I’d like to apologize for being in Vegas the last few days—that apology goes out to our readership, the blackjack dealers, and first and foremost my liver. Thank goodness the Asset never sleeps or skips practice. He was there with eyes wide open and gave us some great information. Additionally, we talked to another source close to a member of the staff, and I’ll work in his thoughts as well.
First, let’s start with the defense because defense
may be our only hope wins championships. If you had to name an MVP of the defense so far you would give it to Alex Okafor. He gave Mason Walters absolute fits on the edge in the scrimmage. Walters has had a solid camp thus far and although a zero sum game usually applies in these deals, we’re comfortable in saying this outcome is net positive for the Longhorns. Okafor is going to give a lot of right tackles in the Big Twelve big problems and Mason Walters is going to be a good right tackle with reps, so Okafor’s plays is good news.
At the other DE spot, Jackson Jeffcoat played well last night rushing the passer and he was a factor in coverage in some zone blitz situations. Our source referred to JJ as the "the mechanic" because he’s so technically sound.
On the interior, Kheeston Randall held the point of attack well and got some push in the passing game last night. He’s all Big 12 caliber right now, but he’s going to need some help at the other tackle spot. Right now he’s not getting it. The Asset told us that Dorsey got most of the snaps alongside Randall and Ashton played too high at times, allowing the likes of Snow, Espinosa, and Hopkins to root him out. This allowed for the first team offense to have some success in the running game. We’re told that Coach Diaz is somewhat concerned with his defense against the between the tackles run game so look for the Horns to continue to tinker with not only the second DT but perhaps the middle linebacker as well in certain situations. We’re told Desmond Jackson is going to be cut loose to play one gap sic ‘em but in order to do that, the Horns will have to play more of a run plugging Mike linebacker. Some combination of Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks will be experimented with at Mike. Dorsey and Howell are being tasked with keeping the lighter Keenan Robinson "clean" when they’re in, but so far the results have been mixed and Fozzy Whitaker has been the beneficiary. More on the run game later.
In the scrimmage, Dorsey and Howell didn’t do much of anything. Desmond Jackson struggled to hold the point of attack at times which allowed some running room for Joe Bergeron, but when Jackson pins his ears back to rush the passer he was a load from the interior last night the Asset tells us.
At linebacker, Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho, and Jordan Hicks are hell on a passing game. The Asset made it a point to emphasize the depth they get in their drops giving the QB tiny windows to target. One of Gilbert’s interceptions occurred on a DEEP drop by Robinson which, to be fair to Gilbert, was an NFL caliber play. Most college linebackers don’t have Robinson's ability to recognize and the athletic ability/size to get in a position to make the play. We’re told Robinson looked like a free safety out there on that particular pick.
The other two linebackers, Hicks and Acho are superb in coverage as well. It’s no wonder the offense struggles in the passing game when the LB’s coverage abilities are coupled with the pass rush from the front four. Versus the run game Robinson and Acho were good in pursuit last night, but they struggled when the play came right at them. Robinson, in particular, had trouble, especially when Ashton Dorsey was dumped in his lap.
The second team linebackers were really striking people last night. Benson and Cobbs both had nice nights. Steve Edmond makes coaches drool. He has so much ability as a run plugging Mike linebacker, he just needs a little more conditioning and he’ll get significant snaps. This group is deep.
In the secondary, the starting lineup included Byndom and Diggs at the corners, with Brewster and Gideon in the secondary. Adrian Phillips played nickel and some safety, while Kenny Vaccaro was held out with a sore hammy. We’re told Kenny is day to day like most of us. Byndom was terrific in coverage against the first team offense with a couple of pass break ups. Diggs was solid in coverage, but he excelled in the run game. As a force man on a running play, Quandre is not shy about contact. It’s one of the reasons he’s moved from nickel to starting corner we’re told. If you recall last season, teams would isolate Chykie Brown and, to a lesser extent, Curtis Brown in the run game. It’s tough to overstate the importance of having a corner who’s a willing tackler and Diggs is just that. He had a couple of solid tackles last night on sweeps and end arounds.
Blake Gideon played well last night as a centerfielder over the top—always in position. The second team corners Turner and White struggled a bit, not so much in coverage put in playing the ball. Turner allowed Miles Onyegbule to pull in a Case McCoy prayer. It was the type of play that has to be pick at this level but credit Miles with an unbelievable catch if you’re a half full guy.
Overall the defense, especially the 1’s vs 1’s, dominated the scrimmage. They held Garrett Gilbert to 1 first down and added two picks.
Offensively it’s tough to give a proper evaluation until the QB situation is resolved. The QB situation is in flux quite frankly, but we’re here to help. When your first team QB has two picks and one first down you might chalk it up to a bad day at the office. The problem with that statement is that similar to last year, Gilbert had horrible body language during last night’s fiasco. Our source had this to say about Gilbert, "He just doesn’t have that presence you want out of your field general. After the tipped pick by the freshman DE, you could see it as he ran off the field with his hands pulling down on his face mask."
We discussed the pick to Hicks which was a bad misread, but the other pick will probably mess with Gilbert’s mind the most—a fantastic tip and then interception by freshman defensive end Cedric Reed. Fluke plays like this just have to make Gilbert feel snake bit at this point.
On the other hand, the best performance by a QB last night was David Ash, and really, if you were at the scrimmage, you’d know it wasn’t all that close. The Asset tells us Ash moved the team with some pinpoint accuracy and some plays with his feet. More importantly to Harsin perhaps, was the fact the true freshman continued to play mistake free football. Among Ash’s best plays of the night was an absolute pea delivered to Miles Onyegbule in a tight window for a big gain, along with some athletic plays running the ball. Right now Ash is the total package. He displayed arm strength, accuracy, and athleticism in last night’s scrimmage. Ash also "commands the huddle" better than any of the other QB’s we’re told. He’s a leader, and he’s had the best August, our source close to the staff said.
Case McCoy had a good day moving the ball on paper, but a lot of it was fool’s gold. McCoy threw 4 ducks that should have been picked, according to the Asset, including the aforementioned desperation heave to Onyegbule. As for August camp, our source said this: "Case has that kind of presence you want, but he doesn’t have the ability to deliver the ball where we need it. He can’t threaten down the field which is crucial in Bryan Harsin’s offense. He’s a good game manager but he isn’t going to throw guys open or stretch the field."
Rounding out the position, Connor Wood continues his accuracy struggles and last night was no different. He did have some plays according to the Asset, but all of Wood’s snaps were against 2nd or 3rd teamers. As we’ve been reporting on Recruitocosm and Barking Carnival for months, Wood is the fourth option and accuracy is the reason.
The starting offensive line from left to right was Allen, Hopkins, Espinosa, Snow, and Walters. Allen, for the most part, had a quiet day in pass pro against the first teamers, which is good. Walters, on the other hand, struggled with Okafor on the edge. The interior group of Hopkins, Espinosa, Snow, with some Ashcraft and Porter mixed in, had a really nice day in the run game. The starting interior three give the Horns the most mobile run blocking unit to really get out and pull which is paramount in Harsin’s scheme. In fact, Fozzy Whitaker is loving life disappearing behind these guys and then finding a hole to explode through. Bergeron ran well with the second team. We’re told he moved some piles last night.
DJ Monroe is dazzling in the short motion, jet sweep role. He was close to popping a long one last night, but as a decoy he’s valuable in that he really holds/freezes the play-side defensive end. Harsin loves moving this kid around much like the rest of the TE’s and RB’s. This team is 99% motion and it’s usually multiple players in motion pre-snap.
At fullback, Cody Johnson is lining up a lot at H-back and then motioning into a fullback role. He’s coming along as a lead blocker and the staff wants to get him the ball in the passing game out of the backfield we’re told. It was a solid night for Cody.
The tight ends have been a pleasant surprise at camp. DJ Grant is turning into a weapon in the passing game and he’s a proved to be a willing blocker in the run game. He actually had a couple nice seals last night to spring Shead and Bergeron. Both Grant and Blaine Irby had productive nights in the passing game.
Barrett Matthews is a good blocker but he fights the ball in the passing game. He had some nice blocks last night, but no receptions. He’s just not a threat as a receiver.
The starting wide receivers had a rough night marred by some drops. Miles Onyegbule stole the show at the position with a couple of highlight reel catches. He high points the ball better than anyone on the team. He’s not the best at getting separation but if he can reach it he’ll come down with it. His catch on McCoy’s jump ball was unreal as he reached over Josh Turner and snatched a reception out on what should have been an interception. Will he redshirt? If he keeps playing like he did last night it will be tough to keep him off the field.
At punt returner Shipley and Diggs worked some there. Kick return was manned by Diggs, Monroe, and Darius White.
Editor's Note: In my haste to write down notes sitting in a hotel conference room in Vegas, I mistakenly wrote down Hicks having the pick and not Robinson. Robinson had the deep drop and interception of Gilbert. Sorry for the confusion.