The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Texas 16, OSU 33
Posted by EyesOfTX – Barking Carnival (Great Site)
Groundhog Day is one of my favorite Bill Murray movies, right up there with Ghostbusters and What About Bob?. In that movie, Bill Murray’s character wakes up each morning in a bedroom at a bed and breakfast located in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to the tune of “I Got You, Babe” coming from the bedside radio. Turns out he is experiencing the same Groundhog Day over and over and over again.
It’s getting to feel the same way being a Longhorn fan this season.
Each Saturday we wake up hoping against hope that this season has all been a bad dream, that there is no way we could really have been witness to the utter ineptitude in every phase of the game of football Mack Brown’s coaching staff has treated us to this season, just a handful of months removed from having played for the national championship, and each week our hopes are dashed upon the shoals of the reality that is without any doubt at this point the worst team the Texas program has put on the field since at least the dog days of the late 1980s, and possibly even since Ed Price’s final 1-9 season in 1956.
Somebody cue up Sonny and Cher, but have them change the lyrics to “We Got You, Greg”.
But hey, no way to blame it all on Greg anymore – and it is becoming increasingly obvious that Mack is still planning on protecting his buddy at the end of this season, so why bother even trying? This team is possibly worse on special teams that it is on offense, and it’s not like Will Muchamp’s defense has an answer to even the worst offenses on this team’s schedule this season, much less to a juggernaut like Oklahoma State.
Bad: On Saturday, the Texas defense surrendered 532 total yards, 7.1 per play, at home, to the Cowboys. Now, you can try to defend that by saying that that’s just about OSU’s average yardage per game, and hey, we held them 15 points below their season scoring average, but that’s precious little comfort. The defense still failed to create turnovers until it didn’t matter anymore, finally managing to recover a rare fumble in the game’s final moments, and you can’t complain about OSU having short fields to score, because that only happened once, following Garrett Gilbert’s lone interception late in the first half. Prior to that, the Texas Defense had yielded scoring drives of 54, 63, 70 and 59 yards. The game was long out of reach before we could begin to blame the defense’s problems on bad special teams (which they were) or pathetic offense (which it was).
Bad: Continuing on the whole Groundhog Day theme, this game yet again began with a special teams breakdown on the very first play, with Justin Tucker being ordered by the coaches to try the old pooch kick that never, never, never, ever ends up with the returning team inside its own 30 yardline, and kicking it out of bounds. Thus demonstrating our coaches have zero faith in this team’s ability to cover kickoffs, and are just fine with automatically giving the other team the ball at their own 30 or outside of it (which is where the pooch kick invariably gets returned when it is not kicked out of bounds) in order to avoid risking our guys having to actually cover a deep kickoff. The message this sends about our special teams coaching and recent recruiting efforts is not a positive one, to put it mildly. Teams with the superior talent that Mack Brown’s recruiting efforts have supposedly brought to the 40 Acres (evidence of such is painfully lacking these days) do not need to pooch kick. They just don’t.
Ugly: To make matters worse where special teams are concerned, it is now obvious that the foibles of AJ Williams and Curtis Brown have made the coaching staff so gun shy on punt returns that they have ordered Adrian Phillips to just call a fair catch no matter what. Kickoff returns remain a running joke, with the Longhorns coming into this game ranked #118 in the nation in this category and doing nothing at all to improve that horrid standing.
Ugly: To make matters even worse than all of that where special teams are concerned, the program that led the nation in blocked punts and kicks for a full decade rarely even makes the effort to try anymore, and on the rare occasions it does try, is far more likely to incur a penalty than actually get a block. Justin Tucker has been and remains the lone bright spot in the special teams area this season. Very sad.
Ugly: Offensively, well, there is just no developed talent on this side of the ball. There are some kids with promise given further experience, like Gilbert (if Davis doesn’t completely ruin him), Mike Davis, Paden Kelly, and Trey Hopkins, a couple who are blooming late despite years of coaching abuse (John Chiles comes to mind), and James Kirkendoll, who has suddenly begun making the tough catches. But otherwise, the offensive side of the football is a talent wasteland. Either we have a bunch of kids who were wildly overrated by the coaches and recruiting services in high school, or our staff is failing miserably to develop offensive players once they get to campus. Either way, it’s a very telling commentary on the staff on that side of the ball.
Good: Despite a lack of any real difference-making talent at the position, the Running Backs continue to be the single highest-performing unit on the offensive side of the ball. Tre Newton was out this week with a concussion, leaving the load to be shared by Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson. Again, neither is a world-beating talent, but both kids ran hard and got extra yards after initial contact (which most often is in the backfield in the lunatic Greg Davis rushing scheme), both blocked well in pass protection, both caught the ball well, and Johnson ripped off several impressive runs in the second half.
Good: Many Texas fans have been all over Garrett Gilbert, with the Greg Davis army of apologistas attempting to blame all offensive failures on the kid rather than the coach, but Gilbert has not been our big problem on offense this season, and he had a fine game against OSU. The kid accounted for about 80% of the team’s total offense, more than 250 yards; he protected the ball well, he made some hellacious throws, and ran the ball well when plays broke down, which they pretty much always do. Gilbert will be just fine. If Mack decides to give him a competent offensive coordinator to work with next season, he could be outstanding. If if’s and buts were candies and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas, too, so don’t hold your breath on that deal.
Good: OSU’s three Amigos – QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, and RB Kendall Hunter. Blackmon and Hunter clearly are NFL quality talents, and it showed big time in this game. And Weeden is a very smart kid who executes a complex, well-designed scheme (wish Gilbert had this to work with) extremely well. OSU will bitch slap the Sooners in Stillwater. Bank it.
Special Teams Player of the Game: Justin Tucker by default. There are just no other real candidates.
Defensive Player of the Game: Kenny Vaccaro. He had the team’s lone INT, another near-miss, 2 breakups and a TFL in this game. He continues to be one of the few playmakers on that side of the ball.
Offensive Player of the Game: I’m going to go with James Kirkendoll here. His stat line shows 4 catches for 71 yards, but that is short one catch and about 15 yards due to one of the very worst replay calls in the history of college football. I’m still at a complete loss how that call was reversed. Kirkendoll has really progressed this season and is now making the tough catches this offense requires.
So, the depressing reality of the simple badness of this year’s Longhorn football team should finally be setting in on even the most Pollyanna-ish of the large segment of Pollyanna Texas fans. This team, for the first time since 1997, will not play in a bowl game – the Aggies, having finally discovered a quarterback in their midst are a virtual dead lock to win on Thanksgiving day, and I would not bet money on our ability to even defeat FAU at home – an outcome to this season literally no one on the face of the earth envisioned back in August.
This team is what it is, and that is just really kind of bad. At least they showed good character in this game, playing hard until the final gun for the first time since the Nebraska game, so the kids themselves appear to have gotten to the Upward Turn phase in their progression through the seven stages of grief. Their depression is beginning to lift, and they will soon be moving into the Acceptance and Hope phase in which they’ll starting putting things back together again. With any luck and some new coaches, this off-season will not be a complete waste as the last off-season was.
This is what realistic Texas fans are left to hope for, at any rate. It isn’t much, but it’s something.
Somebody cue up Sonny and Cher…