It's tough to beat two opponents in one afternoon. Saturday's 28-20 loss was to Oklahoma and Texas.
Mistakes happened at the worst possible times. They were either momentum killers for us or momentum boosters for the Land Thieves. It was just too much to overcome. And so was yet another afternoon of embarrassing offensive play calling.
After the fifth game of the season we are finally starting to get a good idea of the narrative of the 2010 Texas Longhorns. And while that might be an uneasy and sometimes frustrating story unfolding, the wins will be sweeter and the losses will bring a deeper look into the development of a team still trying to find an identity. It's a journey, and I know that for several years I have not stopped down to really enjoy the journey. I've looked to the end, flying through the season without much appreciation for all the stories along the way.
We are out of both the AP and Coaches' polls for the first time in half a generation. While that sounds devastating and embarrassing, I honestly don't feel that way. Don't get me wrong, I've been as frustrated as anyone with what we've seen this season, but what I saw Saturday gave me a better understanding of where this team is in its development. And more important, why. That doesn't mean things are suddenly going to get better. It just means more things are starting to make sense. We know what we're doing well and we know what still needs a lot of work.
I chose to post this column ever Monday to give us at least 24 hours to calm our emotions and collect our thoughts. This is about examining the progress of four key issues for this season. Sometimes you just can't do that when you're still clouded by frustration or excitement.
With that said, let's get into this week after the jump...
Garrett Gilbert's Progress
Walking out of the Cotton Bowl Saturday, I overheard several disgruntled Hook 'em fans spew unpleasantries Garrett Gilbert's way (even a few "Chris Simms II" declarations). Understandable, but illogical.
I might be in the minority here, but given everything we've seen from the offense this season-the inconsistency at receiver, the sluggish running game and the pee-wee play calling-Gilbert has been pretty impressive. I see poise and confidence.
He completed 66 percent of his passes Saturday, although Greg Davis made sure he completed at least 10 with ultra-conservative, predictable, horizontal tosses. (I swear he sees colored paint on the sidelines.) His one interception didn't matter. Gilbert was at his best when the offense finally started throwing down field. His long passes to James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams were right on the money. His play-action passes were better. He didn't let the game get away from him, which easily could have happened.
His negatives were holding the ball for too long a couple times and locking on to one receiver right from the snap. He also tried a couple awkward runs that were uncomfortable to watch, one of which came on third down before the first field goal when he should have kept the play alive a little longer to wait for an open receiver. His wind-up still seems too mechanical and slow, like he's trying to perfect every aspect of his drop-back and delivery. I don't know if he's being over-coached to check down, but there were way too many passes to Fozzy Whittaker and Barrett Mathews-the second- and third-leading receivers of the afternoon.
Gilbert's strength is attacking down field, not throwing to receivers standing like statues 4 yards short of the first-down marker. The first two plays of the game? The inside front cover of the playbook: receiver screen, or bubble screen or tunnel screen-whatever you want to call it (I call it "give-up"). Once to the left, and when that of course didn't work, let's run it again to the right. Boom! Four-yard loss. So unbelievable that it's comical.
Gilbert is playing with handcuffs on, and Greg Davis has swallowed the key. If those handcuffs ever come off, I think we're going to see some incredible development.
Retooling the Running Game
Here's one for ya: Our fastest running back rips a 60-yard touchdown run to keep us in the game, and he gets three more touches the rest of the game. Now, I know there's a lot more to the running game than just carrying the ball, but Saturday called for game-breaking ability. That's D.J. Monroe. Heck, nothing else has been working. Give 'im some touches!
OK, can we call the downhill, under-center approach a colossal failure? We don't have the running backs or the offensive line for that style. At least not this year. So it's back to the shotgun and more zone blocking. While I would love to see a drilling, pounding running game that puts teams away in the fourth quarter, I want to see wins more. I know there will be growing pains, but nothing develops a young team (or in this case, an offense) or builds confidence more than wins.
There are no signs of this thing getting better. There is no established No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 back. The coaches are going with "the hot hand." The problem is, the previous week's hot hand doesn't get a chance to stay hot, because there's always a new leading rusher.
BROC (Big Receiver on Campus)
Mike Davis was out, and even though he was the leading receiver heading into the game, it wasn't a big loss. But in a close game, sometimes all you need is a small difference at the right time. So who knows what would have happened.
The wide receivers had just 14 catches, which was just 52 percent of Gilbert's completions. Two of those were the give-ups to open the first series. If Gilbert and the receivers are going to develop, they have to play to their strengths, and that is vertical passing with the receivers making catches in stride.
Maybe Gilbert should intentionally throw to Malcolm Williams in hard-to-catch spots. He hauls those in better than he does the ones thrown smack at his chest. James Kirkendoll had a big catch to set up the first field goal.
Marques Goodwin continues to be underutilized and misused. His talents just do not play into how this offense is being run, or, rather, mismanaged. The progress of finding a top target is going nowhere.
The D-Line Shuffle
I sure wish this section was about the linebackers so that I could write about Emmauel Acho. Wait... this is a sports blog. I can write about whatever the heck I want. He was all over the place Saturday. He played his heart out: 17 tackles, including one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss (for 26 yards).
Some of the most bone-headed penalties at the worst times came from this group. Keetan Randle held DeMarco Murry on an inside screen pass that was already swallowed up and going nowhere. Instead of a punt, it gave OU another shot and they eventually scored the first touchdown. Eddie Jones lined up off sides on a third down when Jackson Jeffcoat forced and Landry Jones fumble deep in OU territory. Another was Jeffcoat's shove of an OU lineman after an incomplete pass on third-and-20 from OU's 48 yard-line. Three plays later the Land Thieves scored to make it 28-10, which, in my opinion, put the game out of reach. All great defensive stands negated by mistakes.
Oklahoma essentially took the pass rush out of the first half with a quick pace and a lot of roll-outs. But in the second half, the penetrating line made it very uncomfortable for Landry Jones. Nearly everyone on the line applied pressure at some point in the game.
We outscored them 13-7 in the second half, and a large part of that was because of the front four. They outscored us 21-7 in the first half, and a large part of that was because of the front four.
This group has still showed the most development since Week 1.