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In the Trenches - The Metacognition, er Ignition, of Garrett Gilbert

Meta - what? This is sports, right, not psychology. Well, it goes without saying that much of sports performance is psychology, and Satyurday night's game with Wyoming was a classic example. The example, that is, of Garrett Gilbert, that hoped for superstar-to-be quarterback. In both the Rice game and for the first 25 minutes of the Wyoming game, I felt like I was looking at a stranger when I watched Gilbert play. Where was that pocket presence and quick decision-making we all saw in the MNC? Where was that pocket presence and ability to look off defenders? Mr. Gilbert had all of spring ball, summer 7-on-7's, and fall practice do get in sync with his receivers, so With 5:17 left in the first half against Wyoming, I just can't buy that this is a, "he's just not in rhythm with his receivers yet," scenario.


Psychologists have a term for when someone is thinking about what they are thinking, called "metacognition," and that's what I saw from Garrett Gilbert throughout the Rice game and until Alex Okafor took the wrong gap in a pass rush in a cover 1 blitz, allowing Austyn Carta-Samuels to stroll 18 yards for a TD and give Wyoming a 7-6 lead. It seems clear now, that Gilbert and the entire Longhorns offensive unit unit looked at these games as "practice" until, all of a sudden, it wasn't. Garrett in the first 25 minutes Saturday was worrying about where his foot was, what throwing motion he was using, which safety he was reading, which receiver Greg Davis wanted to get some reps, how long he should wait before looking to his checkdown, etc. You know, thinking about what he was thinking. Result? Not bad, but not great, and to the fans, singularly uninspiring: 10 of 18 (55%) passing for 89 yards (4.94 yards per attempt), for two field goals.

So Wyoming takes the lead, and from the scowl Mack had on his face on the sideline you can just imagine Mack saying to Greg Davis, "It ain't practice anymore." More importantly, I think Garrett just said, "Screw it, I'm just playing." And behold, the waters parted, the bed of the sea was dry land, and Garrett Gilbert ignited like the burning bush. Garrett made play after play. After the jump, I review this performance and offer some other thoughts on the offensive line, Tyrell Higgins, and the UT safeties.

With the defense doubling Malcolm Williams all day, and the running game pulling 7 defenders into the box occasionally, both the flanker position (the Z for you playbook nerds) and the slot receiver (sub B) had single coverage on underneath routes most of the night. Once Gilbert decided to PLAY instead of PRACTICE, he was 12 for 17 (70%) and 1 TD for 149 yards (that's 8.7 yards per attempt). Without a drop from Marquise Goodwin and a juggle by Darius White, that line could have been 14 for 17 for 259 yards and 3 TDs.

But more than that, we began to see Gilbert the athlete. On the third play of the drive after Wyoming's score, Garrett rolled right away from pressure on a playaction and then, just before going out of bounds, sailed a little cross-body toss to Barrett Matthews. With the playaction occupying the Wyoming DE's thoughts, Fozzy broke his 39 yard run on the next play partly because of no backside chase from the DE.

The next drive lasted all of one play, with Gilbert settting up Mike Davis for the run after the catch by putting the ball on his outside shoulder. 45 yards and a touchdown.

On the next drive, which wasn't until the third quarter, Gilbert kept the orange triangle moving on a third and two playaction by running into and then out of a sack, and then hurdled a defender for 11 yards. (Incidentally, slide, Garrett, slide, once you've got the first down). The drive was centered on a nice 11 yard out to a single-covered James Kirkendoll, that Kirk turned upfield for another 10 yards.

The dropped deep ball to Marquise Goodwin on the next drive was a piece of magnificence that will be forever forgotten.Against Tech or OU, Goodwin or Williams may make that catch

And so on - you get the picture. It may not have showed up in a 40 point route, but that overcooked pan of unsalted mashed potatoes that was the Texas offense for Rice and Wyoming has shown its potential to be Roesti potatoes at the Ritz Carlton. As fans, we may have to get used to a few more three and outs in return for a few more explosive plays, but the Garrett Gilbert of the second half of the MNC game has returned.

The Arrival 

I've commented before about the need for a Texas WR to have enough quickness to separate against  press coverage, and like an alien doctor with a cure for cancer, Mike Davis has arrived. He obviously has the wiggle and enough speed to make inferior athletes pay and outstanding hands (maybe the best on the team). It's worth noting that he spent time during the game at both the flanker (from which he scored his TD) and the slot (from which he got most of his catches); in the Greg Davis era, it is highly unusual for a true freshman to line up at two positions. He also showed the ability to read coverages out of the slot. If Davis can learn to execute good blocks, his automatic catching and quickness should anchor him there for his career at Texas. James Kirkendoll may have seen his last day as a starter, and Texas' best set of wide receivers at this point is Williams at split end, Chiles at flanker, and Davis in the slot. Goodwin obviously has a big role, and Kirkendoll can spell Williams, and Darius White showed some things against Wyoming, but Davis may be the centerpiece of the set that will take the Horns as far as they can go in 2010.

Down the Line

Speaking of as far as the Horns can go, I paid special attention to how the offensive line was doing. Keeping it brief, Kyle Hix is still jittery but didn't come close to giving up a sack, and was a mammoth in the Jumbo package in the fourth quarter.  Michael Huey is still lost in space and struggles to get under the defenders, though he did improve as the game wore on, and pass-blocked well. David Snow is a ROCK. Mason Walters is still having adventures in pass blocking, as is Britt Mitchell, but the pair showed outstanding abilities to pull in the running game. In fact they both pulled left as Hix turned his man outside and Huey and Snow crashed defenders to the right on Fozzy's touchdown run, and Mitchell in particular found a great angle on his man. Pulling tackles are not a given in the college game, and it remains for Greg Davis to figure out a way to get a few productive runs to the right in order to set up the power play or counters to the left that best utilize the talents of Walters and Mitchell.

Who Dat at Tackle

There was some commiseration about the lack of a second defensive tackle in the open threads and postgame comments, but I thought Tyrell Higgins played fairly well for a so-called "warm body." Several times he maintained excellent gap control against the zone read runs of Carta-Samuels and turned a number of plays inside, and was the quickest to react to most of the draws or other delayed runs. He had the same number of tackles as Kheeston Randall and played his roile in the defense, which was largely at 1 or 0-technique (lined up over the center). He still looks as if he won't be able to hold up to many double teams, but again, in Muschamp's slanting pressure schemes, that may not be fatal. Alex Okafor didn't play as much as he did against Rice, but still had two tackles. He just needs to understand the position better and get more reps. Given Sam Acho's ability to provide some third down reps at DT due to the emergence of Jackson Jeffcoat, I think DT is not a weakness.

Safety First

 Safety has been seen as a position of strength for the Horns in 2010, but other than some harder than normal hitting by Blake Gideon, I didn't particularly like what I saw from the Longhorn safeties. Christian Scott in particular always seemed to be looking the wrong way in coverage, and his softness in staying with receivers accounted for a lot of Wyoming's success in the short passing game -- he makes the Longhorns stronger against the run, but potentially weaker against the pass.. Blake Gideon was as aggressive as I've seen him, but he continues to be a step late to the party far too often. If I was Neal Brown, offensive coordinator of Texas Tech, I would be looking at formations that draw Dravannti Johnson, Christian Scott, Blake Gideon and Chykie Brown to the same side of the field. It might require a TE to do that, and we know that Tech doesn't use one, but trips left would yield possibilities for generating weak coverage on the short routes.