The 66-3 loss to UCLA in 1997 might have been the worst loss ever at DKR Memorial Stadium, but Saturday's 34-12 debacle is one of the most embarrassing in the Mack Brown era. It was a symphony of drops, missed opportunities and utterly ridiculous play calling.
"We gave ourselves absolutely no chance to win."
That's how Mack Brown summed it up in the postgame press conference. And that's as dead-on as it gets. If you caught his radio postgame interview or any video of the press conference, it was easy to tell he was pissed. There was a crystal-clear element if embarrassment and disgust.
We could not get out of our own way, and credit UCLA for capitalizing and sticking to their game plan. Honestly, there wasn't much difference between this game and the Texas Tech game. Both were sloppy, and both lacked direction, identity and leadership on offense. It was ugly, for sure. If this is a "rebuilding year," UCLA brought sledgehammers and a wrecking ball. Now we must pick up the debris. There's still time to turn it around, and we could find out the fate of this season with Oklahoma and Nebraska looming. Losses would mean the first three-game losing streak in the Mack Brown era. Wins would mean staying in control of a possible Big 12 title and BSC appearance.
Bad things are going to happen this year. We were all prepared for that. But we want to see progress throughout the season. That's the purpose of this column-to examine the progression or regression of the four key issues we identified at the beginning of the season.
After the jump, let's get into this week...
Garrett Gilbert's Progress
Gilbert started out looking really good, and amid the offensive chaos that engulfed this game (of which included two Gilbert turnovers), I thought he played rather well for a guy with handcuffs secured tightly by Greg Davis. He seemed to have a better base with his feet, and he looked more comfortable in the shotgun. But throwing 45 passes in the fourth game certainly was not in the grand plan. A sophomore with no run support tossing it that many times is going to make mistakes. The play-action pass that was supposed to be a big weapon to open the down-field passing is also disintegrating. That could further hinder Gilbert's progress.
This could be a turning point for this season and for Gilbert's development. He faces the two toughest opponents of his young career coming up against the land thieves this Saturday and the huskers of corn two weeks later. This could either start to spiral out of control or begin to forge a future leader and champion.
All things considered, I think Gilbert had a slight step back in progress, but it was such a weird setting to judge. The coaches still hold him back not letting him throw down field more, and he certainly didn't get much help from the running game, the offensive line or the receivers.
Retooling the Running Game
Downhill running. Under center. H-back.
Those were terms we heard just four weeks ago that were supposed to describe this so-called retooled running game. Things have gone south quickly. Sure, Cody Johnson and Tre' Newton are banged up, but nothing good is going to happen with the running game if the offensive line keeps crumbling and can't get push. It just keeps getting worse.
D.J. Monre averaged more than 8 yards per carry, which on paper looks only slightly positive. However, a look at the big picture shows even more uncertainty with the ground game. The worst part is, there are no signs of this thing getting better. There have been a few explosive plays, but there is no consistency or confidence in the ability to move the ball and control possession on the ground.
BROC (Big Receiver on Campus)
Before the season one of the key issues we identified for this season was finding a leading receiver. The mission is still ongoing. Marques Goodwin looks out of sorts at times, but so does the entire offense. John Chiles had a crucial mistake by running a route short of the first down line that essentially put the last nail in the coffin. Malcolm Williams hit 1,000 yards for his career.
Gilbert is clearly developing a connection with freshman Mike Davis. That's a good thing. But is it a sign of a "wasted" season that a true freshman receiver is becoming the top target for a sophomore quarterback? Or does it really matter at this point? I'm not saying that Davis can't develop into a No. 1 receiver without 2010 being a season with training wheels. But this team can't truly get back on the national title track if winning games isn't the first and absolute priority. I'm just not convinced that's the focus right now.
Develop, learn, make mistakes, learn, make more mistakes and learn some more. Progress is the key. If the goal this year is to develop the young players, create an identity and set things up for a serious national title run in 2011 and/or 2012, there must be more development from this group, and that starts with the senior leadership. After four games, no one has stepped up to be the BROC.
Oh, and one more thing: No more passes to Barrett Mathews.
The D-Line Shuffle
There's nothing more demoralizing for a defense than to watch the offense continue to give the ball right back to the other team. And this defense had clearly had enough by the fourth quarter. They continued to play with a short field behind them, which was a big difference between Saturday's game and the Texas Tech game.
This defensive line is built for penetrating pass rush, which is why we often see three ends on the line. They made enough impact early, with a Sam Acho forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Jackson Jeffcoat continues to develop. He got a sack on a stunt, but also misread a zone read when the quarterback kept the ball. Jeffcoat didn't bite on the fake handoff but needed to be wider to get the quarterback. He got caught in no-man's land.
UCLA got to play their game in the second half, and there was a noticeable lack of urgency on the part of the Texas D. Tackles were missed as players tried to strip the ball. The defensive line showed some weaknesses but still made plays. This is still an incredibly talented group. I suspect a great game against OU.