We'll get to the defense and what's ahead in the next post, but I want to follow up Part 1 of the offensive review with a few additional observations.
Harsin's play calling, continued. A few folks have griped that Texas abandoned the run too quickly, and though I can certainly understand how it may have seemed that way, it's just not accurate. If you want to see what abandoning the run looks like, go back and watch some of last year's games -- for example the 45 and 59 pass attempts against UCLA and Kansas State, respectively. This afternoon, even as our deficit grew Harsin continued to triy to get his offense into some kind of rhythm with the running game, but negative plays repeatedly put us in a position where we pretty much had to pass. Not counting UT's last drive before the first half (all passes because there was so little time left), the offense's rush/pass distribution through three quarters was 34 rush plays against 28 pass plays.
The thing is, Harsin's offensive approach is all about the rushing game, and all the things he can do to a defense when his offense is rushing the ball successfully. If you rewatch the game, or even spend a few minutes going over the play-by-play in the box score, you'll see that Harsin didn't abandon the run. What happened is that the run game couldn't sustain drives all on its own, and every time we passed, horrible things happened.
Sticking with that theme, others have griped that Harsin should have hit OU with more quick passes. I think that's probably right, to some degree, but as an indictment of Harsin's game plan today, it's pretty minor. First, that's easy to say after seeing how the rest of Texas' pass plays turned out; I don't know how much Harsin is to be blamed for thinking his passing offense was capable of more. And second, the fact of the matter is that we needed to do something substantial against OU's defense to prevent them from crowding the box and bringing heavy pressure with impunity. A few successful dink and dunks wasn't going to cut it.
The point is that while I'm certain that Harsin will have a longer list of things he's unhappy with about his performance today than any of us do, I'm not sure there's much more to this beyond addressing the foundational issues. Watching Texas today was like watching Ben Roethlisberger -- who's as great at making lemonades from lemons as any QB in the NFL -- and the Steelers offense the past couple Sundays: the line play allowed for so much defensive disruption that there's not much point in focusing on what the offense couldn't do in the face of it. Texas got whipped up front today so badly that there's no reason to read too much into anything that followed from that problem.
Fozzy Whittaker, hero. After four years insisting that Fozzy Whittaker was a great player waiting to happen, no one's been happier than me to see him start the season as he has, and it's a real shame that probably his finest effort to date came in such a lopsided loss. Still, give the senior credit for being Texas' lone playmaker today. He had 45 hard-earned yards on the ground, another 15 on a screen pass, and of course the brilliant 100-yard touchdown on a kickoff return. I'm proud as hell of the kid, and hope we do even more to put the ball in his hands going forward. He loosens up the defense and forces them to defend the width of the field.
Looking ahead: Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State is the most dangerous team left on Texas' schedule, but it isn't because of the Cowboys' defense. Texas should be able to execute its intended offense this week, but the pace at which the OSU offense scores may have something to say about how quickly we'll have to ask our young quarterbacks to get back on the horse and be playmakers.
That's not a bad thing, and the dicier question is what Texas should do along the offensive line. After today, I'm not sure that Tray Allen is worth starting; not only is he struggling, but he's a senior, which is to say: not a part of the next offensive line to face OU. Left guard David Snow is also a senior, but he's had a stronger year to this point, and probably helps this team win now more than younger replacements would. Whatever Texas starts with, it seems prudent to insist that the upperclassmen either play well or step aside, because the moment this team doesn't have a chance to win the conference title, it's time to start building for the 2012 season.
As for the quarterbacks, everything Bryan Harsin wants to do is predicated on the ability to run the ball and punish over-aggressive defenses with big plays down the field, so assuming they don't find themselves in any more impossible situations like today, the two most important things by which Ash and McCoy should be judged are: (1) their improvement and understanding in the decision-making department, and (2) their ability to keep defenses honest and make plays down the field. Nobody's offense will work if a defense can load up the box and bring pressure like the Sooners could today.