Identifying the Root Problem: What Muschamp Critics are Missing

When a team collapses as bad as the Texas Longhorns have this season, it is pretty easy to find things to criticize on all sides of the ball.  This level of fail is simply not possible without a collective effort.  That said, that is not the same as believing that all sides are equally responsible or that one side cannot be identified as the root problem.  For the Horns, I think the root cause is pretty easy to see, and that is our woeful and pathetic offense.  Nonetheless, I am continually surprised by how many Muschamp-haters and Greg Davis-defenders I run into.  They say stuff like, "Muschamp can't complain because his defense sucks," "We are now seeing that Muschamp is overrated," "You guys drank too much of Muschamp's Kool-Aid," and the sarcastic, "All hail Will Muschamp!" when the defense gives up a score when the other team starts at our 40.  I'm sorry, but I do not see the logic behind this.  I am watching the same games as everyone else, from start to finish, and it is clear as day to me what the root cause for this season's destruction.  I will argue this:  Muschamp has every right to complain about the offense, because Muschamp has actually done a reasonably good, though not perfect, job this season given the circumstances. 

Let me preface what I say with this:  I really believed I made my peace with Greg Davis a few years ago:  I knew the things he was good at, and I knew the things he wasn't good at, and that was enough since I knew Mack was unlikely to ever fire him.  He still frustrated me often, but I was more inclined to give him some credit for the successes of Vince Young and Colt McCoy, against those who scoffed saying that a monkey could have been our OC in 2005 and Vince Young still would have done his thing.  I am not, or at least was not, a Greg Davis hater.  However, this season shook those beliefs to the core as the level of our offense's worthlessness has reached terrifying heights (lows?).  I think now those heavy Greg Davis critics might have been right all along; Greg Davis doesn't need special playmakers to simply make a good offense.  He needs those guys to make any offense. 

I'm going to primarily use statistics in this post, although I'm not a big fan of relying too much on stats.  However, stats can be very helpful in clarifying things we see on the field, correcting some misconceptions based on an often emotional viewing, and highlighting things we might have overlooked.  To me, the stats have confirmed the general observation of Texas fans:  Our defense isn't perfect, but as a friend of mine astutely texted to me, it is merely the fever stemming from the infection that is our awful offense.

Scoring Defense and Total Defense

Scipio Tex at Barking Carnival noted the wild statistical discrepancy between the Horns' total defense and scoring defense.  I recommend you read the post, but if you don't want to take the time to I will simply summarize the basic point:  Virtually all teams in the Top 10 of total defense, and the Texas Longhorns are one of them, are similarly highly ranked in scoring defense.  Of the teams from the major conferences, Florida has the largest discrepancy besides the Longhorns, ranking #7 in total defense and #25 in scoring defense.  That is nothing compared to Texas:  The Horns rank #5 in total defense but are now ranked #52 in scoring defense, a whopping difference.

This kind of statistical outlier begs for an explanation, and I think Scipio Text does a great job explaining it in his post.  Essentially, scoring defense isn't just a product of your defense (just as scoring offense isn't just the product of the offense).  It is a total team metric, and the legendary failures of our offense and special teams this season have contributed to the Longhorns' low ranking.  In contrast, while the Missouri Tigers have given up a lot of yards, they haven't shot themselves in the foot in other phases of the game and thus haven't given up a ton of points this season.

Out of curiosity, I went back and figured out the average starting yard line for every opponent scoring drive.  This is not a perfect method, because this discounts drives where the defense gave up a lot of yards but didn't concede a score and also discounts drives where the other team started with good field position but still didn't score, but I think it gives us a fair idea of what the defense has been up against this season.  For further clarification: I discounted "drives" that featured kneeling a half away, and when the defense got a stop and special teams extended the drive with either a penalty or a muffed punt, I counted the resulting starting yard line as a new drive.  If the defense, however, extended a drive due to their own penalty on third down (think OU game), I still counted that as one drive, because that is still the defense's fault.  At any rate, here's what I found (rounded).

Average starting yard line for opponent TD drive:  Opponent 49
Average starting yard line for opponent FG drive:  Opponent 41

This is not to say the defense hasn't given up any long drives, because they have, but that is a pretty depressing statistic.  Opponents have only needed to travel half the length of the field to get a touchdown, on average, and they have needed less than that to get themselves into field goal range.  This does not totally absolve our defense, as we, of course, would hope that they would give up far less touchdowns and force more field goals in such circumstances.  Still, it is difficult to keep the opponent off the scoreboard when they get such advantageous field position.

I also charted our offense's scoring drives:

Average starting yard line for Texas TD drive:  Texas 39
Average starting yard line for Texas FG drive:  Texas 47

The starting yard line for our average touchdown drive isn't too telling, although that is still good field position, akin to the opponent kicking the ball out of bounds on a kickoff.    The more telling stat here is our average starting position on our FG drives, and we've kicked A LOT of field goals (ranked #2 in the country; all hail Justin Tucker!).  We aren't traveling very far at all, and sometimes we've started in field goal range and gone absolutely nowhere.  Basically, we often settle for three when we should get six, and sometimes we even get zero, which this particular exercise does not cover.

The thrashing the Wildcats gave us on Saturday highlighted this problem.  Every KSU touchdown drive traveled 38 yards, 54 yards, 10 yards, 14 yards, and 28 yards respectively, and their field goal drive traveled a grand total of -1 yards.  They only gained 270 total yards, all of their output coming mostly from two players, and still put up 39 points, as our offense was shut out the entire game until a couple of pity touchdowns at the end.  Even if our defense held on every one of those drives and forced field goals, does anyone really think our offense would have put up the points necessary to win this game? 

Opponent Quality

But wait, it gets worse.  The bad part about simply looking at raw totals for your team is that it fails to take into account the quality of opposition.  When we look at that, it makes our offense look even more depressing.

Not all of the offenses we've faced are good ones, but we have seen some quality units.  In terms of total offense, we've faced Baylor (#9), Oklahoma (#15), Nebraska (#20), and Texas Tech (#21).  Counting rushing offense, which most of the teams tend to be good at, we've faced Nebraska (#6), Kansas State (#22), UCLA (#26), and Baylor (#29).  And we still have to face Okie State. (from cfbstats.com)

Our offense?  They've faced one good defense all year, and that was Nebraska's, ranked #23 in total defense.  Next best one?  Oklahoma, coming in at #68.  The rest of our schedule is ranked in the 100s or close to the 100s.  Good heavens.  Despite this, we are ranked #65 in the nation in total offense.

That's not all, as it still gets worse.  Football Outsiders keeps track of opponent-adjusted success rates and points-per-play, measurements of efficiency and explosiveness, respectively.  Again, these are adjusted for the quality of the opponent.  The Texas defense ranks #7 in the nation in S&P.  The Texas offense?  Ranked #102, behind such "little brother" Texas teams like UTEP and North Texas.  In other words, the Longhorn offense has done far worse than what would be expected against some of the weakest defenses in college football.   

Again, the K-State game was a prime example of this.  This Kansas State team has one of the worst run defenses in all of college football, a defense that yielded open pastures for Nebraska to run through.  Despite some promising runs from Whittaker and Gilbert, Greg Davis abandoned the run game early, contributing to the absurdity of throwing 60 times against a horrible run defense.  The result?  Zero points through three quarters, which would have also been true of the UCLA game had our offense not been given field goal position in the first half.

Conclusion

Our defense is flawed, and we knew some of the flaws going in.  We knew we lacked a reliable 2nd defensive tackle and that we would miss Earl Thomas at safety.  However, given these weaknesses, the defense has been by far our best unit on the field.  The problem is that opposing offenses can attack these weaknesses with impunity because they don't have to fear a single thing from our offense.  If you're gameplanning for Texas, you should be okay with run-run-run-punting, because eventually, you should be assured that a special teams or offensive error will give you the field position you want to score and that our defense will eventually cede a big play or two.  Yes, the defense has looked like it's starting to quit, but I have a hard time blaming them when they are held to a widely different standard than the rest of our team.

As far as our offense is concerned, it may very well be the worst one in all of college football.  I'm not exaggerating one bit.  If it's not the worst, it's certainly the worst one with the least excuses.  None of those teams ranked below us in either total offense or in the S&P ratings have the talent we do or the inherent program advantages of geography or location.  If Fozzy Whittaker was playing for Nebraska or Baylor, he'd look like a world-beater.  Here, he suffers from schematic failures and even when he runs well he is largely ignored.  If D.J. Monroe was playing for Chip Kelly or Urban Meyer, he'd get the ball in places where he could showcase his speed and not be sidelined with ridiculous excuses of how he can't pass block.  If Malcolm Williams was playing for Chris Peterson, he'd have NFL scouts drooling over him.  I could go on and on.  As bad as Gilbert has played, I don't heap too much blame on him because he has been largely set up to fail in this nonsensical system Greg Davis has put together.  If we coupled our defense with, say, Missouri's offense, that Longhorn-Tiger team is undefeated.  If we coupled our offense with the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, we would still drag them down to the depths of suckiness.

I am not saying Muschamp is perfect and doesn't deserve criticism.  I know some people accuse others at BON of putting Muschamp on a pedestal, but that is not the case at all.  I am simply at a loss how someone could even hint that there is anywhere close to equal blame to go around here.  The main culprit for our season's struggles is our offense, and our offensive coaches have turned in one of the worst coaching jobs I've ever seen.  You can debate how much blame should be split between Greg Davis and Mack Brown, but it is clear that GD has turned a promising team in an overall weak year in college football into one of the bottom teams of the Big 12.  Our offense didn't need to be that good for us to compete for a conference title this year; it just had to be average.  It's not average or even bad, it's actively harmful to the entire team, and it has no shown signs of improvement.  So yes, Will Muschamp has every right to be angry and frustrated.  I don't think anything I've written is enlightening to the majority of Texas fans, but if you think otherwise, the forum is yours.  I try to be an open-minded guy, so if I've misinterpreted these numbers or missed something, please explain how and why.  The way I see it, while I am not in favor of Mack leaving, I think most of our offensive coaches need to lose their jobs and we need to pray that Muschamp doesn't leave this sinking ship for Georgia.

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