While I think there's legitimate reason to be optimistic about what our defense did on Saturday, pummeling the Kansas defense was expected and doesn't tell us a lot. The Jayhawks are a nightmare confluence of bad scheme, bad players, and bad adjustments.
It doesn't mean it was a valueless exercise though.
When you start a true freshman at QB, another at offensive tackle, another at RB, another at WR (and the "veteran" WR is a sophomore), and your OL has struggled with cohesion issues and surrendered an enormous number of tackles for loss against OU and OSU, every live snap in a college football game has some value, whether against Alabama or Slippery Rock.
441 yards rushing is an impressive statistic, but our offensive efficacy against better teams down the stretch will still largely be dictated by our ability to punish dishonest fronts in the passing game and converting just enough 3rd and 7s to let the ground and pound do its work and shape our core identity. It was nice to open a game with a scoring drive, followed immediately by another, putting us up 14-0 and placing our defense exactly where Diaz is most comfortable.
David Ash is clearly the guy until he proves he's not. Harsin made a concerted effort to throw the ball around even though it was clear that we didn't need to attempt a forward pass to win comfortably. We nurtured Ash in the short passing game and the screens and flares are exactly what a true freshman QB needs to be working on to counteract what he'll see down the stretch. When he did throw down the field, he had some nice balls, particularly the red zone toss to Shipley (Shipley couldn't make the play), the injury toss to Shipley (drop after big hit), and the 27 yarder to Goodwin off of the scramble. He showed growth but also had three or four mistakes of significance. Thankfully, these aren't irreparable mistakes - he can learn to throw the ball away on a long sack, he can learn to burrow on a QB sneak, and he can learn to chunk it out of the back of the end zone when a throwing lane isn't there.
Case McCoy may mature but he probably can't learn to have an arm. And there's your QB decision.
Ash is mobile enough to keep a play alive and he's sturdy enough to be employed in the running game when needed. David has a long developmental journey, but I didn't see anything that discouraged me. Sitting in a game thread with some Longhorn fans actively surprised that the bye week wasn't sufficient time to put in the spread and have Ash operating like Tom Brady was pretty extraordinary. I'm not sure whether that's pure ignorance or a society with the attention span of a may fly. Also saw Ash getting us into the right play a couple of times at the LOS - something he didn't have the ability to do against OU.
Joe Bergeron at training table
Malcolm Brown (28-120-2) wore KU down and Joe Bergeron (13-136-2) delivered the knockout. We'd written quite a bit in the preseason about how Bergeron had impressed the coaches and I think we all enjoyed our first extended look. Tackling him a with a head of steam is man's duty and though there are a lot of power backs with great initial power, Bergeron's balance and continued leg drive is the difference maker. Dare I say Ricky-like? There's something so viscerally satisfying about a power back running through a hole with a head of steam. I thought Brown wore out substantially between carries 18-22 and we should be more aggressive in keeping his pitch count in the appropriate range. His last eight carries lacked leg drive and his pad level rose at contact. Getting tired at RB isn't just cardio - there's an anaerobic debt too. We have a number of unique and effective options at RB and there's no reason to run Brown at 80% when Monroe, Bergeron, Fozzy are at 100%.
Fozzy continues to look great (9-68 rushing, 3-44 receiving). The most decisive, explosive Fozzy we've seen. He'll continue to play an important role in the WildOreo, as a change of pace back, and as our blitz buster out of the backfield.
Amusingly, as well as we ran the ball, I thought our fullbacks were pretty mediocre. It was all about the OL.
And...Jeremy Hills sighting!
Luke Poehlmann sporting #82 and playing jumbo TE is a nice wrinkle, particularly in our 3 TE, 1 WR power sets. Houston Nutt and Jason Peters nod knowingly. Is there any doubt that we're going to desensitize defenses to his presence and then throw to him in the red zone? DJ Grant caught a ball and it's still not clear what Irby is offering.
Marquise was extremely effective on end arounds (5-52) and should have popped one of them for 6 but decided to battle his own feet instead. We kept the passing game short and confidence-building so the little action Shipley and Goodwin saw catching the ball was within that context. Mike Davis was quiet, but he had a comeback block on an Ash scramble that was pretty satisfying. If Saturday was enough to get Goodwin to show as WR #3, then it served its purpose.
Jaxon Shipley had a couple of uncharacteristic drops and it looks like his knee is going to be OK. Longhorn Scott will be posting a video that shows the torque he endured on that play and it's a wonder that he didn't pull every ligament in his body. VY Gumby legs, IMO. More snaps for Hales, but he wasn't really a part of the game plan.
Shipley continues to be the only guy consistently adjusting his route when the QB is in trouble or improvising and we need some growth there. The idea that our passing game is just about Ash's growth is as persistent as it is wrong. We don't protect well, our WRs have a ton to learn, and the ship is being steered by a freshman. That interplay isn't your ideal college passing game mix and Harsin doesn't have magical play calling to fix it.
We were multiple in this game offensively, but this was also our most stubborn and extended use of our power set (1 WR, 3 TE, 2 RB). Also our first game where we limited tackles for loss after putrid cohesion against OU and OSU. Most of that is attributable to KU's awfulness in their DL and front 7, but the insertion of Josh Cochran at tackle has proven to be a positive. I watched him on several plays and the level of energy and effort he plays with on every down is pretty impressive. He's nowhere near strong enough to handle a high level college DL straight up, but he's really good at getting on someone's shoulder or simply staying in their face until a late release on a linebacker of safety downfield. Just a tough, never-say-die kid.
Clearly, the OL dominated running the ball but they still had issues protecting on a couple of plays where Ash used his mobility to keep the play alive. Espinosa also appears to be back in full health.
No excessive praise here - the guys did their job well against a horrible front.
This game's value was purely experiential. As tempting as it is to project more than that, the next five games will prove that we're not in Kansas anymore.