I'm realizing right now that I don't have as many years to watch Texas football as I thought I did. I've still got a decent guess going as to my overall lifespan, but if games are anything like this my doc is going to forbid me from partaking of anything besides after-the-fact ESPN.com box scores after my first, minor, piddly little myocardial infarction.
Which, come to think of it, might have happened last night.
That was one heart-stopping, hair-raising, wild-assed adventure in Stillwater.
After Ole Miss, we were eager to confer some grown-ass man-itude on our fresh-faced sophomore QB, and he proved deserving of every paean.
After Ole Miss, we were eager to project improvement on certain fundamental flaws from the defense, and they basically took a quick trip from bad to worse.
After Ole Miss, we figured it would take something bizarre to make us lose a special teams battle, and we provided enough bizarre decision-making to fill the bill.
Let's do a quick review of that roller coaster rodeo.
ASH ASH ASH ASH ASH. We don't win this game unless he does some grown-man stuff, and he obliged us in spades. Deep strikes, intermediate darts, good decision-making and a whole lot of nuts kept us in this one. We benefitted from some nice plays on the ball by our WRs, and Mike Davis basically absolved every sin he'd ever committed, but you're allowed to expect some wins from your wideouts from time to time. What not too many of us would have expected was Ash playing at this level in his thirteenth college start. To be precise, 'this level' is 'go beat the defending Big XII champs in their house at night more or less by yourself'. That 4th and 6 throw to DJ Grant was as precise and as clutch a pass as any that Colt ever threw. Ash may not finish the season as the #2 most efficient QB in college, but if he maintains this overall level of play then every possible goal is on the table for this Texas team.
The receivers get next billing in this one, as they stepped up in a big way to help Ash get it done. Mrs. Shipley may not have had the most comfortable pregnancies, as her boys apparently started learning to run routes in the womb. Jaxon's ability to work on a high-end cornerback was really impressive for a sophomore wideout, and his savvy and body control make him a real threat on contested balls.
Magic Mike Davis is pretty close now to where you'd have thought he'd be early in his freshman season if you hadn't factored in a completely wasted sophomore year. I couldn't be prouder of him for re-dedicating himself to ball, and he has undergone a total transformation from the player who used to give no effort on contested throws.
I thought Marquise Goodwin would play a bigger role downfield in this one, but he was a reliable target on short stuff and he deserves a ton of credit for keeping our first drive alive with a tremendous individual effort on third and seven.
DJ Grant's 4th down catch and run was the sort of thing you used to expect from David Thomas, and it's the sort of thing we haven't seen from a tight end in quite some time. It won't be as iconic as Vince's 4th-and-18 scramble against Kansas, but both ends of that play were as good as it gets.
The non-WildHorn portion of the run game had a very tough time of it, to the point that it's concerning for the rest of the season. It hurt not having Malcolm Brown for most of the game, as he's probably more adept at picking and weaving his way for plus yardage when things aren't that cleanly blocked. With that said, Bergeron made a couple of questionable cuts but wasn't playing poorly - our bread and butter outside runs were just getting wrecked. I'm writing this prior to a rewatch so this statement - and most of the statements in this piece - are certainly subject to being picked apart as we all get a second look at things during the week, but I just downgraded my expectations for how well our TE's can let us do what we want in the run game.
By 'do what we want', I mean control the DE's one on one with our TE's to let everyone else pull, combo and down block to their hearts' content. I may be underestimating OSU's ends, but I'm pretty sure OU and KSU will be lining up guys of at least their caliber. Harsin may need to go back to the drawing board with how we block things if our TE's can't win consistently.
If Ash's play puts every goal on the table, then the defense's current struggles imperil everything we're hoping to do. We've seen missed tackles from guys reacting too slowly, missed tackles from guys trying to make ESPN, and missed tackles from apparently watching old Mackovic defensive drills videos. Whatever the cause, though, the tackling has reached full-on crisis status. It is hold-your-breath time whenever a guy breaks the line of scrimmage or catches a ball with an inch of space, and that is not a feeling that's ever been associated with a team that did big things.
Speaking of Mackovic, there were some shoddy-ass defenses trotted out on the 40 in his era. Most of that was during my time at Texas, but even then it was known that you walked on to that team at risk of your life because you would get battered like a motherfucker running scout team offense. It's pretty terrifying to think that Mackovic ran tougher practices than we're running right now. Someone is going to have to convince me that our continued reliance on 'thud tempo' during a thirteen-day stretch after a spate of horrid tackling is anything but a vestige of Mack at his dumbest and most stubborn. I'm not suggesting that all of our tackling problems stem from this source, but I'll be damned if some of them don't. We've just blown too many tackles when we had a guy dead to rights to think that fundamentals aren't severely lacking right now.
With that said, Oklahoma State is a legitimately scary offense even with Walsh under center, so 'holding' them to 36 at their house isn't a full-on defensive disaster. Jeffcoat and Okafor both enjoyed some really big-boy moments in the run and pass games, and there's no question that defensive end is by far the best position on our defense. Vaccaro had a memorable whiff on Randle's early TD, but he turned in a strong game overall and contributed a key INT. Dorsey had some really nice moments at DT, and he's probably our best all-around guy and a real key in the run game - particularly with Moore on the shelf. The DL as a whole had an up-and-down game, but Wickline's boys are always a hell of a challenge.
None of it matters if we can't tackle, though, and with no visible improvement after the bye week it's fair to be worried that this issue is going to cost us games. With Tavon Austin coming to town in six days, it might not take long.
Special Teams gaveth and tooketh last night. The give came on DJ Monroe's outstanding 100-yard jaunt to the house - he's always had the speed, but I think his increased physicality this season is one of many real testaments to Bennie Wylie's for.
They tooketh on a couple of strong returns by OSU. The coverage was spotty, but far more troubling was the decision to pop-up/pooch kick when you've got a guy who can put it deep in the end zone with consistency. It's absolutely baffling, and the best I can figure on the decision-making is that you've got a little less chance of getting one run all the way back on you. That's the kind of decision you make when your b-hole is puckered tight enough to fart a High C note, and that whole mindset is completely wrong for this team.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I think I got accused of a 'harrumph' in my post-New Mexico writeup, and if this is coming across in a similar vein it shouldn't. A win at night on the road against a quality opponent is cause for celebration at any time, and Ash's development should really overshadow anything else that's happening right now. We may be winning in a markedly different fashion than we'd expected, but we're winning with a team that still has its best ball well in front of it. Now it's time to welcome WVU to town - in the immortal words of King Leonidas, we're in for one wild night.