Win #2 is in the books - but the first two were never in doubt. Are the 'Horns still on track for ten?
The inaugural post in this series, in addition to going on at near-interminable length defining what I'm looking for in five key areas for Texas this season, had some thoughts on expectations. Another interesting thing about expectations is that if they aren't met early on, they have a way of coloring your view of an entire event even if things shape up considerably in the latter going. My expectations of a more thorough domination of New Mexico weren't quite realized in the first half, and that (combined with a roughly .17 BAC) kind of soured my entire initial viewing even though the second half was much more up to par. With the benefit of a re-watch while holding a remote instead of a Fireman's 4, I feel a lot better about most of what went down on Saturday.
Let's look at those keys after the jump.
1) Ash Must Capitalize
As I mentioned last week, the run game will serve to provide Ash with opportunities through the air. In the first quarter, the entire Lobos defense bit on the bootleg. Ash found himself with acres of green grass in front of him, and he all-caps CAPITALIZED with a 50-yard TD run. It's always important to remember that there's more than one way to skin a cat (or a Lobo), and it was great to see Ash get it done with the best run of his career to date.
The things I liked from Ash on Saturday:
- His swing pass to Daje out of the slot in the first quarter was another great example of him doing the little things well. Ash lays it right on his outstretched fingers - the play goes for 9 and probably would have been 4 if Daje had needed to chop up his steps to catch the ball.
- Ash's best throw of the night to went to Marquise Goodwin to pick up 3rd and 11 - he threw a bullet that was right on point on a deep comeback from 'Quise. He had another veteran-caliber throw to Bryant Jackson in the seam - the ball was well placed to let Jackson sit down rather than leading him into a killshot from the safety.
- Late in the second quarter, we tried to set up a slipscreen to Shipley on the left side with linemen getting out, but a blitzer came through untouched on the right side of the OL. Ash did a good job just pullling the ball down and taking the sack rather than throwing the ball into a mess as the screen had yet to develop.
On the 'needs improvement' side of the ledger:
- His only real bad read came at start of the second quarter. A guy lined up as a 3-4 OLB on the end of the line dropped straight into coverage in the flat, and Ash never saw him as he fired a ball Davis' way that should have been picked. We dodged a bullet there that could have put a pretty ugly feel on things, as that guy had space in front of him and could have had us tied at seven in the second quarter.
- Ash missed his biggest capitalization opportunity on a throw to Quise up the seam - he had him WIDE open and missed him, with Mike Davis also screaming open up the sideline on the same play. Those are the deeper throws that we're still waiting to make hay on two games into the season.
- There was a moment in the third quarter where Shipley was singled up on a deep post where the coaches might have been happy with Ash just taking a shot as the other safety wasn't in position to catch up to the play. Instead, Ash pulled it down and threw incomplete under pressure to Malcolm Brown. Shipley wasn't screaming open by any means, but at that point in the game up 24 some more aggression could easily have been countenanced.
All in all I wouldn't say this game was a big step forward for Ash, but it was a series of smaller, mincing steps that were mostly in the right direction. One misread on a drop doesn't alarm me about his decision-making, and we saw a few more strong intermediate throws than we did in Game One. There weren't any egregious deep misses like against Wyoming, but I still want to see Ash have the recognition and confidence to let some deep strikes go on time.
On Track for Ten Wins: PROBABLY, BUT SHOW ME THAT DEEP SHOT
2) Five Fingers Make a Fist
Obviously, it's tough to make real judgements about our run game prowess with physically overmatched opponents on the menu. Still, there was more good than bad on display in terms of consistent execution across the line.
Donald Hawkins had a very nice game, even though our largely right-handed run attack doesn't often give him more to do than step back and throw a hinge block at the backside DE. He did show some nice speed and ability to hit a target in space during one play in particular in the third quarter when he was able to fire straight out as Greg Daniels kicked out the DE. I didn't notice Hawkins coming close to giving up pressure in the pass game - all in all I'm very happy with where he looks to be two games in.
Trey Hopkins shows good power and mobility, but over the first two games he's had some targeting issues in terms of where to go on his pulls on the Power play. In re-watching this one, it seems that most of his problems take place when the DE gets ridden inside rather than kicked out by the TE. The start of the third quarter showed an example where he likely should have kept working outside rather than hitting the DE that Barrett Matthews had already blocked inside, but in fairness the guy did have a bit of penetration into the backfield and Hopkins may be instructed just to hit the guy in that case rather than attempting to loop around him and possibly causing an even bigger SNAFU. He did a good job on the very next pull, and I generally like what I see when he locks on to the proper target. He also turned in a strong play in space on a screen pass to Malcolm Brown in the second quarter. He initially had green grass in front of him, but he kept his eyes working and peeled back to pick off the strong safety and really help spring the play.
Espinosa still occasionally had one-on-one power problems (which again seemed to result from him getting too high as he engaged), but he did a better job of using his athleticism to prevent penetration when he blocked down. He's another guy that works well in space, and had a particularly nice wipeout of a LB when he pulled out on an early first quarter run by Bergeron.
I honestly didn't have that many notes on Mason Walters, but he's probably our most powerful in-line blocker and I didn't notice any sort of misses/assignment busts from him.
Cochran had some tougher moments on Saturday. He tried a weirdly passive block on our first offensive play and basically gave up a free run to the defensive end, and in the second quarter he fired straight upfield without touching the DE who knifed in to drop Bergeron. He also gave up a hit on Ash on a blitz where he watched the DE slanting inside and was late to react to the blitzing DB. This was one of the plays that stood out in my mind when I ranted about our blitz protection post-game, but there weren't as many of these as I had drunkenly remembered. The shot on Ash on the Shipley slip-screen came past Cochran, but it looked like he was carrying out his assignment to cut the backside end on that play and it was probably just one of those situations where their call beat ours. On the plus side, he did a great job of collapsing things at the goal line on Bergeron's 3rd quarter TD.
All in all, I found there to be more to like than dislike from our Front Five in this one. Cochran seemed to have the most mental errors, but it was a fairly clean game across the board. As I'll reference in the next point I should probably add some polydactyly to this one as Fingers Six and Seven (our TE and H-back/Fullback) often have a significant impact on how well our down linemen are able to get things done.
On Track for Ten Wins: NOT OFF TRACK, ANYWAY
3) Surfaces Must Surface
For the last couple of seasons, we've had a grab-bag of TE's and H-backs who were neither fish nor fowl, and who could neither block nor catch. We seem to at least be moving towards more of a 'Jack Sprat and his Wife' dynamic, where some guys can catch no balls and others can block no dudes. But it's progress of a sorts.
I thought Greg Daniels had a more consistent run-game showing this time out. He absolutely dominated a linebacker on our third play from scrimmage, and executed a really nice down block at the start of the third quarter. He also did some strong work around midway through the third when he engaged the End Man on Line for the Lobos, controlled him and kicked him out, which let Hawkins fire straight off into a LB at the second level and spring Bergeron for a nice run. Daniels appears to be one of our two best TEs at controlling that end and actually turning him outside when that's the most desired block for the play.
The other best TE at that particular skill is Luke Poehlmann, and given the physicality required I guess it's not much of a surprise that the two guys who started their careers at down lineman are coming out on top here. Poehlmann did a textbook job at around 7:36 in the third quarter, controlling the DE and pushing him outside. It's worth noting this particular skill because everything about our Power play works much better when that end is kicked out and our pulling guard (Hopkins) and H-back/fullback (most often Roberson) are able to fire into the hole and hit the first things they see. A lot of our 'targeting issues' on this play seem to happen when the end drives/gets ridden inside and both Hopkins and Roberson have to make a quick decision on where to go (inside or outside the block) and who to hit. That 7:36 mark is the best version of Power I think I've seen us run this season, and that kickout was the key block.
Of course, the next pass either of these guys catches in game action will be their first, so as welcome as their blocking prowess is they don't do a lot to help our 'declaration of intent via personnel' problem. The flip side of this coin remains DJ Grant, who made a couple of nice grabs in the flats and showed more wiggle than he did last season, but remains much more about effort than results in the run game. MJ McFarland snagged a welcome TD grab from Case in the fourth, but isn't even on the radar as a credible blocker yet.
Roberson put a few more good things on film this time out, but issues still remain. He did a nice job on the aforementioned kick-out Power play, and also got full marks for nailing a safety in 10 yards of open space to help spring Daje on his sweep TD. Unfortunately, both confusion and power concerns also presented themselves. He had a textbook confusion moment around 9:40 in the third quarter, when one of the blocks didn't go as he expected and he ended up dithering and hitting nobody. He did a better job of targeting around 13:50 in the second quarter, but didn't get enough movement on impact - Bergeron ended up tripping over his outstretched legs and short-circuited what looked to be a money-maker as we had guys blocked all across the second level.
Confusingly to me, I didn't see much of Barrett Matthews at all - like I just somehow overlooked him. I'll welcome any comments on his play below.
On the whole, we're getting some better blocking and achieving better synergy with the OL to help get the run game humming, but we still seem miles away from one - let alone two - well-rounded weapons out of this bunch.
On Track For Ten Wins: MEH, BUT HALF A LOAF IS BETTER THAN NONE
Off the bat, this was no kind of great game for judging our defense's multiplicity, as my entire though process here was around short-circuiting the ubiquitous spread attack and you couldn't get much farther from that concept than the Lobos' triple-option assault. With that said, the defense obviously had some distressing moments but a lot of guys at least confirmed the physical skill sets that can make Multiplicity a reality.
Let's get this out of the way - we had a lot of assignment busts on Saturday. That's often part and parcel of playing a lone triple option team in a season, but that didn't make them any more fun to watch in real time. Fortunately, I don't think we have to worry too much about these particular assignment issues cropping up against more 'normal' offenses. I would welcome a 'KSU Day' during each of the KU, Tech and Iowa State games, though. There's been a good amount said about our assignment issues and primary culprits already, so I won't belabor that point here.
The good news, however, is that you can't keep giving up long gainers and third-down conversions and still pitch a shutout without forcing some bigtime negative plays on the opposing offense and we managed those in spades. A number of them came from our DT's, and I was excited about how often I confused one DT for another as I watched. Ashton Dorsey flashed enough quickness that I was sure it was Whaley or Jackson on a couple of plays - he had two great moments in the first quarter where he played off blocks and then looped around and dove to drop the runner in the backfield. Brandon Moore had a quiet game, but he showed Dez Jackson-like quickness himself along with great hand usage while knifing into the backfield to help stop the Lobos' first long drive.
The actual Dez Jackson did some good work as well, particularly on a couple of stunts with Jeffcoat where he was able to get some great penetration. The athleticism of our DT's combined with the all-around badassitude of our DE's makes stunts/games a tremendous weapon for us.
Jeffcoat also had a great night, and I was impressed with the pass rush he mounted giving how much responsibility DE's have in the run game against an offense like this.
Hicks won the LB of the Week award with another great outing, and he demonstrated both his excellent speed to the flats and his ability to stand strong and deliver a blow between the tackles. One thing that jumped out from a Multiplicity standpoint was how often we stayed in a base 4-3 look against 4 wides personnel. I don't know if we can do that against WVU, but it speaks to how accomplished our OLBs are at both playing the flats and carrying quick players up the field if needed.
This was never going to be a game to make stars out of the DBs, but I'd be remiss if I ignored a shout-out to Quandre Diggs. He bagged the Multiplicity Award in this one, from laying a couple of nice licks in the option game to blocking a punt, bagging an INT and throwing in an impressive punt return for good measure. Rumble, young man, rumble.
On Track for Ten Wins: YES, BUT WE ALREADY KNEW THAT
5) Hearts and Legs
I thought special teams would steal us a game this season - they're going to steal us more than one if we keep executing at this rate. Our kickoffs are just a joy to watch, and Nick Rose is like that golfer who's 20-30 yards longer than you. You're swinging a mid-range iron with everything you've got just trying to get close to the green, while he's lofting an easy 8-iron and backing the ball up five feet from the cup. The anticipation of those kickoffs hanging, hanging, dropping down a yard inside the goal line and then leading to feeding time for Dalton Santos is icing on every TD we score. I haven't had this much fun watching special teams since Kenny Gant was doing the Shark dance for the Cowboys in the early 90's. Mix in a blocked punt, a whirling dervish return from Diggs and an all-around predatory vibe, and we're looking to win this phase handily every single week.
On Track for Ten Wins: DAT DALTON SANTOS
Like all of you, I'm excited for us to get on the road and play some Big(ger) Boy Football against the By-Gawd Ess Eee See this Saturday night. It's exciting to not know for sure what the final outcome of the game will be - but I expect we'll do just fine.