Flavor of the Week at running back: Fozzy Whittaker. Given the performance of the Texas running backs on Saturday, it might make sense to put this feature to rest for the week. Although, as Scipio Tex would remind us all, the running backs aren't the problem with the Texas running game.
Part of the problem is that the two running backs who received most of the carries against Colorado have little in the way of tools to make something out of nothing. There is at least one running back on the team, however, who does have the ability to make the most out of broken plays and has the vision and quickness to find the cutback lanes -- the Mythical Fozzy creature his own self. Last week, I wasn't really drinking the Kool-Aid along with PB about Fozzy, but I'm starting to re-assess a little bit after the cutback run for a touchdown on Saturday on his only carry. At 12 yards, it was more than twice as long as the longest runs by Cody Johnson and Vondrell McGee of five yards.
The question is, why did it take so long for him to get his first carry after McGee and Johnson were so clearly ineffective? It's not that he wasn't on the field prior to receiving that first opportunity running the football -- he played at least 10 plays on offense prior to that, several times lined up at wide receiver. He's been healthy for two weeks, but he could take a helmet to a knee in practice and then could find himself out again extremely easily. It's happened three times already in barely more than a year. Davis would be well served by using him more when he's available.
It's not clear how much McCoy trusts him in the passing game, but he is known as one of the better receivers at the position on the Longhorn team, so it's not like he's a liability in that aspect of the game. Picking up blitzes has supposedly been a problem for him at his size, but he definitely looks jacked this year and as able to handle it physically as he ever has. It's something the coaches see in practice, so it's hard to speculate on.
Since McGee and Newton may be out for the Oklahoma game this weekend, could this be the time for the Mythical Fozzy creature to break out and take on legendary status? Coul he earn repeat status as the Flavor of the Week, an unheard of honor?
Bipolar special teams return. Much like the Wyoming game, the special teams were both good and bad on Saturday. First, the bad. The kickoff coverage is increasingly becoming worrisome and Justin Tucker isn't helping much by failing to get the ball into the end zone when given the opportunity, but the major issue is the coverage, which allowed kick returns of 34 and 48 yards against Colorado, the latter of which by Darrell Scott was way too easy, as he just ran up the sideline unobstructed until he was tackled without ever having to change direction. For the game, Colorado averaged 24 yards per return, a number brought down by returns on sky kicks by a linebacker and the fullback. Texas now ranks 75th in the country, behind Ball State, Central Michigan, and Florida Atlantic. As much as Mack Brown wants to talk about how difficult it is to cover kicks, there are still 74 teams in the country that do it better than Texas, which is inexcusable given that Brown allows Duane Akina to select any player on the roster besides Colt McCoy to use on special teams.
One of the other bad aspects of special teams was the work by Justin Tucker with his rugby punt. His attempt with the right foot was fine, as it went for 40 yards, but the second kick, from the Texas 32 no less, was a bit of a shank and only traveled 25 yards before going out of bounds. It was difficult to tell exactly what happened on the play, but there was a bit of pressure and he may simply have been trying to be too fine with it and put it right down the sideline. His second left-footed attempt went for 45 yards, with the only potential issue with it being that he may have kicked it too far, as the Colorado return man was able to field it on the fly. The third attempt presented the biggest issue, however, as Tucker really shanked it out of bounds only five yards past the line of scrimmage.
The bottom line is that it's great that he can kick with both feet, but if it happens again, then the coaching staff needs to seriously re-evaluating using the left-footed punts, which means they should really evaluate the use of the rugby punt at all, since teams can now hit the punters outside the tackle box and can also use two return men to make it less effective if Tucker only kicks right footed.
It appears that the coaching staff did re-evaluate this weekend, as John Gold is now listed first with an 'or' on the new depth chart. The coaching staff shouldn't forget that Gold is an excellent punter in his own right and it probably makes more sense to use him when Texas is in their own territory because he has the ability to kick it 50 or more yards.
The final bad aspect was the blocked field goal, clearly the fault of Ahmard Howard, as described here. It's likely his first year on the unit, so he may not have realized how important it was with the ball on the left hash to block the edge rusher, but it should be an easy fix in practice this week and shouldn't happen again.
With the bad out of the way, there were some excellent aspects to the special teams play once again this week. The Longhorns brought pressure on three punts by Colorado, with Marquise Goodwin finally getting his hands on the third punt early in the third quarter and after Ben Wells scooped it up and took it three yards for the touchdown, Texas took a 17-14 lead that it would not relinquish. Give credit to Duane Akina for using Goodwin on the unit -- the remarkable thing about it was that Goodwin came unblocked on two prior punts and nearly blocked them, but Colorado never adjusted and tried to block the guy who was clearly the fastest player on the field. Expect OU to make that adjustment next week.
Of course, the punt block can't be on all the time, especially with a returner like Jordan Shipley back there. Impressively, Goodwin did just as well blocking, according to Brown:
For him [Akina] to be able to take a guy like Marquise Goodwin, who is a freshman, who has not played defense, who was not around in the spring, not around in the summer, and to have him be part of two great plays Saturday, one, blocking the punt, but number two, he had the best block on Jordan's punt return because he took his guy, he knocked him to the ground, and as the guy got up, he stays on him. If you go back and review that, it is one of the great plays of the year, and I am really really happy for Marquise because he is getting involved in the kicking game in a lot of ways.
Blake Gideon also threw a nice block on the play to help Jordan Shipley return the punt for a touchdown, taking it back 74 yards, by far the longest of his three career punt returns for touchdowns. It also made four out of five games that Texas has scored a touchdown on special teams.
It did not appear likely last week, but Shipley is now back with Monroe on kick returns and will will get some chances against Oklahoma, particularly since Colorado kicked away from Monroe with the exception of a ball kicked into the end zone and most teams will probably follow that formula for the rest of the season. Two returns for 38 yards is far from exceptional, but it's unlikely that anyone needs to be reminded about what happened last year in the Cotton Bowl with Shipley. Brown mentioned that there was a little bit of confusion on Saturday, with Monroe trailing Shipley on one of the returns, so they should continue to get a better feel for each other as they work in practice this week and have more opportunities in the game against Oklahoma.
Tracking: playmaking defense. For the third game in a row, the Longhorns brought their playmaking ability on defense, as Earl Thomas finally got the pick six that seems to have been coming with him ever since he jumped a route in the spring game and took it to the house. Midway through the third quarter, Shipley had failed to haul in a pass from McCoy and it turned into an interception deep in Texas territory. Reading Cody Hawkins all the way, Thomas jumped in front of the pass and went 92 yards untouched to stretch the Texas lead to 24-14.
For the second game in a row, Blake Gideon got in on the action, intercepting the second pass of his career deep down the middle with an extremely athletic catch, battling the receiver for the football, then managing to secure it after it hit his stomach as he fell. His limitations are still painfully apparent, especially on the first CU touchdown when he was too late to react to the throw and failed to make a play on the ball when he got there, as well as taking three bad angles and completely whiffing on two tackles. Gideon probably simply is who he is at this point, but he's going to need to consistently force turnovers to help the team because he's a liability tackling in the open field, a huge problem for a free safety -- and that's a massive understatement.
On the negative side, Roddrick Muckelroy missed a sure interception, as Cody Hawkins pretty much threw him the ball and all he had to do was jump a little bit and bring it in, about the easiest interception a linebacker will ever get. After the play, it occurred to me that Muckelroy hasn't forced many turnovers at Texas and looking back through his stats, that has been the case. Only in 2007 did Muckelroy make an interception or force any fumbles, hauling in one of the former and causing two of the latter. As excellent as he has been at Texas, it's clear that he's just not going to cause many turnovers and Brown specifically mentioned the lack of a forced fumble on Saturday as distressing.
All of the defense deserves a great deal of credit for another dominating performance, but several players deserve individual recognition. Despite a shaky start to the season, Chykie Brown has settled down and played excellently with the exception of several plays against Texas Tech, allowing only one completed pass against Colorado before immediately tackling the offensive player. Opposite Brown, Curtis Brown only allowed two completed passes on the night, both of which were for minimal gains.
On the defensive line, Ben Alexander also had an exceptional game, registering five tackles, including splitting a double team on one play before making the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Simply calling him a space eater at this point may be selling him short. The two starting defensive ends also had strong performances, as Sergio Kindle made seven tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage. So much more than just a speed rusher, Kindle almost never takes himself upfield out of plays and continues to read and react to plays with incredible speed and accuracy. After doing so, he gets to the football with alacrity and evil intentions and finishes plays.
On the other end of the line of scrimmage, Sam Acho had another strong effort, with three of his five tackles going for loss and a sack as well. One of the tackles for loss came as Rodney Stewart escaped from a group of Longhorn tacklers and reversed field, nearly breaking free for a big gain, except that Acho used his speed to get a hand on Stewart's foot, just enough to get him down for an 11-yard loss.
Time for replacements. James Kirkendoll had a poor game Saturday. He was terrible in the blocking game, picking up a penalty for holding that shouldn't have been called, but resulted from him whiffing on a block, dropped a pass, and cost the Longhorns a touchdown because he went the wrong direction on an option route. At the flanker position, John Chiles has not shown an ability to make plays besides in the screen game. Over at Barking Carnival
Trips Right EyesofTX was even more critical in his recap:
I have never witnessed so much pouting, loafing and general cluelessness from a set of WRs than I saw last night. I'm not going call anyone out by name, but a couple of guys whose numbers correspond to the name of a popular chain of convenience stores need to pull their heads out of their asses pretty quick, of their lack of effort is going to cost this team down the road. And seriously, a physical freak like Malcolm Williams can't get on the field for more than a handful of plays when the guys ahead of him are pulling this kind of nonsense? What are the criteria for determining who plays and who doesn't on this team? They're obviously not performance based.
Even after re-watching the game looking for specific instances to support his claim, I'm not sure that I saw the same thing. The bottom line, however, is that the performance between the whistles was not good enough. Whatever problems he may have catching the football, Malcolm Williams can block and would help the running game in the WildHorn or on any other outside running plays.
Marquise Goodwin may also receive more playing time in an attempt to feature his incredible speed more prominently -- he's listed as the co-starter at the sub-B position this week, although he probably won't have much more success blocking there than Kirkendoll. Something to watch though is that Chiles is now listed as the co-starter at that position, while Kirkendoll has moved out to flanker. It could be for blocking purposes, but it might be that the Longhorns are trying to get Kirkendoll more time at the position that he played for most of last season and at which he might feel more comfortable. Beyond those thoughts, it's hard to see how the changes will impact what happens at the Cotton Bowl this weekend, but it is safe to say the coaches weren't happy with what they saw on Saturday from the two receiver positions other than Shipley.
Tracking: the WildHorn. After spending an inordinate amount of time last week hyper-analyzing the formation, it's only fitting that I talk about it some more this week. Most fans are frustrated with the formation and probably about ready to ditch it after two weeks of poor results with it and
Trips Right Eyes surely fits into that category:
The Wild Horn, or as we will refer to it from here on out in the GBU for no apparent reason, the Crazy Ivan. We continue to just throw away downs on this thing, and the only apparent reason for doing this is to placate #7. Isn't it kind of time to quit worrying about placating #7, given that his insistence upon keeping the ball each and every time this play is run robs it of any smidgen of hope of distracting or fooling the opposing defense? This play is worthless, it is a waste of downs and energy. It destroys whatever continuity this offense has managed to accumulate, and every time #7 keeps the ball and fails to produce any yardage, he goes into a sulk for several plays afterwards. Stop the damn insanity, please.
Yes, the performance has been disappointing, but
Trips Eyes misses several key points in his "hard-hitting" and "in-depth" analysis. The main point above is that the WildHorn is an attempt to "placate" Chiles and that he always keeps the ball. While I can't speak to what happens behind the schemes, I personally can't see him sulking and he has made the correct read on each counter read play -- the problem is that defenses are intentionally taking away the outside to keep Chies inside where they have more defenders to deal with him.
On the only counter read play run against Colorado, the defensive end went hard upfield and another defender scraped behind him to make it an easy read for Chiles. No selfishness on that play and it didn't work because Adam Ulatoski failed to come up into the hole to block the linebacker who eventually made the play while Charlie Tanner did his falling-down act on the play. It may have been an attempt to block someone -- the BON investigative team is now looking into it. So far, the two pulling linemen have not been successful getting blocks after pulling, so the power play makes so much more sense.
Besides the obvious lack of success, the most disappointing aspect of the WildHorn is that the only new wrinkle this week was the WildHorn version of the aforementioned power play. Yes, it's a play that they need to run, but there are several problems with it, One, there's no compliment to the play -- the outside run Dan Lee calls the stealer. Two, if the Longhorns want a lead blocker, take out McCoy, whose chief concern is running out of bounds as quickly as possible on the WildHorn plays and put in another blocker like Antwan Cobb or my personal choice, Barrett Matthews, a kid who has a big-time nasty streak in the blocking game. Two, the play needs motion to make it is as effective as it can be. With that being said, the benefit of the power play is that the pulling player actually heads into the hole to ostensibly block a defender, rather than falling down on the perimeter and generally being of little use.
The other problem is the complete lack of commitment to the play. Greg Davis told color guy Todd Blackledge that the Longhorns want to use the formation 6-7 times a day. Seriously? Was he just lying or does he really intend to do that? Actually doing it has been a complete failure. Through three games, the Longhorns have only used the formation nine times, far short of Davis' supposed desires. In the Wildcat series, some plays won't work at times, but there is always an easy solution -- take what the defense is giving you. Having already missed the window of opportunity for installing the Wildcat series, its extremely unlikely that it will happen and after two failed plays against Oklahoma, the coaches will probably abandon it without every really committing to it. Probably without ever having Chiles throw a pass. And the running game will continue to struggle. And people will wonder about solutions. And it will end up being a wasted opportunity by the coaching staff.
After the Q package, is it any surprise that the WildHorn has been approached in a completely clueless manner with no understanding of what makes the Wildcat work? The answer to that would be a resounding no.
Now let me go bang my head against the wall for 10 straight minutes so I can feel better.
It's 8:45 in Austin and the good news is that at least OU still sucks.