This is how the season ends. This is how the season ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
I was looking for some kind of literary allusion to lead with here - I was hoping for a plucky underdog Horatio Alger kind of deal, rapidly downshifted into Edgar Allen Poe territory and finally landed in some kind of Lovecraftian horror scenario.
The process of delving into the black abyss is to me the keenest form of fascination.
I wish I could get as jazzed as ol' H.P. about doing some abyss-delving, but this thing just flat-out sucked. The sins and horrors of the past - bad culture, lackluster OL development, hideous QB depth chart management - came forth to plague us, but the sins and horrors of the present were plenty on display as well. Tyrone Swoopes avoided the kind of four-turnover abortion that he trotted out against TCU, but he still made a myriad of mistakes and looked to have made absolutely zero progress through the entire season when faced with a Top 40 defense. He missed high, low and wide on the occasions when he had time to throw, looked in multiple sacks, and outside of Texas' lone TD looked robotic or simply not allowed to make reads on Texas' "option" plays. He had a few moments where he was able to get into a rhythm in the short/intermediate game, but for large portions of the game he looked completely uncomfortable and missed some absolutely-gotta-have-em throws downfield that could have allowed Texas to make some semblance of a game of it. Mix in a horrid botched exchange that gifted Arky with a back-breaking second quarter TD and you've got a guy who has inspired zero sense that he's capable of leading a nine-win team next season.
Not that he had much help. Texas' OL was thoroughly dominated in this one - watching 5 minutes of Arkansas film told you this was going to be an uphill battle in the trenches against guys like Darius Philon and Trey Flowers, but when you key an offensive
attack retreat that loses yardage on six consecutive possessions there needs to be some major soul-searching up and down the entire unit. Dishonorable mention goes to Camron "No Contact At All" Hughes who by turns looked to be lost, attempting to live up to his nickname or outright shaving points, but the entire unit looked like they'd been asked to play five minutes after the TCU game ended rather than after two-plus weeks of bowl practices. Missed assignments on stunts, zero sense of how to handle exchanges and climb to the second level and a simple inability to get movement put the offense behind the eight ball from the jump.
The skill position guys basically get an "incomplete" thanks to the issues mentioned above, but in a game where someone needed to step up and provide ANY kind of a spark our guys were found wanting. Not everyone can be Marshawn Lynch, but when tacklers hit a quality runner from the side that runner needs to bust some of those tackles and get his offense ahead of the chains. Texas' runners showed no quality tonight. Daje Johnson served as something of a bright spot, simply because he ran some rudimentary routes and could potentially be deployed in multiple roles next season without hanging a neon sign that says "JET SWEEP COMING!" Of course, that means staying dialed in and focused for eight straight football-free months - any takers on that bet?
Watson and Wickline were dealt a bad hand with this unit, but even bad hands should yield better results than what we saw tonight. The pressure is on in the off-season.
While they could certainly sue the offense for non-support, in some ways the defense's effort was even more disappointing tonight. There were some bright spots early, and there's no question they had their work cut out for them against a diverse rushing attack keyed by a talented and veteran OL. But when you hang your hat on a unit the way that Texas depends on its defense, you can't turn in that kind of effort against a mid-octane SEC O. There were too many soft corners for runners to turn, too many instances of potential tacklers not firing their gun and dropping an unprotected runner at the line, and WAAAAAY too many simple botched assignments in the passing game. A team that's built around the Strong-Bedford-Vaugh secondary coaching axis can't be botching assignments in the red zone and failing handoffs to the safety against a ho-hum air attack. The potency of the Razorback run game forced Texas out of its preferred 3-3-5 alignments and kept Strong from disguising coverages the way he'd like, but the playmakers in the secondary not only failed to make plays but frequently rolled out the red carpet on simple route combinations.
The effort was there through much of the night (though Arkansas' late second quarter TD march after Texas' lone TD was simply ghastly) and they fought a losing field position battle all game, but the kind of momentum-changing stop or special play that you associate with an elite unit was nowhere to be found tonight. Whether it was Peter Jinkens whiffing on a runner in the backfield or Shiro Davis flailing and failing to drag down Allen on a third-down scramble, the plays that were there to be made just didn't get made tonight.
It wasn't the ass-kicking that the season's comparative special teams records might have indicated - thanks largely to some quality individual-effort returns from Daje - but Texas needed a win here in the worst way and never had a shot at getting one. The 40-yard kick return to tee up Arkansas' devastating answer to Texas' lone TD was par for the course for a wildly embarrassing coverage unit, and Arky dropped two sleeves' worth of Balata balls on punts that backspun and died inside the ten yard line. Much like the refs in Manhattan this season, special teams didn't decide the game but they did a fine job of making sure that one never broke out.
I was going to say something about the absurdly lopsided refereeing in the first half, but it turned out to be pebbles in the avalanche. Still, it's oddly gratifying to see that other conferences have crews as incompetent as what the Big XII deals with on a weekly basis.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line is that there's a tough row to hoe before the the Longhorns take the field in 2015. The first order of business will be salesmanship to keep our Malikmentum from flagging too badly and bringing a Top Ten class home to roost in February - then the really hard work begins. Texas has to find a quarterback, solidify the OL, find some playmaking sparks at the skill positions and at least hold serve with a D that's losing some of its best players if we're going to take any kind of true step forward next season. It's a coaching staff with attitude, knowledge and skins on the wall, but it's also a staff that just used up the last of its Mack Malaise Mulligan.
There's a long way to go to prove to the world that Texas is on its way back to the top of college football. Let's get to work.