We'll start the TCU breakdown with a look at the offense.
I tend to think the term 'sophomore slump' gets bandied about lazily as some sort of explanatory phenomenon, but at halftime of last night's game? I was positively scared Colt McCoy was mired in one. He bounced back nicely, though, showing us the attributes that made us talk about him as a "gritty winner" before the season began in the first place.
Colt struggled mightily in the first half, but Greg Davis is as much to blame for those struggles as McCoy himself. The first interception - returned for a touchdown - was a matter of our hot reads becoming the most predictable plays in America. If you watch the film, the pass would have been intercepted not only by the DB who actually nabbed it, but also by the DB who was jumping Sweed's route on the sideline. TCU knew that was coming.
Even in the second half, Colt wasn't as accurate as we've come to expect. His receivers made a lot of plays for him on balls that just weren't quite where they needed to be. And yet, we have to note that Colt's peformance in the second half is one of the reasons why we're so high on him. Remember Oklahoma last season, and that third down scramble and throw in the first quarter for a first down? Or Nebraska and his 50 yard pass to Sweed as he was obliterated? Or later in the game when he took us down a short field for a game-winning FG? Or even Texas Tech and that bounceback ability that rescued us from certain loss?
Lesser quarterbacks fold in adversity. McCoy has shown remarkable learning and adjusting ability in his young career so far, a quality that makes Texas dangerous whether they start a game well or not. For last night, Colt gets a passing grade, but not one of his best efforts. What he gets are bonus points for his ability to bounceback and make big plays when he had to, including a throw on the run to Nate Jones which turned the momentum of the game to the 'Horns.
The running game as a whole was much improved this week, though far from an effort you'd try to center your offense around. Jamaal Charles once again turned in a virtuoso performance, proving himself every bit the special runner that we believe he is.
The best adjustment we saw last night was a turn to more quick hitting plays for the tailbacks. Colt McCoy delivered the ball to Charles quickly time after time as Greg Davis got away from the slow developing counters, sweeps, and draws which hamstrung the running back's ability to get moving before the defenders were on top of him.
Elsewhere, Chris Ogbonnaya gave Texas some solid minutes, most notably with his blocking. And, to my delight, Texas turned to Vondrell McGee near the goal line, where he delivered a touchdown. His plow over the right guard was only a one yard score and came a play after he got stuffed over the left guard, but he got the job done in a fiery, inspiring manner. It was good to see.
Did you know that Nate Jones is your father? 'Cause he is. The senior continued his breakout season with an 8 catch, 91 yard performance last night, including the momentum-turning touchdown. When we talked in the offseason about why Texas needed to be a pass-first team, it centered around how difficult Texas was going to be to defend with six, seven, eight great receiving options to deal with. Injuries to Billy Pittman and Jordan Shipley have hardly mattered because Texas' depth at the position is so tremendous.
Last night also marked 2007 arrival parties for Quan Cosby and Jermichael Finley, each of whom were better utilized than they had been in week one. Limas Sweed didn't have one of his finest efforts as a Longhorn, but we're not dependent on him like many teams would be. These guys remain the team's greatest strength, and a reason why we've got a chance against anybody. We're still dependent on Colt getting them the ball, but they've proven that if he can, they'll make plays.
On the one hand, Chris Hall and Adam Ulatoski continue to struggle. On the other hand, Dallas Griffin and Tony Hills were fabulous last night. Hills, in particular, had an absolutely outstanding evening, giving McCoy time to make plays by keeping that bulldog Ortiz from being too disruptive. If Mack Brown gives out gameballs, I hope he gives two to Tony Hills.
There's some uncertainty now with Ulatoski falling on his wrist in the second half, and I don't think sliding Chris Hall to right tackle is the answer. Let me rephrase that: I know sliding Chris Hall to right tackle is not the answer. I'd guess - and hope - that the coaches will see this week if Tray Allen's ready to rock and roll. Even money says he's startinng for Texas next week against Central Florida.
One other point worth mentioning: we've been waiting to see if Cedric Dockery could make it all the way back from his knee injury. Last night, he played big minutes and gave Texas a push in the running game that had been sorely lacking since he went down against OU last year. If Allen is ready to play right tackle and Dockery's back from his injury? That really only leaves left guard as a position that needs to improve.
Overall, you have to give this group a lot of credit. Texas faced the best or second-best defensive line it will see all year and passed the test just fine. The blame for McCoy's mistakes belong to him and Greg Davis, not the offensive line.
The run blocking was good enough, and that's all we really needed to see. They got the push they needed to on short to-go situations, and kept TCU defenders occupied so that JC could get moving. I'm happy with that.
I distinctly remember going to my computer during halftime of the Oklahoma game last season and typing something to the effect of, "If we see the same ineptitude and chickenshit conservatism on offense in the second half as we saw in the second quarter of this game, I'll not disagree with anyone who wants to fire Greg Davis."
I more or less said the same thing last night:
We came out in the 2nd half and responded.
I'll just say this: if there's not a complete 180 for the offense in the second half, you can hand me a pitchfork and look for me at the front of the line.
The offensive gameplan in the first half last night was just that - offensive. The unimaginable was unfolding right in front of our eyes - a shotgun, spread pass attack becoming vanilla... predictable.
We were all thinking it: "Only Greg Davis could take such dynamic weapons and..."
And then, wow, we made adjustments. We started moving Colt out of the pocket. We ran some nifty play action passes. The misdirection pass back to Jermichael Finley was a gorgeous play.
Essentially, we made things far more chaotic for the TCU defense, and they just couldn't keep up. One of the most elementary principles for offensive coordinators to remember is that their biggest advantage lies in his players knowing what's about to unfold while the defenders do not. If you give away that advantage, it really doesn't matter what else you do. Davis finally mixed things up enough that TCU was reacting to us, instead of anticipating what was headed their way. And once you've got them doing that, you've reasserted your primacy and can dictate outcomes.
What's critical now is that this lesson be carried over into Texas' next big games. There are a lot of bright men guiding defenses around the Big 12 who will happily contain a predictable McCoy-based attack. Here's to hoping Davis watches the second half, sees how effective we can be when we're keeping defenders guessing, and stretches the limits of his playbook. He's got a lot of exciting tools at his disposal, after all. So go ahead, Greg: sit down, look at your fun toys, and play with them. I think you'll like what they can do.