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By Ryan Bridges I won’t repeat my rant from last week. This team is close — objectively closer than they’ve been in years. (Eleven of their 21 losses the past three seasons came by 14 points or more. There’s some teams left on the schedule that could pull that off, but it hasn’t happened yet.) The offensive coaches aren’t doing a good job. The players aren’t taking advantage of enough opportunities either. Let’s rip the Band-Aid off and start there. Side note: I’m throwing this together in a hurry because I’m preparing to move across an ocean later this week. I gave the videos a lot of attention but the text was rushed at the end. At least you’re not paying $9.95/mo. for this. The Last Play Yes, this was the same route concept against man coverage that Clemson used to beat Alabama in the national championship last year. I hate the idea of running it to the left, but if I’m stretching for excuses, maybe there were defensive tendencies the coaches factored into their decision. Seeing the play-call and knowing that Reggie Hemphill-Mapps was out, the personnel makes more sense than it did at the time: Collin Johnson would have been a decoy where Dorian Leonard lined up; Lorenzo Joe is a smart player who they thought could execute the pick; and Jerrod Heard was the next man up after Hemphill-Mapps. I like the idea of having Lil’Jordan Humphrey out there somewhere, but that’s not egregious in my opinion. Two man defenders lined up at the same level against receivers with tight splits are begging to be picked. Heard did not take a good angle but he was still briefly open because his man had to bend around his teammate. I’m not interested in arguing about degrees of openness or whether the result would have been 1st & Goal or touchdown — this ball has to come out. Missed Opportunities P.J. Locke had a chance to recover the fumble at the 1-yard line on the drive that ended with the game-tying field goal, but someone blew a whistle, so I can’t blame him too much. There were also like four dropped passes on offense, and this offense isn’t good enough to drop passes. But let’s look at the two missed interceptions, because there’s some interesting schematic stuff. The first play is a good example of what makes Todd Orlando’s defense so confusing to offenses. The boundary side is playing Cover 2 and the field side is playing Quarters. That’s nothing fancy. Four players will be rushing the quarterback. You’d expect it to be the three down linemen and a linebacker — it’s almost always been Malik Jefferson. Instead, Charles Omenihu drops into the middle hook, Gary Johnson blitzes the B gap and John Bonney blitzes off the edge. I’m not sure what Mason Rudolph was thinking, but this throw was never going to be a good idea. An interception there gives Texas the ball at its own 39 or 40; after the punt, they took over at the -19. The receiver did a great job becoming a defender, though. The implications of the second drop, which was truly a drop, were much worse. Texas’ offense would have taken over at the Oklahoma State 36 with 1:07 left to play — four more yards and they’d be in range to attempt to replicate Josh Rowland’s season long of 49 yards. The defensive call exemplifies what the defense did most of the game: rushing three and playing three-deep, five-under zone coverage. Much like opposing teams have been doing to Texas’ offense, the Longhorns defense challenged Oklahoma State to run the ball, and they couldn’t consistently do it. Coverage Sacks and Quickness Sacks Breckyn “Brecklyn” Hager is a one-trick pony, but he’s probably the best on the team at that trick. The first of Hager’s two sacks was the definition of a coverage sack (Rudolph had close to six seconds in the pocket). This drive was Oklahoma State’s chance to answer Texas’ touchdown. It was 3rd & 4 near midfield, and Texas was playing Cover 2. There’s absolutely no one open. Good job, good effort. Hager’s second sack came in an equally critical situation. Without it, the Cowboys may have been able to attempt a field goal to end the half or get into range to run a play other than a Hail Mary. Note that it’s a three-man rush again with three-deep, five-under coverage on the back end. It’s a huge advantage for a defense if it has a pass rusher who can win one-on-ones when he gets them. Malik’s Game-Saving Tackle Last week, Naashon Hughes and Malik Jefferson teamed up to make back-to-back tackles that gave Texas’ offense the ball and a chance to win the game. Malik did it again on Saturday. 3rd & 3 at the Texas 13, five minutes left in the game. Oklahoma State runs zone read, with Rudolph pulling the ball and trying to run off-tackle. Technically, Bonney would be responsible for the quarterback, but he’s nine yards deep. Malik has the frontside A gap, but when he sees Rudolph pull the football, he scrapes over the top and makes the open-field tackle. The result: OK State attempted, and missed, a 29-yard field goal. Bullets Dodged It seemed like Texas had more lucky breaks go against it than in its favor — especially when it came to the officiating — but it caught a break here. They’re again running their three-deep, five-under zone. Oklahoma State is in a 3×1 set. They run four verticals, with the #3 receiver occupying the deep middle defender (Bonney). This puts Brandon Jones over the top of the #2 and #1 receivers, but fortunately he has the cornerback and nickel trailing them. In theory, this should force Rudolph to float the ball over the shallow defenders, hopefully giving Jones time to intersect the route. Somehow, Jones is slow to react to the throw. Splicing the two shots together, we know Rudolph started his throwing motion when the receiver was between the 35- and 30-yard lines. The ball looks to be at least two-thirds of the way there as Jones is planting his foot in response. Almost certainly he wasn’t disciplined with his eyes. And I don’t know what was wrong with his cleats, but he’s way too athletic to be stumbling and slipping around out there like he was. Speaking of poor eye discipline, for the second straight week we have a Texas DB looking for the football while out of phase with the receiver, enabling the receiver to get even more separation. The ball isn’t going to you, it’s going to him — focus your energy on catching up. Run D Locke seemed like he had a rough game again. He was tentative against the run on Oklahoma State’s lone touchdown, getting owned by a receiver who gave up 30 pounds to him. What I’ve seen of Malcolm Roach at defensive end this season has been mostly disappointing. He should get stronger, but he just hasn’t looked like the same player that he was playing in space as a freshman. He didn’t read his key on this 3rd down on a drive that led to the game-tying field goal. He’s supposed to drop back into the middle hook area, but only if he reads pass. He has to play the run first. He abandons the edge, and the Cowboys narrowly convert. Here’s a more positive play by the defensive front — one that potentially saved Texas from falling behind by 14 in the early second quarter. OSU runs outside zone, and Texas slants that way and brings a blitz off the backside edge. Poona Ford is a goddamn monster, breaks through and forces the cutback, right into the waiting arms of Chris Nelson. First man wraps up, second man rips at the football. Hell of a play. Ehlinger Every game, Ehlinger has made a number of plays that Shane Buechele can’t make. Against Oklahoma State, he made fewer of those types of plays than he had in any previous game. I don’t know whether that was due to linger effects from the totally-not-a-concussion he suffered last week, or whether it was because there’s enough tape on him now that defenses have him figured out (the same thing that happened with Heard and Buechele). Still, it’s hard to look good behind this offensive line. They had worked their way downfield behind a couple of nice runs by Ehlinger and had converted a 4th down, putting them inside the OSU 30. Then the right side of the line does this. The splits is not a good position to start a play for any player. Terrell Cuney gave it a shot anyway. Then he kicked it up a notch by not helping Derek Kerstetter at all. Against a twist stunt, it’s not enough to give the lineman a friendly nudge in your teammate’s direction. I’m running out of time to type more notes, so briefly, OSU’s coverage to the trips side was interesting — they were trying hard to take away the WR screen, but Texas had Hemphill coming across the formation for a quasi screen anyway. Sam’s got to throw this ball away. And briefly, the touchdown. I haven’t been able to find this cable cam view in the high-quality version of the game that I saved, so here it is in potato definition. I guess because this play yielded points once, Tim Beck decided to try it a hundred more times. I don’t know. I don’t think it worked again. But let’s celebrate the time when a two-yard gain on it was enough for six points.
For the second straight week, I walked away from the Texas game impressed by the offense and very, very confused by the defense. Each game continues to reveal more and more about this team, both good and bad. Regardless, the Longhorns have made it through their first four games without a loss and are currently 4-0 and ranked 11th in the AP poll. Pretty good and about where everyone thought they could be at this point in the season. But what many didn’t expect is exactly what this team would look like at this point in the season. Below are my 10 thoughts on the game and details on the current identity of the Longhorn football team. 1. David Ash: Ash was coming off a 326-yard, 4 touchdown performance at Ole Miss where some fans thought he had arrived, while others thought the stats portrayed a better performance than what Ash actually had (underthrown balls). This past Saturday, Ash completed 30 of 37 attempts for 308 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He looked sharp and accurate for most of the game and actually carried the team when the running game stalled out. He did, however, throw his first interception. It came on a play where the Cowboys ran a zone blitz and dropped one of their defensive ends. Ash didn’t recognize that the defensive end had dropped and simply didn’t see him backing into coverage as he released the ball. Bad read, bad throw, but I love how he moved on from the mistake. Ash also showed he can take his team down the field for a score in a 2-minute drill for a game winning drive. Yes, I just said “his team”. With every great performance, Ash continues to assert himself as the leader of the offense and the team. *However, I think it should be noted that Ash wasn’t under all that much heat during the game. It is much easier for a quarterback to play well when he has time in the pocket to make reads. I’m still curious to see if Ash can stay composed in the pocket and continue to make the right reads when he gets significant more pressure during games…like against OU. 2. Joseph Randle Gone Wild: This entire season the Longhorn defense has tended to let one player on the opposing team have a monster day. This week it was running back Joseph Randle, who ran for 199 yards and scored 2 touchdowns on 25 carries. I’ve re-watched Joseph Randle’s first touchdown run over and over. We all know Vaccaro completely whiffed on his attempt (if you call that an attempt) to tackle Randle, but give credit to Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator for this entire play design. They ran the same play later in the game and got about 25 yards on the run, and Randle almost broke it open again for a score. What’s concerning is what happened in the trenches for Texas. First, both runs were towards Jackson Jeffcoat’s side. On both plays, Jeffcoat shot up field as if to get past the left tackle. By doing this, he took himself completely out of the play and helped open up the large running lanes on the left side of the line. He is too talented to make simple mistakes like that. Secondly, on both plays the defensive linemen and linebackers did terrible jobs of releasing from their blocks, leaving the lane wide open for Randle to waltz through. If I were OSU’s offensive coordinator, I would have run that play at least 3-4 more times that game. 3. Tackling Drills For The Secondary: A weakness in the secondary, which was thought to be one of the best units in the nation, has been exposed…their inability to tackle. Whether it’s over-pursuing, not wrapping up, and/or mistiming hits, this group struggles with tackling in the open field, and it continues to lead to big plays. Quandre Diggs was the best tackler on Saturday and seems to tackle well. I’m also not worried about Vaccaro either. Sure he got juked out of his jock strap on the Randle run, but he was solid the rest of the game and is normally a great tackler. Byndom, Phillips, and even Josh Turner really concern me. I had high praise for Phillips at the end of last year, during the off-season, and at the beginning of this season, but he seems to shy away from being as physical and disciplined as he should be. As a matter of fact, the entire secondary is not playing with enough discipline and effort. It’s as if they are relying on their talent to play defense instead of playing smart and remembering the fundamentals as well. This group will need to get their act together this week if they want to help their team get some big wins coming up against better opponents. 4. Linebackers: Jordan Hicks was out this game and unfortunately we aren’t too sure when he will return. But overall I liked what the linebackers did, especially Steve Edmond and Dalton Santos. I was really impressed with Santos since he is a true freshman. He made good reads, was disciplined, and had some good tackles. The other reserve who got some playing time, Kendall Thompson, had a slow start to the game and made a couple of bad reads but started to play better as the game went on. He has great speed to add and good strength. Once he adjusts to game speed he will be a great linebacker for Texas. But there’s one player who hasn’t made quite the impact this season that I had hoped and that’s Demarco Cobbs. He made some bad reads on the plays he was in for and often got pushed around by opposing blockers. He is the fastest out of the group, but he lacks the strength to win many battles against bigger linemen. He will need to read plays better and get a jump on blockers if he wants to be more of a factor against the run. His speed will help on passing plays though, so he could be on the field a bunch against WVU. 5. Offensive Line: David Ash had a big night but much of that was because the offensive line did a great job in pass protection. They have done a good job with pass protection the past two weeks. *Granted, they didn’t see all that many blitzes Saturday night. And like I said with Ash, I’m very curious to see if the passing game holds up once teams start blitzing more. But as good as the O-line was in the passing game, they were not good with the running game. Other than opening up creases for Jonathan Gray to squeeze through, they really did a terrible job getting a push off the line of scrimmage. This concerns me because if the Longhorns want to have a shot at beating WVU they will need to control the clock and possessions by effectively running the ball and running time off the clock to slow down the Mountaineer’s high-octane offense. The talent at running back gets neutralized if there aren’t holes, or at least creases, for the backs to run through. This line is still a work in progress. 6. D.J. Monroe: It took him up until his senior year to break out, but Monroe has finally established himself as the playmaker we had all hoped he could be. He’s taking back kicks for touchdowns, ripping off huge reverses, and is the impact player that can completely change an entire game’s outcome off of his one or two plays. I love the fact that he is running with more physicality, and kudos to Harsin for putting him in positions to make plays. 7. Shipley/Davis/Goodwin: Wow did these guys make some big time plays and catches (other than Davis’ one touchdown drop…) all game long. Shipley is a beast. Simple as that. He caught 5 balls for 82 yards and 3 scores. I’d really like to see his reception total get closer to the 8-10 range per game. Complimenting Shipley’s play, Mike Davis had 4 receptions for 49 yards and Goodwin had 6 receptions for 28 yards. Though neither scored, both made big time catches that moved the chains and kept drives alive. This unit has been pretty good all season long. 8. Ryan Roberson: Known more for his blocking, Ryan Roberson had 4 receptions for 23 yards as he caught passes out of the backfield. With the lack of tight end involvement in the offense, it’s positive seeing a fullback get involved in the passing game. Don’t be surprised if he shows up again in the box score in some fashion. 9. D.J. Grant: Though it was only one catch, D.J. Grant made one of the biggest catches of the evening. His 29-yard reception over the middle kept the Longhorns’ last scoring drive alive. I’d still like to see him get more involved in the offense. Having a tight end who could catch passes would add even another element to this offense, and I can’t quite figure out exactly why the tight end position hasn’t been used more in the passing game. 10. Random thought: I don’t know much about him, but Oklahoma State’s fullback Kye Staley, number 9 on offense, was laying down some nasty blocks against the Horns all night. For those of you who watched Hardknocks with the Jets, he reminded me of the “Terminator” a.k.a. John Connor. He’s one scary dude. This was a big win for Texas. It was against an opponent who has had their number the past couple of years, in a hostile, away environment, against a team that has some good talent. David Ash came up big all game and even answered questions on whether he could lead a game winning drive. He threw his first interception earlier in the game but shook it off and took the Longhorns down the field for a winning drive. The defense had its issues but the mistakes they are making are fixable, they just need to do it already. West Virginia is on a whole different level than Oklahoma State and if Texas wants to have any chance of competing against the Mountaineers, they will need to get back on track in the running game, become more disciplined on defense, and fix their tackling issues. Geno Smith is playing out of his mind right now, and even if he and his offense play half as well this weekend as they did this past Saturday, they will still score 35 points… Wow. Texas vs. WVU is set to kickoff at 6P.M. Central Time at DKR Hook’em Twitter: @WesKCrochet Email: Wes.Sports@hotmail.com
What to Watch For Texas Longhorns Vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Texas travels up to Stillwater this weekend after coming off their bye week. Though I missed watching the team play I actually am glad they had a week to rest and re-group after a pretty good showing their first three games. After seeing this team in action itâ€™s safe to say the running game is dominant. The receiversâ€™ play as well as David Ash performs, which has actually been pretty decent. Jaxon Shipley should touch the ball 10 times a game, Mike Davis is re-immerging as the playmaker we knew him to be his freshman year, and Marquis Goodwin has the potential to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball and his all around game has improved a lot from previous seasons. The offensive line still has some growing to do but the unit seems to get better each game and the tight end position is almost non-existent. As for the defense and special teams, the defensive ends are big time players, especially Jeffcoat. The defensive line is starting to strengthen up again and be a reliable part of the front seven. The linebackers are young/inexperienced (aside from Hicks) but have much talent and have been playing well. The secondary, thought to be the best part of the defense, has been susceptible to big plays each game but their talent is incredible and if they can become more disciplined and consistent then they could easily take over games and shut down offenses. We have still yet to see Anthony Fera play in a game but he has to be better than any current kicker Texas has used for field goals. The kick/punt returners are dangerous but we are still waiting for someone take one to the house. And on top of all of that the special teams unit is blocking kicks/punts again, which usually means the team has talent and depth in many different places across the roster. Oklahoma State has gotten the better of the Longhorns for the past two years. This program in Stillwater isnâ€™t the OSU that many older UT fans used to know. They are stronger and continue to get talented recruits. This game could be pivotal in UTâ€™s success for the rest of the season. Below are the different things I will be watching out for during the game this weekend. For this game I have the help of one of my friends, Peter Gonzalez (@peter_glz) who is a former intern of a Texas Longhorn sports website. He gave me some great info on the current state of the Cowboys and an idea on how the game could go. The last time we saw the Longhorns in action they pulled out a win over their SEC opponent, Ole Miss. That night in Oxford David Ash passed for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns. The running backs, led my Malcolm Brownâ€™s 128 yards and 2 touchdowns, ran for a total of 350 yards and 4 touchdowns. The offense was almost perfectly balanced and performed exactly as they need to if they want to be a team that should be respected nationally. On the other side of the ball the defense was pretty good but after giving up 31 points (7 of these came off a kick return for a touchdown) they still have much to prove. Here are 5 things Iâ€™m interested in most for this game. (No particular order). 1. Can David Ash not only build on his most recent performance but also improve off of his performance in Oxford. He put up great stats and actually had a decent game. But a few of his longer passes were underthrown and he even admitted he needed to improve on that. I still think David Ash is a kid who will gain confidence and become the leader of the team based on his play during games. A strong game in Stillwater after a pretty good performance in Oxford would be big for Ash. Oklahoma Stateâ€™s defense is better than Ole Miss but they havenâ€™t played as well as expected so farâ€¦ Sounds similar to the Longhorns. This will be a big road game for Ash. 2. Oklahoma State ranks first among the NCAA in total yards per game and points per game, as they average 686.7 yards and 62.3 points per game. Itâ€™s still early in the season, and like most OSU hasnâ€™t played the best of teams. But they are still first in both those categories and Manny Diaz obviously has taken note of that. The defense for the Longhorns has played well but not nearly as well as most of us think the unit can play. Consistency is key because the talent and depth of the defense is as strong as any team in the nation. Everyone is still waiting to see if OSUâ€™s QB Wes Lunt will play this weekend. Regardless, OSU still has talent on offense, especially in the backfield led by junior running back Joseph Randle. The 6â€™ 1â€, 200lb pack has average 6.7 yards per carry and racked up 335 yards and scored 4 touchdowns so far this season. This will be a great test for the defense against a talented running back. 3. Along the lines of the defense, Jordan Hicks and Brandon Moore wonâ€™t be making the trip to Stillwater this weekend. Though Brandon Moore has played well, his absence wonâ€™t be missed as much as Hicks, who has established himself not only as a leader for the linebackers but for the entire defense. Iâ€™ll be very curious to see how the linebackers play, specifically the reserves Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson, who will be see playing time that would have gone to Hicks. Jackson can lay the woodâ€¦ 4. The offensive line continues to have its ups and downs but I was actually pleased with the unit two weeks ago against Ole Miss. I keep focusing attention on the offensive line because so much rides on the O-line. Texas has great running backs but if the line canâ€™t open up running lanes then the RBâ€™s talent becomes handcuffed and the strength of the offense takes a hit. In addition to that, if the offensive line doesnâ€™t pass protect well enough then that just adds more pressure (literally and figuratively) to Ash that he really doesnâ€™t need. This bye week may have helped the offensive line more than any other unit on the team. 5. The final big aspect of the game Iâ€™ll be looking out for is exactly how many touches the playmakers on offense will receive during the game. I personally want to see Marquis, Monroe, and Shipley get more touches. They all can take it to the house from anywhere on the field. Heck, even freshmen Daje Johnson could be thrown in with those guys. After three games so far Iâ€™ve been happy with how the team has played. But I still want to see improvements across the board. Texas has received a lot of national attention this past week but that attention is premature, if you ask me. There is a lot of football to be played. But I havenâ€™t been this excited for a Longhorn team to enter Big 12 play in more than a year, and thatâ€™s way too long. The game on Saturday will be played in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:50 (CT) P.M. Notable Injuries: LB Jordan Hicks (out), DT Brandon Moore (out), K Anthony Fera (out). Join in on the conversation. What will you be looking for? Twitter: @WesKCrochet E-mail: Wes.Sports@hotmail.com