FROM THE STANDS
WITH TREY McLEAN
|TEXAS VS. OKLAHOMA|
|Last week I said winning ugly was still winning. Today we are going to the other end of the spectrum. Losing ugly. Texas lost to UCLA and it was ugly. UGLY. The loss reminded me of several in the past. At times it looked like the Alabama game last January, with Garrett Gilbert getting hammered from behind and fumbling the ball. At times it reminded me of Kansas State in 2007, when Texas was unable to get out of their own way, and a team that most thought was vastly overmatched came to town and won decisively. At times it reminded me of the 2003 Arkansas game when the Hogs seemed crisper, tougher and more excited about the game than Texas did.
Honestly, though, I think this game is going to be its own thing. This Texas defense is light years ahead of that 2007 team, and K-State ran two kicks back for touchdowns. That Arkansas team was undefeated coming into that game and ended up rising into the top 10 later that year. And the Alabama game was a different animal entirely. This one will be a game to compare others to because it was just so, so ugly.
No unit gets a free pass. The defense allowed the Bruins to take complete control of the game by allowing them to score on the opening drive of the second half, going up 20-3. This is a loss that, to a person, everyone in the program has to take responsibility for. I’m finding it very hard to point to any positives from this game. I want to get this catharsis over with and get to the sooners.
TEXAS 12 UCLA 34
Dropped passes, bad reads, stunning special teams mistakes, curious play calls, poor tackling, worse blocking, no ball security … you name it, it went wrong. I’m not spending a lot of time on this because, frankly, pouring margarita salt into open wounds doesn’t make anything better; it just makes it hurt more. So let’s get on with it.
Offensive Line: Trey Hopkins needs to play more. I liked what I saw. When the best thing you can say is, “no holding penalties! Yay!,” that’s not very good. An average UCLA defensive line not only owned the line of scrimmage, they decapitated Garrett Gilbert in the first quarter.
Running Backs: More DJ Monroe, please. He did just about everything I thought he would do. He needs more carries and more time on the field; except you CANNOT fumble the ball and take over the job. Outside of Monroe, I didn’t see much. Literally. Two thirds of the trio of starting running backs got as many snaps as I did.
Wide Outs: A unit full of upperclassmen that were contributors when Texas won the Big 12 Title and played for the National Championship and were ranked No.1 in 2008 has given way to a true freshman in his first fall semester. Mike Davis got hurt and left the game and you know who took over outside? Absolutely no one. These seniors and juniors couldn’t get open, ruined drives with silly penalties, didn’t find the first down stick on fourth down and dropped passes that hit them right between the numbers (the “8” and the “9” stick out). I don’t remember ever seeing a worse day from the wide outs and tight ends on a Mack Brown-coached team at Texas.
Quarterbacks: The one bad throw was the interception, but the problem I saw was Gilbert was too willing to check down to the tight end/running back far too often. Maybe he doesn’t trust the wide outs downfield, maybe he doesn’t trust the o-line to give him time to go through his progressions, maybe he isn’t very confident right now. I saw UCLA take the deep middle away and he would dump it off to the tight end or back, and they would do absolutely nothing with it. I liked his athleticism running the ball, but sometimes you have to take a chance and go downfield with the ball. How many passes were deep? Two? Three? It wasn’t much more than that if any. Is that on the play calling or on the quarterback? It has to be both. Open it up some, GG, and trust your guys to make a play downfield, because UCLA baited you into those check downs and the result was futility. The staff has to get players in position to make plays, and I didn’t see that offensively on Saturday.
Defensive Line: The backbreaker was Kevin Prince’s 39-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The Texas offense had shown some life and cut the score to 20-6 in the third quarter. A stop and a drive and the Horns were right back in it. The Bruins ran the zone read at the Texas 39 and Prince caught the Texas defensive end collapsing and chasing the running back. Again. He went untouched 39 yards for the score and I am not sure half the team even knew he had the ball into he was inside the 20. After that touchdown the body language on the Texas sidelines spoke volumes. How many times is the end going to crash inside and totally ignore the quarterback? Saturday the answer was “every.” Texas ran that offense for 7 years every day in practice, but in nine months it seems everyone forgot the basic principles of defending it. They were terrific in the fist quarter, but were pushed around in the second half pretty severely. I think they ran out of gas, but the mental mistakes like the one on Prince’s touchdown were devastating.
Linebackers: I liked seeing Jared Norton in there at the goal line. His big stick was negated by a penalty, but he is a physical presence that Texas will need more of in the coming weeks. I didn’t see any big plays from the unit. Quarterback keepers and running backs coming through the line of scrimmage should be addressed by the lb’s, but I didn’t see any of that. It was a nightmare day, but they didn’t do anything exceptional to make something happen.
Secondary: Same for the secondary with the exception of Aaron Williams. Williams forced a fumble on a corner blitz to keep Texas in it. I didn’t see anything from the others on the field, other than Chykie Brown giving up two receptions on third down late in the game. By then it was already over. Williams was the bright spot, but the team needed big plays from the stars of the defense and they just didn’t get it. No penalties for Gideon this week, so that’s something.
Special Teams: I don’t have a word this week for special teams. The fielded and fumbled punt at the three, too many men on the field on a UCLA punt, the 45-yard kickoff return that set up Prince’s 39-yard touchdown run and an off-sides penalty on the onside kick. Never mind that on that onside kick no ever even touched the ball. The summit of absurdity and the perfect synopsis of the game was when UCLA kicked off — after scoring a touchdown after the botched onside kick — and DJ Monroe and Marquis Goodwin watched the ball hit the ground between them, watched it bounce forward and then watched it fall into the arms of the UCLA coverage team. The Bruins took a knee to run out the clock; otherwise it might have been 45-12.
Titanicicker? I’ll go with that. The specials were Titanicker.
No. 16 TEXAS (3-1/1-0) vs. No. 7 oklahoma (4-0)
If you think for a split second I am conceding this game to the sooners you are out of your mind. Three things; first, I will never do that. EVER. Because I hate them. All of them. I know this summer, via Twitter, I wrote a piece about how they had our backs during realignment and maybe I should change my attitude towards them. I should. But I won’t. I hate all of them. Completely and entirely. Secondly, there is no one on the earth better at circling the wagons and righting the ship than Mack Brown. I mean nobody. Lastly, it isn’t like this ou team is hitting on all cylinders themselves.
So here it is, ou week. I can’t wait. Let’s talk some sooners for the first time this year.
Like I said, the sooners aren’t coming to Dallas with all of their questions answered, either. Granted, their issues didn’t explode in their face like a Tom & Jerry episode last weekend, but they still have some very real concerns coming into the Cotton Bowl. Their defense is ranked 97th nationally and they are 90th in the nation in rushing. Quarterback Landry Jones can look terrific and awful all on the same drive, and every game, it seems, tailback DeMarco Murray gets nicked up a little more. So who shows up? The ou team that beat the tar out of Florida State or the one that played Cincinnati last weekend? Let’s take a look.
Everything that you didn’t like about the Texas offense last week — the check downs, passes in the flats (or “laterals” as the would-be ESPN analyst behind me kept saying Saturday) is what ou does. Well. They will send backs and receivers out in the flats on swing passes and bubble screens and let them use their athletic ability in space to make plays. They will run up the middle, off-tackle and use different formations to try to free space up inside. They will run reverses as well. If the sooners are clicking offensively, they want to get the ball as quickly as possible to their playmakers.
The top two are Ryan Broyles and DeMarco Murray. Really they are their only two. The centerpiece is Murray. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound senior from Las Vegas seems like he’s been at ou forever. I still see him leaping over the pile and scoring the go-ahead-for-good touchdown by the sooners in 2007. He has terrific speed, great hands and big play ability. The running back leads the team in rushing with 436 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. In fact, he has all but one of the team’s rushing touchdowns and 109 of the team’s 120 yards per game rushing. The only problem with Murray over his career is that he can’t stay healthy. In the games I’ve seen this year, he leaves every one with some injury, but always returns. That’s troubling when so much of your offense is dependent on one player. The other playmaker is Broyles. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound wide out is tough as nails. He had a great game against Texas last year playing with a broken shoulder blade. He has return-man skills, and they look to exploit that with passes on screens and crossing routes. He averages 120 yards per game and has caught four of the team’s nine touchdown passes. They will move him around, both in formations and through motion. If Texas can’t account for him, he will be devastating. The duo of Murray and Broyles accounts for 257 of ou’s 334 yards per game. While they have other weapons — Moises Madu, Kenny Sills, DeJuan Miller, Cameron Kinney — these are the two that make it go.
Quarterback Landry Jones’ job will be to get the ball to them. The 6-foot-4, 219-pound sophomore has a good arm and decent mobility, but he isn’t going to beat anyone with his legs. On the year he is averaging -14 yards per game on the ground. He wants to get it out quickly; it seems that he doesn’t always get that chance.
The sooners and the Horns are having similar issues on the offensive line. The usually dominant run blocking has not been there, at least on the stat sheet. While Murray has his numbers, the rush offense is ranked 90th nationally and the scoring offense is ranked 36th at 34ppg. They are having considerably more trouble protecting Jones than Texas does for Gilbert, allowing two sacks per game, which is 62nd nationally. Considering the competition, that is not good. They will need to have their best day of the year against Texas if this offense is going to be successful.
You can bet the sooners kept their offense as vanilla as possible in the first four weeks. They will use their bread & butter short, lateral passing game, but it will not work consistently against this Texas defense. I expect ou to come out with four wides and try to go underneath on short routes to move the chains and control the clock. I expect runs with Murray out of that formation to exploit a vacated middle, and I expect to see Landry Jones getting rid of the ball quickly to avoid the rush.
Look for new wrinkles to free up Broyles and look for Murray to slide out of the backfield and over the middle on the routes that have been so successful against Texas the last two years. They need to keep Texas on their heels and off of Jones.
I think this ou offense is going to have its hands full.
As will the Texas offense with this oklahoma defense. Statistically it doesn’t seem like that should be the case. Look at the numbers: 97th in total defense, 93rd in rush defense, 90th in pass defense and 65th in scoring defense. You would think that the offense should be able to exploit that. But the offense that Texas had last weekend is not going to be able to exploit anything. More on that coming up. You are as good as your numbers say you are, but I think some of that is a bit misleading with regards to ou’s defense. Air Force and their triple option had their way with the sooners on the ground, but they usually do against everyone. The rush defense is better than their numbers say, but that can’t be said about the pass defense. I watched the Cincinnati quarterback, the same kid abused by North Carolina State, make great plays against ou. They can be had, but does Texas have the weapons to take advantage? More on that later as well.
The strength of this defense is the front seven. They have plenty of names you know returning on the defensive line: Jeremy Beal, Frank Alexander and Adrian Taylor. All three have next-level talent. Taylor is recovering from an ankle injury in the bowl game last year and is listed as the second-team tackle, and he still isn’t completely healthy. I assume he is as close to 100% as possible. Those three are dominant. They can take over games if the offensive line doesn’t account for them. Beal is the best of the bunch up front. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound senior from Carrollton leads the team with 4.5 sacks and three more tackles for loss. He has two forced fumbles and one recovery. He forced one Saturday against Cincinnati that saved the win for ou as he hit the quarterback and forced the turnover. He has great quickness off the edge and is big enough to handle the run. He is going to be a load for Texas to handle. Opposite him is Frank Alexander. The 6-foot-4, 251-pound junior has two sacks and isn’t the polished player that Beal is, but has excellent quickness off the ball. If Texas spends all its time worrying about Beal, Alexander will make some plays. They have some big, physical guys playing tackle, but, outside of Taylor, there hasn’t been anything exceptional about them. Didn’t I say the same thing about the UCLA defensive line? The main job of the tackles is to keep the debris off the linebackers’ legs. So far, statistically, that hasn’t been done near enough.
The star of the defense is Travis Lewis. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound junior from San Antonio came to Norman as a running back and will leave as an NFL linebacker. He leads the team in tackles with 35. His .5 tackles for loss, which was a half sack, tell me they aren’t blitzing him very much. That will change. He is their version of Roddrick Muckelroy, tackling everything and being the leader of the defense. He is good in coverage as well, but his job is to clean up everything at the line of scrimmage. Joining him at lb is Tom Wort. The redshirt freshman has plenty of talent, but is known more for his bright red Mohawk and getting yelled at by Bob Stoops on TV. A lot. Ronnell Lewis is the starter at sam and is solid. Not spectacular, but solid. He will be spectacular by the end of the year and will be the next great linebacker at ou, but that will be in 2011. I like T. Lewis a lot and the potential for R. Lewis is sky-high. If the d-line can keep them clean, they should be able to make plays.
The sooner secondary is as small as I can ever remember seeing in the Bob Stoops era. 5-foot-11 Jamell Fleming and 5-foot-9 Demontre Hurst start at corner, and 5-foot-11 Jonathan Nelson starts at safety. None of them crack 200 pounds. The only big player is 6-foot-1, 200-pound Quinton Carter. Nelson and Carter are solid at safety and play the ou cover two very well, watching the quarterback and making plays on the ball when he throws it. I know the corners have three picks, but I am not sold on them. This secondary needs pressure to be at its best, because, if they are left on their own, they can be exploited.
They’ve watched the film. They’ve seen unknowns make plays against Garrett Gilbert, forcing turnovers. And they know their guys are not unknowns. They are knowns. They are confident that they can get to Gilbert with their front four and occasional blitzes from the linebackers and secondary. They are also confident that they can handle the run with their front seven and force Texas to become a one-dimensional passing team. They think if they can do that, they win the game. There will be some wrinkles and twists, but expect ou to be pretty confident that their defense is in good shape as it is.
They punt the ball very well, averaging 46 yards per punt, and they kick off and cover very well. They are atrocious at returning punts, averaging 6.25 yards per return. They are 6-8 on field goals this year with kickers Jimmy Stevens and Patrick O’Hara both going 3-4. So far I haven’t seen anything exceptional from the ou specials.
Since they punt so well, look for them to try and pin Texas deep and force them to go the length of the field. There is nothing that the sooners would like more than getting Texas inside the 15 in the tunnel-end of the Cotton Bowl facing a 3rd & long. If the sooners have the lead or are relatively even, I don’t expect much trickeration.
They are going to bring the heat on the Texas punters. They think their defense can handle whatever Texas throws at them, so they will take more chances on their kick block than they have in the past.
So who is the leader? Someone needs to be in charge on the field. Someone has to be the go-to guy. There has to be someone that the rest of the unit looks to when things go badly. I’m not expecting everything to be perfect. Guys are going to drop passes. They are going to get beat and allow sacks. They are going to make bad reads. What I am not OK with are the mental mistakes: the false starts, the not getting to the marker on fourth downs, the fumbles, the silly penalties. Someone on the field needs to hold everyone accountable for their actions. Someone not only needs to make sure everyone is dialed in and on the same page, but needs to break a tackle and make plays when necessary. Who is that? Until that gets solved, the offense is going to struggle with consistency. Everyone is sort of standing around and waiting for something to happen. Who is the guy that will make it happen? I think it’s Garret Gilbert, and I think the staff is going to put him in a position to make plays this week, which I don’t think they have so far this year.
For all the knocks on Gilbert, the one thing he has been consistently good at is his decision making. So far he hasn’t had a lot of bad reads. I think a new era begins this weekend as Texas unleashes Gilbert and his arm on a less-than-spectacular sooner secondary. I see DJ Monroe being the fourth starting running back of the season and Texas going three and four wide with far less play from the tight ends, if any at all, and more of the flex tight end that Texas debuted in 2008 against ou. I expect Texas to put the ball in GG’s hands and let him work the sooner linebackers over the middle with Mike Davis and Darius Terrell and look for Marquis Goodwin and Malcolm Williams deep. Swing passes to DJ Monroe, wrap-around draws — like Texas ran in 2007 against ou and Dallas ran against Houston this weekend — and the occasional screen can devastate upfield pressure, and the quarterback draw and scramble can a hurt a secondary dropping deep into coverage. That’s what I would do. I would go with what works, similar to what Gilbert ran at Lake Travis. What is there to lose? It isn’t like the current scheme is producing.
And “produce” will be the key word this week. The offensive line needs to stay on blocks and pay attention. No missed assignments this week. The receivers need to do exactly the opposite of what they did last week. Whatever you wore on game day, ate for breakfast, listened to pre-game, do the opposite. DJ Monroe needs to see the field more and the staff needs to trust the guys they recruited and named the starters to make plays. GG needs to produce and know that his guys will be where they are supposed to be.
It’s all possible. Come on, guys, rally around someone. Pick each other up and police yourselves, get this thing on track. The parts are all there, it just needs someone to take the lead.
As confident as the ou defense has to be watching Texas film is as confident as Texas is watching ou film. Landry Jones doesn’t run well and he doesn’t handle in-your-face pressure well. (Who does?) The Texas defense has 14 sacks in four games and they now face a fairly immobile quarterback and a shaky offensive line. Opportunities will be there to get after Landry Jones, and if they do he will make mistakes. Texas will need to keep an eye on DeMarco Murray and see where and how ou moves him around. They will need to be aware of Broyles and where they move him as well. Texas will want to stop the run and get after Jones.
To do that they must be good tacklers. The ou skill guys are excellent in space and there will be a lot of one-on-one situations where the Horns will have to get the ball carrier down. If they do, it plays into Muschamp’s hands and allows him to bring pressure from different places and disguise his coverages. If they do not, you have a lot of the problems that Florida State had.
I like the Texas defense against this offense a lot. A lot. If the offense can do anything at all, Texas will be in good shape.
Not putting anyone back to catch punts would be better than last week. I expect a new guy or two to get a shot. DeSean Hales, anyone? Justin Tucker is solid, and I’ll just hope against hope that the rugby punt doesn’t blow up in Texas’ face.
The kick coverage must be good, because, despite the numbers, Ryan Broyles is very dangerous in the open field.
Anything less than a complete 180 from last week will be disastrous for Texas this week.
That’s a rosy picture I painted, yes? Texas has a lot of work to do this week if they plan to be 2-0 in Big 12 play going into the bye week. If the effort and that performance are the same again this week as last week, expect the same results. But I do not expect the same effort, the same performance or the same results.
In the post-game press conference Mack Brown looked as mad as I have seen him lately. He took all the blame for the loss, saying in effect that he is “in charge of this program, from coaches to the players to the training staff …” and that the game was “embarrassing.” The last time I heard Mack Brown talking like this was after the loss to A&M in 2007, and out of that loss a reborn team emerged. I expect a similar effort and energy this week. Fans can dissect and critique a loss all week, but the staff and team must put it away. The old adage in football is “don’t let one loss beat you twice.” Texas has to put that game away and focus on the here and the now, or they will get beaten again. Mack Brown is terrific at doing just that.
Saturday night and Sunday morning were not pleasant for the coaching staff, I can assure you. Guys were called to task for their respective units. Sunday afternoon it was the players’ turn to feel the wrath. I expect many jobs are open at this point and the most dedicated, determined and fearless guy will win it. This is going to be a brutal week of practice because, frankly, the effort didn’t seem there in a lot of places. They will run that lethargy out of them or find someone else to do it. It will be physical and tedious. Any mistakes will be quickly pointed out and the play will be run again. And again. And again. Coaches will be in face masks and ear holes making sure their points are made. Mental lapses will not be tolerated. The loss was ugly and this week of practice will be ugly, but the benefits of this week should be seen on Saturday.
Whatever the score, you will see a different team on the field this weekend and that is not a bad thing.
Last Week in the Big 12
COLORADO (2-1) IDLE
Northern Iowa (I-AA team) 0IOWA STATE 27
Rice Owls 13 BAYLOR 30
Even an hour rain delay couldn’t slow down Robert Griffin, who threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns as the Bears rolled up 456 yards on the Owls.
New Mexico State Aggies 16 KANSAS 42
Did you watch Stargate Atlantis or did you go outside? I bet you did both.
Central Florida Golden Knights 13 KANSAS STATE 17
For the first time since 2003, the Purple is 4-0. They needed a late rally to get by the Knights, connecting on a 7-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds left for the win. They are better than I thought.
Miami (OH) Red Hawks 13 No. 24 MISSOURI 51
Not much fight in the Haywoods, and Mizzou seems to be getting better each week. The Tigers jumped out to an early 21-0 lead in the first and then, I assume, the entire student section went to The Field House. I love that place. Again, why is there a stage in the bathroom? Someone please tell me.
No. 9 oklahoma 31 Cincinnati Bearcats 29
Carpenter bees are solitary bees. They build nests just for themselves and only feed their own young. They get their name from their ability to drill through wood. Carpenter bee stingers are not barbed, so they are able to sting over and over again.
This Week in the Big 12
No. 7 NEBRASKA (4-0) IDLE
Thursday, September 30th
TEXAS A&M (3-0) @ No.24 OKLAHOMA STATE (3-0) 6:30 pm ESPN
I’ve been thinking about this one a lot. No, really. Jerrod Johnson just doesn’t look right to me. The shoulder surgery may not be fully healed, or maybe it’s something else. I’m not sure. I know he is struggling and now the Aggies are on the road for the first time. I am not sold on OSU at all, but I like the fact that they are at home. And we all know Johnson’s record in televised games (o-fer). I’ll take the Pokes at home in a 5-hour game with lots of points.
Saturday, October 2nd
KANSAS (2-2) @ BAYLOR (3-1) 11 am FSN
Seriously, just get some breakfast or some Bushes Chicken and head north. Texas/ou starts at 2:30 and you are very close. Plus you can probably get a cheap ticket from some of the panicky Texas fans who think Texas will lose the rest of the games this season. Or watch the Stargate Atlantis you DVR’d again. Yay! Bears. Big.
Georgia Bulldogs (1-3/0-3) @ COLORADO (2-1) 6 pm FSN
My, gosh is Georgia bad. They are just terrible. Bad enough to lose to Colorado? No. They will win this game. If they don’t, you can start the “Will Muschamp to Georgia” rumor mill.
IOWA STATE (2-2/0-1) @ TEXAS TECH (2-1/0-1) FCS
I see the Red Raiders bouncing back in a big way from the loss to Texas. They have had a week off to dissect, yell and run, and they will take that out on Paul Rhoads and his Cyclones. Tech lights up the west Texas sky with touchdown passes.
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