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Following a second-straight blowout loss to OU, how will this banged up Longhorns team regroup?
In Part 1 we discussed how and why Bob Stoops has bullied Mack Brown's Longhorns, and the historically awful performances by this UT defense.
David Ash is a warrior
Like the team as a whole, Texas' sophomore quarterback had a tough, miserable afternoon on Saturday. But before we talk about the various failures that undermined the offense from the outset, I want to acknowledge Ash's toughness and fight in a helpless battle.
Under duress at every turn, Ash scrambled, dodged, hustled -- continually tried his best -- to make something happen, even and especially when things got worse and worse. Ash proved himself one of those warriors who just fights harder when he's wounded, surrounded, and already defeated. Whatever other problems Texas has, leadership and toughness at the quarterback position isn't one of them.
In terms of raw talent, Ash isn't among the high-elite, but while you'll hear gloating Sooners fans (and others) talk about him not being any good, you should ignore them. First of all, every quarterback under that much pressure is going to have an exceptionally tough go of things, and Ash fared about as well yesterday as Sam Bradford did under similar circumstances in '09. Moreover, every quarterback's effectiveness is the product of a combination of skills and traits, of which raw talent is just one. And pretty much across the board -- including leadership, game ability, intelligence, the capacity to develop, the work ethic to develop, etc. -- Ash has earned very high marks, more than sufficient for a player of his talent level. He's still got developing to do, but our problem yesterday was not David Ash; to the contrary, no one fought harder to try to make something good happen in spite of it all.
The Real Problems
Incredibly enough, the Texas offense managed to be as bad as its counterparts on defense. Bryan Harsin's unit managed just 60 plays and 289 yards and as terrible as those numbers are, it was actually worse than that, as 13 plays and 149 yards of that came in the final two drives of the game against 2nd- and 3rd-string Sooners. Prior to those final two drives, Texas managed just 47 plays and 140 yards for a miserable 2.9 yards per play, did not score a single point, converted only 2 of 11 third downs, and turned the ball over 3 times.
There were a number of critical failures, but at the top of the list was the losing effort up front. Texas literally looked like it was playing at 3/4 speed -- that's how quickly Ash or our ball carriers were smothered in a sea of crimson. I'm not even sure whether to say Texas blocked poorly, because they really didn't seem to block at all. As much as overmatched, we looked unprepared, allowing a defensive line that had to that point been underwhelming to dominate us like we were up against the New York Giants. We even made Makeout McFarland look good. Enough said.
As thoroughly whipped as we were up front, it's easy to wonder whether the outcome would have differed in any case. I will say this, however: Bryan Harsin has been slow to adjust to the reality of the weapons he has on hand. I've talked before about my appreciation for the fact that he develops a plan and is methodical about executing it -- and that stands -- but I also wondered aloud before the West Virginia game whether Harsin was prepared to adjust if/when circumstances dictated either abandoning the plan or developing a different approach.
With Bergeron playing injured and our proven inability to get the push up front needed from the interior of our offensive line, there's limited utility in continuing to execute a game plan that requires us to be successful in that regard -- particularly considering the resources that opposing defenses are committing to shutting it down. After Harsin developed some nice counterattacks for West Virginia and their crappy defense, I noted in my chat with our Sooners blogger that I was sure we would see more and different ones for OU.
But to the limited extent that they came at all, they were too few and far too slow to arrive. OU was extraordinarily well prepared for what we wanted to do, and despite knowing that we're not good enough up front or experienced enough elsewhere to execute what we want to do against such a defense, Harsin tried to do it anyway. To predictably dreadful results, and although the defensive meltdown wasn't much of a surprise, it was seeing the offense getting murdered on the stuff OU had prepared for that made it clear there would be no 45-35, just another blowout.
Again, though, I'm leery of getting caught up too much in the playcalling, because the battle was lost at a more fundamental level that would undermine the offense no matter what series of plays were being called. Blaming the playcalling for Saturday's struggles is like saying that the Titanic's big problem was that there weren't enough lifeboats instead of, you know... crashing into a giant f**king iceberg.
Texas has an iceberg problem, and that's what needs to be addressed.
Summarizing the problems
Needless to say, it's not good if your clear MVP for the game is Alex King and there's not even a close second place. On offense, our struggles are a combination of problems, one of which is related to the team's mindset and approach going into the game; when you're on your heels, it's a lot easier to get pushed backwards. The other problem, though, is that Texas brought in an offensive coordinator to implement a power rush offense -- an offense which, other than the tailbacks, we were exactly the opposite of well-positioned to adopt. It was always going to take time, and as we've seen this season, we're not there yet. You don't turn a finesse offense into a power rushing offense in a year. Or even two.
On the other side of the ball, we're lost right now, and here too there are two problems. One is a personnel problem -- specifically a linebacker problem -- and the other is some of the tactics that Manny Diaz has deployed in trying to overcome them.
While there's no question that Diaz himself has struggled, if we're all going to start yelling about how serious we are about wanting better, then let's have a serious conversation about what's wrong. And a big damn part of the problem right now dates back to Will Muschamp, whose linebacker recruiting during his time here was at best mediocre. Tariq Allen, Patrick Nkwopara (seriously), Aaron Benson, Jordan Hicks, Tevin Jackson, Steve Edmond, Chet Moss, Kendall Thompson.
Let's face it: that's a pretty sh*tty list, and it's a big part of what's killing us right now. The other part of it, of course, is the ways Manny Diaz has tried to compensate for the deficiency, the results of which speak for themselves. What's troubling is the fact that the results have mandated a change in approach for a while now, and it's not just slow in coming -- there hasn't been one at all.
What do you want?
A rightfully frustrated Longhorns fan base is fed up with humiliating losses to OU and wants to talk regime change. I'm not here to tell anyone that they shouldn't, but I do want to conclude this post-debacle discussion with one point I hope Texas fans will -- for once -- bear in mind.
If you want to make a change, have a plan. Concluding that we want to make a change is perfectly acceptable, but throughout its history, Texas fans have proven themselves exceptionally good at identifying when a change is needed, and pretty damn poor at figuring out what to do next. So please, spare me the We're Texas / Top 5 Job platitudes like it's a birthright or something anyone of modest competency can do -- we've been hearing that for decades, the majority of which the team hasn't been what we want it to be.
So ask yourself: what. do. you. want? And I don't mean, know that you want to win; everyone wants to win. What kind of coach do you want? What kind of program? What are your willing tradeoffs? Do you want to try to win with an SEC style run/defense approach? An Oregon approach? Do academics matter? How clean is clean enough? Do you care about the egos of billionaires who want a coach who's willing to treat them like masters of the universe? Or can he be a control freak prick who disdains boosters and the media?
We tend to want to have it all, but as with most things there are trade offs, and Texas fans have been blind to that over the years -- almost uniquely so. Because here's the kicker: Texas doesn't hire football coaches who don't or won't get in line with the power players that call the shots. Ironically, it's the reason that we chose Mack Brown over Gary Barnett -- which worked out but was, if we're being honest, a happy accident.
So if we're going to start pointing fingers and demanding change, let's not forget to include the fan culture that's enabled it -- and is to blame for it -- far more than anything else. The truth of the matter is that Texas fans have largely gotten the coaches they've deserved, so if and when you want there to be a change, make sure you know what it is that you want.