A little nicked up. During the weekly MB-TF feature, "From the film room" (sorry can't link it), Greg Davis mentions that he has some nicked up offensive players. Looking at the body language on the field and watching Jordan Shipley limp off after getting his leg twisted under him on a tackle, I have to guess Davis is referring to Shipley, Cosby, and Chris Ogbonnaya. All three of them looked a little slower than normal getting up after plays, not unexpected after such a brutal three-game stretch. Ogbonnaya in particular looked like he lacked his normal burst, possibly the result of the early play against Missouri when he fumbled the football and got up limping.
Part of the issue here is the controlled passing game, which leaves the players vulnerable as they catch balls over the middle. Colt McCoy has done an excellent job not putting his receivers into situations where defenders can really tee of on them, but all of them have taken some hard hits this season. Oklahoma State's secondary provided the physical play expected but not delivered from Missouri. Which leads into the next issue...
Not to our standard. Both phases of the kickoff game have been less than stellar this season. PB raised the question of whether Quan Cosby should be back returning punts and kicks, supporting his position with statistical evidence and concluding that Texas needs more playmaking on special teams. With Cosby rarely coming off the field on offense and starting to look fatigued, the case is stronger than ever to replace him as kick returner. Taking out Shipley's 96-yarder against OU and replacing it with the current average (24.4 yards per return) places Texas at 21.4 yards per return, which would place them in the low 60's nationally. With Curtis Brown playing well on defense and special teams, it's time to give him a chance on kickoff returns.
The kickoff game has been an unmitigated failure the last several weeks, leaving Texas 104th nationally and allowing 24 yards per return, a figure that doesn't even take into account the field position lost with the intentional short and high kicks the last several weeks. Mack Brown dismissed any notions of Justin Tucker having a fatigued leg ($), but did say that some personnel would change on the kickoff unit, notably the reinsertion of Sergio Kindle and other former members of the unit.
Stats are for losers, Part I. And I am an unabashed loser. Mack Brown must be, too. Perhaps the most interesting and most cogent parts of his Monday pressers are the stats he provides. This week was no exception. And so, without further delay, on to the goodies. Texas gave up 217 rushing yards against Oklahoma State, by far the worst performance of the season (145 yards allowed against UTEP), but 66 yards below their season average. Far more distressing were the missed tackles (12) and yards allowed after those missed tackles (125, nearly one-third of the Oklahoma State offense). Most of those yards are attributable no doubt to the impressive Kendall Hunter, who proved to be the hardest player to tackle the defense has faced all season. Kid's good.
On the positive side, the Longhorns converted 11 of 14 third downs (78%, Tulsa leads the nation at 60%), while also winning the explosive play battle 12-8. Despite Zac Robinson only being sacked four times coming into the game, the Longhorns dropped him five times behind the line of scrimmage, while hitting him 12 times and pressuring him four more. In other words, the Longhorns were three mistakes by Colt McCoy (only two ended up hurting him) and some missed tackles from an immensely impressive performance against an excellent football team. As it was, the game went into the "W" column, which is all you can really expect during this gauntlet the team is running.
PS Mack: Don't tell Muschamp what you did in your presser. It's for the best.
Stats are for losers, Part II. I'm just going to keep going here because I can't help myself. Over at The Tortilla Retort, sometimes Barking Carnival contributor dedfischer breaks down the upcoming battle in the trenches between Texas and Texas Tech, while Scipio Tex responds. I don't have much to add besides commenting that dedfischer underestimates Brian Orakpo, but the whole discussion brings up some salient points for the Tech game. Namely, can the Texas defense make Texas Tech one dimensional, which would help the pass rush immeasurably? And, on the other side of the ball, can Texas control the clock and limit the number of plays Texas Tech runs?
Since I'm a loser, on to the numbers. Texas controlled the ball for over 40 minutes last year against Tech, 10 minutes more than an average that placed them at #40 in the country. This season, the Longhorns average 33 minutes of possession time per game, good for fifth in the country, while Tech places in the bottom half of the country at just more than 29 minutes per game. So why does this matter? Last season, the Longhorns ran 93 plays to Texas Tech's 57, 21 fewer than Tech ran against Kansas last week. For a team that averages 7.5 yards per play, that amounts to 157.5 more yards. Keeping Tech off the field will be crucial.
So how do the Longhorns do that? Well, the ball control passing team evident all season is a step, but running the ball effectively will keep the passing lanes open and wear out a Tech defense that might not have the depth to stay on the field for more than 33 minutes. The Texas offense bludgeoned Tech last year to the tune of 63 carries for 283 yards, more than 100 yards over the average that left them 82nd in the country. The improved defense has vaulted them to 14th, although they give up 37 more yards per game to winning teams. All this is to say that while Tech is a much better team in run defense this year, the Longhorns offensive line is playing better than it was a year ago, leaving much to be revealed on the Jones Stadium field Saturday night.
Will the real running game please step up? PB mentioned the issues in the running game in his post-game react, noting that the Oklahoma State stretched the zone plays to the sideline and Ogbonnaya and McGee failed to find running lanes. The zone blocking scheme requires good vision from the running backs and the ability to plant and cut. McGee has struggled mightily with the latter, although in his defense, he has shown much more burst recently than he has since the ugly play against Florida Atlantic. Both backs missed running lanes that opened up on the backside of plays. Ogbonnaya only averaged 2.4 yards per carry, while McGee had 6 for 13 excepting his 14-yard touchdown run. Both could have had more with better vision. Those mistakes spell doom against a good Tech run defense. Did I just say "good Tech run defense"?
So where does that leave Texas? Well, back to the mythical Fozzy creature, who apparently was healthy against Oklahoma State, but didn't play because Greg Davis didn't feel comfortable with him handling the myriad blitzes the Cowboy defense threw at the Longhorns. Frustrating, but understandable. At least it wasn't a health issue. If the blitz pick up is the main issue, though, Tech only blitzes 18% of the time, a number significantly lower than the last several teams played by Texas.