Did you die after last Saturday's game? No! Will you recover? Probably! Was that one of the worst showings in a game since the Charlie Strong era? Definitely!
In my prediction post, I said I wasn't drinking any Kool-Aid just yet. I noted that Texas' floor was still 8-4 and their ceiling was 10-2 but as always, I analyze what's in front of me.
What we saw in game one was a more competent team that held their own against a ranked opponent while starting with a new system, new quarterback and questionable O Line. We also saw an Arkansas team that struggled into the 4th quarter vs Rice.
It gave me enough hope that I moved my prediction from a loss vs Arkansas (probably by 10) to a win by 7 for Texas. But I was doing that based on the metrics, or so I thought, and not any Kool-aid drinking. Was it Kool-Aid? I don't know. There will probably be arguments for either position. But what I do know is that Arkansas crushed Texas in a fashion we haven't seen in quite a while.
So what happened?
From my armchair perspective, I watched an Arkansas team scheme their defense to stop Bijan - the whole D was a spy on Bijan - and dared Hudson Card to throw the ball. And we learned that Hudson wasn't ready for that pressure - yet. Granted, there were breakdowns on the O Line that made things much more difficult for Card, and it's fair to say he didn't throw any picks, so he protected the ball fairly well (fumble aside). But if you could see his face through his helmet, he was panicked - deer in the headlights stuff. The game was just coming at him so fast, he couldn't process it all and didn't seem to be able to engage with his teammates to lead them through the adversity. (More on this later)
The defense, on the other hand, actually played fairly well in the first half, but the Texas O had so many three and outs, the D finally got gassed by the end of the second quarter, and Arkansas took advantage throughout the rest of the game. Tackling was worse, but again, how much of that was just flat out fatigue from having to go into the game every 4 downs? Texas stopped Arkie well enough on several of the opening drives but just wore out.
No, the Texas D isn't yet good enough to live up to the claim that defenses win championships either, but I'm not yet certain we should start firing the defense on the spot. They really had no breaks to speak of, except for the same halftime break Arkansas got. So that's a draw when it comes to catching your breath really.
Well, do we have a quarterback controversy?
The short answer is, yes. When Sark announced that Casey would start vs Rice, the controversy started. Is it good or bad? I don't really know. I saw too much with Applewhite and Sims to make me believe rotating quarterbacks is a good idea, yet Florida did it with Tebow and the other guy no one remembers and won a title. So the jury's out I guess.
There's really different sides to the Thompson Card argument as well. On the Card side, we can easily argue a. that Sark is a QB genius and knows which guy he needs. b. All freshman QB's have rocky starts at some point in their career and we need to let Card stick with it so he can get his feet wet and grow into the position. Jeff Ketchem of Orangebloods tweeted several stats for Aaron Rogers, Tom Brady, Kyler Murry and Baker Mayfield regarding some of their first outings as starters. They all had at least one piss poor game they got benched for. And look how they turned out. c. And this one relates to a. somewhat, Sark may need to keep his guy in there more than 2 games simply because he's building for the future and Sark should know, as so should us fans, that Card is going to take some lumps early on but it will all be a refiners fire for what we see on the field next season. d. Casey played more against Arkansas' 2's and vs a game plan where the Arkansas D started keeping everything in front of them in order to prevent Texas from getting back in the game. So Casey and Card didn't play vs apples and apples. I'm not sure that's true, but it's common for teams to rotate the 2's in when games are decided early.
But on the Thompson side we can argue a. his stats. Thompson has come in and, for the most part, dominated on offense as quarterback in almost all of the drives he's been on the field for Texas. b. If you throw out the Vince Young narrative, there are stories of Vince not being very good in practice but come game time, there's just a switch he was able to turn on and it was lights out for the other side. Perhaps that's Thompson as well. The only thing is, Thompson's not Vince (no one is) so Vince's average practices probably still easily showed coaches he was the guy to go with. Maybe not so much for Casey. But in games? He's been fantastic. c. Thompson has seen the speed of the college game for three years now. Even if Card has the better career in the long run, Thompson is ready now and that might make a ton of difference when it comes to leading an offense that is struggling in other areas. d. Regardless of what Arkansas gave Thompson, he was able to discect it and move the ball.
So, why did Sark make the change then? Why did he risk his reputation by basically saying he may have been wrong? Well, this is tricky but sadly, TV games don't show everything the coaches tape does. And while it's true that I don't have access to the coaches tape, I saw one interesting tweet from someone who was in the press box at the game. The tweet was very simple. He said, "You couldn't see it on TV but from the press box, we could see that Texas receivers were running open in the middle of the field all night long and Card just couldn't see the field."
From TV we heard the commentators and reporters telling a story too. First the ESPN commentators noted that on deep balls, Card's throws drifted way right. I mean, he was just missing and they all had a pattern. So much so, ESPN picked up on it and had to mention it. Secondly, sideline reporters were discussing Card and saying he was avoiding the team and sitting off to himself.
For me, this is all evidence that, as good as Card may someday be, he isn't quite ready for the speed of the game. Arkansas double dared him, and he couldn't handle it. Good leaders fight for their teams. Good leaders rally their teams. Sitting on the bench away from his teammates tells me, at least, that Card knew he was overwhelmed and he was shutting down because he couldn't process it all.
One play that I noticed right away was a sack where Card stepped up into the pocket. It looked almost like he was trying so hard to maintain his fundamentals, (which most quarterbacks are coached to step up into the pocket instead of bailing out and running too soon), that he actually stepped up so far into the pocket he went passed his lineman that was winning his block and the defender simply let go of the block and moved sideways for the sack. All in all, he may be better in the long run, but may not be now.
I think one of the reasons Casey had more success is because he's had enough experience adjusting to the college speed, he let the game come to him, and was able to see the field better. Because of this, Thompson was able to adjust more on the fly and "make up" for some of the inefficiencies of the offensive line play. Arkansas was out to stop Bijan so Casey took advantage. And it seems to be what he's good at.
Another tidbit I picked up on while doing some radio listening. Some of the guys on the Horn noted that Sark had at Bama, the luxury of a quarterback who could simply run his system, hit the open guy, rinse and repeat. They believed Sark picked Card because he was a better fit for running that model of play. However, they added they think what Sark found out on Saturday vs Arkansas, is that Texas isn't ready to play that brand of football and will need someone who can take off when the pocket breaks down.
Going forward, I believe this will likely be Casey's team. While I do believe Sark picked Card because he has a bigger ceiling - he might be an NFL guy one day - right now, he's just so young, that the floor is too low for Hudson Card and Casey's floor is simply higher. It might be a frustrating conversation to be talking about picking a quarterback with a higher floor instead of picking the QB with the higher ceiling, but it's where we're at. And who really knows. Casey may just flip a switch when he's in a game that doesn't come out in practice and his ceiling is way high. Heck, he looked better than Sam in the Bowl and Sam got drafted!!! I'm not saying Casey can't lose his spot either, I just think he's ready to go and probably won't.
I will tell you this much too, if Sark is jumping on a QB change this quickly but is still set on going with the O Line setup we have, there is no doubt in my mind that he saw something on film that finally made it clear to him Hudson wasn't ready. I give a lot of praise to Sark for being willing to basically admit he got it wrong and having the guts to make a change this early.
Thompson was given press coverage after the decision and, frankly, nailed the press conference. He was poised, articulate (he used fewer "um's" then Sark - now go count how many Card uses on his youtube channel), and answered every single question like a QB1 should. In my mind, it was one of the better press conferences I've ever heard a Texas player give. Ever. If you hven't heard it yet, check it out here.
At the end of the day we have a HC who's humble enough to make a change for the better of the team, a QB1 who waited patiently (for 3 years) and finally got his shot, and hopes to give our offensive line time to develop and our defense time to breathe. That's what I see. Hook 'Em!