Brett Deering - Getty Images
Expectations, they are a-changin' for the Texas Longhorns. The goal is the same, but the path they'll take to get there may look a good deal different than the one we'd envisioned a month ago. A couple of our Five Keys have undergone a revision as a result, but the ten-win plateau still looms. Can the Longhorns climb it?
Ash Must Capitalize Ash Leads the Way
Tremendous realized growth from #14 over the last few weeks leads to a big increase in what's expected from him going forward this season - and developments in other areas of the team may mean a commensurate increase in what's REQUIRED of him. Fortunately, Ash gives every appearance of being up to the challenge.
There was rarely a moment on Saturday night when it didn't feel like Ash was in pure command of the proceedings. If there were any concern that his Ole Miss underthrows were the product of some kind of inherent velocity or accuracy problem, he put those to bed off the bat with a perfect strike to Jaxon Shipley for a 44-yard TD. Shipley had a step on the corner, the safety was closing from the inside and Ash dropped the dime as neatly as you could ever ask.
Ash took some candy - a second TD to an uncovered Shipley on a wheel route was pure cake, and right now we're getting a free 6-8 yards every time we run that little play-pass flip out to Roberson into the flat. Ash got some help - both Marquise Goodwin and Jeremy Hills get individual-effort gold stars after fighting for every last inch on our first drive, and Mike Davis' leaping snag of a hotly-contested sideline throw on the winning drive was a dynamic confirmation that Magic Mike is all growns up.
But Ash also made some absolutely money throws - in addition to the first Shipley TD strike and his holy-shit 4th and 6 dart to DJ Grant. His note-perfect loft to Shipley on his third TD was a great example of how to position a ball where only your guy can make a play, and he stuck a comeback route to Marquise on 3rd and 6 that could become a real staple as defenses have to respect dat Olympic speed.
At some point during every young player's maturation - especially if he's struggled in the past - there's that moment where you stop waiting for the other shoe to drop and realize that he's taken a big and irrevocable step forward. Sometime during the quarter, that moment clicked for me. I shrugged off his INT as easily as he seemed to - many a veteran QB has been victimized when a DE takes as smooth and well-disguised a zone drop as OSU's Tyler Johnson had. This isn't a QB who's doing it with mirrors, getting lucky bounces or bound to go into a shell when things turn tough.
David Ash is for real.
On Track for Ten Wins: YES
2) Five Fingers Make a Fist
On my live watch of the game I was a little higher on our OL's performance than others seemed to be, and my re-watch confirmed much of what I thought I saw. There were never going to be any Ole Miss-style blowbacks of the entire defensive front against Bill Young's sizeable and well-coached group. But the Texas OL handled their business well on the inside, continued their stellar work of picking guys off at the second level on pulls, and generally wore down OSU's front as the game moved on.
I had some more detailed observations logged on these guys, but a crash and major Mac fail on auto recover killed about five hours of game charting data for this one and sent my dog into hiding for a good half hour. I'm going to try and gird my loins for a re-re-watch to recover that detail, but some of my impressions included:
- Walters in particular is becoming masterful at using leverage to absolutely turn and pancake defenders in the hole. Espinosa even managed this a couple of times, but Walters is really becoming a mauler inside.
- Espinosa can still have the occasional leverage problem with a DT trying to cross his face, but he's improving weekly in this regard and remains absolute money when pulling out and getting on LBs.
- It wasn't Hawkins' best night, but he looked great in pass pro and his athleticism still shines through.
- Hopkins is a real load when pulling, and he's getting better about keeping his feet and locking on rather than lunging and giving the defender a chance to bounce back off the block and recover.
- Cochran did it all - RT, LT, down blocks, pulls and pass protection. Terrific night.
The unit's pass protection was tremendous - Ash got sacked once and technically got bagged a second time on a lazy throwaway that got ruled intentional grounding. But out of nearly 40 drop backs, that's winning football.
On Track for Ten Wins: YES
3) Surfaces Must Surface
One of my biggest questions heading into this week was how our TE's and H-backs would do in their first attempt to move up in weight class this season. The results were...mixed. A lot of our early struggles running the ball came when we tried to run our staple Pin n' Pull to the outside and the TE's couldn't hold their blocks. The way that play is drawn up, the TE needs to be able to kick the DE inside or at least stalemate him so the C and G can pull around and create a clean alley outside. Daniels and Matthews each had at least one moment where the DE absolutely controlled the engagement, pushed them outside and/or backwards and completely ruined the pull - I think it was one of these early plays where Malcolm Brown picked up his injury while being snowed under by five Cowboys (a fate typically reserved for Dallas-area strippers in the early '90's).
Both guys had better moments as well, but the real stars of the unit were Luke Poehlmann and DJ Grant. They are obviously on the dead opposite ends of the TE skill-set spectrum, but the growth of our OL and downfield passing game gives us more luxury to use specialists without necessarily tipping our hand. Grant inserted himself into Longhorn lore with his fantastic game-saver on 4th and 6, while Poehlmann can manhandle DE's on down blocks and kickouts and even step in to the RT slot when needed.
The blocking row for all these guys will be easier to hoe against WVU, but when OU and K-State (and quite possibly Tech) loom we'll need our primary in-line guys to stand stronger against the DE's to keep the run game humming at full efficiency.
On Track for Ten Wins: MAYBE
Multiplicity Do Your Job
The Good Ship Multiplicity has sprung more than one leak over the season's first month. We've stunted tackles, dropped ends, overloaded our linebackers and overworked our safeties. The result has been a defense where maybe three guys are playing to their potential right now, with some absolutely drowning and others are suffering trying to cover for their mistakes.
The Multiplicity is going into dry-dock for repairs, and being replaced by another vessel. She lacks the Multiplicity's rakish lines and racing stripes, but she's seaworthy and dependable as all get-out.
I'm talking about that doughty little tugboat called Do Your Job.
Manny Diaz now finds himself as the captain of the Do Your Job, and he needs to grip the damned wheel with all the relish he's previously shown in drawing up the wild-assed portions of our defensive playbook. His job is to put our players in position to succeed.
Emphasis on our - we don't have a cadre of fifth-year senior LBs waiting to flawlessly process complexity. We've got the dudes we've got, and we don't know when we'll have Jordan Hicks again.
Emphasis on position - a lot of times, putting guys in position to succeed can mean simply not running them OUT of position to succeed.
Something really jumped out at me on my re-watch of the game, and I went back again to re-re-watch and break our defensive plays down into two categories. You have no IDEA how much I hated to lose this data, but fortunately I'd written down the summation before my Mac stabbed me in the back.
UVerse joined in the 'fuck the game charter' parade by failing to extend the recording, so these figures omit OSU's last field goal drive in the 4th. But the results I charted were:
Straight Defense - 48 plays, 293 yards, 6.1 yards per play
Stunts/Crosses/WTF - 9 plays, 177 yards, 19.7 yards per play
For a play to make it into the 'Stunt/Cross/WTF' category, it had to feature one of the following:
- DL running a stunt/game - either T-E or T-T.
- LBs running a stunt with each other
- An unsound front with five defenders for six gaps and no one making a move towards the uncovered gap - this was Randle's first 69-yard TD.
- Two men on the defense following a single motion man across the formation. The fact that this happened TWICE with two different linebackers (Santos and Thompson) along with Turner at safety makes me believe that we had some kind of weird call/package in that the guys didn't understand rather than it being a simple, random brainlock by someone.
On the rewatch we didn't get wacky nearly as often as I'd (mis)remembered us doing, but as nearly every time it burned us for big yardage those plays tended to stand out a tad more in my memory.
The disparity in results between when we lined up and gave guys clean lanes to operate in and when we actively worked to get guys out of position was staggering. You can live with 6.1 yards a play on the road against a dangerous offense. You can't live with 20 yards a play EVER.
Now, to be sure, the players have to hold up their end of the deal - both in executing when they're in position to make a play and in understanding their (hopefully more simplified) assignments going forward. But if Diaz takes the Do Your Job mantra to heart, we'll be a long way towards fixing what ails us.
A few quick individual player notes:
Jeffcoat and Okafor played winning football for most of the night. Sacks and TFLs were on the menu, and they didn't look to have gap responsibility for OSU's real money-making runs.
The DTs all had their moments, and most of the good ones came when they were allowed to play straight up, straight-ahead football. Dorsey probably had the best night in terms of penetration and disruption, but everyone had some good stuff before the group as a whole wore down late.
I think Steve Edmond had as good moments than bad when you account for a lot of the situations he was put in by our schemes and calls. (1st play, trailing WR, etc). When he gets downhill with authority into a single gap he's the player we envisioned in the summertime. Time to take the other stuff off his plate for now.
I don't see how DeMarco Cobbs fits on the field right now. He could have some value in a package or two against WVU as a blitzer or man-under cover guy on a slot receiver or (ideally) the back out of the backfield on a near-certain passing down. But you can count his ACCEPTABLE plays against the run on one hand through four games and giving him any assignment that involves a read or a thought right now seems to paralyze him.
Diggs played a strong game. He played good coverage throughout the night, came up strong and aggressive on balls thrown underneath him (including a couple where he came off deep coverage on another guy to make the play) and was the secondary's most willing hitter. He's a good bet for defensive MVP against WVU.
Kenny Vaccaro redeemed his early whiff on Randle with a nice INT, and contributed his best work the rest of the game in aggressively attacking blocks in OSU's screen/swing game. I'm near certain that the TD he 'gave up' was on Mykkele Thompson, who bit up on an already-defended hitch route and vacated the middle for the Pokes' John Goodlett.
A shot at redemption rather than a benching is likely the prescription for Adrian Phillips given the necessities of matching up with WVU this week, but he and Josh Turner will give up 200 yards of free offense to Tavon Austin and company if they can't tackle like men.
On Track for Ten Wins: THE JOB'S NOT GETTING DONE. TIME TO CHANGE THAT.
5) Hearts and Legs
It was a night where special teams did the whole roller coaster thing along with the rest of the squad. I was particularly annoyed that my 'Santos Stampede' kickoff nickname initiative got its hamstrings cut by a seemingly spotty night. On the whole, though, I'm giving them a good-size plus due to how many of the evening's lows cascaded from a single mistake.
On the kick return by Gilbert that apparently gave Mack the ol' butt pucker, Sheroid Evans was the primary culprit as he got entirely out of his lane (he was the outside contain man on the right in the first wave) and actually crossed over the face of the next guy inside him (Tevin Jackson), giving Gilbert an uncontested bounce-out to the outside. Jackson was made to look bad as he chased from inside and missed a tackle, but he had to make a major unplanned course correction thanks to Evans blowing contain. There was another poor attempt around the 20 by a guy whose number I could never make out, but if Evans keeps lane discipline that whole thing likely never gets started.
That return was the father of the ill-fated sky and squib kicks that helped OSU make hay in the second half. The tackling on the sky kick can't just be ignored - Alex de la Torre in particular tackled like a good fullback conversion candidate - but what also can't be ignored is the overall strength we've shown in blowing up returners inside the 20.
If we go false start/false start/rolled snap on another punt this season, start to worry. Until then, don't.
And how about that DJ Monroe?
On Track for Ten Wins: YES - IF WE LET 'EM PLAY