Texas/Texas Tech Football Post Mortem
Congratulations to Texas Tech. Mike Leach is a favorite at Barking Carnival but we're chagrinned to be crewing the galleon that he boarded and pillaged. That's Tech at their swashbuckling best and they did it with the national spotlight burning on their peg legs and shoulder-perched parrots. They deserve the unrestrained joy of rushing their field three or four times, a claim to national respect, and a precautionary bolus of penicillin in preparation for the ritual exchange of STDs that characterizes any big win in Lubbock. Sincere congratulations. This is a defining win for your program.
Much will be written about the last three minutes of this game and it will dominate our future telling of the contest: our failure to engage in basic clock management, porous kickoff coverage that handed Tech vital field position on a silver saddle, Gideon's Bill Buckneresque drop, Curtis Brown's failure to tackle Crabtree, Earl Thomas taking an angle that made Euclid weep...those things certainly determined the final course of the game.
But I'll offer that the ultimate outcome was written in the first half by our guys wearing headsets and our player's inability to capitalize on some key opportunities. Our staff set the tone and established a game disposition that unnerved our players and sabotaged early momentum. Tech's coaches maximized opportunity wherever they found it, while ours reminded us that the Chinese character for opportunity and crisis are the same. Make no mistake, a whiff of air escaped from our staff's tight sphincters and filtered from the coaching box and sideline into our team's early play like grit on the West Texas wind. Fairly or not (I'll argue not), the postcript for this game - how we'll recall it ten years from now - will be that a starting safety cost us the win. Fair enough. Which one? The kid playing safety with the potential coup de grace that agonizingly slipped from his hands? Or the two points that set the game's tone when we were backed up on our goalline?
After forcing a Tech punt, we took over on our two yard line. Against a team whose strength is their DL, in the most hostile venue in the Big 12, featuring a Longhorn team that struggles to run the ball consistently (and doesn't run well early in the game) our offensive staff dusted off a straight I formation we've barely used all year and asked our slowest runner to dive the ball into the line of scrimmage from five yards deep in our end zone. To make it spicy, we asked all of our OL to reach block.
That collision of stupidity, ignorance of context, and inability to assess risk was last witnessed at a four way intersection near an Insane Clown Posse concert. It's instructive that three different Tech players could have scored the safety. With all due respect, anyone who defends that play call knows macro football the way Isaac Mizrahi knows strange. Like Isaac, you may be around it all of the time, but you don't really get it.
On our next three possessions we totalled 20 yards on 13 plays, ending each with a punt. Texas Tech's D was largely as vanilla as Blue Bell ice cream. We had execution errors, dropped passes, and weird playcalls that didn't follow how Tech was defending us. On our fifth drive Muschamp's defense gave us the ball deep in Tech territory and we managed to advance five yards and kick a field goal. Tommy Tuberville texted us his congratulations. Six more of those and we're right back in it. Some of that was to Tech's credit - they sat on short routes, they disrespected our running game by ignoring play action, and they jumped a number of our routes based on tendency. However, we were their willing handmaiden. Like the cop in Life On Mars who wakes up in 1973 and must make sense of an alien world, the first half reintroduced me to Greg Davis circa 2002 - the Dallas version. Cautious, backward-looking, with a gameplan completely devoid of counterpunching. Since the loss of Irby, when was the TE ever a part of this years team's success?
We threw a ball to Greg Smith at TE, hoping for a different result than Ullmann's volleyball set interception in Colorado. Greg swatted it away like it was a menacing yellowjacket. That's not coming down on a good kid who is contributing as best he can, it's asking the coaches to put players in a position to succeed. The four wide is who we are. It's why we were the #1 team in the country. The TE position gave up two sacks to Brandon Williams, who will be a 1st Team All Big 12 DE. If you slap a receiver eligible number on your third string OT, that doesn't make him a TE. Or a more viable blocker. Next time we want to experiment with pointless self-deception, let's put a fake moustache on our TE and tell Tech he's Burt Reynolds.
We ran a QB draw on a vital 3rd and 2 that got stuffed like a sausage casing. Really, Greg? Seriously? At that point of the game, time of possession was careening Tech's way like a scotch-soaked Mangino on a unicycle. Right before our final first half field goal drive, Tech had 321 yards of offense to our 21. That's not the playcall that gets our offense moving and gives our defense a blow.
Let me be clear: the players had some costly errors of their own. It's on them too. Jordan Shipley dropped a sure touchdown that could have altered game momentum drastically. Chris Ogbonnaya ran like a Halloween vampire drained 3/10 of a second off of his 40 time. Our OL got mandhandled in the running game. Colt sacked himself twice for no reason whatsoever. I'm just wondering how much of that lack of composure had to do with Davis asking us to play left-handed.
So the question at halftime was pretty clear: had we staked Tech too much of a lead for our inevitable, predictable, and obvious comeback?
As strangely awful as it is to write, Quan's absence aided our comeback. Let me be clear: we're not where we are today without Quan. He's everything a student athlete should be and he's been remarkably productive as a player, but he can't make the two plays that Malcolm Williams made or the play that Shipley made on the punt return. It bothers me that a singular talent like Williams was Quan's back-up when he should have been logging time alongside Quan and Jordan all year long. James Kirkendoll and Brandon Collins will be fine players, but they don't offer a skill set that Shipley and Cosby don't already possess. Malcolm Williams introduces an element of athletic terror into a defense and that's something this offense sorely needs. A redshirt freshman 6'3" 220 pounder who can run a 4.4 isn't best at running precise routes with perfect timing four yards from the LOS, but excels at running through arm tackles downfield and stretching defenses. 4 catches, 184 yards and 2 TDs later, a star is born.
Newsflash: Fozzy is really good. Let's play him some more. Less than 12 carries against Baylor would disappoint me.
I have no gripes with our performance on offense in the second half - griping about an individual play call doesn't really interest me. Colt's pick 6 was on him. Shipley's punt return TD obviously deprived us of an offensive possession. I just wish we hadn't decided to play the entire first half left handed. When we engaged their defense like we had a pair in the formations in which we'd excelled all year, we rolled. Our last three possessions of the game all resulted in touchdowns. Our film will be incredibly instructive to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor. Start aggressively, don't let your foot off of the accelerator, and understand that your defense and offense must put together an integrated game plan where each reinforces the other.
Early in the game, Leach trimmed Tech's line splits to water tight and this prevented us from exploiting our obvious advantages in quickness by taking gaps. This was my greatest concern about Tech's offense and Leach was smart to make his offense more conventional by making that concession. As the game progressed, he began to tinker a bit as we wore down, but this was largely on running plays. Leach essentially ran OU's offense and a more traditional passing game and Harrell, to his credit, made some great throws to allow it. By tightening their splits, our DL were asked to walk back a 350 pounder on every snap in order to get pressure and the exhaustion resulting from that task can't be underestimated. Further, losing Orakpo was decisive as late game pressure off of the edge would have been very helpful in halting Harrell's reading War And Peace in the pocket.
Our gameplan was fundamentally sound though we didn't really do the physical matching that I thought we needed to do in the secondary. Muschamp began with a decent amount of secondary blitzing which proved redundant as they were largely running up the back our DL. He scaled back appropriately. Our attempts at zone were comically inept. Duane Akina couldn't teach zone when we had a secondary of four NFL juniors and seniors, so I'm not sure why we thought a Montesorri class would do better. The absence of Chykie Brown was significant as was Orakpo's knee injury. Deon Beasley had no business covering Michael Crabtree in the first half and we could have used Chykie Brown, who is apparently in the doghouse for some nameless offense. Not good timing Chykie. Curtis Brown had a rough game, but I don't blame the Britton pass on him. That's a sprinter catching a perfect ball in single coverage. You tip your hat and move on. Seeing Eric Morris score on him because he peeked into Tech's backfield was more disconcerting, but that was also a hell of a pass by Graham Harrell.
Aaron Williams and Roy Miller are my defensive players of the game. Aaron exemplified the mentality you need against Tech (please see the conclusion of the Shipley punt return for what he does to a Tech defender in the end zone) and was a force in pass coverage. He will be a superstar. Miller consistently got a push with Ryan Hamby clinging to him a like a koala and he was dynamite against the run. Ryan Palmer deserves a nod as well.
Our defense was ugly as hell - the Baron Batch stroll through the open gate of two DT's lined up in 3 techniques without a LB behind them was particularly galling - but the offense systematically screwed Muschamp in the first half. We gave up only one second half touchdown - Crabtree's miracle. That should have been sufficient to get the win in Lubbock and has been in the past.
Tucker's rugby punts were gold and played a huge role in keeping the game respectable until our offense could adjust to Daylight Savings Time. Allowing a playmaker to return a punt paid dividends. Strange, that. Hunter Lawrence was predictably great. We got our hands on some kicks as well. The only blemish, as it is most every week, was kickoff coverage. We won special teams convincingly, but it wasn't enough.
We have no reason not to win out and watch with interest as the OSU/OU/Tech round robin death match unfolds. It's highly unlikely that Tech emerges without a loss. That's no disrespect to Texas Tech - it's simply offering the proper amount to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
This was as agonizing a loss a Texas fan has ever experienced and a great object lesson for our staff to stick to its knitting. Mack and Greg, we are a four wide passing offense that uses the pass to set up the run. Write it on the chalkboard one hundred times. I know you get that today. But next time you stroll into Greg's office on Thursday feeling a little uptight and the two of you start to consider our gameplan, I'd like you to think about the man you love to quote (no, not Joe Jamail) and Dance With The One Who Brung Ya.
Let's hope for Orakpo and Cosby's good health, pray that Chykie addresses his malfeasance, and let's get the train back on the tracks. There's a whole lot of football left to be played and a Big 12 Title, a BCS game, and even a national championship are all still in play. Get your horns up and let's take care of business.