FROM THE STANDS
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT UT SPORTS
WITH TREY McLEAN
Kenny Vaccaro is coming back. He announced his intentions after the Holiday Bowl, stating in part that he wanted to win the Thorpe Award and get to South Beach, which is very near the Orange Bowl where the BCS National Championship Game is next season.
I expect Alex Okafor will follow suit.
Why are they coming back? Because they will be the stars of a defense that is going to be SEC-nasty next year. Manny Diaz loses four starters , but after watching future starters Adrian Phillips, Calvin Howell, Jordan Hicks and legendary locker room sheriff DeMarco Cobbs in the Holiday Bowl the starting 11 for Texas next year is going to be SICK and the big names (like Okafor and Vaccaro) will be coveted by NFL scouts in the spring of ’13.
Not a fan of Best Buy’s “game on, Santa” campaign. The lady kicks the plastic Santa off her OWN roof and mocks Santa Claus, for goodness sake. Why poke the bear with a stick, lady? Why?
Dallas is going to lose to the New York Giants in spectacularly frustrating fashion on Sunday night. I see the Cowboys coming out early and playing well, only to sickeningly serve the game up in the fourth quarter. Please prove me wrong, Dallas.
I can’t stand Eli Manning. His body language when something doesn’t goes his way reminds me of a certain 7-year old I know when things go badly.
I’ve seen many people, especially in the last two days, wondering if this offense would have been better with Garrett Gilbert as the starter at quarterback. The answer, to me, is an emphatic NO. NO. It isn’t always about measurables, sometimes it’s about leading and showing your team you can and will make a play when you have to. When you can’t, uncertainty and doubt seeps into everyone else’s thoughts and actions and it affects how the play. Plain and simple, the Texas team wasn’t following Garrett Gilbert any longer and it was time for a change. Gilbert can certainly turn it around at SMU and I am 100% behind him and hope he does just that, but the relationship here was over. You can’t lead a team that won’t follow you, and Texas wasn’t following Gilbert.
As for who will lead this team into 2012, the job is open this spring.
And it has to be settled this spring, in my opinion. Early this year the two-qb system worked because both guys had their specific skill set the offense needed, but as the season wore on the staff was asking them to do the same thing. If they are doing the same thing, then one needs to be the clear starter and the other needs to be the clear backup. If that means someone leaves because of it, so be it. Find the guy and stick with him.
If the Holiday Bowl is any indication, Texas might have done just that.
A full year under Bennie Wylie will pay dividends next fall.
As big as the spring is for the quarterbacks, it is equally as big for the o-line. I see signs of awesome, just not enough and not consistent.
I’ll say what I always say about the offensive line: Cohesion and unity is the key. A place like Texas will get the talent, now that talent has to become one unit. Think about your fingers and how they work if you need to get physical and announce your presence with authority (such as with Santa Claus, on your roof, trying to bring you presents you don’t want). Individually, they might do minimal damage. But when they merge and unite together they become a fist, and a fist is a powerful, menacing thing (especially when facing the likes of Santa Claus) that can do severe damage when used correctly. The offense line is a similar organism. Individually the five starters can do minimal damage, but when they merge and unite and form that fist they become a menacing and powerful thing. When that happens it makes the offense go, no matter who is playing quarterback or running back. It isn’t something that happens quickly, but it must happen for an offense to be successful. Get there boys, become a cohesive unit that thinks, acts and plays as one big, mean fist: Go get tattoos, grow civil war beards, get Mohawks, or Wyatt Earp mustaches, whatever. Find the thing that makes you bond and Bennie Wylie and Stacy Searels will handle the rest.
Not a bad sports year: Mavs win the whole thing, Rangers get to the World Series again and Texas goes bowling and wins. Now if the ‘Boys can prove me wrong, we can finish up strong.
No.24 TEXAS 21 California Golden Bears 10
Much was made in the media about how this was a “revenge” game for Cal, but that’s nonsense. It was a revenge game for the fans and Aaron Rodgers (who lost his first game of the year at Kansas City the week he started chirping about Texas and the 2004 Rose Bowl to the media) but the guys on the team have nothing to do with that. The oldest fifth-year seniors on the Cal team were sophomores in high school at the time and the majority of the team was in middle school when the Bears were “snubbed.”
This was not a revenge game. This game was about setting the table for 2012 and seeing which young guys would be counted on next season. It was about finding playmakers and weaknesses to work on and getting momentum heading into the spring.
I’d say one team accomplished their goals for the bowl game and one team left with more questions than answers. You already know who is who, right? Here’s what I saw at the Holiday Bowl:
Quarterbacks: I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t excited about the prospect of David Ash starting the Holiday Bowl. I thought Case McCoy was the man at A&M and, despite the turnovers at Baylor, I thought he was the most dynamic and was a better playmaker for the Longhorns. I watched him make some mistakes at A&M and Baylor, but I thought his moxie and ability to extend plays led to offensive success. Ash, on the other hand, seemed overwhelmed to me at times this year. He looked under water against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Mizzou and I just didn’t see enough… something… to make me think he was ready to be anything but a back up. When I heard Wednesday he was named the starter and it was his show for the entire game, I was curious how it would go. It didn’t start well. He threw behind guys, he threw late and high, he didn’t make plays in the open field with his feet and generally didn’t seem to be the inspiring leader I talked about above when referencing Garrett Gilbert. Through the first quarter and a half, Texas ran 16 plays for 7 yards and missed a field goal despite forcing two turnovers. David Ash looked tight and it showed. The rust of being the backup for six weeks was obvious. But Brian Harsin loosened up on his conservative game plan and let Ash go half way through the second quarter and the results were immediate. After holding Cal to a 3 & Out, Ash hit a wide open Jaxon Shipley for 14 yards to the Cal 34 and two plays later sold a play fake to the defense and found an even more wide open Blaine Irby in the secondary for a 30-yard gain to the 4. One play later Shipley took a reverse flip from Malcolm Brown and hit Ash in stride for a 4-yard touchdown pass. My favorite part of that play was watching the Cal safety race over to meet Ash at the goal line. Ash lowered his shoulder and ran at the defender rather than sprint to the corner, his eyes never coming off the No.1 on his jersey. Ash wanted contact and wanted to run flat-out over him, but the Cal safety pulled up as he got there and Ash scored, but the intent from David Ash was definitely there. And the confidence David Ash lacked against OSU and K-State was there, too. After that play, he was different guy. He finished the night 14-23 for 142 yards, including a beautiful 46-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Goodwin, and added 20 yards on eight rushes. But even better than the numbers were the decisions he made. He threw the ball away when he needed to rather than force things in there (like against Oklahoma State) and tucked it and ran when he had the chance. He was decisive and confident (after the first quarter) and generally showed the abilities and qualities you need from a starter at quarterback: a go-to guy that will make a play and lead his team. Look no further than that touchdown pass to Goodwin for evidence. Cal trailed 7-3 at half and took the opening drive of the second half and stuffed it down the defense’s throat, taking a 10-7 lead after going 69 yards in 5:13. The Bears had all the momentum and Texas needed to get the defense some rest if nothing else, but Ash had other ideas. Facing a 2nd & 6 at the Cal 46, Texas ran a play-action pass that froze the defense long enough for Marquis Goodwin to get deep and Ash hit him in stride for a 46-yard touchdown. In four plays, Texas answered the Cal score and took the momentum back and the lead for good. THAT is how you get a team believing in you and looking to you to lead them. Well done, Mr. Ash.
It sure wasn’t the prettiest or most effective day, but Texas put Ash in the spotlight and he grew up before our eyes, making plays and scoring points. He’ll take that success into spring and try and win the job.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Marquis Goodwin was the playmaker we all thought he could be Wednesday night, catching that 46-yard touchdown pass after blowing past the Cal defender and he had the offensive play of the game in the third quarter. After the epic defensive stand (more on that later) that got Texas the ball back at midfield, the Horns ran a reverse with Goodwin. Seeing the outside littered with defenders, Goodwin cut back inside, avoided a tackler with a wicked spin move and raced back to the other sideline, finally getting pushed out of bounds at the Cal 7. I was sure when he spun out of that tackle he was in the end zone, but he set Texas up at the 7 and two plays later Cody Johnson have Texas a 21-10 lead on a 4-yard touchdown run. It might has well have been 41-10 the way Texas’ defense was playing. It was the type of play the offense needs from him, and others, to pick up the defense and carry their own weight.
Goodwin was “this” close (my fingers are very close together) from scoring on a 99-yard pass from Ash and equally as close to another big gain earlier in the game. He finished the day with 33 yards rushing and 49 yards receiving with a score, living up to his nickname of “Flash.” An entire year with the football team (remember last year he was out of football training for the Olympics) and those deep routes with Ash are on the money.
Jaxon Shipley threw a touchdown pass, but only caught 4 passes for 14 yards as Cal took him away. The good news is Goodwin was there, meaning defenses will not be able to do that all the time.
Also good news was tight end DJ Grant, who had two catches for 37 yards. Next year he breaks that tackle and gets the first down in the first quarter. He’s shown to be devastating when the defense ignores him. It was awesome to see Blaine Irby catch a big ball in his home state in his final collegiate game, setting up the first Texas touchdown. What coulda been, indeed.
Mike Davis, listen to me: you need a big spring, my friend, because there are talented guys on the roster that are going to take your job and talent coming in that wants it, too. You have to catch the ball. That’s as black and white as it gets. Catch the ball.
Running Backs: So much for “the running game has to click for Texas to win.” The Horns rushed for 109 yards on the day with 37 coming from Goodwin and 20 coming from Ash. That means, with my limited math skills, that Texas’ most important offensive weapons rushed for a total 52 yards in the game. Malcolm Brown had 35, Joe Bergeron had 9 and Cody Johnson had 21 and a score on only 21 combined attempts. It has to be better, but it wasn’t all on them. There was nowhere to run because…
Offensive Line: … THE OFFENSIVE LINE WAS TERRIBLE. They couldn’t move the pile to establish the running game and they allowed WAAYYYYYY too much penetration for the offense to be consistent. They pass blocked well at times, giving Ash some room to move the ball, but not nearly enough. It is impossible to fight without using your fists, and this o-line on Wednesday looked like individual fingers way too many times. I’d see one breakdown and a play would fall apart, particularly inside. Dom Espinosa had a rough night, as did Trey Hopkins at tackle.
Like I said, the o-line improving and gelling has to be the 1A priority this spring.
Defensive Line: The d-line rotation’s stats on the night: 15 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and 3 fumble recoveries. THREE. That means that in the 69 plays Cal ran, the four down linemen for Texas made the play on over 20% of them. That is OUTSTANDING. Jackson Jeffcoat seems to be peaking at the right time. He was everywhere in San Diego, chasing down Zach Maynard and punishing him, showing his quickness outside and sacking the qb twice, notching an additional half a tackle for loss and five tackles on the night. Alex Okafor didn’t have quite the same numbers, but four tackles against an All Pac-12 tackle is nothing to shake a stick at (not that I condone stick-shaking). Inside at tackle it was more of the same as Kheeston Randall was EVERYWHERE. Texas ran everyone out there and they all got into the action as Chris Whaley and Ashton Dorsey recovered fumbles and Calvin Howell forced one. The defensive line was dominant, controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing the back seven to make the plays they missed. It was an awesome performance and the scary thing is all but Randall are back next year.
Linebacker: It has been a bit of a disappointing year on the stat sheet for sophomore Jordan Hicks, but he showed what he’ll bring to the table next year in the Holiday Bowl with 2.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks, a broken up pass and seven tackles on the night. He looked fast, furious and violent chasing down the qb and ball carriers in the open field. When gets a little heavier (and he will) look out.
The seniors Keenan Robinson and EAcho went out on top, tying for the team lead with eight tackles including 3.5 for loss (2.5 from Robinson). Robinson has definitely shown he has the physical skills and personality to play at the next level and that was on display in San Diego as he was straight laying people out.
As exciting as it was to see the two seniors play well, it was just as exciting to see Hicks and DeMarco Cobbs flying around the field and being active and productive.
Diaz’ crew was, and is, lights out.
Secondary: You will see that Vaccaro-jumping-over-Cal-guy-for-a-sack all off season. Why? Because it’s awesome. Let’s start it right now- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB1hy17TTeU. You are Superman, Kenny. That play was the perfect example of the secondary play all night: spectacular. From Quandre Diggs’ leaping interception to Adrian Phillips’ game-changing sack and forced fumble in the third quarter, the secondary was outstanding all night. Zach Maynard never went off deep to his brother or Marvin Jones and the ability to effectively hit Maynard on the blitz changed him and made him look down for the pressure rather than downfield for a receiver.
Hats off to Duane Akina, who has done his best coaching job ever at Texas this year, turning a freshman and a sophomore into the best cornerback tandem in the Big 12 going into 2012.
Special Teams: Yuck. Justin Tucker looked exhausted at the end of the season as the wear and tear of handling all three kicking duties wore him down. He missed a very makeable field goal, but it wasn’t just him. His big run on the fake punt was negated by an illegal formation penalty and Kenny Vaccaro’s silly personal foul on a punt pushed Texas back to the 10 and almost negated the great play he made on the sack. Texas never got any pressure on the punter or any return game of any kind.
Fortunately, Texas didn’t need it in the Holiday Bowl, but the staff should take notice of how Justin Tucker’s productivity dropped (64-yard punt not withstanding) and needs to split those duties out next year.
The goal of 8 wins was accomplished, but it wasn’t all pretty. It was sloppy at times with dropped passes and lots of penalties, but at the end of the day the Texas defense was absolutely dominant and picked up the slack for the offense. And that’s OK. The identity of this team has traditionally been the high-flying offense that can play some good defense, but that has all changed. Now the identity is a nasty, SEC-style defense that can make big plays and create opportunities for the offense and an offense that takes advantage. Sure, you’d like an offense with the VY or Colt McCoy ability to score anytime from anywhere, but that takes time to build. Right now Texas has the defense that will allow that to happen and the offense is showing signs of taking advantage. I’ll give you an example-
Texas was up 14-10 in the third quarter and punted from the 1 as a penalty and a sack pushed them back to the goal line. Cal returned the 43-yard punt 16 yards and was set up at the Texas 27 and it looked like they were going to punch it in and take the lead and all the momentum. Instead, Texas forced an incomplete pass, got a sack from Robinson and a personal foul from the tight end to set up a 3rd & 27. Adrian Phillips blitzed and knocked the ball out of Maynard’s hands and Chris Whaley recovered. In three plays it went from 1st & 10 Cal at the Texas 27 to 1st & 10 Texas at the Cal 44. The next play was Marquis Goodwin’s spin move 37-yard run and two plays later it was 21-10 and Cal was DONE. The Texas defense put the team on their back and the offense made a play. The defense is ahead of the offense, and that’s fine. The Ravens won a Super Bowl like that and LSU is going to win a National Title the same way.
Imagine next year when the offense has more success on their own? The future is bright.
See you next week with the Big 12 bowl wrap-up.