FROM THE STANDS
WITH TREY McLEAN
|TEXAS VS. UCLA|
|Winning ugly is still winning, amIright? You bet. In the first test of the season, the Texas Longhorns passed. Granted, it wasn’t a classic take-it-home-and-put-it-on-the-fridge 100, but they passed. They had to sorta cheat off the kid sitting next to them a couple of times and some of the questions were pretty easy, but the Horns got it done.
I said last week that Texas wasn’t going to blow anyone out in the fashion fans are used to seeing here. Not right now they aren’t. They are still growing up and still trying to find themselves on the offensive side of the ball. The reason the phrase is “growing pains” is simple, it’s a painful process and it will not be pretty to watch. Let’s take a look at where the Horns are right now a quarter of the way into the season:
Special Teams: – solid. They aren’t as dominant as they were last year, and some of that is the opponent being wary of the skill Texas has on specials. Justin Tucker has proven he can make long range field goals and is doing a better job of getting the ball into the end zone on kick offs. When those kickoffs are returned, the coverage has been dynamite. The Longhorns are close to popping one for a touchdown on punt returns, while their own punt coverage is very good. The one aspect that keeps this as “solid” instead of “great” is the punting. John Gold hasn’t proven that he can consistently pin offenses deep and it has forced more work on Tucker with the rugby punt. I can’t stand the rugby punt, because it seems to be disastrous as many times as it is effective. If that can be resolved, the unit becomes elite. If it doesn’t, they are still better than just about anyone they play this fall.
Offense: — a little lost, but closer to being where they should be in my opinion than it may appear. Garrett Gilbert went on the road in a hostile environment and won, not in a pretty way at all. But he won and he did it in a place where some big names like McCoy, Simms and Applewhite did not. Anyone remember Vince Young’s game at Kansas in 2004 before the 4th & 19 play? What about his game with Tech where he was pulled in 2003 at home? What about the Texas effort in Nebraska when Colt McCoy was a freshman in 2006? Lots of fumbles and lots of growing pains. The offense must stay focused — too many drops, too many penalties, too many blown assignments — but those things can be fixed. My one real concern is the running game. It isn’t working right now, and I’m not sure with the personnel on the roster if it will work as the staff envisioned. The o-line hasn’t come along as quickly as hoped, and the running backs haven’t been the playmakers necessary to overcome that. Don’t be surprised to see Texas modify their approach offensively this week and open it up more. More on that later.
Defense: — Lights out. LIGHTS. OUT. This defense is good enough for Texas to be inconsistent on offense because they can control every opponent on the schedule and allow the offense time to figure it out. The one big takeaway from Saturday night is the defense is as good as advertised.
There are issues to be resolved and everything is far from perfect, but the play of the defense is going to be consistent and steady enough to win games while the Texas offense grows up. On to Tech.
TEXAS 24 TEXAS TECH 14
When was the last time you ever saw a team commit four turnovers — three in the red zone — and have double digit penalties for almost 100 yards on the road and win? It isn’t a real question because I don’t have an answer. Like I said, winning ugly is still winning. And there was plenty of ugly. There was some good as well. Let’s take a look.
Offensive Line: My mom always said if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, you shouldn’t say anything at all. The o-line certainly did their job on that amazing 22-play, 9-minute drive in the second half, but they didn’t do anything to counter #94. It wasn’t ACTUALLY Charles Haley, right? You’d never know by his play, because he was everywhere.
Three sacks and 93 yards rushing on 43 attempts against Tech. This Tech front seven is not on the same planet with the front sevens at ou and Nebraska. Some starters need to pick it up this week or they need to not be starters anymore. I see a weak link that Pelini and Stoops are going to exploit, and that weak link needs to pick it up or someone else should get a crack. The effort Saturday night was barely adequate to get the job done but will not be anywhere near adequate in the coming weeks.
Running Backs: It’s time to give DJ Monroe a crack. I don’t know what’s he’s done to get just one offensive play in games, but, whatever it is, it’s time to make nice and let’s get him on the field. It’s clear that no back on the team that is playing is a game-breaker, so let’s see if Monroe can do it. He has the speed and ability to stretch defenses laterally and the vision to plant and cut when he sees the hole. He has a burst and a suddenness that that the others do not and I don’t see anyone that is able to make things happen on their own. I see hesitation from some of them and fumbles and injuries from others. After watching their play Saturday night, I am following my mom’s advice.
Wide Outs: James Kirkendoll showed why he was considered the best wide out on the team over the summer, catching six passes for 122 yards and being Garrett Gilbert’s go-to guy Saturday night. He was the best receiver on the field and that’s a considerable statement considering who Texas was playing. I liked what I saw from Mike Davis as well, despite the drops, and Barrett Matthews had a touchdown and a drop.
And “drop” was the key word Saturday night. Gilbert got very little help from his wide outs. Dropped passes killed drives. Literally. The one that bounced off Malcolm Williams’ hands and into a Tech defender’s happened at the Tech 19 on third down. At worst it is a field goal.
Outside of Kirkendoll I didn’t see much focus, much attention to detail or anyone stepping up and wanting to be the man … Sorry, Mom. This is me not saying anything all. – -
Quarterbacks: He didn’t get much help. I think there were nine drops and the running game was DOA. He had three interceptions that were wrong-place, wrong-time incidents and he was sacked three times, which is three more than he has had all season. But you know what? He fought through it. He finished the day with 227 yards passing and two scores, going 21-36 on the night. It should have been at least 25-36 with one fewer pick, but it is what it is. In the end, he won the game, and that’s what matters.
He grew up as well. The interceptions notwithstanding, he made good decisions with the ball. And he took his team down the field on that epic drive, connecting on 2 third-down passes to keep the chains moving and executing a perfect play-action pass to hit Matthews for the touchdown.
I like where GG is going. He holds on to the ball too long at times and Chris Simms thinks the batted passes are too numerous. He had some questionable decision-making moments at the end of the first half as well, but such are the pains of growing up. Other than that, I’m good with Gilbert.
Defensive Line: Tech had -14 yards rushing and the defensive line had four sacks, with two from Eddie Jones and one each from Alex Okafor and Kheeston Randall. Jackson Jeffcoat started the game and made his presence known immediately, recovering the errant snap on Tech’s first play from center at the Red Raider 12, outracing Taylor Potts to the ball. He was credited with two tackles, but he was everywhere. They beat up Potts and shut down the inside running game for Tech, which I thought was a big reason Texas won. Well done.
Linebackers: Texas spent most of the day in nickel, meaning they only played two linebackers. Those two, EAcho and Keenan Robinson, combined for eight tackles and cleaned up anything the defensive line missed. Their strong play completely eliminated the swing/outlet pass game to the running backs and the h-back/tight end short crossing routes that could be devastating as the secondary was deep with the wide outs. They won’t get a lot of love for their numbers this week, but they were terrific as they took away options for the Tech offense.
Secondary: Dynamite. Absolutely dynamite. The two guys most talked about from the 2008 game — Blake Gideon and Curtis Brown — each had interceptions. Brown’s was the game-changer. With the game tied at 14, Tech took the second half kickoff and drove down to the Texas 16 and looked to take the lead after going 65 yards on 11 plays. Tech had just converted a 3rd & 4 and the crowd was ready to explode as Tech was rallying from their awful start. Potts threw over the middle on first down, but Brown cut in front of the receiver, picking it off and hit the sideline, racing 74 yards the other way. Baron Batch eventually caught Brown at the Tech 12 and the Texas drive stalled, but a field goal gave Texas the lead for good and that play sucked the energy out of the stadium. It was good to see those two get some payback. On the day, the unit held Tech to just 158 yards passing and one score. Again, dynamite.
For the second week in a row, Blake Gideon was hit with a targeting flag. Justified or not, you need to watch yourself, my man. You are on the road to Chuck Cecil if you aren’t careful.
Brilliant job from the secondary.
Special Teams: You can argue the fake punt from the Texas 29 in the third quarter was the game-changing play as well as Brown’s interception. It was certainly one of them. Facing a 4th & 1 from its own 29 with about three minutes to play in the third quarter, Texas lined up to punt, but it was a fake as Ryan Roberson took the snap from his upback spot and plowed forward for two yards and a first down. Tech thought they had Texas stopped, but all of the sudden the defense was back on the field. It ignited the monster drive as Texas added another 18 plays and 69 yards to what would be a nine-and-a-half minute second half drive that clinched the game. Awesome.
Justin Tucker was terrific kicking, and the coverage as fantastic both on punts and kicks, limiting Eric Stephens to nothing and not allowing the Tech special teams to turn the game. The Tech kickers are terrific and limited the success Texas could have by forcing touchbacks on kickoffs and using the rugby punt very well. Curtis Brown was very good in his few attempts returning punts.
The running into the kicker penalty is tough, but you just can’t do it. Know where you are and realize contact will be called. I’d like to see the punt returners move up and catch those kicks. Other than that, I thought Texas was good in a place where special teams can make or break you.
UCLA Bruins (1-2) @ No.4 TEXAS (3-0/1-0)
The UCLA Bruins got their first win late Saturday night as they hammered No.24 Houston at home, beating them up and knocking out their top two quarterbacks. They will come in with confidence and nothing to lose. The last time the UCLA Bruins came to town it was 1997. They left town after embarrassing Texas, 66-3, and effectively ending the John Mackovic era. Texas went to the Rose Bowl in 1998 and under new coach Mack Brown played the mighty Bruins much tougher, losing 49-31, but still got their heads kicked in by the more athletic, more talented and deeper Bruins under Bob Toledo.
It is not 1997. It is not 1998. Bob Toledo is at Tulane and the Bruins are nowhere close to as athletic, as talented or as deep as this Texas Longhorn team. I, for one, am looking forward to Texas hammering UCLA nine-feet deep in the DKR turf and making fertilizer out of them. Hit’em until they beg for mercy and then hit’em some more. And some more. And some more.
I think that’s what will happen. Let’s take a look why.
The Bruins were a mess of injuries in week one, losing several starting offensive linemen to injury in pre-season camp. It’s showed in spots as they have uneven performances up front. They run the pistol, made famous by Nevada. Think of the shotgun zone read, but instead of the tailback being next to the quarterback he’s behind him. The quarterback is about four yards deep rather than seven and the tailback is behind him three yards, right where the qb stands in the traditional shotgun formation. In this system, they spread out the defense with three wide outs and attack the middle with draws and inside runs. Many times you’ll see the quarterback take that snap and run the option with the back, or fake the hand off and go play-action pass. If a team has a true dual-threat quarterback, like Nevada, it’s an excellent system.
Which is why it isn’t working that well at UCLA. I’m sure Kevin Prince is a terrific person and is the starting quarterback at UCLA, which can’t be bad, and he obviously is a terrific athlete. Still the measurables aren’t producing results on the field. So far on the year he has thrown for 258 yards, completing 43.6% of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. For those of you math-challenged like me, that’s 86 yards per game. Combined with his backup, the two average 100 yards passing a game, which ranks them 118th in football. And now they face the Texas secondary.
There is some talent outside at receiver in Nelson Rosario and Tyler Embree. They have excellent size at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-3, respectively, and both have the ability to go over the middle and the size to make the tough catch; however, they haven’t shown the ability to be game breakers so far this year. Between them, they average 56 yards a game. Yikes. They have a big tight end that has shown the ability to sneak behind linebackers, averaging 21.5 yards on his two catches, but, with only two catches, it’s hard to tell if that is a consistent threat or a not. Lots of potential and talent, but so far not much production from the wide outs and tight ends.
UCLA’s bread gets buttered running the ball. Running back Jonathan Franklin is averaging 97 yards per game and, combined with Prince’s 33 ypg from the quarterback position, they can move the chains. Franklin is smallish, at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, but he has great vision and excellent speed. He doesn’t always protect the football, which could be a problem this week. They will bring in freshman Malcolm Jones, who at 6-feet, 223 pounds is the hammer in short yardage and is more of a bruiser than Franklin. The running game is good and if they can get it going, it will open up the passing lanes for Prince and the wide outs.
But they won’t do it consistently. They won’t because this o-line is not elite. The starters are all upperclassmen and have experience, but it isn’t all good experience and it seems every single one of them is recovering from a significant injury from last fall or the off-season. While they’ve opened holes for the running game, they have also allowed 2.33 sacks per game against defenses that aren’t what you would consider elite. That changes this week.
Offensive coordinator Norm Chow will have something for Texas this week. I expect UCLA to open it up and go four or five wide, throwing short passes underneath to keep the chains moving as Texas gears up to stop their prolific ground attack. They will try to run, but I don’t see them having consistent success. If they are going to stay in this game, they need their passing attack to make them not one-dimensional and have Prince use his athleticism to pressure the Texas defense on the edge. If they can make Texas respect the pass, it opens the door for a very productive run game. Can they do that? I don’t see it.
The Bruins run your standard 4-3 defense and are not the ultra-aggressive, blitzing defense that is so popular today. They like to stay in their base and use their big, physical players to control the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback. That isn’t working very well. UCLA allows 210 yards per game on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry, making them the 105th best rush defense in the nation. They are much better at defending the pass, allowing only 155 yards per game through the air, but is that because no one has to throw on them or because they are just better at pass coverage? Has to be some of both. The defensive line looks the part, but so far they have been far from dominant. They haven’t been able to control the line of scrimmage in the running game, and the two deep has a total of three sacks in three games. So while they have some big, physical players, they are not very productive.
Their lack of presence is affecting the back seven, which is the strength of the defense. They have two huge linebackers in Akeem Ayers and Patrick Larimore. Ayers is the star of the defense, garnering All Pac-10 Honorable Mention last year. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound junior is tied for second on the team in tackles, has 3.5 tackles for loss including a sack and one interception. He has the ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage because of his size and the agility to drop into coverage when needed. He will be a handful for Texas as the strongside linebacker. Patrick Larimore was everywhere Saturday night against UH and he looks like a younger version of Ayers. At 6-foot-3, 249 pounds, he is also very big and strong and is tied with Ayers for second in tackles. He has a sack as well, but his main job is to handle the tackle-to-tackle box and address the run from the middle linebacker spot. Outside at will is Sean Westgate, who at 5-foot-11, 217 pounds is basically a safety at the line of scrimmage. He is their coverage linebacker, using his speed to handle crossing routes and backs in the flat. I expect to see him coming off the edge this week. A lot.
In the secondary they have some very big and very physical corners in 6-foot-1 Aaron Hester and 6-foot-2 Sheldon Price. Safety Rahim Moore can bring the hammer and is probably only a step behind Ayers as the best player on the defense. He is a three-year starter that quarterbacks the secondary, and Tony Dye leads the team in tackles at strong safety. I like the look of this secondary a lot; however, if they can’t get any pass rush or any help up front it doesn’t matter how good the secondary is, because guys will get open.
No doubt the UCLA staff has seen how much Texas struggled to run the ball and will load the box with seven or eight to keep that trend going. They saw a junior college transfer who Tommy Tubberville almost didn’t dress for the Texas game have an All-American night against the Texas offensive line and will try to get their athletic linebackers in places to exploit that. They haven’t shown much blitzing so far, but I expect them to bring the heat from different places, moving those linebackers around to put pressure on the Texas line and quarterback. If they can force Texas into 3rd and long and get pressure on Gilbert, they might be able to force turnovers and short fields for the offense. I don’t think it will work, but I didn’t think that No. 94 for Tech was going to be Merlin Olson, either.
They have solid kickers in placekicker Kai Forbath and punter Jeff Locke. Locke averages 45.3 yards per punt and Forbath has missed just one of his five field goal attempts with a long of 44. Locke is also the kickoff specialist, totaling four touchbacks on 12 attempts. They don’t do much on kick or punt returns, but they haven’t given up much on punt or kick returns. The UCLA kickers are solid as are the coverage teams. They probably will not make many big plays, but they aren’t going to give many up, either.
With a punter averaging 45 yards per kick, expect UCLA to play fairly conservative and try to force Texas into long drives by pinning them back. If they get Texas inside the 10 and force a turnover, they might change the game. I fully expect them to bring everyone at the Texas punter to force a big play. Justin Tucker/John Gold beware.
So where do we go from here? It’s clear to me that this offensive scheme of lining up and running right at people isn’t working. That was not a great defense AT ALL that Texas just played, and the running game was bad. I know what they want to do but do they have the horses to do it? This week they probably do. This is a statistically bad defense Texas is playing and they should be able to run the ball. But should they? Should they keep plugging away trying to force the issue? Maybe it clicks. Even with the poor running game last weekend, if the receivers hang on to the ball and someone cuts No.94, the score is, at a minimum, 33-7. 33-7 on the road at Tech is a pretty serious beatdown. But it wasn’t 33-7, it was 24-14 and the offense looked very tight. The win should loosen everyone up and give them comfort and confidence, but I think there is a deeper issue. The personnel aren’t there for this scheme in my opinion. I think Texas needs more motion. Pulling guards and tackles and running counters and downs, moving players around up front to help them create a push. In the Rice and Wyoming games it seemed to work the best. I haven’t seen anything consistent from anyone that starts at tailback, so DJ Monroe needs to see the field in a more traditional sense. Maybe he takes the counter handoff and hugs the back of the tackle and hits the hole like a missile, exploding to daylight and taking it to the house, Chris Johnson-style. Maybe he takes a sweep for 60, or a rocket pitch for 35. If he gets hit for a 1-yard gain, he’s in the same boat with everyone else. Let’s see what happens?
I think Texas opens up a little more as ou approaches. I think, despite the picks, Gilbert earned the trust of the staff with the game in Lubbock. I don’t expect Texas to go five wide and throw it 50 times because the defense is too good and too stable to possibly put them in a bad spot with a turnover, but GG has a skin on the wall now and I fully expect the coaching staff to trust him and unleash the offense with a few more wrinkles.
Texas is more talented than UCLA and should be able to do whatever they want, but I want them to open it a little and give the sooners something to think about.
UCLA averages 200 yards per game on the ground, but they haven’t seen a defense like this yet. Texas is going to put eight in the box and shut down the run and make the Bruins throw it to win. The results for that will be disastrous. Assuming Texas can stop the run.
The confidence of this defense is sky-high and the goal here is just the opposite of the offense. Will Muschamp wants to keep the defense vanilla and the exotics hidden for next week.
Texas shouldn’t need them this week. Lots of sacks and tackles-for-loss await UCLA.
John Gold, please win the punter job. I have no complaints about anything in special teams other than that. This is your week, Mr. Gold. Take it and run.
Let’s get a block. Come on!
Everyone is all over Texas right now. The mighty Huskers hammered Washington on the road and seem to be rising to the top, and the showdown in Lincoln seems a lopsided win for Big Red right now. The sooners shut their critics up against Florida State. The Horns have their critics, justified or not. Many think the offense just will not be able to do anything against a good defense. Time to shut them up.
UCLA is not a great team, but they can do some things well. They run the ball very well, which will give Texas a true test of where they stand going into games with ou and Nebraska. The defense isn’t the caliber of the sooners or the Huskers, but they have athletes that can make plays if they don’t address them. I say this: Address them. Show us the progression, show us the pains of growing are positive and show us that, if necessary, the offense can carry the load.
Texas looks a little more polished offensively this week and wins decisively.
Last Week in the Big 12
Friday, September 17th
KANSAS 16 Southern Miss Golden Eagles 31
Maybe I was a little harsh on Jiffy Lube. France would totally beat Kansas, wherever they play.
Saturday, September 18th
IOWA STATE 20 KANSAS STATE 27
I was right about Thomas but wrong about how close it was. Daniel Thomas went for 181 and two scores, but the Clones played hard and KSU had to rally for 10 in the fourth to win. Thomas had a career-high 34 carries and KSU is 3-0 for the first time since 2006.
BAYLOR 10 No. 5 TCU Horned Frogs 45
0-3. That wasn’t close. At all. Don’t use me as a betting guide, unless losing money is the goal. If that is the goal, you are welcome.
Hawaii Warriors 13 COLORADO 31
It wasn’t as close as I thought. CU got a nice win and Hawaii should fire whoever did their scheduling.
San Diego State Aztecs 24 MISSOURI 27
Called this one, too. The Tiger defense was tested and nearly broken, but, trailing 27-20 with 51 seconds left, Blaine Gabbert bailed them out. The Aztecs had 228 yards rushing and two scores (of 75 and 93 yards) from freshman Ronnie Hilman and kicked a 32-yard field goal to give them the lead with two minutes to play. Blaine Gabbert was intercepted with 1:58 to play, but the Mizzou defense and blunders by SDSU, including a timeout and a substitution infraction, gave Missouri the ball back at their own 12 with 1:29 to play. Two plays later, Gabbert found TJ Moe on an out route, and he shook his defender, made a move on another and raced 68-yards for the score. The win officially gave the title of The Turtle to San Diego State, who did everything in their power to lose.
No. 8 NEBRASKA 56 Washington Huskies 21
I was wrong. Nebraska is terrific. The best. Ever. We should change the phrase “The best thing since sliced bread” to “The best thing since Taylor Martinez.” I sit in awe of your presence and power.
Air Force Falcons 24 No. oklahoma 27
A hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles, the equivalent of three orbits around the earth, to collect 1 kg of honey.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane 28 OKLAHOMA STATE 65
Is Oklahoma State any good? I honestly have no idea. They seem to be playing harder this year. Maybe those seniors and upperclassmen last year were just not good leaders. It happens sometimes. I guess we’ll see in two weeks. Nice win, Pokes.
Florida International Panthers 20 TEXAS A&M 27
I said, “I think this is going to be fairly close for a while, but A&M will pull away in the end.” I was totally right if “pulling away in the end” means scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and getting a 4th & Goal stop to seal it. Jerrod Johnson was picked off four times and sacked six times as FIU gave A&M much more than they ever anticipated. What in the world does it mean for the Aggies this year if the offense struggles? It means trouble.
This Week in the Big 12
COLORADO (2-1) IDLE
Northern Iowa (I-AA team) @ IOWA STATE (1-2/0-1) 6 pm
Rice Owls (1-2) @ BAYLOR (2-1) 7 pm CBSCS
Not sure who to be for? I guess I’ll root for Baylor. They are in the Big 12 and … nope. Not doing it. I’m for Rice. Bailiff is my guy. Come on, Owls!
New Mexico State Aggies (0-2) @ KANSAS (1-2) 6 pm FCS
There should be tens of people in attendance. The Aggies are terrible, but so is Kansas. I suppose Kansas should win, but I don’t have any proof to back that up. How is this game on TV? If you are up there, I have some alternative suggestions: “Stargate Atlantis” will be on KMCI at 6. That’s probably pretty good. Or “A Knight’s Tale” on KPXE. Or just go outside. It’s about to start snowing for the next 10 months or something, so enjoy the weather.
Central Florida Golden Knights (2-1) @ KANSAS STATE (3-0/1-0) 11:30 am FSN
I see the Daniel Thomas train rolling on. Anyone remember the kid on the Disney Channel a few years ago, Daniel Cook? I keep singing that song with K-State’s running back. This is Daniel Thomas running left, running right, in the morning, in the night… Many places, with many faces, we’ll have lots of fuuuu-uuun, with Daniel Thomas.” If you know what I’m talking about, you will not be able to say his name without singing it.
Miami (OH) Red Hawks (2-1/1-0) @ No. 24 MISSOURI (3-0) 1 pm
Mizzou grew up a little last weekend and found a way to win a game they probably would have lost in the past. I think it shows this week as they hammer the Fighting Mike Haywoods.
No. 9 oklahoma (3-0) @ Cincinnati Bearcats (1-2) 5 pm ESPN2
Bees, like ants, are a specialized form of wasp. The ancestors of bees were wasps in the family Crabronidae, and therefore predators of other insects. The switch from insect prey to pollen may have resulted from the consumption of prey insects which were flower visitors and were partially covered with pollen when they were fed to the wasp larvae.