The game wasn't as close as the final score suggested and it should have been a 41-6 type of win, but we demonstrated a facility for shooting ourselves in the foot.
And then hacking that foot off and sending it to ourselves with a ransom note.
Chykie Brown and Texas Offense, raise your game or I will be killed - Yours truly, Season Potential
We started the game in a 3-3-5 look with Kheeston Randall at NT, Acho and Jones at 5 techs, and Dravannti Johnson starting at SLB (lined up on the LOS as a rush LB - you won't see him off the ball). This formation frees Acho from traditional MLB responsibilities, which are not his forte.
We alternated with a more traditional 4-2-5, particularly when we wanted to give Randall a blow and after we sat down Dravannti Johnson to ponder the concept of containment.
As I pointed out in preseason, depth chart designations are a media/fan constraint forced on Muschamp. We're multiple - we essentially have no base defense. Just base concepts and a few core players who we build everything around (Randall on DL, Robinson at LB, our corners).
We were expecting a straightforward spread drop back passing team with Fanuzzi or Cook at QB and the Owls threw us for a loop starting mobile RS freshman Taylor McHargue in a zone read package paired with some inspired play calling. As usual, our defense gave up an early scoring drive and then adjusted quickly. I should add that Rice also had a decent mid-major OL with five returning starters and McGuffie ran hard.
Texas forced 9 TFL (3 of them sacks) and two turnovers, one for a TD. Rice had 219 yards of offense total.
Looking more deeply into the numbers, Rice had two meaningful drives in 2 of their first 3 possessions, scored on a freak pass completion before the half, and then had a garbage time touchdown against the 2nd teamers after Williams gave them the ball on our 20.
In their other 36 plays over 10 drives, they amassed 28 yards. Rice scored 10 on our 1st team D, the Texas 1st team D scored 7. Net 3.
If you're not happy with our defense, I'm not sure how to help you.
From an individual standpoint, I graded five standouts:
Kenny Vaccaro. He led us in tackles with 8 and rattled some fillings doing it. His energy and presence changed the attitude of the defense when he came in to the game. We swapped a poodle for a pit bull and it elevated our play. This team as a whole lacks emotional leaders and Vaccaro's reckless abandon fills that void.
Kheeston Randall. After terrifying us with a Q1 injury, big 'un shook it off and made his presence felt all evening. He's credited with only 3 tackles, but two were TFL, and he consistently created penetration inside working across the center's face from an offset nose technique, eventually mandating double teams. Without Randall, we're done.
Eddie Jones. He's the forgotten man of our defense, eclipsed by Randall's sheer value, Acho being a perfect human being, and the excitement about our freshmen DEs. Eddie still has the best first step on the DL. 4 tackles, 3 TFL, and a sack is a man's work day, and consider that he only logged 40 snaps.
Sam Acho. Sam got penetration consistently and he was a rock in all phases. His sack and strip changed the momentum of the game. 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble, drew 1 holding penalty, and 1 sack is a stat line that works for me.
Keenan Robinson. The coverage drop he made on his Q1 interception demonstrated his quickness, range, and playmaking and the touchdown off of Acho's sack and strip was a just reward for his hustle. I had him at 6 tackles. Texassports says 5. I think I'm right. He did overrun a couple of times.
Very encouraged by what I saw from freshmen Jackson Jeffcoat and Reggie Wilson. Jeffcoat logged snaps early at Buck End and played well. Wilson is a violent player with a motor - three tackles in clean-up action.
Christian Scott was solid in his first start as was Aaron Williams, his dropped interception and muffed punt return excepted.
On the developmental side of the ledger -
Chykie Brown put together one of the worst halves I've seen from a Longhorn DB since any U of H game in the late 1980s. Check that. Early 1998. He was burned on a long pass play after he was caught peeking into the Rice backfield, he followed it up with PI that cancelled out a holding penalty, blew a gimme Pick 6, and generally demonstrated no growth as a football player.
The coaching staff has made a concerted effort to give him a sense of ownership - whether in sending him to the SI cover shoot, talking him up to the media, or electing him Game Captain for our season opener in his hometown - and it hasn't corrected inconsistency and inattention to the mental part of the game.
At this point, any coverage advantage that Chykie Brown offers is strictly theoretical vs. Vaccaro and he gives us nothing in run support. Kenny may actually be a better coverage guy simply because he's dialed into the game and cares more.
Big Nickel, please.
No one else played really poorly, but Blake Gideon offered nothing in run support, made a nice play on a WR screen, got trucked by a Rice RB, and managed to find himself blocked quite a bit. Should a coach's son know that deep safety means no receiver runs past you in an end-of-half situation?
Curtis Brown was exemplary in coverage, but soft in run support.
E Acho did some good things, but as I noted in my preseason write-ups, he's not a thumping plug-and-shed ILB.
Yes, that was Demarco Cobbs working at safety late alongside Adrian Phillips. We also saw shirts burned by Dorsey, Byndom, AJ White, & Hicks.
Justin Tucker hit from 51 and 26 and missed from 44 and 54. Anything a kicker gives you from 50+ is gravy, but he needs to hit at least 75% of his 40-49 range kicks. His kickoffs hit the 5 consistently with decent hang time and Rice averaged only 20 yards per kick return on 7 chances. That's manageable.
Gold only punted twice and averaged 42 net (punt minus Rice return). We'll definitely take that. Gold gets good hang time, but he will leave the ball on his foot a beat too long. That could hurt us in Lubbock or Lincoln if they want to dial up a momentum-changer.
I thought we'd see a lot of squib kicks this year and Rice didn't disappoint, making Eddie Jones our primary kick returner. If teams are going to freeze out our sprinters, we may want to consider upbacks who can do a little more with the ball. Props to Eddie for handling the kicks though. Similarly, DJ Monroe has to be allowed to impact the game in some fashion if he's going to be completely frozen out as a kick returner.
Our blocking was sound in the punt return game, but Aaron Williams attempting to catch a ball off of his face shield gave Rice a late garbage touchdown. I think splitting duties here is foolish from a developmental standpoint. Commit to one guy, let him rep it and increase his comfort, and then let's move forward.
Our best kick coverage guy is Kenny Vaccaro. Surprising, isn't it?
I was pleased. Bailiff is a clever coach and he was able to throw us for an early loop with a personnel surprise. After that, we dominated, minus a freak play here or there.