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Postgame React: Baylor

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The outcome was: Adequate. A couple things here. For one, if we've learned anything this season, it probably ought to be that you don't take any wins for granted. That's nothing to hang on your wall, but it's worth stating. More than that, though, we're not really in a position to be worrying excessively about style points. For now, the goals should be to win games while building the foundation for the 2008 team. In that light, today's outcome was just fine.

The Offensive MVP was: Team. Colt McCoy, Vondrell McGee, and Jermichael Finley each made a case for this award, but all had critical mistakes making it hard to single them out as game ball winners. The 'Horns came close to having the kind of offensive day against Baylor we would expect, but ultimately made far too many costly mistakes to secure a decisive result. Colt was at times both brilliant and lousy. McGee was a refreshing burst of downhill running and an untimely fumbler. Greg Davis had me both pumping my fist and shaking my head. It was that kind of game - a microcosm of the 2007 season, really.

The Defensive MVP was: Marcus Griffin. This should really be a 'team' award as well, which we'll get to, but we haven't spent much time noting how solid Griffin has been this year. You know, Marcus has been overshadowed by his brother not just at Texas, but more or less his whole life. And last year? He was a problem in coverage on too many occasions. When the Texas coaches raved about how ready this young man was to be for this defense what his brother had been, I was skeptical, and though he's not quite the same playmaking athlete that Michael is, he's better than he gets credit for around these parts. His steady play isn't going to win Texas much this season, but it's going to earn him a good look at the combines and a solid chance to be a first day NFL draftee. I'm happy for him in general, and I'm happy for him today - two interceptions, including a return for a touchdown. Well played, kid.

As for the team - you know, there's a lot to like about the Texas defense right now. Truthfully, the guy who's struggling the most on defense is Duane Akina. I'll get into this more in a post this week, but we seem to be witnessing an almost comical swing in the pendulum from Gene "Stand Pat" Chizik to Duane "Overkill" Akina. It is worth noting that he's in his first year of playcalling, so we'll leave some room for learning, but really... the adjustments need to come sooner rather than later. The blitzing schemes are bordering on ridiculous.

The offensive Offensive Player Of The Week was: Jamaal Charles. This is going to be controversial, but... I think Texas should thoughtfully consider moving Charles to wide receiver/multi-task/Percy Harvin machine. It's a bit unfair to Charles, as I think he could be a successful tailback in a lot of offensive systems across college football. Unfortunately, the only question that really matters is: how successful can he be at Texas? I mean, that's where he plays. For better or worse.

Believe me, I'm a big, big fan of this guy as a player. I think he's special in a way that Texas fans may never see. Not Heisman Trophy special - as we pipe dreamed when he played alongside Vince - but certainly a special, difference-making player. The thing is, though: we're now in a Colt McCoy offense, and JC isn't the right tailback to complement him. It's hardly his fault, but he is what he is, just as Colt is who Colt is and Greg Davis is who Greg Davis is. But, given all that? Let's figure out what to do with the guy. He's not wildly effective in this particular scheme.

That point might have been hammered home especially hard today in Waco, where Charles wasn't able to get going forward, was effectively used in the passing game, and wound up taking a sideshow to Vondrell McGee, who showed fans what a north-south running game could look like for this team. Again, this isn't an easy question, and given what we know about this staff, it's a probably just an academic debate, but it's one we're gonna have on the site this coming week.

The offensive Defensive Player Of The Week was: Erick Jackson. Among the things I can get a little preachy about is the idea that players who haven't been good enough to start through three or four years in the program are extremely unlikely to be good starters in their final year(s). In programs as deep with talent as Texas, the starters show enough to take the field no later than their junior seasons. If a player doesn't, and he suddenly finds himself a starter as a true or fifth-year senior? It's far more likely to indicate a weakness or lack of depth on the team, rather than a leap forward in ability from the player. There are certainly exceptions, but it works as a general rule.

So it is with Erick Jackson, who hasn't made a memorable play all season for the 'Horns. I don't want to pile on a guy who is, by all accounts (like Robert Killebrew), an exemplary young man and positive influence on the team, but if we're just talking football, he's less than adequate. Though he does reasonably well in run support, the pass coverage is woeful. It's time to see more Ishie Oduegwu, as we did today. (He looked alright out there, didn't he?)

John Chiles Watch: 5 carries, 18 yards. 0-1 passing. I like that Greg Davis is making a conscious effort to use the youngster in the first half, when the game is still unfolding in its natural state. I'm less convinced that using the second team offense, in its entirety, for one series and one series only, is the right way to get the most out of the idea. This is another complex topic that can't be covered in this blurb, so we'll save it for a post of its own as well. (Note, BONers: I'm on fall break from school this upcoming week and, with both time and a wealth of interesting topics to talk about, will be extraordinarly active on the site. Should be fun.)

Performance-wise, it's clear that Chiles has a positive effect on the running game based on the threat  he possesses to keep the ball. It's also clear that Colt McCoy is a far superior quarterback than Chiles at this point in their careers. The interesting question is twofold: 1) how to prep Chiles for full-time duty should McCoy get hurt, and 2) how best to use Chiles in a complementary role if McCoy's good to go. We'll talk about that.

Today, Chiles did a solid job leading the second unit on a drive into field goal range, and though it didn't end in points, he showed - without doing anything exceptional - why he can be effective. Once again, we gave him no real throwing opportunities - his one pass play came on a third down and seven, with Davis asking him to roll left and throw to a receiver heading out to the sideline. Peyton Manning misses that throw more often than not.

Vondrell McGee Watch: 10 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD. Well... Jamaal Charles probably should be glad that McGee coughed up the football in this game, because if he hadn't, the Texas coaching staff would have a hard time thinking and talking about anything other than how much more effective McGee was than the current starter. In the first half, Texas misappropriated McGee with a couple plays that stretched him out horizontally. But over the rest of the game, McGee was used in ways where he can shine - straightforward, quick-hitting run plays to gaps, where McGee could square his shoulders, plant his drive foot, and get moving toward that line of scrimmage. He goes from zero to in-your-face in no time at all, he's low to the ground, hard to tackle with just arms, and always pushing forward. When you don't have an offensive line that can create and hold running lanes for a patient runner to maneuver artfully, you need a guy like McGee who can just plow it where it's open.

He does that, and does it damn well. Moreover, he's not just a plower like Ogbonnaya, and he's not a guy who needs space, like Charles. To get back to a more fundamental point: ideally, you look at your team and say, "We are who we are" and go with what best suits you. It's worth asking if McGee needs 15-20 touches a game, with Charles being utilized in ways that better utilize his strengths.

Everything discussed thus far is related, too. Colt McCoy's biggest problem right now is that our offense is too dependent on him. Given that, making tough decisions that would improve Texas' running game would have widespread effects on every part of the Texas offense. And I don't believe for a second that Charles couldn't be a great player in a different way on this team. How willing are we to be creative and bold? Is it worth exploring on the field? It's definitely worth talking about at BON.

Nebraska Fear Factor: 1 out of 10   (5) is the baseline. (-1) for Nebraska's players have quit on their coach. (-1) for yeah, we can't just ding one point for that. (-1) for Texas is in the post-Oklahoma phase of the season, where the staff is infintely more willing to go with what works over what they want to work. (+1) for this Texas team hasn't shown much ability to put things together for meaningful stretches of time. (-1) for seriously, the situation in Nebraska is messed up. (-1) for Texas has more to prove than they do to lose.

Heading into next week I feel: Excited. You know those five stages of grief? If I were a betting man, I'd wager you've gone through 'em all with me this year:

Denial: Sure, we've been less than impressive against this weak non-conference slate, but we can kick off the conference right with a revenge win against Kansas State at home.

Anger: Ohmygod we just got beat down by Kansas State like a Democrat in Mississippi. And it happened at home.

Bargaining: Nonetheless? A win over those evil barfbags from Norman would put things right back on track, yes? I mean, let's be real - everyone's losing this year. The whole thing's wide open, and we'll be in fine shape if we just get this win. C'mon guys - get that win. I'll never doubt you again if...

Depression: Okay, that was a fuc-ing pipe dream. This team is in the toilet, and so am I. I'm not even sure I should give Mack Brown and Texas the benefit of the doubt for the rest of this year. Or any year. This is just too sad to handle.

Acceptance: Now that the initial sting of defeat has started to fade, I can look at what we are this year - solid but nothing special - be okay with seeing progress on the field (at whatever pace), and start to think excitedly about how many of the best players on the football field for Texas right now will be here for 2008. Hey - this rebuilding toward next year thing could be interesting! Maybe even a little bit fun! And hell, we might even win out in the process. I'm okay with all this. Really, I am.

And that's kind of where I am right now. I'm okay with this team, warts and all. We're not anything memorable, but we're like a young baseball team that's out of the playoff race and starting to break in those exciting prospects who can be the foundation for a pennant-winner in the next year or two. Well, that's interesting for us analytical fans. It's something to observe and try to project, and it gives us that one thing we sports fans can't live without: hope.

And that's that, friends. Texas moves to 6-2 on the season, 2-2 in Big 12 play. The big goals of this team remain out of reach, but as we distance ourselves from the painful losses that knocked us out of the playoff chase in the first place, it's easier to turn our attention toward and become excited about the future.

That ain't such a bad thing. It's easy to forget when you're bottoming out, but the page always turns, and it's good to be having fun with this again. We invest a lot of ourselves in these games, but man, let's try never to forget: this stuff should be fun.

Y'all have a great night.