ESPN's play-by-play counts fourteen rushes for two yards or less in standard run situations (not goal line or short-yardage conversion attempts) by Texas. Unsuccessful runs helped short-circuit two of our early drives to put us in a 21-7 hole, helped turn our promising drive to start the third quarter into a field goal and set the table for a drive-destroying sack and our botched shotgun snap fiasco on two fourth-quarter drives where we desperately needed to answer WVU's 3-point lead. You have to make hay when the sun shines, and you have to beat up an inferior opposing unit when the pressure is on you to pick up your defense. I'm going solely on drunk end zone impressions here, but our OL just didn't seem to function as a unit with anything near the crispness that we'd seen - even when the sledding was tough against OSU, we were getting much more consistent push inside and our backs weren't getting chopped down right on the line of scrimmage.
Joe Bergeron had some really tough sledding at times, but I remember a number of runs with authority in addition to the obvious shine of four TDs. We seemed to block with more consistent authority on the goal line than anywhere else, and Bergeron needs the best blocking of any of our backs to get plus runs. The blocking will need to improve, and Malcolm Brown's ability to consistently eke out those four yard gains will be a welcome addition - hopefully that addition will come next week.
Jonathan Gray turned in a real highlight on his second quarter rocket-fueled burst out of the backfield, and as is becoming his custom he was a few ankle tackles away from really going bananas. He's a tremendous weapon, but like any back ever born he needs a little more room to operate than we were able to give him for a lot of the game.
David Ash played a very solid game, and you could certainly have made the case for an even more pass-heavy approach after watching WVU's secondary get absolutely torched by Baylor a week ago. 22-29 for 269 yards, a TD and no INTs is doing enough with your opportunities to win the game. More opportunities throughout the game could have made the difference, but it's hard to fault Harsin for a run-heavy approach since A) it's our core identity and B) once again, we need to to call a game that would protect the defense. You hated to see a play like that late-game fumble on the snap - I heard Ash take responsibility for it on post-game radio, but it's one of those 'shit happens' type of deals.
45 points should win you any game, and there's no question this loss sits squarely on the defense. It's still tough not to be disappointed that the offense didn't really play to potential, but if you're asking for literal perfection from your offense to win a game then you need to be asking a hell of a lot of questions on the other side of the ball.
I was very surprised by how much time WVU spent with only 2 or 3 wide receivers, and Manny appeared pretty surprised as well. I'll be able to give a better accounting of our particular failings after a re-watch, but we needed to own the line of scrimmage in the run game while still getting after Geno Smith and we only won half that battle - and lost the other half so convincingly against a half-assed running team that it cost us the game. It's damn hard not to be pass-first against Geno Smith at all times, but we never came close to adjusting to the presence of a lead blocker in the backfield. Give Andrew Buie credit for being a pretty shifty and speedy guy, but he absolutely didn't have to do anything special for a lot of his yards - the holes tended to be sizable and they were seldom filled with anything resembling aggression by our LBs.
Give the defensive line credit for getting some good pressure on a strong pass-protecting bunch. If you'd have told me before the game that we'd strip-sack Smith twice for a TD and a first-and-win-the-game from the WVU 12 yard line, I'd had damn sure told you that we'd win by 14. We had to get these guys upfield to disrupt the passing game, and (what I think were at least) 5 sacks and two forced fumbles is doing man's work. The failings on this defense lie elsewhere.
I don't know if we have a linebacker right now. Jordan Hicks could easily mean a fourteen-point swing if he's available for OU - competence and a basic understanding of the position is just desperately lacking right now. I hope things weren't quite as bad as they seemed in the stadium, but our linebackers seemed desperately slow and passive to their gaps any time they weren't simply being blitzed into them. I remember one downhill tackle from Edmond, but other than that our guys were either mindlessly blitzing or mindlessly getting blocked five yards on the wrong side of the LOS.
While I wanted us to play with some outside leverage with the corners against 2x2 formations in the middle of the field to help funnel deeper routes towards the safety, I was really disheartened with how often we seemed to give up an easy in-breaking throw on short-yardage and goal-line situations that demand inside leverage and forcing the QB to beat you over the top. Smith is capable of making those throws, but he's damn sure capable of hitting a five-yard slant every time if you gift-wrap it for him. If you're facing a Heisman-caliber QB, make him make Heisman-caliber throws to beat you.
I haven't heard an explanation yet for the last-second timeout from our sideline that turned a drive-ending sack into a TD for West Virginia, but I'd really, really love one. Especially when the game-clinching fourth down run from WVU seemed to come when we weren't even set and had 2 timeouts in our pocket.
Right now this defense is just broken - it's getting some really high-quality play on the DL and there's more good than bad in the secondary, but the hinge between those units is flat busted. It was never going to be an easy task to face down a high-octane Heisman candidate, but to be so completely deficient at the linebacker position that a who-dat tailback can completely take over the game is just dire stuff. Our defensive coordinator has been sorely lacking in a number of areas this season, but he's also been making some questionable calls due to being almost totally handcuffed by incompetence. Unfortunately, the incompetence that's handcuffing him belongs to his linebackers coach - and if we thought Mack Brown and Greg Davis were joined at the hip, I REALLY don't know how we're going to separate these two.
I was all but pleading with Mack to let our kickoff team bang it deep and cover, and we came out trying it - and then the unit rewarded Mack's trust with two terrible coverage efforts in the first two kicks. I'm eager to see if the first one by Austin was as much a carbon copy of the Sheroid Evans contain failure against OSU as it seemed to be live. Come to think of it, the second big return broke outside on the coverage unit's right side as well. I couldn't blame Mack for squibbing for the rest of the contest - there's something broken on that side of the coverage unit right now and there was no way he could trust it against Tavon Austin after those first two cock-ups. Of course, the 'bang it deep' part was lacking a bit as well - I'm not sure if we were trying to hit the goal line and make a big play, but it wasn't but a couple of weeks ago that Nick Rose could drop the thing seven yards deep in the end zone at will. After a decade, I thought we'd finally answered the 'can't we find ONE GUY in the STATE OF TEXAS who can kick a ball into the end zone' question in the affirmative - have we not?
Obviously the kicking woes didn't end there - it was, to say the absolute least, really tough to watch Fera blow a 41-yarder at that point in the game. There's no way to say how the game would have played out afterwards had he made it, but that's the first time basically since I started school in '93 that I can remember us blowing a (potentially) game-deciding kick. I had no desire to find out how college football's other half lived in the kicking game after our tremendous run of field goal excellence. I'm pretty validated in my desire not to find out, because having found out, it sucks pretty damn badly. Hopefully Fera didn't aggravate anything last night and we can count on him to be a steady vet against OU and going forward, but...damn.
Nice work by the FG block team for getting their hands on one and the punt block team for swatting another. I don't know when the punt block team will get its next opportunity - I'm really hoping it's not against Kansas.
Goodwin did a really nice job on kick returns.
The Bottom Line
We're six days away from a battle of flawed teams befitting an 11 am kick time in Dallas. After dispatching a game Tech team with relative ease, it's clear to see that Oklahoma put its bye week to good use - and I strongly suspect they didn't spend all fourteen days preparing for Tech. At this point our only realistic hope for legitimate linebacker play is HIcks' return, and I'm still going to say it's going to take 35 points to come out on top in the Cotton Bowl. At some point against OU, Brian Harsin may have to start calling a game that acknowledges the only way to protect this defense is to score one more point than they give up.