Flavor of the Week at running back: Fozzy-CoJo one-two punch. Given that Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson have now gone two straight weeks (two!) as the top two running backs in the rotation, this feature may need to retire prematurely. However, there are always concerns about Fozzy's health (knock on wood) and giving a few carries to Tre' Newton or trying to get the ball to DJ Monroe five times per game could be beneficial to the offense.
Right now, though, Whittaker and Johnson compliment each other well and have each brought their particular strengths to bear against Oklahoma and Missouri. Johnson, in particular, has looked more impressive than ever, running with determination and a combination of quickness and power that Mack Brown obviously appreciates in a running back. Last week, I wrote that he was settling into a role as a fourth-quarter bludgeon, but the first drive against Missouri proved that he can do it early in the game as well, picking up a critical third and short, as well as pounding his way for seven yards after running through the tackles of four Missouri players. Has he even taken a hit in the last two weeks or has he given out all the hits on his tough runs?
As for Whittaker, he's no savior for the running game, but he does have good if not great speed. He's capable as a wide receiver, giving Greg Davis some flexibility in using him in empty sets and he ran harder against Missouri than he did against Oklahoma, seemingly trusting his body more and showing a greater willingness to pick up some tough extra yardage instead of leaving it on the field. The greatest asset that he brings to the table is his vision, allowing him to see the cut-back lanes, a point that isn't exactly a revelation at this point, but is still fundamental to understanding why Whittaker can be more successful in the Texas scheme than other running backs on the roster. It is, perhaps, simply a matter of time before he breaks a long running play.
New receivers pay early dividends. Missouri certainly didn't make it overly difficult for Texas to complete passes and pick up yardage early in the game by playing so far off the Texas receivers, but Marquise Goodwin and Malcolm Williams provided noticable upgrades over James Kirkendoll and John Chiles, while Jordan Shipley seemed to thrive in his return to the slot position, which allows him to catch more short passes, especially screens, while also having to ability to work inside or outside.
Despite predictably dropping an easy pass, Williams also showed that he deserves to be on the field with his combination of size and speed -- he's simply an extremely difficult player to tackle and on several of his catches, it looked like he was only one broken tackle or one step away from breaking a long play. At the end of the night, he totaled five catches for 53 yards and the first time that he's caught that many passes in a game -- against Tech he had only four catches and has had three catches on several occasions. If the coaches continue to play him, it's only a matter of time before he makes the same type of plays he did against Texas Tech last season.
The drops are a problem, but protecting the football is a larger issue, as Williams fumbled once and several times had trouble maintaining possession of the football after the play. Back to the problem with drops -- Greg Davis believes that Williams simply needs to do a better job of consistently attacking the football with his hands because he gets in trouble when he lets the ball get in on him.
In fact, with all the parallels between the Tech game last season and the upcoming trip to Stillwater, the game on Halloween night is the perfect time for Williams to finally fulfill the lofty expectations of Texas fans enamored with his physical gifts. Put the man on the field and get him the football.
Marquise Goodwin had an excellent night blocking, showing not only determination, but also an understanding of how to get up into defenders. Obviously, he doesn't have great size, but it never seemed to hurt him against Missouri, putting on a blocking performance that should have put James Kirkendoll to shame -- Goodwin probably gave better effort in one half than Kirkendoll has blocking all season.
Catching the football four times for 24 yards, Goodwin looked natural as always and didn't seem to have any moments of miscommunication with McCoy as he did at least twice against Oklahoma -- no doubt he is learning quickly, a remarkable ability of the young receiver. The biggest remaining question about Goodwin is just how much shake he has in his hips and if he has the ability to make defenders miss in space, but those questions will surely find some answers in the next several weeks if he continues to receive significant snaps.
Ultimately, it's difficult to separate how much the changes at receiver made a difference and how much of the first-half success was directly a result of Dave Steckel seemingly having little idea of how the stop the Texas passing game. For now, it's enough to say that the results speak for themselves and that players like Williams and Goodwin have a chance to grow with the offense as the season progresses and are major causes for optimism and a renewed belief that this offense can start clicking and put up the gaudy yardage and point-scoring numbers of last season.
Tracking: the "new" offense. It was probably not the best choice of words to say that the Texas offense was about ready to take a "complete 180," but that description does work in several ways. Last season, the coaches clearly committed to the four-wide offense and when Greg Davis went to EBS in the Texas Tech game, it was because he got scared, flat out. He felt like the offensive line wasn't protecting well, so he basically went to max protection, but the problem was that Smith didn't do well in some of his one-on-one opportunities, giving up a sack and obviously not providing the same threat in the passing game as the extra receiver. Overall, the decision was a net loss for that game.
Defensives started taking away what Texas was doing in four wide and the running game was struggling mightily, so Davis and Mack Brown decided to go back in the other direction, realizing that putting EBS in the game for more snaps would help the running game, particularly with misdirection, counters, and the possibility of using play-action more often and more effectively. The running game has improved with those decisions, but it was perhaps the play-action game that helped the Longhorns the most against Missouri. Starting out the game, Texas used play-action to get the linebacker covering Shipley a step out of position for a big gain and John Chiles had his first success down the field on a play-action pass. It's been some time since the Longhorns have so effectively run play-action fakes consistently in a single game. Perhaps several years -- the lack of a good play-action game has been a serious problem for some time, but at least for one game worked well. That's promising.
The other major change was supposed to be throwing more downfield -- how teams have played the Longhorns with two safeties deep and the effectiveness of the controlled passing game last season lead the coaches to eschew many long passes downfield, despite a player in Malcolm Williams who can go up and get the football using his size and athleticism. On that front, the Longhorns didn't attack down the field much, but they didn't have to because of MIssouri's softer than soft coverage. Brown said on Monday that there were some new wrinkles for the game the coaches didn't have to show because the first half went so well -- those plays could have been longer passes or they could have been new additions to the running game.
For the game, Texas played 11 personnel for around 80% of the snaps. EBS missed two pass blocks and one run block -- not a terrible game by any stretch of the imagination, but the coaching staff needs to be careful about how many times he gets matched up one-on-one on the edge, especially against an extremely talented edge rusher like Aldon Smith -- he wasn't great in those situations last year at about 30 or more pounds heavier and that's just not his strength right now. It's not necessarily his fault, much like last season -- the coaches just need to put him in a situation to more consistently be successful.
In the running game, he didn't dominate, but he was effective, providing a nice extra blocking surface and forcing the linebacker to have one extra gap for which they are responsible. The other aspect, of course, is his pass catching and he caught the only ball thrown at him for nine yards, but the surprising thing was that he was often open in the flat. Wide open. So were many other receivers on the same plays, but if other defenses deal with him the same way, there might be some chances to pick up yardage with EBS in the passing game if the defense isn't going to pay attention to him.
Overall, it's safe to say the offense will continue to head back in the direction of using 11 personnel at roughly the same 80% clip and it should continue benefiting the running game. To make the next step in improving the running game, the individual players on the offensive line need to perform better, but putting EBS on the right side of the line almost exclusively seemed to help Hix, who probably had his best game since ULM. At receiver, the changes clearly made a big difference, at least in blocking and should continue to help the offense improve moving forward. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the teams on the schedule.
Tracking: playmaking defense. After forcing five turnovers against Oklahoma, including three fumbles (two on special teams) and making two interceptions, the Longhorns only intercepted two passes and had the blocked punt by Curtis Brown. "Only" three turnovers because Texas didn't knock any balls loose, a similar performance to the Colorado game in that respect. It may have been mostly a result of Emmanuel Acho not getting a ton of playing time when Missouri was actually moving the football in the running game on their only touchdown drive, as neither Keenan Robinson nor Roddrick Muckelroy have shown the ability to relieve ball carriers of the football, but to be fair to Robinson, his sample size is pretty small. Muckelroy's is not. The bottom line is that the coaching staff is probably going to emphasize ball-stripping techniques again this week and the defense could really help the offense by forcing a fumble or two.
In the department of intercepting passes, the Longhorns continue to do a good job, but the biggest difference between now and earlier in the season is that players are finishing plays right now instead of dropping easy or relatively easy interceptions. Perhaps the biggest surprise in that department is Blake Gideon, who now has three interceptions after failing to pick off a pass all last season. Late in the game against Missouri, he read the quarterback's eyes and came off his man to intercept a pass intended for a receiver behind him along the sidelines, an excellent heads-up play. As long as he can make the plays he puts himself in a position to make, his athletic limitations aren't as much of a problem.
Chykie Brown also intercepted a pass, the first of his career, showing off his ability to react quickly by catching a tipped pass that ended up basically hitting him near the chest on a slant. While it wasn't an extremely difficult play, it's really his reward for having been around the football on so many short passes this year -- he's had his share of mental breakdowns, but his play this season has only been a disappointment compared to the high level of play turned in by Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown, and now Deon Beasley in limited opportunities. How about Beasley, though? It looks like coming so close to having his football career taken away from him has finally made him turn it up a notch on the field. He's actually a physical presence out there now. Good for him.
It's worth noting that both interceptions came off of back-up Jimmy Costello, but it's not like Blaine Gabbert was gashing the Longhorns in the passing game, though he did deliver an incredible pass to Danario Alexander into good double coverage by Robinson and Gideon. The Longhorns managed to knock Gabbert from the game on a sack by Eddie Jones, who continues to make the most of his snaps and continues to be a major success story for this team. Sergio Kindle was Sergio Kindle, disrupting plays. Missouri tried to run at him on the second play of the game and that's just a bad idea. That's just making it easy for him. Lamarr Houston was extremely disruptive and showed no ill effects from the OU offensive lineman trying to end his college career with a dangerous blow below to the knee in the Cotton Bowl. It's clear now that he is a defensive tackle through and through. It's hard to say enough about how well this defensive line has played and it's comforting to know that Ben Alexander can give the team some really good snaps up in Stillwater.
The bottom line -- right now it's dangerous to be an opposing quarterback facing the Longhorns.
Up on the high horse. The Tim Tebow love is sickening. Absolutely sickening. It was sickening when Thom Brennaman kept going on and on during the national championship game about how five minutes with Tebow would change your life. Hey, it's true -- if you've got some extra skin on your genitalia, Tebow will happily remove it for you. That's life changing right there. But what Tebow does with young Phillipino children isn't the point here.
The point is what Tebow did after his worst collegiate game, throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns against MIssissipi State -- clearly, Tebow decided to channel his inner Jarrett Lee and that's just never a good idea. Instead of being a man, being the so-called greatest leader in the history of people leading people, and facing the media after his struggles, Tebow was nowhere to be found at the post-game press conference. Urban Meyer offered some lame, bullshit excuse about his quarterback visiting with his former offensive coordinator, current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullens. Trash.
The cult of personality surrounding Tebow has gotten completely out of control over the last several years, but it's something that Tebow has more than embraced. He's allowed it to become what it is. His stupid speech after the Ole Miss loss last season that is ridiculously enshrined at Florida already. Congratulations -- as a quarterback, Tebow accepted responsibility for losing after failing to convert the crucial play of the game. Incredible! Has a quarterback ever taken responsibility for a loss they were responsible for in the history of football? Apparently not. The talk of how great of a leader he is all the time, yet his teammates visibly tune him out on the sidelines when he's giving them a tongue-lashing. Blah blah blah. Man up, Tebow -- you act like the second coming of Jesus, but then can't talk to the media after a bad game?
Colt McCoy, who obviously has no love lost for Tebow, saying several weeks ago that he has no relationship with the guy, had this to say ($) about avoiding post-game press conferences:
First of all, (Texas football communications director) John (Bianco) and them wouldn't let me do that if I wanted to. But I think it's your job as a leader, as the quarterback, no matter what, win, lose or draw, if you play good or you don't, you've got to go talk to the media. You're the voice for the fans to let them know what happened, and that's your job as a quarterback to do that.
That's right, Tebow, not only is Colt more of a man and a leader, but your SID is a weeny, too.
There were some murmurs last week about McCoy making excuses for his poor play against Oklahoma with talk of him being sick for the hundredth time this season and the thumb injury he said made it hard to hold onto the football and led to him fumbling near the goalline. Yet, McCoy still went and spoke to the media about it, manning up for his poor play. Not so Tebow.
It's certainly interesting to wonder why it is that Tebow and McCoy don't have some sort of friendship, given that both have deep religious beliefs and are seemingly cut from the mold. Perhaps McCoy feels resentment that Tebow gets such wide-spread adulation for snipping foreskins, while McCoy receives relatively little acclaim for travelling on two separate mission trips to Peru. Maybe it's frustrating to McCoy that he's a much better quarterback, but comparatively receives so little love for it. Of course, as Longhorns fans, it's actually beneficial that McCoy doesn't receive the same attention, as it would surely become just as sickening for the rest of the country as Tebow-love has become.
Given this last performance by Tebow, though? McCoy is not only a better leader than Tebow, which he showed, but he's also a much better quarterback than Tebow and every bit the runner, ably filling the unbelievably huge shoes of Vince Young, handling that pressure with aplomb. I'll take McCoy any day. You can buzz off, Tebow, I'd just as soon never hear from you again.