Man, this week has been hell. Two practice final exams. A writing assignment due. Normal law school reading. Just one of those crazy weeks.
In any case, there's a game this week against Baylor worth talking about. Before we do, though, a quick follow up to yesterday's post. The comment section was filled with great discussion, and for the most part, the discourse remained elevated, even when disagreements arose. Do try to keep that up; it's the one thing I won't let slide downhill.
Substantively, there was a thoughtful comment about how the young LBs still make mental mistakes and need at least one veteran in there to make sure everyone's aligned, etc. The point was well made, but it's too generous to the staff. Mostly, I can't imagine what the young guys are supposed to be learning from Killebrew, who's out of position frequently, lives for penalties, and struggles to make plays. Furthermore, there's nothing valuable about having guys in there who can get themselves properly aligned but don't make plays.
Enough about that, though. Let's talk Baylor for a few minutes.
Looking at the Bears' stats page, nothing jumps out at you that they do very well. Baylor switched to the spread offense two years ago, and though they started to see some tangible progress with Shawn Bell last year, the wheels came right back off when he went down to injury for the year and freshman Blake Szymanski took over. As a sophomore, Szymanski's been a bit better, but it's relative. He's thrown 15 touchdowns against 12 interceptions, completing just 53.5 percent of his passes. He's averaging 276 yards per game passing, but that's come on just over 45 attempts per contest.
A spread offense still has to have a competent running game if it's going to be truly effective, and it's there that Baylor has really struggled. The Bears are picking up under 3.5 yards per carry - effectively a non-factor - which takes half the pressure off the defense. When you can focus on the passing game without worrying about getting burned by the run, you can disrupt the spread offense with relative ease. Every time Texas Tech doesn't have a great game on offense, I check the box score, and it's usually the same story: Leach couldn't or wouldn't get the run game going to keep the defense honest.
The one matchup you worry about, of course, is the Texas linebackers in pass coverage. I won't beat this dead horse any longer, but it's worth noting. All teams should - until Texas proves it's changed - work on getting a Texas linebacker (any linebacker) covering a wide receiver and just pick, pick, pick away. (In the time it took me to type that, Jordy Nelson just caught two more passes.)
The Bears aren't much better on defense, either, though they do a reasonably good job getting teams off the field on third down. Texas has plenty of firepower to move the ball consistently on Baylor; our greatest obstacle on Saturday will be - as it so often is - ourselves. Let's be clear what that means, though: Greg Davis is at his best when he's under the gun, feeling pressure to open things up and make things happen. He's at his worst when he's playing protectively, trying to make sure the offense doesn't lose the game. Now there's a fine line between reckless and aggressive, between trying to force things and being the one to dictate what's happening on the field. But Texas can and should come out and take full advantage of Baylor where it can.
If I'm Baylor, then (or anyone playing Texas, really), I stick two safeties back with strict instructions to take away the intermediate and deep stuff Texas wants to run. Make Texas pick its way down the field with short stuff; we all know how much that can frustrate what McCoy likes to do.
Ah, but who are we kidding? Texas hung 63 on Baylor last year and shouldn't have any trouble breaking 40-50 once again. As often as Baylor throws the ball, you can expect a nice four-hour game, with endless stops in play. Ideally, Texas will build an early lead and give the second string offense more work. At some point, we need to see John Chiles pass the football a bit, too. This may be Colt McCoy's team, but I'd hope we've learned by now not to put all our eggs in one basket.
Update [2007-10-18 13:39:58 by HornsFan]: I can count on one hand the number of times I've done this, but this comment from 'whills' provides something worth sticking on the front page for digestion and further discussion. I'll withhold my own thoughts for now, as I've got to run out the door, but this is great food for thought and an interesting lens through which to view the larger "cultural" issues in this program that have prompted such interesting discussions.
We will absolutely need the best players on the field versus Oklahoma State, Tech and ATM. Every mistake could cost you points against those adversaries, especially Tech, which feeds on such match ups.
If there were a contra commenter here, I suspect it would be Leach. He wants the slower, less agile LBs to play the whole game. In this sense, Mack is writing Leach's game plan if he stays were the older set.
I want to see a lot of play out of Sherrod, including passing. That extra year of training will show up, I think, if he gets the time on the field, esp. with the first offense. The Horns must have a stable back up who can run the greatest part of the game plan. Chiles can do only some of that; I suspect Sherrod can do much more.
Last, I was late to the great thread yesterday, but there is something I want to say.
The ethic I see with the LB situation resembles that of heavyweight championship boxing. It is not enough to be as good as the champion or even a little better. Without a KO, the challenger must be demonstrably better in the fight for the judges to go against the champion and to transfer the crown. The challenger must attack and provide some dramatic results or the champ must make critical mistakes. In other words, being the champ (the starter) gives him another judge, another factor, on his side.
Starting varsity positions as so hyped and pushed within the team structure that it can easily become a sort of aristocracy, particularly if there are leadership roles involved. You're not just fighting for a lone position but are having to break the hold of the positional groups. This was true in the Royal years and probably for most every coach Texas has had.
This is the critical social element undermining the meritocracy, where status weighs in as a key factor and athletic ability and play-making are pushed down teh scale somewhat. That's the ambiguity you hear in the statements made. In this case, it is times three.
The exception proves the rule: Killebrew made a critical mistake and Mack could rightfully punish him and insert Kindle - and do so with "clean" hands regardless of prior agreements.
When Jamaal said he couldn't lose his position for fumbling, that said a lot with regard to the elevation between starters and non-starters. Just as in society, there is always (in our society, at least) a given amount of narcissistic transfer: that no one can do what you can do as well as you do it. In a meritocracy your last results dictate the situation; in a cronyistic system, the position of power and related cronies in power dictate the results. That is, the terms of consideration are extended in time and definition until there is definitive proof of being unproductive. The key element here - and the relevance to football - is that aristocracies tend to perpetuate themselves to the detriment of the common welfare. And the rub we see is that certain decisions on the field act as a detriment to the goals of the whole team.
Sorry to go political in a sense, but the bitch is that this is (or has become) a political situation instead of a straight forward football one. Football is very democratic within a strict authoritarian structure. The goal isn't to be authoritarian, though, but to produce the best team in the community interests.
Perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that we aren't in Baylor's struggling position or undergoing the fundamental disruptions that torment ATM and NU fans at the moment. I'm sure that Mizzou and CU fans have had an unpleasant week, too. Losing hurts while the winners can be philosophical and march grandioso around the field.
Texas must beat Baylor this weekend and NU the next to set up the final run; the question everyone is well aware of concerns Horns must do to improve as a team to be successful against the last three teams on the schedule. That is the bottom line.
In that respect, Mack has placed his judgment on the line and we'll see if he wants to go all in on a weak - but not necessarily losing - hand.
I must leave and go out of town right now; won't return until late this evening. Hell, I may be chewed to bear meat status by the time I return. Pretend I'm using a mid-rounds rope-a-dope with few counter punches.