There were some big steps forward and a few steps back against Texas Tech. It was a sloppy game, but a win nonetheless.
The night belonged to the Texas defense. We found out more about the four key issues that are defining this team. One is a bigger of a concern as ever. Another is way ahead of schedule and was completely dominating against the Red Raiders.
Let's get into this week...
Garrett Gilbert's Progress
By the end of the season most people won't remember that two of Gilbert's three interceptions were not his fault. He didn't show much progress from last week, but he did seem more decisive. The crowd and the bass boat paint job on the Tech helmets didn't seem to distract him too much, although he had some visible signs of frustration.
The tipped passes we saw in the National Championship Game resurfaced Saturday night. One was just a good play by the Tech defensive lineman, but this issue seems to stem from two places: Gilbert's stance getting too wide, thereby making him dip before he throws; and locking onto a receiver for too long and telegraphing his pass.
His play-action fakes still need some work, but he does do a great job of whipping around and getting his eyes downfield. Speaking of the play-action pass, last I checked, it's supposed to be set up by the run. Seemed to be the other way around Saturday. Why fake the run when there's no threat of the run?
In a close, sloppy game, the young QB kept his head and hit some key passes. But yet again he was unable to sustain a solid rhythm. He gets another warm-up against a struggling UCLA team next week before the biggest tests of the season come against The Land Thieves and those huskers of corn.
Retooling the Running Game
GhostofBigRoy has a detailed, inside-the-numbers look at the game, and in it he notes the 2.2 yards per carry that just leaves a sick feeling in your stomach. It wasn't that long ago when the Tech game rolled around on the schedule and you could easily pin a 200-plus-yard rushing performance. This thing is a looooong way from being threatening to opposing defenses.
At this point, it's safe to say that this running game is worse than last year's. Aside from a lot of single-back sets from under center, there's no measurable improvement. After three games last season, Texas had 525 total rushing yards. This year: 458. The average yards per rush this year is at 4.1 compared to 4.2 last year.
The problem starts with the offensive line, who keeps crumbling instead of getting good push. The holes and running lanes just aren't forming enough. And the defensive lines aren't going to get much easier.
To be fair, it's going to take a lot more than three games for this thing to gain momentum. But what we're trying to do here is examine progress. From what we've seen in the first three weeks, this area of concern gets a solid C. The few bright spots have been Cody Johnson's solid runs early in the Rice game and Fozzy Whittaker's long, strong touchdown run against Wyoming. Tre' Newton has looked quick at times, but his inability to stay on his feet after contact is a momentum killer.
Is it Traylon Shead time yet?
BROC (Big Receiver on Campus)
For the third week in a row, we had a new leader in receiving yards. This week it was senior James Kirkendoll with six catches for 122 yards. He had some terrific grabs but has also disappeared at times this season.
John Chiles was out and freshman Mike Davis got the start. Davis had 45 yards and one touchdown. Marques Goodwin continued to struggle and has been dealing with nagging injuries. Malcolm Williams is always good for a big-time drop, and he certainly had one Saturday that ended up being intercepted. He has the talent to be The Guy, but his inconsistency keeps him being just a guy.
Finding a go-to receiver has proven as elusive as finding a starting running back. But this issue isn't as pressing as the running game. This team may not need a No. 1 receiver to grow in experience and confidence. But young quarterbacks progress better when they have the confidence in a reliable target.
The D-Line Shuffle
Wow, this group was phenomenal! Eddie Jones was a beast. It's so cool to see this guy playing so well in his senior season. He's been through numerous injuries and surgeries through his career, and has never really played at full strength until now. He came in as a five-star recruit and is living up to it so far this year. Jones had two sacks and five tackles against the Red Raiders.
Jackson Jeffcoat can pretty much be considered a starter. He's getting more and more playing time. He had two tackles and a big fumble recovery from Tech's errant shotgun snap to start the game.
The D-line got all four sacks in the game and was huge in allowing Tech just one touchdown and 144 yards of offense. Big, BIG progress for what was one of the top concerns at the beginning of the season. The ability of the younger players (mainly the ends) to step up and show their diversity has eased the concerns over the lack of depth for the D-line.