As I sat in the crowd looking down at my phone while the wedding procession went by me down the isle, I couldn't believe what I just saw. For the second week in a row, the Texas Longhorns had a botched special teams play at the end that ultimately led to their loss against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
No, that play alone did not determine the entire game. As a matter of fact, a handful of plays (or plays that would have stood had they not been negated by penalties) all combined to form one wild and messy game. But it's another blow of many punches that the Longhorns and fans continue to take.
1) Refs/penalties - Normally, I'm not one to gripe about refs and penalties. I generally understand that the refs are human too. At times they will make good decisions, bad decisions, and questionable decisions like players and coaches do during games. And of course I always hope the refs make more good decisions than anything else. But what we saw Saturday was something I can't ever remember seeing my entire life of watching football.
I can't remember a game that had this many big plays negated or overturned by the refs or the flags they threw. And what really made it sting was the fact that a handful of the flags were questionable at best. Defensive holding? I mean, come on...
I'm not going to go as far as saying these refs were part of some scandal. But it did feel like there was some type of bias against Texas. Maybe that's the fan in me frustrated with how many calls against Texas took points off the board. But again, I really cannot remember a game that had this many questionable calls that wiped away big plays for one team.
At the same time, Texas also needs to play with more discipline. One play that stands out to me was a blatant block in the back on a punt return. I can't remember who the call was on, but you could see that flag developing long before the OSU player got blocked in the back. Texas can't afford to give up field position due to silly flags like that.
2) Heard - Each and every week, we will all continue to learn more and more about Jerrod Heard as we watch the young quarterback grow and develop. This past Saturday, there were certain situations that reminded me Heard is very much a redshirt freshman.
The more he plays, the more he and the coaches will work on "situational" football. In other words, Heard will learn when to sit in the pocket a second or two longer scanning for his receivers, when to escape and throw the ball away, and when to take off and run. At the moment, his tendency is definitely the latter when he feels pressure.
In Heard's defense, we all know that his offensive line's pass protection is not always the greatest. There are times when he has no choice but to escape the pocket. But there were a few times, especially late in the game, when Heard tried to extend a play or escape the pocket and ended up taking a sack instead of throwing the ball away,
In high school, Heard could get away with plays like that. He was simply faster than just about everyone on the field. But at this level of football, there are defenders that are quick enough to corral him if he dances around in the backfield too much. And those types of plays and decisions are the types of situations Heard needs to be better about.
I will say one thing that has impressed me more than I was expecting to before Heard started playing has been his passing.
Heard still isn't a quarterback we should expect to spray footballs all around the field. But the passes he has thrown have usually been pretty on target. I can't say that I've watched a game and walked away thinking Heard needs to throw less. And Norvell has also done a pretty good job of not asking too much from Heard via passing.
3) OL - It is a bit alarming how thin Texas' depth is across the offensive line. And though the Longhorns have bodies at the position, they apparently do not have enough polished players.
When right tackle Kent Perkins left the game with an injury, Marcus Hutchins came in to replace him. The rest of the game was a struggle at offensive line while Hutchins was in.
You know you lack talented depth across the line when two of the five starting lineman are freshman (Williams & Vahe) and one of the lineman is forced to play a position that is not his natural position (Perkins). This position group was already one that needed help. And now, without Perkins, things could get messier if Texas doesn't find someone to step up and contribute at right tackle.
Last year's starting right tackle, Marcus Hutchins, does not appear to be the answer. And after he struggled Saturday evening, new Juco transfer Tristan NIckelson came in and played decently well. Nickelson is probably a guy that needed this year to develop and polish his game. But now, for at least the near future, he likely will be called upon to man the right tackle position while Perkins is out.
With Perkins out, Heard's decision-making when he has pressure coming his way will be tested even more.
4) The good and the bad with the defense - For the first time all season, the defensive line showed signs of life. It wasn't a dominant performance. But it was one that at least gave hope back to what was a hopeless position group for the first few games of the season.
At the point of attack, I saw defensive tackles sliding down the line while engaged with an opposing offensive lineman, and then shed their blocks to clog up a hole and make a tackle as the ball carrier crossed the line of scrimmage. It's the type of play this line is athletic enough to make. And it's the type of play we all expected this line to make from the very beginning of the season. But for whatever reason, it took them four games to make it happen.
The best lineman all day was Hassan Ridgeway. He finally made some plays that showed off his ability. They were plays that we had all been waiting for him to make. For Texas' sake, hopefully it was a preview of more to come the rest of the season. And watching a lineman rumble down the field with the ball for a score is definitely one of the more humorous plays in football. I love it.
Though the defensive line played better, the group is still not playing as well as they need to be. The lack of a consistent pass-rush hurts. It only puts more pressure on a secondary that already has its hands full with trying to figure out the right personnel to play. But if Texas can begin consistently stopping the run, it will only help the entire defense.
Speaking of the secondary, the time has come (in my mind, it's overdue) for the freshman to start. Holton Hill, Kris Boyd, and Davante Davis are playmakers that need to be on the field. They're aggressive, they're physical, and they're fast. Simply put, they are Texas' best corners. I'd even argue that they are better on the outside than Duke Thomas, who is better suited to play inside at nickel.
Those corners should be playing over John Bonney. He just lacks the physical play those other guys bring onto the field. And it's one reason he continues to get picked on when he's on the field.
I'd also expect DeShon Elliott to get a fair look at safety once he's back to 100 percent. Though he did have a nice interception, Dylan Haines continues to remind us why he was originally a walk-on at Texas. He tackles poorly and his lack of athleticism often gets displayed when he's trying to make a play.
As a unit, the defense took some baby steps, which is a positive. But the Longhorns need more than baby steps right now.
5) Déjà vu - Well, we can now finally talk about it. I wanted to put this at the end because like last week's special teams blunder, it is just one play of many that Texas made mistakes on. But it is also a whiffed played in a key moment of a football game. And every close football game always has at least a few key plays that ultimately swing the game in one direction of another.
Last week, after the missed field goal, I said that I'd much rather be a punter late in a close game than a field goal kicker. Now I don't have a clue.
If you're Charlie Strong, you have to be sick to your stomach with how both of these last two games have ended. What coach has ever lost two close games in a row where there was a botched special teams play at the very end? Strong just can't catch a break at the moment.
But like last week, plays like this stand out because Texas has put themselves in these positions. Had Texas been up by 10 or more, we likely would not make as big of a deal about this play as we are. Unfortunately, it is what it is. And that play led to Oklahoma State kicking the game-winning field goal.
- - - -
It's been a rough start to the season for the Longhorns. But before the season begun, many predicted this team would be better after the first six games. And I tend to agree.
I originally had Texas going 7-5. But I said they needed to win at least one game between Cal and OSU for me to continue to believe 7-5 was feasible. Now, with Texas 1-3 heading into a tough 2-game stretch, 6-6 or even 5-7 seems more likely.
You'd like to think Texas could at least win 6 games to be bowl eligible. The young players on this team really need the extra weeks of practice a bowl game would bring. But that likely means Texas will have to be on fire the second half of the season. And at this point, this team still has a long ways to go.