Brendan Maloney-US PRESSWIRE
Fear and complacency - the perfect Thanksgiving coaching cocktail.
The Longhorns took 12 days of extra work after the ISU game to get worse as a football team. Meanwhile, TCU got better. Funny, that.
TCU dominated a typically productive Longhorn offense on Turkey Day with coherent team defense, a perceptive scout of our tendencies, and the full exploitation of Longhorn player error. It was a clinic, really. Don't let Texas throw deep (the longest play from scrimmage went for 19 yards), tackle well, winnow down Horn tendencies into a narrow window, and then whip ass with a four man rush and 7 in coverage. 71 plays for 300 yards and 13 points doesn't quite cover the degree to which TCU's defensive staff felt comfortable with our offense on the field. TCU essentially stopped running their offense (such as it was) some time in the late 3rd quarter, content to run three times, burn a little clock, and then punt. I'm amused, but not surprised, to hear some of our coaches and fans try to spin that as clutch late-game defense from Texas. But I digress...
None of that was possible without our impotent offense. It was a classic spiral of bad offense. Early player miscues beget (somewhat understandable) conservatism which begets more player error which forces the Texas offense into playing essentially left-handed for the rest of the game, making throws and running routes that they're not particularly well-versed in against a well-coached defense that feasts on indecision and tentative play.
Put Texas into predictable passing situations over enough snaps against a real defense and we're going to struggle.
The throws were there to be made in many instances, though later in the game TCU really did clamp down when the lead was established and the possibility of our running game left entirely.
David Ash struggled badly. 10 of 21 for 104 yards. He threw two interceptions in deep TCU territory, had a Crisco hands fumble, and really demonstrated his inexperience in the traditional passing game when asked to make multiple reads against a solid four man pass rush with 7 back in coverage. For the most part, Ash, like most QBs, excels when he can make throws instead of reads. Harsin knows that and structures the offense accordingly. TCU also knew that. Eventually, we pulled him. Then put him back in. Then pulled him again.
A real program lets struggling QBs play through adversity. The problem is that when every game is nip and tuck because of how the head coach and AD have driven the program into the ground, you don't have the luxury of winning the game while also giving the young QB One To Grow On (which is what TCU essentially did with Boykin). So when do you pull the guy? When is a QB no longer in learning mode and now in full self-destruction mode? It's one of the few areas where I actually have some sympathy for our coaches. Even if it's the bed Mack made for himself.
Ash improved immensely from his freshman to sophomore year. I see no clearly prohibitive reason why he won't improve from sophomore to junior. Our paucity of options bothers me though.
Case McCoy gave Texas a rally touchdown, self-flushing from the pocket on multiple occasions (2 sacks, neither demonstrated much pocket awareness), forcing TCU to react to receivers breaking off routes and giving us some plays, but the law of averages on subpar players catches up. For McCoy it caught up in the form of one of the most amusing plays in recent Texas history, the perfect encapsulation of the futility of that game. A cautionary clip that will be shown at every QB camp in America on how not to play the position. Don't flush from the pocket for no reason. Don't run towards the pressure. Don't be entirely unaware of clock, down, distance (Texas ball, mid-field, down 7, 1:20 on the clock, 1st and 10). Don't throw across your body, while off-balance. Don't throw a Thanksgiving turkey tribute 15 yard Hail Mary to six TCU defenders for the game-ending interception. That there's still a sizable fan faction dedicated to being delusional about the McCoy name is a weird testament to the nepotistic transitive property.
We have two pretty good players here, but they, particularly Mike Davis, have been the beneficiaries of good play calls and lot of one-on-one match-ups. We have no big body who can post up smaller defenders for easy conversions and to kill loose zones, Davis and Shipley both struggled to separate when TCU gave their corners (Jason Verret is great) ample help over the top, and we demonstrated no real third option at slot or TE. This offense has the potential to open up a lot with just one more threat - preferably a big body of some sort - but we're not there yet. We just can't spread people out credibly. A team like Oklahoma State would have eaten up TCU's coverages, but we can't execute like that.
What you'd expect. Good when there was still some doubt in our offense for the defense to worry about (Gray ran pretty well early and we had protection, that went away fast) but they really declined as TCU was able to winnow down our offense into a poorly run version of the spread. We've done a lot to help them schematically against good pass rushers and absent that help, they struggled in obvious passing situations.
We can slice and dice this a million ways and find various units to blame. Our QB play was obviously the well spring. Basically, TCU came to play, opened up a lead, put us behind the chains, and forced into an offense that we're not very good at running.
I'm more concerned with the fact that yet another Big 12 team (with plenty of flaws of their own) rolled into Austin with purpose, kicked our asses, thoroughly out-coached us, and showed what a program looks like vs. random assembly of athletes.
Texas is 11-14 in Big 12 play over the last three years. That's a .440 winning percentage.
However, I'm happy to bide the time discussing the optimal arrangement of deck chairs while the iceberg looms starboard.