbert completed six passes well short of the first down marker, often to tight ends who have no hope of picking up that yardage against Oklahoma. As Scipio notes, the coaching staff deserves the blame here for calling routes that the defense will gladly allow Texas to complete as Greg Davis praises his quarterback for three-yard gains on 3rd and 17.

Let Gilbert loose and live with the results, building for the future. Can things really get any worse this season?

Special teams: A continued disaster on virtually every front. The kickoff coverage unit responded to a Texas touchdown by giving the ball to OU at midfield. The kickoff return unit doesn't appear to block anyone and can't give DJ Monroe any room to operate. Another fumble on punt return. A shanked punt by John Gold, who has been a major disappointment. Kicking the ball into the end zone and failing to give the coverage unit a chance to recover it late when Oklahoma made a major tactical mistake of having no one back deep. On and on. What was supposed to be a major source of strength this season has now become a major weakness -- instead of forcing turnovers and giving short fields to the offense or scoring touchdowns, this unit is giving up the football.

The job by the coaching staff this season: Whether it's the ghosts of recruiting years past (lack of playmakers at running back and wide receiver and tight end, lack of talent or depth on the offensive line), the aforementioned lack of discipline, or complete lack of creativity offensively, this is by far the worst job the staff has done since 2007.

Even Will Muschamp isn't beyond some blame after Texas came out and seemed confused and surprised by the up-tempo OU offense and got out-leveraged repeatedly early in the game. This after the Longhorns struggled for a second time this season in understanding basic assignments against the zone read. In the overall narrative of the problems facing this Texas team, those caused by Muschamp are pretty tiny, but there are some chinks in the armor once again after he did a poor coaching staff getting ready for Texas A&M last season.

This type of season wasn't supposed to happen in the so-called "Golden Era" of Texas football and the responsibility for these two disastrous losses fall almost completely on a coaching staff that is doing a flat-out poor job this season.

Mark Richt's job security: As bad as things are going for Texas, Georgia fans, and by extension, those Texas fans who have become Georgia fans in an effort to keep Coach Boom in Austin, have to feel worse. Not even AJ Green's return could save the Dawgs from a defeat to Dan Hawkins and the Buffaloes. Who ever would have guessed that Hawkins would have more job security after five games than Richt? Please start winning, Dawgs. Like, now.

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