An early review of our opening Cowboy-killing. I've watched no film, had no migas and have barely touched my coffee yet, so be gentle.
"You have an advantage when you don't watch film, because you can be stupid."
I can't remember exactly when Mack said this, but for the moment let's ignore the fact that it was likely uttered in a burst of passive-aggressive fan-bashing which - like several other unfortunate aspects of the 2000's Longhorns - have hopefully been put out to
Iowa pasture for good. Instead, let's concentrate on an important central point - if you haven't gotten to break down film on a game, you're almost always going to be woefully under-informed while trying to paint a clear picture of what happened. If you can keep a clear, accurate, running understanding of everything you're seeing on both sides of the ball during a live broadcast, you are one man in a thousand. And you're one man in ten thousand if you can do that watching live from the stands.
I was watching from the stands, and I among that other 9,999 - so this will not be anything like a full and informed game breakdown. I'm in Austin staying with buddies who are not yet among the Elect with the LHN, and while I'll try to track down a copy of the game to re-watch I wanted to put some initial thoughts up now and then hopefully be able to make more informed comments when Scip, LHS and our other cognoscenti arrive with more complete post mortems/dubstep-infused film reviews.
With that apologia out of the way, I tend to view early-season results through the prism of my overall expectation for the season as a whole. Going into last night, my expectation for this team in viewing their talent and potential relative to what I think the conference holds this year was that we're a true-talent 10-2 against this slate. I was still giving OU an edge based on the QB differential (but I'd set that line at OU -3.5, so I consider it very winnable) and figuring we'd drop one from the WVU/OSU/KSU troika. There will be close games and random chance can certainly have its way in those, but I'd bet good money that we go at least 9-3 (and DID bet good money that we go over 8.5). So with that overall expectation in mind, did anything on Saturday cause me to raise or lower my sights?
Running Game - Things I'm Happy About
The WildBerge - While I'd give cash money to have Fozzy back for one more season operating this thing, I liked what I saw from Bergeron and Monroe last night. Bergeron's raw power demands that a defense stay reasonably loaded up inside, while Monroe's zip and newfound authority in breaking tackles and finishing runs makes him very capable of punishing you for that inside load-up. I had expected to see some of Jon Gray and I'm sure we'll see that as well as a host of other wrinkles as the season goes on, but this was a very effective baseline performance for a unit that lost a really kick-ass operator in Whitaker.
Monroe In General - I was never sure what the precise ratio of hands problems/strength problems/attitude problems were holding Monroe back from regularly contributing in the offense, but it looks like there's been some good work done in all three areas. Maybe it was the kick in the pants of seeing Daje listed as a starter in that role, but Monroe ran with a ton of authority for a slighter dude and finished runs with attitude. I think he even caught a couple on swing passes and while he's not out there high-pointing the ball on a skinny post if he's just hauling in throws that hit him in the hands then Harsin can do very effective things with him. If this is evidence of an upperclassman raising his S&C and effort game in response to a push from below, that's a dynamic you LOVE to see emerging on the 40.
Our Backfield Tandem - Loved the vision, burst and power I saw from Brown, and chipping in a couple of receptions was a welcome plus. Bergeron came in for some unfair criticism about 'running tentatively' when he was asked to go up the middle early - the point in the game where the hole looked like the biggest Cowboy orgy since Michael Irvin, Alfredo Roberts, four hookers and a plate of yayo. Joe B.'s single-handed annihilation of the Wyoming on the last TD drive makes pretty clear what he brings to the table. I like Brown as a starter just because I think that superior vision/wiggle skillset makes you more likely to stay consistently ahead of the chains, but there's no question Bergeron had the tougher task tonight and he acquitted himself well.
Running Game - Things I'm Not Worried About
Our Smart Run Game - I'm champing at the bit for the LHS breakdown here (also, I've been hoarding two tabs of X since the late 90's and looking forward to dropping them during one of his music breaks), but from Section 30 it looked like we had success almost every time we did something Harsin-y in the run game. Whether it was the Pin and Pull action with a couple of guys pulling out to lead the play outside or our jet sweep game (whether we handed it to the jet back or the tailback), the fundamental feature of using built-in constraint to boggle the defense seemed to bear a lot of fruit.
OMG Was Jonathan Gray Overrated? - Everyone naturally wants to see a Ricky Williams vs. Hawaii breakout any time we're debuting a highly touted RB against an inferior opponent. We might have seen more of Gray had this game turned into a laugher early, but it was obviously the B&B show last night. On his couple of carries, I did like to see that he not only showed solid burst but a willingness to lower his head and take what was there rather than trying to bounce things outside and be a hero out of the gate. His time is coming.
Running Game - Things I'm Concerned About
Our Fullback Problem - Scipio alluded to this a while back, and I didn't see a lot to assuage any concerns in Game One. I saw Roberson flat out miss a couple of blocks and get no movement on a few others. I was watching the line more than the backfield when we ran so I may have missed some better work from Ryan, but the few plays I keyed on him didn't look great. The concern is that as a senior I don't know how much more of a development curve he can be expected to have, and as Scip noted there's a dearth of candidates to step in right away and deliver some head-knocking.
Tight End Contributions - Again I'm very film-deficient here, but I didn't see much in the way of double-team displacement or nailing guys at the second level that would make up for the position as a whole going 1-4 for four yards in the pass game. We did a number of nice things out on the edge as the game wore on, so maybe on a second watch I'll find some things to be encouraged about here.
Passing Game - Things I'm Happy About
Ash's Poise -
Getting Open Downfield Shots - We're just not going to be a team that's flinging it all over the yard - even if Ash continues to grow by leaps and bounds, we're a run first team that uses the passing game to punish you for overplay as much as anything. In a typical game we'll work for 3-4 big downfield shots, and they'll likely come off something we've set up earlier to influence the safeties. We got a couple of beauties last night - one where Shipley and Davis were both open by three yards (Shipley might have had a full five) and another where Mike got loose on a deep post. That will be a fundamental - if not -frequent - part of our attack, and considering that both our main WRs were at least somewhat hobbled last night it was good to get what we got.
Passing Game - Things I'm Not Worried About
Hitting the Open Downfield Shots - Of course, neither of those shots connected, but it looked like that was a product of Ash being a half-step slow to pull the trigger. I've heard enough good things about his zip and accuracy on the deep ball this off-season (Goodwin in particular seems to be getting a connection working with him) that I'm willing to give Ash the benefit of the doubt here - I think we see that trigger get pulled quicker in the next couple of weeks.
The OL - Ash had to scramble away from pressure a few times, but I don't think he ever got sacked and he generally had time to survey the field from a pretty clean pocket. That wasn't the '85 bears by any means, but good work to the guys up front in giving Ash room to operate.
OMG Horizontal Passes Harsin is the New Greg Davis - Re: the 'not gonna throw it all over the yard' part of our team identity, these kind of safe and easy throws are going to be a staple this year. The nice thing is that they are now a part of an integrated whole in the offense by someone who draws up his own plays rather than stealing a grab-bag from all over the coaching world and then calling them with a random number generator. Our run game works to make defenses make tough decisions in terms of emphasis and alignment, and if the LBs and ends are pinching in to choke off the interior run game then these quick swings and bubble screens work really well to put those guys in conflict. And, if you'll notice, these plays actually WORKED for the most part last night. Gone are the days of a lazily designed screen thrown against press coverage with no thought behind it or no counters built in - we had well-designed blocking concepts out front and Ash did a good job of leading guys with the ball to give them upfield momentum.
Passing Game - Things I'm Concerned About
The Intermediate Passing Game - We've got the short stuff working well and the deep shots will be there, but it would definitely be nice to see more in the way of 5-15 yard throws. Shipley is your most natural target here, but we'll need Davis to step up and get SOMETHING from the tight ends in this area. I may be forgetting a couple of throws here, but it's an area that definitely needs improvement.
Run D - Things I'm Happy About
Steve Edmond - Edmond really brought the wood on a couple of stops. It wasn't a monster game, but the fact that he was on the field almost the whole time against a spread attack and never got victimized makes me encouraged that we'll get to see his violent stylings against the run whenever Diaz chooses this season, as opposed to situations where his hand gets forced to take Edmond off the field.
Chris Whaley - From where I was sitting he looked extremely active - while we didn't get as much interior penetration as I would have liked, I never saw a time when he looked to be blown off the ball or otherwise game the impression that he'll be at a physical/power disadvantage inside. And I'm very confident that his speed/quickness will make him a tremendous two-way weapon, so seeing him hold down a Nose role with no major issues in his first game was good news.
Run D - Things I'm Not Worried About
Pretty much everything - You could probably track down a nit here or there, but after we gave up 2.3 yards per carry I'm in no hurry to pick them.
Run D - Things I'm Concerned About
Pretty much nothing - See above.
Passing D - Things I'm Happy About
Kenny Goddamn Vaccaro - I have been banging this guy's drum for a while, but even I didn't think he had the pure makeup speed he showed on that tremendous INT. Between that play alone and the authority with which he came up to greet a swing pass along the D's right sideline, one thing is pretty clear - Vaccaro is the player that Tampa Bay thought they were getting when they drafted Alabama's Mark Barron. All teams that over-draft SEC guys based on hype deserve a special place in Hell, and I hope Vaccaro ends up Carolina to torment the Bucs for a decade.
Passing D - Things I'm Not Worried About
We've Suddenly Forgotten How to Tackle - That 82-yard TD after a busted tackle definitely stuck in the craw, but Carrington Byndom has put plenty on film to tell me that's a fluky miss. I couldn't tell if he was trying to strip the ball, but then Phillips came in and knocked him off, Turner's angle got chopped up by the unexpected broken tackle and Herron was off to the races. This sort of thing ain't gonna be the norm.
We've Suddenly Forgotten How to Cover - Now here's where I really want to be able to take a look at the film, but at first glance it seemed like we were having some communication/assignment busts on most of Wyoming's longer pass plays rather than guys being just unable to hang physically in coverage. We've got some new faces back there and we may be a step rusty in processing spread concepts after practicing against our power-based offense since the Spring, but this secondary is going to be tremendous. Be ye not afraid.
Passing D - Things I'm Concerned About
Nada - We've got things to tighten up back there and we weren't as sharp as I'd expected by any means, but I'd have to see a lot more to convince me that we've got any systemic deficiencies going on back there (and I'm extremely confident in the pure talent).
I absolutely loved our kick coverage and the kickoffs themselves. Ross has a hell of a leg, and our cover teams showed the kind of speed and violence that should be an every-year hallmark of this program. The punting looked great as well, and on the whole I think we've got a special teams attitude on the field that's been sorely lacking for a while. That, combined with our athleticism, will let us blow holes open for some big-time returns as the season goes on.
No one was less happy with our FG woes than me (show me YOUR blown 3-team 10-point teaser ticket if you want to contend for that title), but Jordan is a pup and Fera should be back soon-ish.
On the whole, it was a solid opening win. I'll be intrigued to follow the Cowboys (and their betting lines) for the rest of the season as they're a pretty good little squad. I'll be following Texas with even more intrigue, but after a Week One win I didn't see anything to convince me we won't bag nine more of them this season.