The lingering emotions from the Texas Longhorns last-second loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Austin on Saturday were devastation, frustration, and often pure, outright anger at some of the inexplicable calls.
But for the Longhorns to move forward, the team will have to take accountability for its own mistakes, reduce penalties, and continue to grow offensively while
With all that in mind, let's take a look at three important lessons from the loss:
Jerrod Heard will have some growing pains
The development of any young quarteback comes in fits and starts. Defenses make adjustments, scheme to take away preferences, and attempt to disrupt thte quarterback's comfort zone. For redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard, Saturday's game against Oklahoma State showcased some of the harsh realities that will increasingly become apparent through Big 12 play and will challenge both Heard and the coaching staff to come up with answers.
He was hardly terrible, but the coaches were reluctant to run him as often as they did against Cal, when he carried the ball 23 times, so there are clear limits to his durability -- he's still a lean 199 pounds and certainly can't survive a full season taking that many hits every game. As a result, the offense was much less dynamic.
The decision to use junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in the short-yardage package was efffective and has a chance to remain so because defenses will still have to account for his ability to throw the football, but it's a situational look that requires the Longhorns to get into a favorable down and distance in order to even use it. When Texas can't run the ball and can't protect the quarterback, the Swoopesdozer won't even have a chance to see the field.
From an opposing schematic standpoint, where the Golden Bears tried to drop players in coverage and gave up on pressuring Heard, the Cowboys understandably adopted a different tactic, blitzing Heard repeatedly and taking advantage of spotty right tackle play in the second half. Against better athletes, Heard wasn't able to escape the pocket as easily and when he did, Oklahoma State was able to limit his open-field exploits to modest gains.
He also left some yardage on the field. When he's under pressure, he has to develop a better understanding of when he needs to get rid of the football and avoid a sack. One such play cost the Longhorns a field goal when he took a loss of more than 20 yards on third down. In the open field, Heard has slid too early or gotten out of bounds too early several times, costing Texas first downs. For the Longhorns offense to reach its potential, Heard must consistently make the football decisions about how long to hold the football and when he can benefit from taking the slight risk of extending towards the chains.
Since the staff wants to keep things simple for Heard, reducing Shawn Watson's playboook by roughly half since the opener, defenses won't be seeing a lot of surprises as new play caller Jay Norvell increasingly puts his tendencies on film. For an offense that still struggles to execute consistently, how much Norvell can subtly diversify the playbook while avoiding putting too much on Heard will determine whether the Horns can pull off a big upset or two.
The freshman defensive backs are already an improvement
When the Texas coaches moved redshirt freshman cornerback John Bonney out of the nickel position and to the boundary corner spot during fall camp, it was a decision that didn't make sense. And to be sure, it didn't work especially well -- senior cornerback Duke Thomas often struggled with the physicality required from the nickel position and Bonney was seemingly incapable of playing tight coverage.
After another poor start for Bonney and some shaky play from sophomore cornerback Antwuan Davis, the coaching staff inserted freshmen cornerbacks Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, and Davante Davis into the game. The impact was immediate -- though Boyd was still giving up completions on inside releases, he limited the amount of separation, providing hope that as he gains more experience, he'll be able to turn those immediate tackles into passes broken up or interceptions.
All three also came up with an interception or nearly had one. Hill made a phenomenal read in zone coverage to intercept an overthrown pass from Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph and return it for a touchdown. Boyd was in the right position to intercept an extremely errant pass from Rudolph, but had it called back due to the questionable roughing the passer penalty on junior defensive tackle Paul Boyette. And Davis got into the action, too, showing impressive reflexes in nearly pulling a tipped pass off the turf.
Davis suffered a knee injury during the game of unknown severity, but look for Boyd and Hill to continue playing extensively and to continue putting themselves in position to make plays. For the Texas cornerback position, those three players are the future and the future is now.
Hassan Ridgeway's emergence aids Texas run defense
Just when it looked like the Longhorns could experience 2012-like issues all season against the run, the injury to Cowboys running back Chad Carson and some impressive disruption from junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway suddenly provided some serious hope.
The 6'4, 307-pounder known as Green Mile looked energized by his fumble return for a touchdown, took advantage of an assignment error to record a key sack, and turned in another half tackle for loss and six tackles overall. Stopping the run starts with the defensive linemen beating blocks and Ridgeway did that consistently for the first time in 2015.
If he can continue to work his way back to full health and get in better condition, he could quickly become the replacement for Malcom Brown that everyone expected coming into the season. Finding another playmaker along the line doesn't seem as likely at the moment, but if Ridgeway can single-handedly ruin four to five plays a game, it would take a tremendous amount of pressure off of the other 10 Texas defenders.