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Now that the Horns have finally played a "real" opponent, though Ole Miss doesn't look to be the "horrible" team the mindless media keeps selling, I thought it was worth a look at some things about the present and future Longhorns from the Oklahoma State game. We all learned a lot about the Horns (and Cowboys), both good and bad
1. A program of fear
Mack Brown has publicly stated many times that he thinks of games being lost rather than won. This attitude produced the 0-5 record deficit versus the Land Thieves in 2000-2004. In the game last night, it produced ridiculous attempts at squib and pooch kickoffs that put an already stressed defense at a significant disadvantage. After all these years, you'd think Mack would have learned that he needs to trust his players to make plays. Even if they don't, such as, from Oklahoma State's perspective, when Quinn Sharp of Oklahoma State left a kickoff short and DJ Monroe housed it from 100 yards, yes bad things can happen, but the fearful mindset of "it scares you to death," can infect every play and player. Overcoming this mindset of fear has depended on leadership from the players in the past, and you can see that, after two years, the team is feeding off the mindset of players like Vaccaro, Ash, and Mason Walters
2. A program of depth
At a few stretches during the game, Texas was without five starters on defense - Brandon Moore, Desmond Jackson, Jordan Hicks, Carrington Byndom, and Adrian Philipps. That players like Dalton Santos, Mykkele Thompson, and Kendall Thompson stepped up to make some big plays in holding Oklahoma State to field goals rather than touchdowns is a testament to the depth the current coaching staff is creating.
3. Be happy for the defense
The Big 12, without a doubt, is a league of red zone defense this year. The spread offenses and quarterback skills are so high in the league that defenses can't cover all the space between the 20's. Defensive victories this year will undoubtedly be yielding field goals rather than touchdowns.
4. Oklahoma State is the real deal, people
Let's accept that the Horns have good,if not spectacular, defensive tackles, and great, if not legendary, defensive ends. With OL coach Joe Wickline, the Cowboys line blocks with as good a technique, foot placement, attitude and coordination on combo blocks as any line in the country - right up there with Wisconsin and Alabama. With the stability of a head coach (Gundy) with a plan, the ability to recruit top assistants, and the ability to develop three star recruits into top skill position players, OSU is here to stay near the top of the Big 12 every year. With the system they have in place now, graduation means relatively little to the Cowboys in the overall scheme of things. Even with a freshman QB, J.W. Walsh, the Cowboys have a legitimate chance to win out in the Big 12. The OSU game in Austin next year looms as a matchup of pre-season top 10 teams.
5. Joseph Randle is the real deal, people
While he may not look like a NFL combine special, Randle has the magic feet and toughness combination of a next-level player. The move he put on Vaccaro on his 69 yard touchdown run was as ridiculous as Rob Ryan in a tutu. While Texas played a run-positioned 4-2-5, with Vaccaro as the hybrid, Randle made the most of his excellent holes. The trucking he gave sophomore Josh Turner on OSU's last field goal drive beats just about anything our own Joe B has dished out.
6. Our youth at linebacker is a virus
The inexperience and inability to read plays of Edmond and Cobbs, especially with Jordan Hicks out, is infecting the entire defense. Diaz is playing a base cover one defense - one safety back deep, with the corners playing soft to protect the deep sideline. This allows Vaccaro to come up and be the "Eraser" when the LB's take the wrong gap or get tied up by OL (because they are unsure which gap to attack). This has made the Horns vulnerable to slants and seems to have the secondary in a soft mindset in tackling and attacking routes. The whole defense seems to mostly succeed in taking up space and then being fast enough to chase down plays once they figure out what's going on.
7. Muscle memory and the Champions of Thud
Practice serves two functions: first to know what to do, and then to repeat key actions until they become second nature. The Longhorns are officially the world champions of "thud," the process by which defenders in practice pretend to tackle players by bumping them without actually taking them down to the ground. Adrian Phillips has forgotten that he has arms. It's too much to expect a little finger-pointing and film sessions and a "focus on tackling in Week 8 to overcome seven weeks of bad muscle memory. See comment 1. about coaching from a place of fear.
8. Texas can pass the ball
Let's face it the elephant in the room since the MNC game against Alabama is, can Texas pass the ball when they NEED to, not just when the other team's safeties are playing piggyback with the linebackers. That elephant has found his peanuts and left the building. While Ash has transformed himself, in two short weeks, into a reluctant media darling, the real path to progress has been paved by the offensive line, and the tackles in particular, in dealing with twists, stunts, and pressure from the edge. If Stacy Searels sticks around much longer (and why wouldn't he) Texas could be right up there with the teams that just re-load, rather than re-build an offensive line each year.
9. Power running offense wins, even when it doesn't
The media is waving the flag over the fact that Texas only gained 3.9 yards per rush. The fact that Texas kept pounding the ball and running inside zone and power O like a metronome had two results. Oklahoma State kept 8 players in the box nearly the whole night, and Ash could find open safety valve receivers or single coverage down the field whenever he wanted. The Cowboys knew they didn't have the horses to stop the run without 8 in the box, and knew that if they didn't, they'd never see the ball on offense or have much of a chance for a turnover. They gambled that their fine corners could make enough plays on the Texas receivers to generate a couple of picks. Think of it as baiting by an entire defense. Jaxon Shipley's rotes and Mike Davis' simultaneous catch of Justin Gilbert's head and the ball put that strategy back in the coffin with a stake through its heart.
10. If I only had a brai...mmm... a tight end
We are two good tight ends from being a ridiculously elite offense (we might already be there anyway). Texas used a lot of double tight end sets last night, and they had success in getting Jaxon Shipley isolated on less experienced corners for two TD's. However, the two tight ends accomplished relatively little in the run game. Just like last year, the problem is for the TE's to seal off the backside pursuit. I counted at least five times that Greg Daniels would finish a play looking like a wildebeest calf searching for its mother (the DE) at the end of the play. If we could only get that seal consistently on inside zone or pin and pull plays, we could run even on 8 in the box, and "it's ovah!"
11. Ash needs to run... at least a few times
The way teams are playing the jet sweeps begs for running a zone read or counter option with Ash off the jet sweep fake. Sooner or later - like against OU, which is likely to be incredibly aggressive off the edge, the Horns will need to use Ash as a runner as a constraint on the jet sweep. Ash is good enough he could score from long range.
12. The dawn of a new era - the screen pass
In more than 40 years of watching the Longhorns, I haven't seen a legitimate screen pass to a running back since the time of the OJ Simpson trial. Texas has run enough of these that a double screen, with a fake to Bergeron and then an opposite field swing to Daje Johnson will score on someone. This might be one we want to save for Kansas State, given their reliance on attacking and removing tendencies.
What a great game that was to watch, with few penalties and mostly good officiating. But the real take away message for the Horns is "We're b-a-a-a-ck!"