This column, like this season, has not turned out like I thought it would back in August. Examining the progress of our four issues has become an exercise in repeatedly placing head against wall.
What are we learning? That this team has layers and layers of problems. This time of year we should be fighting for a spot in at least the Big 12 Championship game, but we are fighting to just have a winning season. And do not be surprised if this thing struggles against Florida Atlantic. As flat as they're playing, anyone, and I mean anyone, can beat these Texas Longhorns. Because it's not really about what team we're playing. We'll do enough to beat ourselves to give the other team plenty of chances to, you know, score more points than us.
Oklahoma State is a good team with a great offense. I didn't expect them to score fewer than 28 points. I always expect effort throughout the game from our 'Horns, but a lot of expectations have not been met this season, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we laid down again and forgot that urgency and not giving up are still valuable things for a young team.
Still, each game I think we can learn some things about this team, even if we don't like what these lessons are teaching. Class is in session, after the jump.
Garrett Gilbert's Progress
I've given Gilbert a pretty long leash all season, and I still stand by my assessment of him. I know I'm in the minority thinking that, overall, he's been fairly solid this being his sophomore year. I just think he's been so under-coached and held back by an embarrassing approach to the passing game that very rarely uses his skills appropriately. However, if this was his junior year, his performance would be unacceptable.
He started out pretty hot Saturday, but yet again we run play after play with our receivers catching the ball standing still. It's like our offense is playing inside an invisible box. What do I mean? This: 15 of Gilbert's 19 completions went for 11 yards or less.
Gilbert missed a couple deep passes, including one down the middle to Malcolm Williams that might have been a touchdown. He threw an interception before halftime that OSU turned into a field goal. But he did hit James Kirkendoll for a 46-yard completion late in the third quarter. This after we were already down by 30.
He had a decent day running with 55 yards on the ground and continues to show a good feel of moving through the defense. His passing still looks too robotic, like he's thinking through every single step. He has to develop a better feel for the game so that things just come more natural.
Retooling the Running Game
The big news came down yesterday that Tre Newton is ending his college football career, citing reoccurring injuries, especially head injuries, as the main reasons. Can't blame him. Losing Newton will have almost no effect this season, and should be of little consequence for the near future. I'm sure it was a hard decision for him, and I hate seeing such a young guy end his football career so early. We wish him all the best.
This was the second game of the season I was able to attend, and I was fortunate Saturday to have seats close enough to the field to get a good micro view of the offensive line. We rolled out three freshman, and as I expected, this group just doesn't seem to have the mindset of a run-blocking line. There are way too many traps and zone blocks, which try to mirror a lack of physical toughness. Shoulders are getting turned, bodies are collapsing too early, and they generally get beat off the line.
Honestly, the biggest contribution from the running backs was a 14-yard pass from Fozzy Whittaker. Cody Johnson had 68 yards and an inconsequential touchdown. The most explosive offensive player on the team is still M.I.A. Do you ever wonder what D.J. Monroe would do in, say, Oregan's offense? Or what his stats would be if he played for Boise State? If there's something specific about him keeping him off the field, why don't the coaches just tell everyone? Kick him off the team or give him the damn ball.
BROC (Big Receiver on Campus)
James Kirkendoll had some big catches in the first half, and the one long catch that set up the first touchdown. Why do we continue to run the fade route to the back of the endzone with Kirkendoll, who's the shortest of the starting receivers? Just one of many questions this season we won't have answered.
Mike Davis had five catches for 70 yards, but started his night with a fumble. He has to learn to run through some tackles and not try to dance around everyone. Maybe he needs to get some carries at running back during practice to learn what it feels like to run through tacklers in traffic. Malcolm Williams should have had a touchdown, but Gilbert overthrew him deep down the middle.
The D-Line Shuffle
The D-line didn't show up against Kansas State's running game, and they didn't show up against Oklahoma State's pass game. This was the worst performance of the year for this group, which seems to be the last unit to fall this season.
The line is built for the pass rush, and it was almost non-existent Saturday. There were a lot of guys looking not too interested in tacking. The defense allowed 123 yards rushing and 409 yards through the air, and it all starts up front. Jackson Jeffcoat is sorely missed, but you almost have to wonder if it's better that he's not on the field during this freefall. Maybe the contagious apathetic attitude isn't affecting him as much. We can only hope.
We will see the mettle of this group, and the entire team (including the coaches), against Florida Atlantic. We'll see if they are interested in saving face and pulling it together for a possible winning season, or if they are content to just call it a season.