At 3-0, I’m getting a little worried…
Before I get into the overly complicated, comparative analysis, let’s consider some sobering statistics: Texas is 71st overall in passing yards, 65th overall in rushing yards, 50th in points scored, and 9th in points against. These aren’t impressive numbers for a 3-0 team that is currently ranked to make a run for the National Championship.
As sobering as those rankings are, that isn’t what has me most concerned, and it probably isn’t what’s keeping Mack Brown up at night. What concerns me, and what likely has the coaches most concerned, is the sloppy football. After last week, the Longhorns don't look very disciplined.
Penalties: UT began the season committing only 4 penalties against Rice, but then committed 9 against Wyoming . . . and then 11 against Texas Tech. Penalties kill offensive drives. The converse is also true. When a defense commits a penalty, it tends to sustain a drive. Against Texas Tech, while the UT offense was on the field, penalties killed two drives, turned what could have been a touchdown drive into a field goal, and forced UT to gamble on 4th down on yet another. When Texas Tech’s defense committed penalties, the Longhorns scored a touchdown every time: (1) their second touchdown came on a drive where TTU committed pass interference; and (2) their third touchdown came with the assistance of two TTU penalties.
Turnovers: Turnovers are game changers. We all know that. The Defense forced three turnovers against Texas Tech, and the results were (1) a touchdown, (2) one where UT gave it right back in maddening fashion, and (3) the last where Texas Tech mounts an impressive drive in the third quarter that has the potential to change the momentum in the game, but their long drive is killed by an interception.
Flip the ball, and: (1) the first tipped ball interception killed a nice drive that would have likely ended in at least a field goal (-3); (2) Gilbert’s second interception fails to take advantage of a short field (-3); (3) Gilbert’s third interception was again deep in TTU territory, and TTU took it back to the house . . . that’s at least a 10 point swing. 16 points total . . . . When Texas stopped committing turnovers, Texas started pulling away. It’s that simple.
TIPPED BALLS . . . is it anything to be concerned about? I would argue yes. There is more to offense than drawing passing routes, blocking the guys who come after the quarterback, and having a golden arm behind center. A good offense TRIES (I realize that the X’s and O’s are real people and the defense has an agenda of their own) to create passing lanes with their protection and the offensive coordinator is SUPPOSED to craft routes where the ball is being delivered in a passing lane (i.e., not over a defender's head). Too many tipped balls are dangerous and it means there is a disconnect on offense between the protection scheme and the routes being run OR it means Texas Tech did a nice job disrupting the chemistry.
The good news is, becoming a disciplined, ball protecting team is something that is correctable. It is coachable. I’m sure it was the focus of practice this week. It has to be.
It better. Until the offense catches fire, Texas can’t afford to be a mistake prone team. One need only look at Texas’s statistical rankings above to see there is a long way to go to prove the current national raking isn’t just momentum from last year’s gutsy team. But let’s look a little deeper and see what we can glean about this team. We all know it is a little dangerous to play that A barely beat B, B killed C, therefore C’s gonna beat A, but . . . my wife is watching a recorded showing of "Fashion Police" on E, so what else is there to do???
Week one, UT beat Rice . . . as it should. In that game, Gilbert threw for 172 yard. That’s pretty pedestrian. How did other passers fare against Rice? North Texas threw for 296 yards, and Northwestern threw for 307. That makes my lip sweat like I’m trying to get my Polaroid on the wall at the local wing place. Excuse making time: UT was working on its downhill running game, right? Well, perhaps it was working on it, not so effectively. It accumulated 197 yards on Rice's defense, but North Texas had 124, and Northwestern had 144.
The Statistics suggest the defense really won the game. It held Rice to 131 passing and 88 rushing. That’s better than North Texas or Northwestern did, but the Longhorns don’t aspire to be North Texas or Northwestern . . . or, I hope not.
Against Wyoming, UT threw for 222 yards. How did Boise State do against the Cowboys? They threw for 373. But the Horns are still fine tuning its running game, correct? Hmmmm. The Horns amassed 167 on the ground. Boise rushed for 156.
Again, Muschamp’s D was pretty close to lights out, holding Wyoming to 199 passing and 58 rushing. Not bad. How did Boise’s defense fare? Remember, Boise isn’t known for their defense. They only recently found one. They held the Cowboys to 156 passing and minus 21 rushing. Actually, the Longhorns have let Wyoming rush for more yards than any team to date. Southern Utah gave them only 36 yards on the ground. Why does that make me slightly worried? UCLA is a rushing team . . . like big time . . . like the exact opposite of Texas Tech . . . they pass just to keep defenses honest.
Now let’s look at Texas Tech. As noted above, I think the game was dominated by turnovers and penalties, so sometimes the statistics can be misleading in those types of games. But, we’re crunching numbers, so let’s crunch some more. Again, defense led the way. It absolutely stifled Texas Tech’s run game (minus 14). But we all know that isn’t Texas Tech’s strong suit. Where Texas Tech excels is passing, but there, the defense had its best showing to date, giving up only 158 yards. This same Texas Tech team passed for 359 against SMU and 310 against New Mexico. After the game against Texas Tech, I am gaining comfort that Muschamp’s crew hasn’t lost much of its step. Getting to the quarterback more would be nice, but overall the defense looks pretty solid.
The offense has me concerned. Forget about the turnovers. The offense as a whole is struggling comparatively. It gained 227 yards through the air and 93 yards on the ground against Texas Tech. That is about as well as SMU did against them (218/109), and it is worse than New Mexico did. New Mexico had 337 yards through the air and 97 on the ground. Is New Mexico a high octane offense, explaining its performance against TTU? Perhaps . . . against middling BCS schools. Against the nation’s elite, like lets say Oregon, however, they gained only 82 yards passing and 25 yards rushing.
Bill Parcells says "you are what your record says you are." I believe he is correct, and I believe the Horns are a 3-0 team and, until proven otherwise, they are deserving of their current national ranking. I have seen enough football to know that some teams, as maddening as it is, just play to the level of their competition. Having played, I know it is hard to get up for lesser opponents. There is no need to panic about this year’s team. There is another team north of here that is playing the same kind of ball . . . having allowed Utah State and Airforce to play them close. But, there is one even further north that seems to be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
If the personality of this year’s team is to play to the level of their competition, they will increase the likelihood of a loss. This year, more than ever, with Ohio State, Oregon, TCU and Boise State looking like no loss teams (and with Florida playing back to form and Alabama looking like the same team as last year), this is not a year Texas can afford to sustain a loss and stay in the hunt. Odds are, the two teams playing for the National Championships this year will be undefeated again.