Mack Brown and Hugh Freeze were not particularly inventive in their 2nd matchup last Saturday. For the most part, they followed the script and provided a game that appeared entertaining at times for the fans but was largely two teams going through the motions.
Examining the Ole Miss approach to Texas schematically you come away with the clear sense that Freeze and his staff never felt the game's outcome was in any great doubt. Even when Texas held a 23-14 advantage it had come largely as a result of Ole Miss offensive errors such as the time when the ball strangely fell out of Bo Wallace's hands and Jeffcoat scooped it up.
Gerg picked up his old war club and came to do battle against the Rebels with a game plan focused on score prevention and hammering home a base defense, just as might have been expected. However, in a move that revealed his time away from the game, he opted away from Manny Diaz's evolving Cover 3 approach in favor of playing Texas 2-deep Palms defense. He rarely ran anything other than this base scheme other than an occasional blitz against the Power-Read play and a few snaps of Cover 3 for when Ole Miss brought in their diamond formation or Texas was desperate to stop the run in the 4th quarter.
Unfortunately, the players must not have done a very good job explaining to him how this defense is expected to work within the Diaz playbook because he insisted on having his DE's follow old 4-3 "block down-step down" rules and force the option wide to pursuit. He also never called any Fire Zones.
Way back when Texas played good defense, in 2011, Diaz would often have his DE's stay wide and force option runs inside to the linebackers. He would also mix in tons of Fire Zones that screwed up the QB's ability to make quick reads and murdered the option by inflicting negative plays.
Greg called only one blitz (multiple times) to stop the Power-Read play that Ole Miss ran about 72 times for 4000 yards and it was pretty hit or miss. Of course, Mack had no illusion of Robinson's insertion meaning that much against Ole Miss, rather it was a move in pursuit of a conference championship.
On offense the Texas game plan was to involve the screen/inside run option game, some misdirection based screens and short passes, and Case's preferred quick routes and throws. This was largely successful, and Texas zone run game flourished with Jonathan Gray revealing his spectacular vision on repeated cutbacks and discoveries of vertical lanes.
Ole Miss' early treatment of the Texas offense played right into our hands as they allowed Case to do what he does best, quickly read the defense and make short throws and hand-offs to fantastic athletes operating in space. They played a lot of very basic Quarters coverage with soft cushions on all our receivers.
In the 2nd half they clamped down with their more typical stunt-heavy, eight man fronts and made mincemeat of our run game and quick passing game. That, combined with a remarkably simple approach to offense (do it until they stop it), hearkened back to Hugh Freeze's "ah ha" moment in "The Blind Side" when he resolves to simply run right behind Michael Oher until the opposing private schoolers relent.
We were the totally overmatched private schoolers. Let's talk specific players:
Major Applewhite did all he could to set up Case McCoy for success and our legacy back-up performed admirably. His one turnover was largely the result of Malcolm Brown's poor footwork and placement, although Case's pocket footwork is about as derp as it gets.
When Ole Miss removed Major's ability to attack them with the run game and forced Case to beat them by going through progressions and making contested throws over the middle or quick throws to the flats then things came apart pretty quickly. Case's reaction when his early reads were taken away were poor, to put it mildly. He would often sense pressure as though he had spidey-sense only to spin desperately and find himself drifting closer to DL, like a moth to flame.
What followed next was typically a desperate side-arm fling in the general direction of a receiver. As might be expected, these typically didn't yield much for Texas. They weren't picked off either though, so there's that. Texas can win games with Case McCoy as the QB. Not difficult games, but some games.
When presented with an OL that wasn't being penetrated by stunting DL, Jonathan Gray played games with the Ole Miss linebackers, leading them into one gap before darting through another. When his carries were met by Isaac Gross or CJ Johnson flying past a Texas guard, things didn't go as well.
Similarly, when Texas can run the receivers down the field and outside the hashes to open up room in the middle for the RB's they are all efficient weapons in the short passing game. Texas' overall passing game with David Ash could be very effective this year. After all, Texas had Case McCoy throwing for eight yards a pop when Ole Miss was still playing 2-deep.
Without Mike Davis, the Texas passing game is considerably less dangerous. The combination of McCoy's ability to throw fade routes and Davis to beat receivers down the sideline opens up the rest of the Texas passing game. Unfortunately, he hurt his ankle in this game and is questionable against KSU.
Watching Case eviscerate teams for short stretches throwing to Jaxon Shipley makes you wonder if the white ghost is being fully maximized when Ash is under center. He's one of the better possession slot receivers in the conference and nearly impossible to cover in the quick game without extra attention from the defense.
Kendall Sanders is currently a still fairly raw athlete who's dangerous in the screen game but may struggle to find the open space he needs without Mike Davis on the field. Kendall was nearly killed on a quick hitch pass when the boundary corner wasn't aligned as deep as Texas needed him to be and he nearly beat Case's throw to the receiver.
Swaim and the other TE's were solid in the run game as blockers, weren't utilized much in the passing game. Assuming we run a similar offensive scheme in the future, as always, a great receiving TE who is a solid blocker would take us to another level.
Texas fans finally got to envision a world in which Mason Walters isn't on the field and a new, younger, highly-regarded recruit is inserted into the right guard position. Sedrick Flowers was exploited throughout the game by Ole Miss' stunts and quick DT's. He's quick on his feet and good at moving people straight ahead but his awareness of the various threats opposing DL's can present to blocking schemes is still lacking.
Kennedy Estelle was much better in relief of Josh Cochran, although his work with Flowers obviously left something to be desired. Since this season is a wash anyway I'm glad they are getting work in because they could be very good in the future.
Espinosa and the rest of the OL were pretty solid, although it was disturbing that an OL who's best trait is mobility and athleticism had so much trouble with stunting DL. The early success with the inside run game before the Rebels stunted and outnumbered our run game into oblivion was mildly encouraging.
In the future I'd like to see us run more Outside Zone when teams are stunting so much and catch the DL badly out of position with a long run.
When teams are attempting to throw the ball, Jeffcoat and Reed are a nightmare. Texas' DT's played solidly against Ole Miss, but they were also infrequently involved due to the frequent use of outside runs by the Rebels. Our athletes on the DL, though not always fundamentally strong, could be the best in the conference if developed properly.
The resounding theme of the overall team, as you may have noticed from the offensive unit breakdowns, is that the sum is less than the parts. Reed and Jeffcoat are fantastic and well-rounded defensive ends. Possibly the best in the conference. The overall schematic and fundamental stink that emanates from our defense prevents them from having a real impact on games.
If we ever figure out how to defend the option or other run schemes adequately then perhaps the fact that we have devastating defensive ends might actually help us this season.
Heading into the season it occurred to many reasonable Longhorn writers and bloggers that the re-addition of Jordan Hicks to a unit with several other linebackers with snaps under their belt could result in a very strong unit. Unfortunately, that was based on the faulty assumption that our players improve during the off season.
That occurred for one player, Dalton Santos. Santos is our clear 2nd best linebacker. Naturally he didn't get to see the field very much since we had to play Steve Edmond...because Gerg.
Hicks was solid and the only linebacker besides Santos capable of executing Gerg's plan for defending the Power-Read that sent Jeff Scott on an Outside Zone/sweep behind a pulling guard.
The rest of our rabble "engaged" blocks on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage and still managed, despite their lack of aggression, to get exploited by play-action on the goal line.
Steve Edmond was chopped down by WR's and TE's, was too slow to defend much of the Rebels option attack, and was brought once on an outside blitz to stuff the Power-Read play and managed to get cut and lose the edge. The image of him staggering and losing balance while the back flies around him on Ole Miss' final TD could make for excellent schadenfreude.
Peter Jinkens has regressed...somehow. He's on the DeMarco Cobbs career trajectory currently. I thought it was rather cynical when Texas fans suggested last year that he was better than our other players because he had recent HS coaching. I'm now forced to concede the point.
Santos+Hicks is our best bet at "fixing this."
I was confused when Josh Turner started over Mykelle Thompson after Turner's pretty weak performance against BYU. However, he didn't embarrass himself and helped Gerg's plan to prevent scores and minimize the margin of defeat.
Thompson came in late and completely whiffed an open field tackle. Turner it is.
Phillips also played pretty well and showed some urgency, he even seemed concerned that the penalty flag he incurred before the half might mean his removal from the game. Here's one guy who plays like he gives a crap so let's keep that in mind. He's at his best in our Cover 2 schemes where he can keep the ball in front of him and navigate half the field. Unfortunately, our current Cover 2 schemes are horrendous against the option, more on that to come.
Diggs is overwhelmed at the nickel position. He's responsible for responding to bubble screens to the outside and simultaneously forcing runs back inside. I thought his physicality and great responses at corner would translate to great play at nickel. He's actually struggling to respond to his assignments quickly and failing to beat blocks with the right leverage which further handicaps our linebackers.
Without quick safety help against the run, Diggs isn't really able to handle all the stresses that modern teams can bring to the field side. Let some appreciation for Vaccaro's 2012 season sink in.
Texas' play at cornerback in coverage, much like at DE, is still an asset that is largely going unused because we can't handle the run game. The force play at the boundary position from Byndom is often rather uninspired. Keep an eye on how that progresses if the season continues its circular flush down the drain.
We gave up a 75 yard touchdown return on a punt that...well, it just killed us.
Fera's field goal kicking is a bright place of warmth in this cold, dark season. I'm glad that in midst of all our other struggles, we at least can once again count on having great field goal kicking. I considered Justin Tucker to be the offensive MVP of the 2010 season. Many other fanbases cross their fingers when they need to kick 40 yard field goals as the clock runs out to win important games. Should we manage to compete with our B12 slate and find ourselves in such a position we can probably count on that kick going in.
Stay tuned for details on our option defense and how KSU will assault it.