We saw a glimpse of this team's identity after they submitted their 2nd dominant defensive performance and paired it with special teams and offensive football that was actually designed to take advantage of the defensive excellence with field position, clock running, and points. While Texas failed once again to break the 20 point barrier at least they did so against a stronger unit.
The secret of the Nebraska victory and the location of Texas' strength is in the middle in the 295 pound forms of Kheeston Randall and David Snow. Combined with our 2 guards, Snow and our All-Conference defensive tackle are a mismatch against the middle of every other Big 12 line.
This article pretty well captures what we did on defense against the afterbirth Nebraska Option. You'll notice that the key element is the run-stuffing nose-guard who has to handle whichever A-gap (either side of the center) he thinks the play is running towards. Against Nebraska the noseguard in question managed 4 tackles, including 1 for loss in which Steve Watson dialed up the midline option, left Randall unblocked, and then watched him tackle T-Magic about 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
This came after a first quarter where Nebraska ran the traditional zone-read leaving Sam Acho unblocked and enabling him to make a few early tackles where he effortlessly chased down Helu. Texas opponents have struggled heavily when they attempted to read the better Texas linemen only to see them still make the play.
Whether that's a misread by Martinez or just an outstanding play by Randall/Acho the speed with which the Texans are attacking the mesh-point is contributing to the fantastic failure that has resulted from non-UCLA option football.
Check over at Mack's official stats page and you'll find a few numbers that indicate how Texas is dominating the middle of the field this season on defense.
Kheeston Randall: 22 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 QBH.
Half of the man's tackles are behind the line of scrimmage and he spent much of the Nebraska game holding the middle without rushing upfield in order to protect against a Taylor Martinez scramble (Acho often offers the interior pressure, "these Achos are everywhere!"). An inglorious role that was instrumental in destroying Pellini's attack plan.
Another inglorious role played by Kheeston shows up here in our 2 leading tacklers:
Keenan Robinson: 57 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack (1 int)
Emmanuel Acho: 47 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 FF
Often these guys don't even see a blocker (and this is also due to the hard work of Jones, Ocho Uno, Oak and co) in their aggressive pursuit of the ball to the sideline. Those 18-17 tackle performances by Keenan and Uno Ocho against OU were no accident, that was Kheeston Randall dominating the Ben Habern of preseason favor.
It's very possible that Randall won't face a center this season who can handle him heads up from the 0 technique and consequently there's nothing to prevent Texas from keeping up this level of defensive excellence throughout the season.
The Special Teams held up their end of the deal, with that notable exception, notching the following numbers:
17.3 yards per punt return
46.7 yards per punt
3 punts inside the 20 (including 1 inside the five)
Given the level of this offense those numbers are essential in providing the scoring opportunities we need to reach the magic number (about 20) to insure victory from week to week.
Most people don't watch the center after he hands the ball to the quarterback, those who look for line play often have an eye for the performance of the Left Tackle against the defense's best edge rusher.
Well I'm telling you David Snow has been the best performer on the Texas offense. He has excellent awareness in the zone-running game, makes the combo block and then appears at the end of the play 10-12 yards downfield driving a hapless linebacker or safety to the bus. He has the necessary strength to make the down-blocks in the power game and keeps the step-up option viable for Gilbert in the pocket.
In the first half Texas ran the basic inside zone to Steinkuhler's side and relied on Huey to screen the dangerous Jared Crick on the backside alone while Snow and Walters made Steinkuhler look like a squid, sending him 15 yards back off the line on Gilbert's better QB draw.
In the 2nd half Davis got more adventurous against Crick and sent Snow and the zone his way throughout the 3rd quarter. They weren't launching him off the ball like Steinkuhler but he was essentially neutralized throughout the game. The 2 Nebraska DT's managed 12 tackles but none behind the line of scrimmage and even a casual observation of the game would notice the lack of penetration into the Texas backfield.
Ultimately this is the difference between the excellence of the blackshirts and the total domination by the Legion of Boom. Nebraska's ceiling for this season is set by how many quality opponents they face that can run the ball between the tackles while slowing down the spread option. Probably very few but face it CornHuskers, Bama or Oregon was taking you down in any championship bowl game.
At any rate, as I predicted before the season, this interior OL is the best zone-running trio Texas has had since perhaps 2006 and Walters and Snow are here for another round next season. When you see Tre Newton manage 4 yards per carry against a top-ranked defense in the 2nd half during obvious clock-running offense that's a good sign that the line is opening some quality running lanes.
Now, against Nebraska Greg Davis made the following adjustments:
1). Encouraged Gilbert to run on moving pass plays (sprints, roll-outs, bootlegs, etc). The next step here will be to mix in some deeper pass routes to punish defenses that come up to stop Gilbert.
2). He introduced a bunched trips formation that is well designed to handle Nebraska's matchup-zone. You can find ChrisApplewhite suggesting bunched formations here as a means of frustrating the leverage of pattern-matching and Texas has already other forms of this over the season.
3). He attacked the middle. Part of the genius of Davis' plan early was to roll out the bunch trips, which is clearly designed to adjust the spread for pattern-matching, and then run QB draw. It was also sort of clever, or maybe simply obvious, to come after the middle of the Nebraska D when they are built around speed and look like the Pillsbury Doughboy in the middle.
The trick with pattern-matching is that while it is perfect for the AirRaid and the modern spread passing offense, it often loses the one advantage with zone. As your players quickly end up in man-coverages they lose sight of the QB, and if he uncharacteristically or effectively starts to take off through running lanes things can get real dicey.
Much of the Big 12 is using this type of coverage so Gilbert taking what is available via scramble from time to time will be instrumental in sustaining drives and enabling the running game to get going through actual drives.
You can certainly expect better than 4-16 from Gilbert against the remaining stiffs on the schedule, who won't have anywhere near the secondary of Nebraska, but the advantages this team has against the Big 12 is in the big guys up front. Their performance, believe it or not, has been the most consistent in this offense in the 2 biggest games and really the majority of the season.
Kirk Bohls is disgusted with our wide receivers and it's actually hard to find much to disagree with in his simple premises. Mike Davis is being lauded as our only hope and it's hard to refute this assessment. Goodwin has been utilized as a screen receiver, reverse and sweep runner, and occasional deep threat. He's been effective in only the first role.
Malcolm has been a deep out target and deep Playaction target, he's been effective mostly in the first role. Kirkendoll is a possession receiver they set plays for and he's having a Nate Jones kind of season. In the Texas passing game these guys need to be able to make it happen on the short hitches against soft coverage and we haven't really seen it thus far, nor have we seen the kind of blocking that will allow the running game to become a strong identity. These guys really need to step it up this season or quickly be replaced with incoming talent.
Our next opponent is one that uses line stunts from their undersized front to out-scheme your running game which should present an interesting challenge since Texas' line has struggled with stunts so far this season. Fortunately it seems like Mack has directed Davis to use the kind of creative, opponent-specific game-plans he normally saves for 3-4 games a year on the entirety of the schedule. God knows this offense absolutely has to be versatile and creative to turn its few advantages each week into a few points.
Iowa St. is also sporting a new look to bring into town against Mack's army on saturday morning. Don't get too excited from that Nebraska game and start looking for a return to 50-10 blowouts from this group. I'm thinking 30-10 for this contest and an average of around 20-9 for the rest of the slate. Don't be too disheartened, this can absolutely secure the necessary 10 win season and Holiday/Cotton Bowl victory we need to act smugly against the rest of the league and build hope for 2011.
Vince departed from the game to make room again for Colt to take the limelight last weekend. It's a shame Vince was banged up because the early results suggested he is continuing his development in punishing the 8-man fronts that everyone throws against Chris Johnson in a vain attempt to control the Titan ground game.
Naturally Kerry Collins came in and handled the simple short patterns he was asked to throw to the delight of the Moustache.
Nevertheless, the Vince machine rolls on and I cannot wait for the Houston matchups remaining that could very well determine the division or the wildcard for these teams.
Colt McCoy exceeded expectations himself in his 281 yard performance against the physical Steelers defense so maybe he can handle this league after all. He showed the same toughness that gritted Texas through the 09 slate taking 5 sacks while watching James Harrison knock people out to his left and right.
As far as the concussion controversy, I don't think there should be any doubt that the NFL should remove the unnecessary head violence from the game and it would be refreshing to see defenses wrap up heads up instead of flinging people like missiles at ball carriers. Darrel K. Royal must feel nauseous when he watches the quality of tackling in the league these days.
They should probably go to greater lengths to explain the exact meaning and intent of the rules to the players however, before they seize tens of thousands of dollars from guys who were trained to play this way and use up their bodies doing so to the delight of fans while the owners become filthy rich in the luxury boxes. Especially in lieu of the 18 game season being proposed, the rookie cap, and the other bargaining agreements likely to be forced down the players throats.
As for you, don't fall into the temptation of being furious at a player for holding out or wanting more money from a game that could very well leave him disabled for the majority of his life. Where else will the money go anyways if not to the players? You?