Texas-Oklahoma: Lessons From 55-17

Wesley Hitt - Getty Images

As the 2010 season proved, sometimes important lessons emerge from terrible things. Such was the case with the 2011 Red River Beatdown.

Five turnovers. Three defensive scores allowed. A 64-yard touchdown run. A 3rd-and-25 conversion. The lowlights for Texas from the 55-17 loss to Oklahoma last season were plentiful.

So were the lessons learned.

Horns_bullet_mediumTray Allen was terrible

Perhaps the Oklahoma game wasn't necessary to realize the truth of this statement, but it did provide a turning point of sorts in the season for Texas. After numerous assignment busts and allowing Oklahoma defensive ends like Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis free access to the Longhorns quarterbacks, Allen lost his starting role, giving way to true freshman Josh Cochran, which allowed the young player the crucial repetitions he needed to develop.

As a corollary, it wasn't just Allen who was struggling, as the rest of the line was as well, with then-right tackle Trey Hopkins a perfect example. In all, the Longhorns gave up 15 negative plays for 101 yards lost against Oklahoma. Yuck.

Where Texas is now

Allen is nothing more than a busted former five-star recruit quickly becoming a historical footnote. JUCO transfer Donald Hawkins has stepped in at left tackle, Cochran is a year older and has moved over to right tackle, and the offensive line as a whole has gelled with Hopkins back at his natural guard position.

As a result, sophomore quarterback David Ash has had more time to stand in the pocket to deliver passes downfield, having been sacked only five times all season. In fact, the Longhorns are third in the country in negative plays allowed, with 15 given up on the season.

Let's just call it a much better place.

Horns_bullet_mediumFrank Alexander was good

The senior defensive end was a one-man wrecking crew last season, registering six tackles against Texas, including three sacks, a fumble recovery, and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Eventually a second-team All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Alexander had a spectacular senior season.

Where Oklahoma is now

After losing Alexander and fellow starting defensive end Ronnell Lewis, the Sooners are still trying to regroup at the position, currently sitting 84th in the country with eight sacks on the season, with five of them coming against Florida A&M.

Only two of those sacks have come from defensive ends -- one by former linebacker Rashod Favors, who is undersized for the position at 6-1, and one by Chuka Ndulue.

The story isn't much better in terms of tackles for loss, as former five-star recruit RJ Washington has 1.5, Ndulue two, and Favors one.

Overall, the decrease in playmaking ability at the position has been significant.

Horns_bullet_mediumThe young Texas quarterbacks had a long way to go

If it wasn't Case McCoy fumbling multiple times, including one that somehow ended up being returned for a touchdown, it was Ash throwing interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

For McCoy, it was evidence of his poor ball security and pocket presence, not to mention how easily he can be physically overwhelmed in those situations.

For Ash, it was a sign that he simply wasn't ready to take over the starting job after throwing two interceptions and averaging 5.4 yards per pass attempt. And though he didn't truly learn the lesson until this season, it was also early evidence that Ash was struggling adjusting to smaller passing windows, as the interception that was returned for a touchdown was a forced pass that Ash simply should have thrown away, as he was out of the pocket when he threw it.

Where Texas is now

McCoy is showing off his worth as a clipboard-holder and cheerleader, while providing some insurance as a potentially capable back-up in case of an injury to David Ash.

The Texas starter is third in passer rating nationally, behind only West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Oklahoma State quarterback JW Walsh.

Having reduced his interception woes with only one on the season, Ash is now firmly in command of the Texas offense and has the late Oklahoma State comeback under his belt to steady whatever nerves the unflappable Belton product might experience in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday. Ah, who are we kidding -- Ash just doesn't get rattled.

Is it time to ordain him as one of the top quarterbacks in the country? No, the body of work isn't extensive enough for that, but it is clear that he's well ahead of the predicted development curve for him this season.

Horns_bullet_mediumGood Landry can be tough to stop

After taking advantage of Landry Jones in 2009 when he had to replace an injured Sam Bradford early in the game and getting beat mostly by Demarco Murray and a late fumbled punt in 2010, the Longhorns got a taste of the damage an efficient Jones could wreak on what was then a young Texas secondary that went through similar growing pains last season as those Jones went through during his first experience in the Red River Rivalry.

And while Jones performing at a high level was hardly a shock given the success he has achieved during his career, the performance in 2011 was relatively unique in comparison to the two other games after turning in a performance in 2010 was solid but not superlative.

Jones threw for 367 yards in the 2011 game, including three touchdown passes, all while averaging more than a yard more per attempt than he had the previous season.

Mostly allowed a clean pocket from which to throw, Jones was surgical in picking apart Texas.

There have been enough instances of Bad Landry in his career that Oklahoma fans don't particularly trust the senior quarterback, but as Texas found out last season, dealing with Good Landry can be quite difficult.

Where Jones is now

This is more about where Jones is now, which is without his favorite receiver Ryan Broyles, lost to his ACL tear and then graduation.

Against Kansas State, it was Bad Landry in attendance with some killer turnovers.

Fortunately for Oklahoma fans worried about a re-appearance of that unsavory (for them) character on Saturday, Jones managed to avoid any interceptions against Texas Tech last weekend, even if his completion percentage and yards per attempt were not overly impressive.

Horns_bullet_mediumBusted run fits were a major issue

The Longhorns got an introductory taste to the hazards of missing fits against Oklahoma State the week previous when Jeremy Smith broke a long run on 4th and 1.

Against the Sooners, the problems continued when Jordan Hicks was responsible for allowing a 64-yard Dominique Whaley touchdown run. During the rest of the game, the Longhorns held the Sooners to 18 carries for 22 yards.

Fortunately for the Longhorns, Manny Diaz was able to fix the problem as his players got adjusted to his defense, eventually emerging as one of the elite units in the country by the end of the season and holding Cal to seven total rushing yards in the Holiday Bowl, including 2.6 yards per carry for starting back Isi Sofele.

Where Texas is now

Well, everything was good until the season started. And, uh, let's just move on. I mean, I don't even need to answer this, do I?

Horns_bullet_mediumGetting blown out by the Sooners is not fun.

Oh wait, that was a lesson already learned in 2003. And 2000. Sad face.

Where Texas is now

Hopefully not getting blown out on Saturday by an Oklahoma program that recovered after the loss to Kansas State, but is starting to show some of the same cracks that were evident with the Longhorns in 2010.

******

In summary, the Longhorns are a light years advanced offensively from where they were at the Cotton Bowl last season. On defense, the secondary is much more experienced, though plagued with some tackling problems at the moment, while the rush defense is in a similar spot, with issues against the run. Fortunately for Texas, Okahoma hasn't exactly set the world on fire in that regard.

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