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Texas vs. OSU: 3 things we learned

Tim Beck is not the biggest problem with the offense right now and two other lessons from the overtime loss.

Oklahoma State v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Frustrating. Heartbreaking. Disappointing. Not good enough.

All of those descriptions apply to another tough loss for the Texas Longhorns, with Saturday’s overtime defeat against the Oklahoma State Cowboys now fitting the blueprint of the entire season.

The team played hard, but it didn’t always play smart. The defense turned in its best performance of the season, but the offense struggled and freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger made a mistake late with his interception, much as he did in fumbling near the goal line against USC.

With Texas fans melting down everywhere with the team sitting at 3-4, it’s worth stepping back and looking at this season in perspective, based on the three lessons from this game.

Todd Orlando will likely be a head coach next year

Could your program benefit from a tough defensive coordinator with a proven track record of molding tough, physical defenses that can shut down high-level spread offenses? Perhaps you would like a Todd Orlando.

If the Texas defensive coordinator wasn’t already, Orlando is now officially a rising superstar in the college coaching ranks after his group largely shut down the nation’s No. 1 offense on Saturday.

Personnel and schematic decisions won the day, as junior Breckyn Hager played his most extended action of the season at defensive end and contributed two big sacks and another hurry that almost resulted in a forced fumble. Junior linebacker Gary Johnson was excellent scraping and flying to the football as a replacement for junior Anthony Wheeler.

The dime defense Orlando employed for most the game, even when Oklahoma State had an H-back in the game, paid off when the Cowboys stubbornly tried to run the ball against a front that consistently stopped it. Using junior John Bonney as an extra safety in that role paid off — he understood his role and took advantage of his playing time after turning in solid performances in limited action this year. Bonney deserved to get on the field and Orlando found the perfect opportunity to give him a chance.

Junior cornerback Kris Boyd also responded to coaches focusing on his technique and eyes in practice. With 13 tackles (11 solo) and a pass broken up, Boyd played the most complete game of his Longhorns career — he was a beast in run support, avoided big mistakes in coverage, and even caught a punt near the goal line as a gunner on special teams.

Perhaps it’s easy to take for granted at this point, but junior Holton Hill was also spectacular in this game, following star Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington around the field and holding him to four catches for 32 yards. Like Boyd, Hill was also excellent in run support and in making open-field tackles.

What a difference a year makes after Texas missed over 20 tackles last season in the first half against an Oklahoma State offense that returned all of its talented skill position personnel this season.

As fun as it is to watch this defense, it’s also a little bit bittersweet. Unless Orlando decides to hold out for whatever he might consider an excellent opportunity for him, it’s hard to imagine that he stays in Austin for a second season if the defense continues to play like this.

Blaming Tim Beck for every issue on offense is absurd

Has Tim Beck been good this season in putting together an overall scheme from game to game and in calling individual plays? Probably not, by any objective measure, but he’s also been put into an extremely difficult position that makes it difficult to grade his performance.

The context matters.

And what is that context?

A true freshman at quarterback. A true freshman at tight end. A true freshman at right tackle.

The loss of arguably four of the team’s top six offensive linemen due to injury. One of those offensive linemen was a consensus All-American. The loss of arguably five of the team’s top seven blockers when including senior tight end Andrew Beck. One part-time starter and a former Under Armour All-American departed from the offensive line this year. The Doak Walker Award winner from last season jumped to the NFL, leaving behind a running back corps that hasn’t added any value to the ground game.

The most experienced offensive lineman playing on Saturday was junior Patrick Vahe, who was vomiting before the game due to a stomach illness. The fourth-year junior starting at right guard, Terrell Cuney, is undersized and therefore susceptible to the bull rush. In anything close to an ideal scenario, he’s not playing. The left tackle played less than 10 snaps last season and doesn’t have anything close to ideal length for the position. The right tackle is 280 pounds. The center is a true sophomore.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps left the game in the first half with a knee injury, leaving the team without its most dynamic pass catcher.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger didn’t throw the ball on time on the game’s final play and instead opted to loft it into the end right to an Oklahoma State defender when he though junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard was going to break into that space.

After the game, head coach Tom Herman said that Ehlinger is still a half-second late with many of his passes because he wants to be sure about his decision making. His pocket presence is suffering because of the breakdowns that are consistently happening along the offensive line. The coaches said this week they want him to hang in the pocket longer, but that isn’t easy to do given the consistent chaos around him.

Ehlinger is a true freshman who is judged against the remarkable accuracy of sophomore Shane Buechele, but doesn’t quite possess it or the advantages afforded to Buechele last season.

How much of that is the fault of Tim Beck?

To be sure, the job that Beck has is to get the most out of what he has available. That’s clearly not happening right now — the play calling in the red zone isn’t working and decisions like running outside zone on second and short with junior Chris Warren III are nothing less than awful.

Some of the personnel decisions at wide receiver are a little bit confusing, too. Why not give sophomore Collin Johnson more of a chance given how important he is to the upside of the offense? Why not give senior Armanti Foreman an opportunity given how good he has been on third down this season?

On Saturday, the group didn’t help out Ehlinger much, however, dropping several passes and struggling to create separation at times.

Considering all of that, it seems unfair to blame Beck for all the failures of the Texas offense right now. It seems unfair to make a final decision about his whether he’s fit for this role when he’s missing so many key pieces. And simply hasn’t had the time to get his guys in place.

The comparisons to Shawn Watson are easy to make and it’s possible that Beck ends up being the worst hire that Herman made upon his arrival, much as the Watson hire failed so abjectly for Charlie Strong.

Using Beck as the primary scapegoat, though, right now? That’s an overreaction, because it’s hard to imagine that this offense could manage anything more than mild competence with all the injuries and youth even with the best offensive coordinator in the country.

Michael Dickson is the team’s best player

After the game, Oklahoma State Mike Gundy wondered aloud whether the Australian known to Herman simply as The Kicker won the Ray Guy Award last season as the nation’s punter. Informed that Dickson was merely a finalist, Gundy commented that he should have won.

And while it was perhaps understandable that Dickson did not, if he continues his current level of play, it would be a travesty for him not to win the award this season.

Dickson entered the game second in the nation at 48.3 yards per attempt. Opponents had only returned seven punts for 4.7 yards per return.

On Saturday, Dickson was sensational once again, averaging 50.9 yards per punt, with five of his 11 attempts landing inside the 20-yard line and three returns for 14 yards.

It’s going to be fun to watch him for at least 17 more games in a Texas uniform and during what should be a long NFL career.