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Texas Football Midseason Report Card: Offense/Special Teams

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It's now the 3rd quarter of the football season. That hasn't worked out well so far....

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When assessing our disappointing start, we can grade in the absolute or grade relative improvement and growth.  By the former standard, these two units have been as bad as any in recent Longhorn memory and the reason why Texas is a cellar-dwelling 2-4.  On offense, averaging less than 5 yards per play, 346 yards per game and scoring less than 20 points per game isn't acceptable.  I don't need adjusted stats to know that's awful.  You are what your record says you are and all of that.  But that's an absolute evaluation.  One divorced of all context.

By an improvement standard, there's a lot to be excited about with respect to our ability to coach the OL and QB positions.  Though special teams remain stubbornly without progress.

I tend to focus on the cards dealt and how the staff plays them - I'm looking for signs of what to expect when Strong has his guys in place.  Ultimately, Strong will be graded on the absolute standard.  And should be.  For now, I'm content to have him on a provisional plan.  A methodology I'm told by a distinguished cadre of internet blowhards reveals "a loser's mentality."

You see, winners win because they're innately winners infused with winnerosity.

Special Teams

Not winning here.  Horrible.  Whenever a hole is plugged in the dam, another spurts open and gushes like Mack Brown at a pot luck dinner in La Vernia.

Texas is 5 for 9 on field goals for the year, has had two blocked, conceded two touchdowns, including a momentum destroying kickoff return touchdown against OU, conceded another huge punt return that flipped the field in the final minutes of a close game that Texas lost, had multiple roughing penalties, gave up a huge fake punt that broke the Longhorns back against Baylor, showed little ability to return kick offs past the Texas 20 and generally squandered points and field position every week in ways that may be responsible for a 2-4 record instead of the reverse.

We are intoxicated clowns with vertigo piling out of a Smart Strong Car.

I have no idea how to fix it because I can't tell if the issue is a lack of instruction, improper personnel deployment, a lack of attention to detail in the program as a whole, if it's a carryover from the death rattle of the previous regime, the necessary sacrifice we're making because we have to devote all practice time to the young offense and teaching-intensive defense or a lack of overall depth.  Or all of the above.  Or none of the above.  I regard special teams as a barometer of program aggression and attention to detail, but the staff may have come in with assumptions about our player football IQ that weren't warranted.  "Surely, these guys know to do XYZ."  Maybe not.  If this continues long term, it's enough to sink the Strong regime.  It's that bad.  Seeing improvement over the last half dozen games is the only way to get bowl eligible.

Offense

Unlike special teams, we've been explicably bad.  Of course we're bad.  Anyone crying about it or making terrible comparisons (system spread team X replaced their QB and they're doing fine!) can be safely ignored.  The Texas offense has been largely miserable and that's a reasonable outcome given that it lost six starters (4 of them the most valuable players on the offensive roster by universal agreement) and is starting a makeshift OL built out of bailing wire and dudes picked up from a Wal-Mart parking lot while starting an incredibly green QB with less football pedigree than a Korean exchange student.  Hey Tyrone - Duk!

QB

Tyrone Swoopes exhibited extraordinary growth against Oklahoma in an emotion-filled rivalry game, but the plot points on his previous two efforts against Kansas and Baylor were well below the Mendoza Mark Sanchez Line of Adjusted Quarterbacking Competency.  If I were in marketing, I would project his recent upward progress as definitive and confidently project a 497 yard passing effort this week, but it doesn't work that way.

I'm proud of Tyrone's resilience and Watson the QB coach has impressed me.  Young QBs grow in fits and starts. Against the Sooners we saw more poise in the pocket, little panic, an understanding of when to run and when to stand strong and better accuracy.  Contrasted to Baylor and Kansas, it was exponential growth.  Unfortunately, the OU game no more pronounces Swoopes healed than the Baylor game pronounced him forever ruined.  He has more examinations to pass.  Like when Iowa State drops eight into coverage this weekend and plays every variety of matchup zone known to man.  We may also want to consider that the Sooner defense is sort of terrible disguised by a sprinkling of good headliners.

The numbers: 177-106-1068-7 td-4 ints, 59.9% completions.  The most striking thing is that anemic YPA (6.0) and the dinky 10.1 yards per completion.  If Swoopes can't get the ball down the field in the second half of the season (which means not spazzing when a breeze hits him and finding some accuracy outside of his teddy bear routes), the natural governor on our offensive engine remains.

RB

I've covered this already multiple times.  People with high expectations for them just don't watch much football.  Brown is at 3.9 yards per carry, Gray at 4.5.  They're a function of the larger offense.  They'll improve if Swoopes and the OL improve.

WR/TE

We're getting improved play from the TE position, mostly in Swaim's versatility as a blocker.  MJ is showing some red zone value.  None of them have shown an ability to punish the defense when they shift coverage to our wideouts.

o. Yards Avg TD Long Avg/G
Shipley, Jaxon 6 38 360 9.5 0 48 60.0
Harris, John 6 31 460 14.8 6 38 76.7
Johnson, Marcus 6 17 199 11.7 0 41 33.2

The wide receiver unit has been the best, if still imperfect, group on the offense and OU was a good example of what they're capable of when the entire playbook is open.  Harris has been a physical yards-after-catch revelation (running with the 4th team in the Spring), but for every two great plays, he commits one major gaffe.  Shipley has been the most reliable receiver, but has been limited to mostly short stuff.  A four year waste of his talent for double moves.  Marcus Johnson is still waiting to uncork on a deep ball.  We're trying to bring along the youngsters, but the necessity to have reliable reads for Swoopes favors our veterans.

OL

I've saved the best for last.  At least with respect to improvement.  Starting at BYU - which was avert-your-eyes horrendous - this unit has progressed absolutely and relatively in a consistent upward trajectory.  Along the way, Wickline has replaced our starting and back-up center, both we-can't-lose-them tackles, switched our #3 starting tackle inside to guard, upgraded a former Why-Isn't-He-Good-Yet disappointment to starting tackle, coached up a former 4th string DT (moved from OL because he couldn't crack the three deep at guard) to starting tackle and has gotten improvement from this rag tag bunch in every phase on a weekly basis.

Wickline had a pass to suck all year and he refuses to cash it.  We're far from good, but we should be absolutely miserable.  This unit isn't - they're getting better every week.  I'm loathe to play the projection game, but this could be a stable, possibly even good unit as early as next year and will be a team strength before you know it.

Conclusion

I paired O/ST for a reason.  They determine our record over the back half of the season.  They've both been terrible over the first half of the year and their improvement over the back half of the schedule will determine whether Texas finishes the season with some momentum and hope that carries over into offseason development and recruiting or if we slog through an offseason of recriminations and stupid prominent alumni quotes.

One of these units is explicably terrible, one is somewhat mystifyingly terrible.  The offense depends on the continued progress of the OL, but it's mostly about Tyrone Swoopes.  If he keeps getting better, the back half of the season could be fun.

Special teams are a mystery, but one our staff may wish to ponder, even if their time has been monopolized coaching up a makeshift offense and a versatile defense.  Hard to play offense or defense when special teams slits their wrists.

Your thoughts?