Wow, imagine if we had a good defense to help out that Ash kid, we could be dominant.
I got that semi-sarcastic text from my friend Ryan while reflecting back on that game. I think most of us are reeling both positively and negatively from all the shocking revelations about the season that have unfolded in the first few games of the season. Amongst them:
1). The Texas Longhorns are enjoying good offensive line play in both the run game and the passing game.
Yes, the Oklahoma State Cowboys got some pressure on Ash with their Fire Zones and even base rush, yes they stifled our run game for the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game. But this unit only gave up 6 negative plays to one of the better defenses in the conference with an offensive line that is devoid of seniors and anchored an effort that resulted in 36 minutes of possession. Very solid effort that will improve when we face some of the other defensive fronts in this league.
The 36 minutes of possession reflect a strategy that will become essential as we take on West Virginia and some of the other rhythm spread teams in this league.
2). How you like me now?
Last year I threatened some gameday posters with the prospects of having some of their more panicky and moronic reactions to Ash' play and future prospects preserved and posted a year or 2 later when he shockingly found success after a few years of practice and experience. Fortunately for those posters, I didn't make good on that threat.
Our hope for this year was for Ash to be able to make plays in the passing game that were there and avoid turnovers while the running game and defense did the heavy lifting.
Well, Ash's 30-37 effort and our 9-17 3rd down conversion and 3-3 4th down conversion ratios were largely on his shoulders. If Ash hadn't been capable of making things happen in the deep passing game, handling the pressure of multiple 3rd down conversions (and that monstrous 4th down throw that broke the camel's back), and executing what was available we would have been buried long before Jonathan Gray and Bergeron were able to finally find daylight.
David Ash is playing at a very high level right now, approximately where Colt McCoy found himself by midseason as a redshirt freshman...what's that? That's about how long Ash has been in the program? 1 1/2 years? Interesting...you're suggesting that repetitions and experience make a big difference in Quarterback play?
As an aside, I loved the Fox trivia "who was the last freshman Quarterback to beat Texas?"
For one, I got it right and experienced a brief rush of self-satisfaction. For another, when Sam Bradford took us down in 2007 he was a redshirt freshman and he did it in much the way that Ash is murdering teams now. He avoided interceptions, he made big plays here and there, but he executed the basic and easier throws of the offense with perfection.
Leading your running back on a swing pass, allowing a screen to develop before throwing the ball, audibling out of bad plays, hitting receivers on short routes in stride to allow them to rack up YAC...these are the underrated traits of excellent quarterback play.
3). Our linebackers
Ugh. Schematically, I'm not sure how much we can help them. Some of the word on the Longhorn sites these days is that playing linebacker in Diaz's defense is a "heady position". I suppose that's somewhat true, but I would counter that playing linebacker in the Big 12 these days is what's intellectually challenging. Offenses are geared more today towards misdirection and making defenders think rather than power or angles.
Losing our seniors Randall, Acho, Robinson, and Gideon up the middle has made a serious impact on our defense that now has to be firmly acknowledged. Because we're a school that recruits well and a fanbase that gets excited about recruits it's easy to forget how instrumental experience/film study, technique, and repetitions are to playing at a high level.
Our linebackers are getting confused, losing their aggression by thinking and reacting on the field, and are seeing their fundamentals break down as a result. They had 13 tackles against OSU, vs. 16 for the defensive line and 30 for the secondary.
Schematically we're already giving them tremendous support with the MOFC coverages that put nearly all the coverage burden on the secondary and allows the linebackers to focus on stopping the run and blowing up short passes to the short middle of the field.
Diaz's various stunts and blitzes may have them overthinking things, but really they exist to help them be aggressive rather than reacting after the snap. Schematically there isn't much we can do to relieve run-stopping burden from the linebackers. They simply need to grow by leaps and bounds in understanding their assignments and roles.
Losing Jordan Hicks on field coordination is clearly a big deal. It's on Diaz to help them out because our next opponent isn't going to be any easier on them in terms of "asking questions" as Manny likes to put it.
Their development over the year will determine how our defense goes. With Hicks out, KSU, ISU, OU, and OSU all have better linebacker corps than Texas does. You might say the same for a few other teams but I've seen enough of conference play to at least make that assertion.
As Scipio points out, if you're going to pick units to be strong would choose DL and DB, BUT you need at least one good dependable linebacker. 2005 had Aaron Harris, 2012 needs Hicks back or for some lights to start coming on amongst the underclassmen.
4). The rest of the league
Steele Jantz threw an interception in the spokes of my Iowa State Cyclones bandwagon. He led the cyclones with 19 rushing attempts that resulted in 14 yards (took 4 sacks), threw 3 picks, and completed only half of his 20 passes. You can't play a run-centric offense paired with bend'don't'break defense and turn the ball over like that.
Nevertheless, I have to point out that they did hold Texas Tech to only 24 points. They have a very good defense, they just an offense that doesn't shoot them in the foot. Tech's defense seems fairly frisky as well and they could be better than I expected.
I fully expected the West Virginia Mountaineers to score at least 60 points on the Baylor Bears defense, but I was interested to see how the Mountaineers handled the Baylor attack. To me this was the most interesting lesson to take from that game.
While everyone is praising Geno Smith and his historic day I have to point out that last year's Baylor offense would have buried this West Virginia team. These are 2 truly terrible defenses.
Baylor had an offense last year that was at least as strong as this Mountaineer unit and they still found 3 losses in conference play because they couldn't stop anyone. I expect West Virginia to come back to earth when they play a team that can rush the passer or tackle in the open field and run the ball on offense.
Hopefully that's next week.