The Longhorns found every opportunity to be maddeningly elusive.
On Sunday, I was talking with a friend of mine who graduated from TCU. He was puzzled and asked me a few questions:
"So... why do you guys run so many bubble screens? Do you actually think that works?"
"And why did you try that same exact sweep play that got you the score without doing something else?"
"I don't know."
"Why does Gilbert check down so quickly?"
"And where did that fast guy go after he scored?"
"Monroe? He got a few more touches..."
"How many more?"
"Three or four, I forget."
That was a fun conversation. Mind you, he wasn't trying to be a jerk; he was genuinely curious. That still didn't make me happy thinking about it.
But here I am writing the last OU report for the year. Since, however, I assume everyone saw this particular game, I will not do a unit by unit breakdown and just say some general things about how our team responded to Oklahoma.
Right after the game, I was pretty annoyed. The things that stuck out in my mind the most were the excruciating penalties, namely by Eddie Jones and Jackson Jeffcoat, causing me to lash out against the defense. I have long since calmed down, and looking back at the game more rationally it is easy to see that despite the frustrating mental gaffes by our defense, they were still the better unit out of the two. That said, I will say this in defense of our offense: Our defense's mistakes on OU's first drive set the tone for the entire half, which is a very, very bad thing for an offense that we know is struggling. If we stopped Oklahoma early as we should have (twice), our offense might have gotten good field position and... well, maybe still go three and out after GD calls two straight bubble screens, but at the least after we punted it back our defense is still fresh and Oklahoma has to march the length of the field. Also, while our offense was generally bad again, they did put up enough points such that if our defense didn't shoot themselves in the foot over and over again this is a win for Texas. Against UCLA, I felt like our offense quite literally gave us no chance to win. Against Oklahoma, they did enough so that we could have won if our defense delivered a dominant performance. I know it is unfair to judge the two units by such different measures, but I don't think any Longhorn fan was counting on our offense to carry us. We needed our defense to, and unfortunately they made too many self-inflicted errors to do that.
Before I get to criticizing our defense, I will say that Landry Jones deserves a bit of credit, as does Kevin Wilson. Wilson was smart enough not to let Landry camp in the pocket early in the game, so he wisely called for mostly quick passes to frustrate our pass rush and waited for his chances to take deeper shots. Jones was largely accurate on those throws and only showed his panicky self later in the game. Oklahoma's offensive line also played sporadically well; they were a few times they got owned in both the running and passing game, but they didn't fold. Furthermore, with Ryan Broyles largely contained, as well as Demarco Murray save a couple of big runs, other targets like Kenny Stills stepped up in a big way. Murray once again damaged us in the passing game, though.
Still, I was not happy with the way we planned to attack OU. I know we have a mean pass rush and Wilson was trying to avoid long-developing pass plays, but I felt the defensive gameplan was too passive. The book has been written on Landry Jones: Get in his face and he'll start behaving erratically. We seemed content to stay back instead, which I thought was an error. Also, I do not know why we did not seem prepared for Oklahoma's no-huddle offense. They've been running it for two years now, and it's hard to excuse anyone that we got caught flat-footed by several snaps (to be fair, I felt that there should have been a couple more illegal shift penalties because the line wasn't totally set, but whatever). The defense played a pretty darn good second half minus the awful penalties, but the slow start was something we could ill-afford with our offense. This game, the matchups were in our favor but we made too many mistakes. Against Nebraska, the matchups are not as favorable, which makes me worried, to say the least.
Offensively, there really isn't much more to say that hasn't already been said. In my preview, I noted that a horizontal passing game would help OU hide their weaknesses on defense... and that's exactly what we came out with. Instead of making OU play vertically, we allowed them to keep everything in front of them for the most part so that they could come downhill on us with abandon. That is something they're good at and have been good at for quite some time. Davis' failure to attack where OU was weak was pretty frustrating. Davis also does not seem to understand that Oklahoma was intentionally leaving our tight ends short of the marker because they know that our TEs aren't good enough to take a 4 yard pass and turn it into a first down. The fact that he is encouraging GG to make those throws is a little annoying. In addition, after roasting OU with that sweep with Monroe, we try it a couple of more times, OU overplays it and stops it, and then we shelve the thing. Instead of picking at a weakness until it really starts bleeding, Davis comes in with no other real plays with the same look and just abandons it, along with one of our most explosive players. I think Oregon could post close to 50 on this OU defense. Us? Twenty, with two goalline trips having to settle for field goals. This is why I'm not that optimistic about our offense's future: Sure, we outgained OU and posted 20 points, but OU's defense is not very good right now.
I also noted the punting game as an underrated factor going into the contest. OU definitely beat us in that department: Tress Way had another strong day and we had gaffes from our punter (John Gold shank) and returner (Aaron Williams fumble) that cost us dearly. At the very least, Oklahoma's lack of a reliable place kicker played a small role in our favor, forcing Stoops to go for it twice on fourth down. The second one was really stupid of him; he should have straight up gone for it rather than kick a field goal, because anyone who scouted OU's kickers would have known that they sure weren't going to try to kick that. Luckily for them, our offense is incompetent, so we ended up going backwards because GG held on to the ball too long.
What's the outlook for OU? They'll be the favorites to win the South, for sure, but they frankly aren't that strong of a team, or at least not as strong as many past Stoops teams. They should drop at least one during the regular season, possibly two. They have road games at Missouri, at College Station, and at Stillwater, any of which can be a challenge for their defense. Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and Oklahoma stumbles enough to allow us to win the Big 12 South. In 2006, Texas seemed primed to coast to the Big 12 title game and then Colt's injury happened and the wheels came off, allowing Oklahoma to back into the game. I'll cross my fingers for something similar to happen for us (minus the injury, since I don't wish harm on any player), but that will probably require us to defeat Nebraska, which is looking unlikely, to say the least.
As for us, I hope the coaches take this time to show progress. At this point, I expect at least one more loss down the line, probably more like two. Fine. I still want to see genuine improvement. Muschamp needs to get this defense more disciplined and the offense needs to find an identity. We don't have to be world-beaters this year, but we do have to show direction. Right now, it's hard to tell that we're much better than we were three weeks ago. I am genuinely cheering for Greg Davis and Mack Brown to enter their rare "Eff you" mode and unleash something memorable for us, like 2008 against OU and 2007 against Arizona State. That won't necessarily guarantee wins, but if we put up a great fight against Nebraska but still fall short, I'll be proud of the team and coaches. If we look like this again, I will be very sad, even if we happen to play Nebraska close because they time-traveled back to the Iowa State game last year.