The outcome was: glorious. It was neither beautiful nor decisive, but when Texas beats Oklahoma for the second straight year -- and fourth time in the last five -- there is much glory. Heaping mounds of football bullion for the good and just. And for the wicked... nothing. Just another painful loss to contemplate on the long drive back to hell.
What's that? Quit your sniffling and speak up. Something about an injury? Yeah, them's the breaks. Hey, I'd toss you a violin for you to play your sad song, but Earl Thomas would intercept it... I'd toss you a box of kleenex, but you'd fumble it.
One last question: Does it feel really awkward throwing the "Horns down" throughout a game you know you're going to lose? Or are you more like, "Hey, Ohio State loses all their big games, too, and they always act like neanderthals, so it's fine, whatever, anything goes."? Cause I was thinking it was maybe that, but then I thought, well no, maybe OU fans wouldn't make that comparison because while the Buckeyes lose their other big games, they do beat Michigan. So yeah, just curious about your thinking on that and if you feel awkward or stupid or what the deal is. kthanksbye.
Game breakdown after the jump. Be sure also to read Scipio Tex's outstanding Post-Mortem which has now been posted at Barking Carnival.
The Offensive MVP was: Earl Thomas (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss [-21], 1 forced fumble, 1 interception). What, you thought an offensive player was gonna win it? Okay, okay, there's plenty of space to pick on the offense below; how about a salute to Fozzy Whittaker and Marquise Goodwin for their outstanding efforts this afternoon?
For his part, Whittaker was terrific for most of the game, and if you take away that godforsaken speed option on which he lost 8 yards upon being tackled the second he received the pitch, his final rushing numbers were solid: 17 carries for 79 yards (5.2 ypc). Throw in a few key receptions and a mostly solid job with blocking duties and he's got himself a starting job for as long as he stays healthy. Fozzy's not a miracle maker, but he gives the rushing attack some real bite. You can easily imagine him picking up 100-150 yards a game in a well-coordinated offense.
As for Goodwin, it's saying something that his 36 receiving yards were a team best, but I don't have to tell you how important those yards were to Texas' second half victory. The bottom line is pretty simple: John Chiles cannot get any separation from his defender and Goodwin can. Considering how desperate this offense is for another receiver or three, if Goodwin's not starting next Saturday night in Columbia, we're even more lost as a staff than we appeared to be throughout much of this game.
The offensive Offensive LVP was: Greg Davis. More than a few fans have been saying, "Hey, the offense was good enough in the second half to win it" and/or that "OU really deserves credit for stepping up to put the clamp down today." Neither sentiment does much for me.
The offense did improve the second half, but when you pick up just 99 yards on 39 plays in the opening half, how could you not? The Longhorn's first half drives:
|OU 18||4||-6||Field Goal|
That's a special level of incompetence right there, so let's look more closely at the primary culprit for each failed drive.
Drive 1: Adam Ulatoski. Colt fumbles the ball after being blindsided by Auston English, who rockets to the quarterback untouched on a missed assignment.
Drive 2: Greg Davis. After rushing for 6 and 3 yards on first and second down, Davis lines up in an empty set on 3rd and 1 and McCoy incompletes a short pass to a blanketed Shipley.
Drive 3: Kyle Hix. Texas' right tackle holds on first down (a 10-yard rush by McCoy), putting Texas in 1st and 20. After Texas finds itself in 2nd and 20 following a ruling that Malcolm Williams was out of bounds, the drive is doomed.
Drive 4: Greg Davis. On first down, Davis calls a speed option that we never run (loss of 8), while the second and third down passes go to Greg Smith and John Chiles. Too many negatives to list here.
Drive 5: Greg Davis. Texas picks up a first down on an 8 yard run by Fozzy Whittaker in which he deftly finds the cutback lane. Davis promptly passes twice more, picking up another first down on a pass interference penalty, setting up 1st and 10 at the OU 35. Time to run? No. Time for a no-gain bubble screen to Shipley, an incompletion, and a 15-yard sack to McCoy.
Drive 6: Greg Davis. On first and 10 from the OU 49, Texas throws a slant to John Chiles. I do not have to tell you that Chiles had not achieved separation from his receiver, that he was blanketed, or that the pass was incomplete. Colt's second down pass to Kirkendoll is a terrible throw under pressure. David Snow false starts us into 3rd and 15 and the drive is over.
Drive 7: All. McCoy rushes for 12 yards to pick up a first down, DJ Monroe false starts Texas into a 2nd and 16, and the Longhorns' 3rd and 9 attempt is a 4-yard pass to Kirkendoll.
Drive 8: Davis and McCoy. Deon Beasley forces a fumble giving Texas 1st and 10 at the OU 18. 1st and 10: rinky-dink pass to Shipley for 4. 2nd and 6: Chris Hall false start. 2nd and 11: Incomplete pass to Greg Smith. 3rd and 11: Timeout Texas. 3rd and 11: Delay of game Texas. 3rd and 16: Incomplete pass to Shipley. Wow.
Drive 9: McCoy. After a nice 3rd and 10 conversion on a pass back to Greg Smith slipping out against the grain, Texas rushes for 3 yards with Fozzy, then all but scores on a McCoy keep that he fumbles on the 4 trying to do too much.
Drive 10: Mack Brown. Texas gets the ball at its own 40 with 24 seconds left and picks up 17 yards on two passes to Whittaker to give Texas 3rd and 5 from the OU 43 with a couple seconds remaining. Why not try a 60 yard field goal here? We're trailing 6-3 in a game that's going to come down to field goals, Hunter Lawrence kicks with tremendous lift (making a block unlikely), and each of his kicks on the day looked like they had the distance to challenge 60 yards.
All told, you have enough people (players and coaches alike) bed-wetting all at once to achieve such stunning ineptitude, but the modest second half improvements only serve to illuminate why so much of the first half blame must be assigned to Greg Davis. The two second half adjustments that proved fruitful were (1) replacing John Chiles with Marquise Goodwin and (2) a stronger commitment to rushing the football.
On the first point, the move was almost too little and, crucially, too late. The coaching staff had five games to watch John Chiles as a primary receiver and the results were not in any way ambiguous: Chiles was modestly effective in open space and wholly unable to get open on his own. Recall, for example, the failed 3rd and 6 from last week against Colorado: Colt's pass was lousy, but Chiles' slant route failed to generate any separation, either. Even had the pass been on target, the Buffalo defender was in position to break up the pass.
On the second point, while penalties put Texas in numerous long 1st and 2nd down positions, if you take away McCoy scrambles, sacks, and that horrible speed option play, Texas picked up 75 yards on its 10 first half carries. That success tells us several related things: First, Davis wouldn't have been conceding a punt by trying at times to rush his way through obvious "passing situations." Second, Texas' passing game has proven not to be at all well-suited to succeed when the defense knows Texas is going to pass. And third, by passing in every passing situation, Davis made defending Texas' passing game even easier than it already is. (And if you really wanted to pile on, you might point out that Davis' play calling only exacerbated the illness plaguing the offensive line throughout the first half; had Texas not set things up on a tee for OU's pass rush and pass defense, they might not have presented such a problem for the 'Horns offensive line.)
Not only do those two halftime adjustments explain why the first half struggles fall primarily on his shoulders, but we find in the supposedly redeeming second half the third and final nail for Greg Davis' coffin. Even the silver linings from the improvements were obfuscated by Davis' demonstrated lack of comprehension about his players and how to use them. Back to the drive-by-drive look, this time in the second half:
Drive 1 (own 33): Texas rushes Fozzy for 23 yards and a first down, completes the subsequent pass to Shipley for 9 yards, and picks up another first on 2nd and 1 with a 7-yard rush from Whittaker that moves Texas to the OU 28. For the first time all game, I'm hopeful about the offense, but on 1st and 10, Davis ignores everything that just happened and calls a screen pass to Chiles, which was comfortably defended in any case but winds up netting just a single yard because of Chiles' slow acceleration and his awkward, inexplicable cut inside where OU's defenders are concentrated. On 2nd and 9, Davis calls for a stretch run to the right side, but not with Fozzy Whittaker, who's shown the ability to make the requisite cutbacks for the runs to succeed but with a first carry of the game for Vondrell McGee, who fails to see the cutback lane and simply rumbles harmlessly into the pile of blockers and defenders. On 3rd and 9, McCoy takes the snap and, without making any reads at all, throws in the direction of... John Chiles. I do not have to tell you that he has failed to separate from his receiver or that the pass was incomplete. Texas settles for a field goal.
Drive 2 (own 23): Marquise Goodwin replaces John Chiles and McCoy, after two 1-yard runs to Whittaker, converts 3rd and 8 with a slant to the speedy freshman, whose quickness allows him to receives the ball separated from his defender. Texas then picks up 6 yards on a nice check-down read by McCoy (finding Cody Johnson for 6 yards) and another first down on a 14-yard scamper by Johnson, who displays quick feet and good vision in planting and cutting upfield through a big hole. 1st and 10 at the OU 44, we're in business, and I dare to get my hopes up. Surely Davis can't miss the efficacy of the successful plays in the early going of the second half and will keep at it, right? Wrong. Before I can even finish jotting down the note, Musburger is cooing about the Wild Horn. I refuse to believe it until I see it with my own eyes: Chiles is at quarterback, McCoy is at receiver, and I groan to my father, "Here comes the reverse pass. If we avoid a turnover or sack, it'll be a miracle." Texas is fortunate to dodge both. On 2nd and 10, Davis calls for another pass and McCoy makes a terrible throw under pressure, and on 3rd and 10 Texas is fortunate to keep the drive alive with a pass interference on a deep pass to Buckner. After Whittaker gets Texas down to the OU 14 with rushes of 9 and 6 yards, McCoy punches in the score with a great pass on another separation-creating slant route by Goodwin.
Drive 3 (own 33): McCoy misses Goodwin on 1st and 10, picks up 9 over the middle to Shipley on second down, and then fails to convert on 3rd and 1 when Ryan Reynolds makes a terrific play on Whittaker before he can get to the LOS. Other than wondering whether Cody Johnson would have been the better choice at tailback, there's nothing inherently discouraging about the play call.
Drive 4 (OU 45): After McCoy misses Whittaker on a pass in the flat (arguably his fault, though he blames Whittaker), Texas picks up 9 on a McCoy draw, and a first down on a McCoy sneak. Texas then picks up another first down when Johnson picks up 9 yards on 1st and 2 yards on 2nd, setting up 1st and 10 at the OU 25. Greg Smith false starts us into 1st and 15, a diving Marquise Goodwin picks up 11 to set up 2nd and 4, and the Horns face 3rd and 5 after Fozzy loses a yard. Texas fails to convert when McCoy completes a 3-yard pass to James Kirkendoll, who was running... wait for it... a 3-yard route. Watching the replay, there appears no reason Texas could not have completed the exact same pass with... wait for it... a 5-yard route. Texas settles for a field goal to regain the lead, 16-13.
Drive 5 (OU 49): The drive is derailed on first down by a needless chop block by Chris Hall.
Drive 6 (OU 20): At this point, the second half grade for Davis is a high C or low B, defined by some meaningful improvements hampered by a few ominous mistakes. If at this point Texas hammers in a touchdown on good play calling for a 23-13 lead, Davis likely earns a B for the second half, and even if they meekly settle for a field goal to go up by 6, he comfortably retains a passing grade so long as the defense keeps OU out of the end zone. On 1st and 10, Whittaker rushes for 3.5 yards, on 2nd down Whittaker rushes for 5, and Texas faces 3rd down and a yard or two from just outside the Oklahoma 10 yard line. We pause momentarily for a trip down memory lane:
Pasadena, California. It's 4th and 2 and the game comes down to this. If USC picks up a first down, the Trojans can run out the clock and celebrate a second national title. Leinart is under center, White is the tailback, and Reggie Bush is line up... no, wait a second. I misspoke, folks: Bush is not on the field. Leinart is about to take the snap and Michael Huff is creeping up closer and closer to the line. Everyone in the stadium knows where this ball is going.
Dallas, Texas. It's 3rd and short from the OU 12 and McCoy is in the shotgun. Buckner is upright on the line as the flex tight end, Whittaker is your tailback next to McCoy and.... no, wait a second. I misspoke folks. Whittaker is split out as a receiver. Texas is in an empty set, five-wide. Everyone in the stadium knows where this ball is going.
Including, obviously, Brandon Jackson.
Let's momentarily set aside that most of you, like me, were likely terrified knowing there was a 95% chance Texas was going to throw a slant to Goodwin. There is first the gift to the OU defense of the formation itself -- an empty set, with five receivers split wide. The call for Venables could not have been easier: "Reynolds spies the QB draw, everyone else greedily sit on the quick underneath pass."
The play Texas actually ran was, of course, the worst case scenario: not a QB draw, not an attempt to slip Buckner into the back of the end zone, not a fade to Malcolm Williams in the corner... a quick slant to the hot hand, Goodwin. There was some debate about whether or not Goodwin's route was precisely run (my read was that it was a poor throw by McCoy), but it is, in the end, beside the point. Greg Davis rolled the dice with the one outcome Texas could not afford to have happen and if Jackson pauses long enough to get a block on McCoy, he's gone all the way for 6 points.
In light of all this, I fail to see how there can be anything other than disappoint about, and condemnation of, Greg Davis' performance on Saturday. Not only was his actual game plan and actual play calling a disaster, but the manner in which it unfolded betrayed his fundamental misunderstanding of his own roster of players, generally; his quarterback's strengths and weaknesses, in particular; the Sooners' defensive roster; and a feasible path to even modest success.
That he did not blaze the Sooners for 30 or more points is not the concern; it was the way that he bumbled through 40 passes at 3.2 yards per attempt and 6.0 yards per completion that give his critics an armory of weapons with which to blast him. The final box score shows Texas with 40 pass attempts and 40 rush attempts, but a proper accounting of the plays -- setting aside the 4 sacks and several scrambles -- reveals a mere 29 genuine attempts to rush the football. In the first half, Texas picked up 66 yards on 11 rushes (or 75 on 10 if you dismiss the speed option); in the second half, Texas rushed for 98 yards on 18 attempts.
Greg Davis both misunderstands his personnel and has demonstrated a failure to strategically adapt thus far in 2009. Colt McCoy is a better quarterback than he was as a sophomore, but his limitations are at this point, I think, unassailably established. He is not good enough -- either as a passer or a runner -- to beat defenses all on his own. He is a very good quarterback, with helpful feet and useful accuracy, but he must be a complementary component of a larger strategic vision. He cannot be the centerpiece. He is not, as some hoped after last year, as good as Vince Young in his own way.
Notwithstanding all of the above, are there any silver linings to be found? There might be, but if and only if Greg Davis and Mack Brown digest that last lesson about McCoy. While both coaches understandably admire Texas' senior signal caller for who he is as a person, a competitor, and an achiever, to the extent they believe the offense should and must be centered on his doing it all -- as he did in 2008 -- the Longhorns will not evolve offensively beyond their limitations. If, however, they do (and skeptics are right to point to a complete lack of evidence that they have or will), then the offensive bright spots the past few weeks illuminate the path forward to improvement:
- Get serious about the wide receiver personnel. John Chiles is second team material because he cannot achieve separation from defenders; Marquise Goodwin is a huge improvement because he can. Malcolm Williams caught one 11-yard pass in the first half, and was a questionable review call away from another. After that, he was ignored. Texas can continue to ignore him at its own peril. Shipley is a great player, but cannot and will not succeed against good defenses without help, both in the running game and from the usage of other weapons in the passing game.
- Get serious about running the football. Odd as it is to say, I think this might be a better running team than a passing one. Our scheme, approach, and play calling haven't allowed it to be, but it can be with a genuine recalibration of the approach and play calling. Johnson and Whittaker are a perfectly nice thunder-and-lightning pair, and the offensive line has been blocking quite a few of our rush plays with considerable effectiveness, as evidenced by the results Saturday against the single defense of competence on the schedule.
- Bolster the pass with the run. Sorry, Mack and Greg, but the book has been written on how to defend the Colt McCoy short passing game. No surprise, perhaps, that Oklahoma succeeded in doing so, but when Colorado and Wyoming do the same, the game is up. A good offensive coach would commit this offense to running the football until defenses were forced to adjust the way they defend the Longhorns. At that point, there is opportunity to put to efficient use Colt McCoy's many demonstrated strengths. He has value as a component of a rushing attack and, against a defense forced to key in on stopping said rush attack, demonstrated ability as a passer -- short, medium, and long. Given single coverage against his receivers, and linebackers/safeties cleared away by responsibilities to stopping Texas' rush, McCoy can thrive. Big, gaudy numbers, even, as guys like Shipley, Goodwin, Buckner, and Williams had the freedom to make (and score on) big plays.
The Defensive MVP was: Earl Thomas, Keenan Robinson, Lamarr Houston, and Sergio Kindle. The other tragedy of the offense's performance (I know, hard to believe after all the above that the list isn't yet exhausted) was the manner in which it diverted so much of Musberger and Herbstreit's attention away from the defensive dominance of the Texas defense. Texas' offensive ineptitude was attributed solely to Oklahoma's defense, a side effect of which was to diminish the impressiveness of the even better defense being played by Texas. The difference, of course, is that Kevin Wilson is a good offensive coach; Greg Davis is not.
In any case, OU picked up 120 yards and all 13 of their points on exactly three poor plays by the Texas defense, and had Texas made clean tackles on two of them -- the 65-yard screen to Murray and 35-yard sideline pass to Broyles -- OU loses 80 of those yards and scores just 3 (maybe 6) points on the afternoon. The list of Longhorns who played well on Saturday is a long one, but Thomas, Houston and Kindle were absolutely dominant. I mention the tragedy of the diverted attention from our defense, because on any other day Earl Thomas is the lead story of the football game. As it was, he unjustly had to share the encomium with Brent Venables.
For their part, if any evidence was needed to support the dominance of Kindle and Houston, just consider the fact that in a tight, low-scoring game, 53 of Kevin Wilson's 71 called plays were passes. Frankly, anyone who thinks Sam Bradford's continued presence would have made any difference wasn't watching closely. That Bradford left with an injury was unfortunate to those of us who admire him, but it was anything but surprising. Texas was dominating OU up front from the get-go, and had Blake Gideon made a point blank tackle of Murray on OU's opening drive, Bradford would have departed the game 2-of-6 for 27 -- instead of 77 -- yards. Either way, Oklahoma's offense was in for a long afternoon thanks to the chaos being created by Texas' front four, led especially by Houston and Kindle.
And finally, on a day when Rod Muckelroy was absent injured for chunks of the game, Keenan Robinson deserves special mention for rebounding from his Colorado performance to have his best game as a Longhorn. His angles to the ball carrier in run support were improved, but it was his effort taking away from Kevin Wilson OU's tight ends and backs that were especially noteworthy. A complete performance from the sophomore linebacker.
The offensive Defensive LVP was: N/A. There were a smattering of tackling mistakes and early miscues defending the screen, but Texas doesn't win this game if the unit is any less brilliant overall. We wondered last week whether Texas' defense was so good that it could beat a good team on a day when neither the offense nor kick return game give the team much of anything. The answer is yes.
On the Milk Carton: Dan Buckner (0 catches). No need to rehash the problems on offense all over again, but it's worth highlighting Buckner's goose egg as example of just how easy it has become to key in on our passing attack.
Garrett Gilbert watch: N/A. Whether or not the coaches' hyper-belief in Colt McCoy allows Texas to evolve mid-season into a successful pass-off-the-run offense, I suspect we'll see its efficacy a year from now when the coaches "protect" their young quarterback by doing precisely what they need to be doing now. I further suspect that he will thrive enormously.
Missouri Fear Factor: 3 out of 10. (5) is the baseline. +1 for the failure of our coaches to grasp what a McCoy-led offense needs to look like; +1 for the failure to maximize value from the receiving corps; +1 for McCoy himself hoisting onto his shoulders too much responsibility for the offense's success; -1 for the bright spots in the running game; -1 for the Goodwin > Chiles second half; +2 for Sean Witherspoon and Missouri stalling enough first half runs to send Davis into full "MUST PASS" mode; +1 for the possibility of panic being magnified on the road; -5 for Will Muschamp and this defense.
Heading into next week I feel: Demanding. How Mack Brown and Greg Davis approach, plan for, and call the Missouri game on offense will tell us a lot about whether Texas is going to try the high-wire act of getting to 12-0 on the back of its defense alone. There is time yet for the offense to improve to "above average" -- certainly to the point that the team wins the rest of its regular season games by double-digits.
If, however, the offense comes out and tries the same offensive strategy against Missouri or, equally damning, abandons any early attempts at improvement at the first sign of distress, we're in for a long, frightening ride trying to get to Pasadena... where, should we even get there, a defense as fast, explosive, and vicious as our own will be waiting.
True, wins are all that matter for this team from here to the Big 12 title game. But if we do, how we win, especially over the next two weeks at Missouri and at Oklahoma State, will tell Texas fans how they should feel about the chances for the season to end in glory.