Postgame thoughts based on the live viewing of the game.
The outcome was: Satisfactory. Texas' 34-7 win over Wyoming was far from dominant, the team far from great. Still, as we move into the defining four-game stretch of the 2010 season, a solid win from this group in its home opener will do just fine. I'm not worried about style points, but how well we're prepared for what's ahead.
The surprise of the game was: Joel Klatt. I had no idea he was calling the game until I started getting peppered with crisp commentary and decided I needed to look up who was feeding me quality information instead of Dave Lapham silliness. Of all people, it was Klatt, and while he threw in his fair share of cliched coommentary, there was abundant quality analysis and interesting insights into the game and how it's played. A very pleasant surprise.
Offensive Review: Our approach through the first 25 minutes of the game was disappointing, and I'll suggest that the single best play for our offense during that stretch was the touchdown scored by Wyoming. For the first time all game -- all season, really -- the Texas offense played with a sense of urgency. Same as in the national title game last year, Gilbert and the offense finally began to produce when they finally were forced to do so, in contrast to when the offense seemed to be directed to manage the game.
The lessons here are obvious, and while I'm not one to suggest Mack Brown and Greg Davis are ones to miss it, we have a huge body of evidence that suggests they are poor front-runners. When we're underdogs, or when there's a sense of urgency to let things rip, Texas football under Brown and Davis has proven to be second to none. Their struggles have been tied almost entirely to when they're out in front, or aren't feeling a sense of urgency to make things happen.
As far as this group of Longhorns is concerned, it seems pretty clear that the question is whether Texas will proactively -- urgently -- seek to be dynamic offensively (in which case it's easy to contemplate another conference championship), or whether the catalyst will have to come by way of a loss or two this year in which we don't put our best foot forward. To the extent you buy into that line of thinking, falling behind 7-6 to Wyoming was a blessing. Had Texas' defense continued to pitch a shutout, it certainly looked like Texas was content to inch its way forward offensively, which would have been fine insofar as it doesn't really matter whether we would have won 17-3, but would have represented a missed opportunity to begin meaningfully moving this offense forward.
As it happened, Texas briefly fell behind, and we were forced to start pedaling without the training wheels. It wasn't as though that instantly unleashed a monstrous, unstoppable beast, but it got us beginning to run genuinely purposeful offense. And it visibly helped our personnel, who had been tight as a drum since the opening kick off of Rice. It's been clear they're aware of the pressure to evolve this year, and it's been clear to me that they opened the year thinking about doing just that. I respect the mental focus, and appreciate the maturity and focus reflected in their understanding the task at hand, but at some point soon they also need to realize that the most meaningful value of exceptional preparation is in its effect on maximizing output when you're out there shooting for the moon.
The Texas offense opened the season admirably focused, but unhelpfully deliberate. It's fine insofar as it goes, but things get real starting with the trip to Lubbock, and it's a damn good thing circumstances forced us to begin opening up against Wyoming. Trying to do so on the road in Lubbock would not have been fun...
QUARTERBACK: Gilbert finished 22-35 for 222 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, a perfectly good stat line that should have been better. In the first 25 minutes of the game he was only modestly improved over his performance against Rice, but when Texas briefly fell behind, he seemed to take a step forward. His second half line wasn't anything special, but we started to get glimpses of what an explosive Texas offense under Gilbert might look like. Not that there should have been any concerns about his arm to begin with, but anyone wondering after Rice had their questions answered tonight.
Overall, I thought this was a very encouraging night for Gilbert. In the early going, he was clearly better in his body balance as a passer, and when we started opening things up he started to show his top-end upside. (See, for example, the picture-perfect rocket to Goodwin which was dropped, and the should-have-been touchdown toss to White that was ruled incomplete.) That upside apparent, it's easy to forget he's a first-year starter, but there was ample evidence of that, too, particularly in the way he often seems to decide before the snap which receiver he anticipates he'll be throwing to.
RUNNING BACKS: After all the insistence from our coaches in the preseason regarding Cody Johnson as The Guy, I must admit to being amused that we're more or less right back where we started -- with three different backs who can and will contribute. That said, a pessimistic take limited to the foregoing strikes me as oversimplified. Yes, we're still tailbacked by Cerberus, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and helps properly focus our attention on the real issues relating to the running game.
Last season, it was hard for Texas fans not to focus attention on the personnel, as in, "If only we'd do more with ____, the running game would come alive," where ____ was Fozzy, or Tre', or Cody, or more Colt, or whatever. If not sooner, by the conclusion of the Big 12 Championship Game, most realized that the tailback personnel debates were obfuscating discussion of the real problems, which were, primarily, ones of scheme/approach (with some issues related to subpar O-Linemen mixed in).
After tonight I suspect the temptation will again be strong to miss the forest for the trees. First, in again focusing too much on crowning one tailback or another as the savior, but also, among some, in concluding from the fact that we still have three tailbacks with something to offer that the running game is as broken as ever.
That's just not true. It's still the case that there are issues related to blocking, approach, and scheme, and it's still the case that no one of the trio of tailbacks offers a silver bullet, but... what what saw tonight is not the same old, same old. Obviously, I have to start with my boy Fozzy, who for the first time finished his runs, and to great results, amassing 62 yards on 7 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown that was the highlight of both the first half and his career. Likewise, I actually saw from Cody Johnson tonight that which had been the source of his rave fall reviews -- nimble feet, good balance, and improved quickness.
And though it's easy to see this as a negative, there was value in seeing Tre' Newton struggle when there was nowhere to run. You get what you block for, as Newton proved tonight, and all three have proven at various times in their careers. That's a teaching point, or at least should be, and to the extent that it is, that we saw Fozzy and CoJo make the most of good opportunities is simply a good sign that they're capable of making the most out of a good approach, as opposed to our being reliant on the back best able to make the most out of a bad approach (Newton).
Receivers: My takeaway from this game is that the focus in the passing game should be on Greg Davis and Garrett Gilbert. I don't see a personnel problem. I do see a receiving corps that has lots of room to improve, but I like the options we've got.
I suppose we have to start with Mike Davis, who was sensational in the slot, benefiting from a pop to the head that sidelined Marquise Goodwin for a while, forcing us to turn to Davis, to great results. He's not as big as advertised, but he's every bit as good, showing off all the skills a receiver in our offense needs to have.
What's neat about it is that we've had a number of guys flash ready potential, which demands performance from the rest. Whether we get it sorted out sooner or later is an interesting, perhaps decisive question, but I'm more than comfortable with Davis, Williams, Chiles, Goodwin, Kirkendoll, and White/Hales as our top six. May the best men win, or better yet, may all find ways to contribute value. That's how we roll on defense, and if we approximate the same with this group on offense, we'll be fine.
As for the tight ends, it was nice to see Matthews finally catch a pass, but I'm eager to re-watch the tape to see what we're doing with him. It's odd, to say the least, that he has one reception on the year. Some of it's assuredly on Gilbert, but I'm eager to look more closely at how we're using him on a down-to-down basis, too.
Offensive Line: I'll refrain from thoughts on individual performances until I get a chance to watch the game on tape.
Conclusion: Same as after last week,'s game my feelings about this team remain neatly aligned with my pre-season expectations. As far as the offense is concerned, there's a lot to like heading forward, but plenty of reason to worry about the developmental timeline. Though I've understood our approach in the first two games, I haven't been a huge fan, and I'm fascinated by the next two match ups, in anticipation of the following two. With the offense tonight we started to see glimpses of the future, but too many reasons to worry that we're not going to get there soon. Or soon enough, at least.
We'll see, though. At the very least, we saw the staff begin to remove Garret Gilbert's and this offense's training wheels, and if the approach was justifiable to bring him along slowly and build his confidence, the time to start risking mistakes to push him forward is now.
On that note, I'm wiped out and will save thoughts on the defense for tomorrow. After that, I'll begin re-watching the game on tape and will go more in depth on both units.