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Texas vs OU Game Review: Longhorns Offense

Rather than watch another young, rebuilding team (Florida) get overwhelmed by another deep and experienced national title contender (LSU) -- which, by the way, UNACCEPTABLE LOSS FIRE MUSCHAMP NO HEART WE ARE FLORIDA THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN!!1! -- I poured myself a drink, grabbed a notepad, and rewatched the first half of our own game. It was what it was, and you don't need to rewatch it to know what went wrong, but I was interested in doing some pausing and rewinding to see exactly where and how the various breakdowns occurred. Even I couldn't stomach going through the entire game, but after a more careful review of the first half I'm ready to offer a few thoughts on the loss.

Horns_bullet_mediumPerspective.  First, a few words on keeping some perspective. Yes, the progress this team made through four games gave us reason to feel hopeful about a competitive game today, and in that respect it was a huge disappointment. But look, all we found out today is that this team is not at the level of a national title contender, which OU certainly is. If you expected Texas to compete for the national title this year, by all means, get mad, and good luck enjoying your college football fandom over the years. For the rest of us, today was a sobering reminder that Texas is rebuilding. It's still the case that the rebuilding process is off to a great start, but there's plenty of improvement that still has to come.

As for the nature of the loss, whatever -- it was an ugly day with three turnovers that got returned for scores. The only significance of getting blown out so badly is fan pride. Get over it. LSU's 34-11 win over Florida was only less dominant on the scoreboard. Save your angst for when a loaded Texas team underachieves.

Horns_bullet_mediumAbout that rebuilding.... If the overall rebuilding process is in general on the right trajectory, today's debacle revealed that the biggest project is on the offensive line, where Texas got absolutely brutalized today. At least on offense, that was the beginning and end of the story -- far and away the single biggest reason everything went so horribly wrong. Yes, the inexperience of our quarterbacks made castor oil out of the lemons they were handed, but it was the pressure they were under that was the proximate cause of all the struggles. I went ahead and took notes on each of our offensive drives of the first half, and in each and every case the failures of the offensive line were the main cause of the problems.

First Texas Drive:  Texas picked up a pair of first downs with a couple decent runs by Malcolm Brown, a pass interference penalty, and a fantastic outside scamper by Fozzy for 18 yards to the UT 44 yard line. On 1st and 10, Harsin calls for a David Ash draw play, and if Tray Allen actually blocks Frank Alexander it's a good call that's set up nicely for a gain. Tray Allen inexplicably lets Alexander rush by him untouched and Ash is dropped for a 4-yard loss. Case McCoy comes in for 2nd and 14, Corey Nelson gets a nice speed rush up the left side, and though Hopkins handles him reasonably well, McCoy starts scampering forward where, unfortunately, he's immediately crushed by Casey Walker, who is pushing Espinosa straight backwards like a tackling dummy. Sack, fumble, turnover. It's debatable whether McCoy bailed too quickly on his position -- Nelson was applying pressure, even though Hopkins appeared to be starting to push him upfield -- but even if he'd stayed put, Espinosa got so thoroughly dominated that McCoy was doomed either way.

Second Texas Drive:  With a mixture of some solid quick completions and solid rushing, Texas moved the ball down to the OU 27, but the drive was derailed on 2nd and 4 when Tray Allen again blocked absolutely nobody, leading to Fozzy immediately getting hit in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. McCoy's 3rd and 6 pass under pressure was tipped by Nelson at the line of scrimmage and we had to settle for a field goal.

Third Texas Drive:  On 1st and 10 we ran our power play and there just wasn't much of a hole, as Espinosa got bulled backwards two yards, blocking the path of the pulling Walters. On 2nd and 8, OU rushed four and dropped seven into coverage, but Ash bumped into Fozzy on his drop, wound up bailing to his right, and threw it away. On 3rd and 8 Ash had a pocket to throw in but simply made a rookie mistake, staring down Jaxon Shipley, who was blanketed by Tony Jefferson. Shipley's feet got tangled and Jefferson came up with the pick.

Fourth Texas Drive:  Texas picked up 7 on a nice quick hitter over the middle to Irby. Already trailing 20-3, Harsin decided to call for the reverse to Onyegbule, and there's no doubt in my mind that the former high school quarterback was going to throw that ball downfield. Unfortunately, OU had lined up six defenders on the line and overloaded the right side, where Colvin was blitzing from his safety position. The play was doomed from the outset, and you have to believe Case McCoy had a check-out from that play; assuming he did, he should have used it, because we ran the reverse right into the teeth of their rush, and no surprise, the biltzing safety Colvin tripped up Onyegbule for a 13-yard loss. On 3rd and 16 Case actually had time to throw but his deep pass to Davis was one of the ugliest balls I've ever seen and about 10 yards underthrown.

Fifth Texas Drive:  Texas completed a quick 3-yard pass to Shipley on 1st down, saw its 2nd down screen pass attempt blown up by nice defense by Fleming, and then Ash got sacked in about 0.2 seconds when David Snow made the wrong read on blitz pick up, letting Frank Alexander through untouched and picking up a linebacker instead. Unsurprisingly, Alexander ran right through Fozzy and sacked Ash.

Sixth Texas Drive:  After a hard-earned 5-yard pick up by Malcolm Brown on 1st down, Espinosa gets absolutely owned by Walker yet again on 2nd down and Brown is tackled in the backfield for a 3-yard loss. On 3rd and 8 Ash is once again under pressure but makes a nice athletic play to step up in the pocket, avoid the rush, and find Mike Davis for a 12-yard gain. On the ensuing 1st and 10, Ash is yet again under pressure, and buoyed by the play he'd just made tries to make a play on the scramble. Unfortunately Espinosa is right in his way, he can't step into the throw at all, and his pass is easily intercepted by OU and returned for a touchdown.

More on the quarterbacks momentarily, but let there be no mistake about it: even the most talented veteran quarterback would have had a difficult time making anything happen with the line play Texas got in the first half. Espinosa got thoroughly dominated by Casey Walker, Tray Allen and David Snow were comically useless, and the group as a whole ensured that we had zero prayer of executing enough positive plays to attack OU in any meaningful, sustained kind of way.

Horns_bullet_mediumAsh and McCoy.  Both Ash and McCoy played like young quarterbacks in their first big game, and the mistakes that both players made are a big reason the score was as lopsided as it was. That said, if anything this game demonstrated why Ash is so likely to be the quarterback when this is all said and done. The McCoy magic works fine against undisciplined defenses like UCLA, but his physical limitations are too limiting against a real defense that won't allow him to run around and buy time. Don't bother with the Colt comparison, either: the elder McCoy was much more physically stout, was a better rusher, and has a substantially stronger arm. It looks to me like Case McCoy's limitations are of the kind that lower his ceiling to a level that just won't be good enough against a truly top-flight defense.

Ash, by contrast, made mistakes that were reflections of his youth and inexperience, but did not suggest he is incapable of playing against an elite defense. Will he develop into a great quarterback who is successful against top-flight defenses? Maybe not, but he has the tools to do it. At least from my perspective, while both quarterbacks will probably have roles to play in helping this team have as successful a season as possible, the most important development will be the experience Ash gains from this year. I suspect it will be a troubling sign for this offense if Ash isn't the lone starter by this year next time.

Horns_bullet_mediumHarsin's limitations.  I've heard some grousing here and there about Harsin, as though he simply dialed up the wrong plays. I wanted to pull my hair out listening to the announcers on TV, as well as the bozos on the 1300 AM post-game show, insist that Harsin's "trickeration" simply "wouldn't work against a real defense like OU's." 

With all the quality information out there these days, people would know better, but the same lazy misperceptions abound. Look, Harsin's "trick" plays aren't gimmicks. They are not substitutes for real offense. They are not attempts to run playground-style offense. Harsin's imaginative plays are complements to his very real, very traditional offense. They are attempts to establish tendencies and then make use of the defense's reactions to those tendencies. It's sensible as hell, and there's nothing gimmicky about it.

You know when they look bad? When your offense can't do the stuff that those trick plays are meant to complement. How outrageously stupid is it to conclude that Harsin's play calling can't work against an OU defense? They've worked before, and they'll work again -- the next time his offense is more successful in doing the other stuff on which it's built. They'll also fail again -- the next time his offense can't succeed in other areas to force the defense to stop it. Bryan Harsin was completely handcuffed today by our inability to block the Sooners consistently. That's his problem to fix, too, but no one should be confusing a real problem for an imagined one.

It's that simple, and if you're still struggling to understand how it all works together, I don't know what to tell you.

Horns_bullet_mediumHarsin's limitations, Part 2.  To follow up on that point, Harsin was limited by our complete and total inability to pass the ball with any effectiveness whatsoever. We actually rushed the ball reasonably well, with Brown, Monroe, and Whittaker combining for 127 yards on 26 carries. The problem was that every single attempt to pass the ball was an unmitigated disaster. Five turnovers, eight sacks, countless breakdowns in protection... it was a nightmare from the get-go, and we were playing from behind.  When that happens, there's not much you can do. Just keep that in mind as you evaluate what went wrong, where we stand, and what needs to improve.

Horns_bullet_mediumMore later.  That's enough for now... More thoughts on the defense and what's ahead next.