As I woke up this morning, I laid in bed for a few minutes wondering if I just had a bad dream or if the Texas Longhorns really did come up short after missing a PAT to tie the game in the final minutes against the California Golden Bears. Moments later, I accepted reality and stumbled out of bed.
It's as if Charlie Strong was foreshadowing the jaw-dropping twist to the end of an epic thriller movie when he spoke about his kicker's off-season antics at Big12 Media Days earlier this year.
"I told him instead of worrying about those trick shots, I want to see him make every kick from 40 yards and in. The first time you don't, you'll be running because you want to post these," Strong said at Big 12 Media Days.
I wonder if Rose has begun running yet.
Though I'm still a bit numb, I've had to remind myself today that there is a lot to takeaway from last night's game. And I still very much stand behind my 7-5 prediction for the Longhorns 2015 campaign.
1) Jerrod Heard -- Whatever questions, if any, still remained about who Texas' starting quarterback should be were squashed Saturday evening by the redshirt freshman. After just two career starts, this team is clearly Jerrod Heard's (with Malik Jefferson standing right by his side), and the quarterback job is clearly Heard's to lose. Though no one should expect him to lose that job the rest of the season.
Unlike Swoopes, Heard was a winner in high school. And when you watch how he carries himself on the field, you see some of why he led his high school team to two 4A state titles. Heard brings that mojo and juice to this Texas team that has been lacking for years.
But Heard also brings hope and a direction to the Longhorns. He's created an identity that the team can now stand behind. His ability to make plays is contagious. And it motivates the rest of his team to play harder and to play better each week. If I'm a team that is playing Texas in November, I'm definitely eyeing the Longhorns right now.
Though Heard did his part at the end of the game to put Texas in a position to tie things up, he did reveal his youth by making some costly mistakes earlier in the game that ultimately led to points for Cal. And those mistakes should be a reminder to us all that he still has a ways to go in his development. But if I'm Texas, I'm glad I finally have found a quarterback to build off of.
2) The missed kick -- Let's get all of our frustrations out now. That kick was a painful punch to the gut. And what makes it even more frustrating are the antics Rose pulled during the summer.
Though I really don't want to dissect Rose and that play all that much, his missed kick coupled with his backflip trick shot and his attempt to show off by kicking field goals from distances no sane coach would ever try during a real game are what make the missed field goal sting that much more. It was as if it was only a matter of time before those antics would bite him and this team in the ass.
In talking with my dad this morning, he did bring up a good point about another whiff that occurred on that play. If you go back and watch the missed kick, you will see a Cal defender run right by a Longhorn who was doing his best statute imitation instead of doing his job, which should have been blocking that Cal defender. I've gone back and watched the play but I still can't figure out who the statue was.
I don't want to call it an excuse for Rose. But there's no question in my mind that seeing a white jersey charging at him from his right messed with his concentration on that kick. Nonetheless, it's a kick Rose should make 100 out of 100 times. And it's a missed kick that turns my stomach upside down when I think about it.
3) Defensive woes continue -- Though many will remember the missed kick as the play that stings the most, we have to remind ourselves that the Longhorn defense did no favors for Heard and the offense again. The defense ended the evening giving up 280 yards on the ground and 268 yards through the air. And that is a real concern that will continue to put added pressure on the offense unless improved upon.
Unfortunately, I can't say there is an easy fix for the defense. There are issues at each level and at various positions. But the glaring problem in my mind continues to be their struggles against the run.
The common theme I continue to see is how poorly the defensive tackles play against the run. And one player that seems to keep attracting my attention for the wrong reasons is Tank Jackson.
At least a few times each game, I've seen Jackson glued onto a block only to watch a running back run right by him as he reaches out with one arm like he's trying to play touch football. That's not good. And his inability, along with the rest of the defensive line's, exposes the defense in a bad way. And it's one of the main reasons opposing teams are able to string long drives together that just wear down the defense.
Outside of the defensive line, the secondary also has its own issues. Yes, Goff and his receivers are talented. But the secondary made it easier than they should have for Cal Saturday evening.
Figuring out how to improve the secondary is a challenge in itself. Aside from maybe Duke Thomas, I'm not sold any of the other starters (Hall, Haines, Bonney) have played well enough to be relied upon as starters. But unfortunately, Texas is in a bit of a sticky spot regarding personnel at the moment.
Texas basically can choose to do one of two things. Either continue to play guys that have more experience on the field and that have had more time at Texas learning this defense. Or Texas can play younger guys who will be the better players in the long run, but who will also likely bring mistakes onto the field that are expected out of players who are young and still learning and adjusting to college football. If it were up to me, I'd go with the better athletes at this point who are the younger guys. I'd bank on them making strides as the season goes on.
4) Offensive line's best game -- Though there is still a lot of room for improvements, this was the offensive line's best performance of the three games they've played this season. Multiple times, Heard was able to sit behind the line and scan the defense looking for his target. And the group also did better opening up some creases for the running backs.
But for as many good plays as I saw, I still saw too many missed assignments. If you go back and watch this game later this week, watch the offensive line right after the ball is snapped, particularly on running plays. A good offensive line knows exactly who is blocking who. And right when the ball is snapped, they are engaged with their assignments before the defenders have a chance to get into position to make the play. For Texas, this is something they still need to improve upon.
As the season goes on, as they get more playing time together, and as they become more familiar with this new offense and the blocking schemes associated with it, the line will improve. For now, the group is still a work in progress that is trending up. And up is up, even if it's a slight improvement.
5) Daje Johnson has arrived -- Following last week's coming out party, Daje Johnson tallied 145 yards on five receptions. And Texas/Heard will need Daje to keep playing this well the rest of the season. He is becoming one of Heard's go-to guys, and he also has the ability to be a safety blanket.
Daje's quickness and speed allows Texas to line him up in positions around the formation that create mismatches. And without the emergence of a reliable tight end at this point, Daje can also be used as a check down option for Heard when plays break down (of course, that is if Heard doesn't want to tuck it and run).
Though there are many games left to play, it seems like the light has finally come on for Daje. And it looks like he won't pull a disappearing act this season like he has in previous years.
The way the game ended was heartbreaking. There's no question about that. But looking big picture, there are positives Texas can take away from this game and build off of.
The biggest concerns are on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, the ultimate answer may just be that Texas needs both A) time to develop young players, and B) another recruiting class or two to improve the talent on that side of the ball. But for starters, stopping the run has to be addressed.
As for the positives, Texas has a quarterback that will lead this team the rest of the season. And the offense has an identity it can rally behind and play for.
As I stated, I stand behind my 7-5 prediction. But after losing to Cal, Texas has to beat Oklahoma State next weekend for me to believe 7-5 is still doable. Texas had to win at least one between Cal and OSU. Texas lost to Cal. They need to beat Oklahoma State to keep the winning record chance in their favor.