Today's post-game writeup brought to you by several Screwdrivers that would have tasted better had I not inadvertently purchased extra-pulp OJ, and if they'd accompanied a less unsightly game.
The positives were that Swoopes hit some nice throws and had a turnover-free day despite getting more on his plate this week, we were a couple of missed bombs away from a 30+ point outing that would have been easier to stomach, and John Harris is turning in a very enjoyable Gaskamp campaign.
And that about does it for the positives.
The Longhorn run game was simply abysmal all afternoon - there was little push and few clean lanes, and our runners continued their impersonation of the Star Trek: The Next Generation film series by going straight down after first contact. Brown and Gray have probably combined for single-digit broken tackles through four games, and that's just not good enough when run lanes are hard to come by. Sed Flowers continues to get abused by any DT that shows even a rumor of quickness, we're well behind the curve in terms of getting off combo blocks and climbing to the second level, and there's next to no vertical displacement on most runs that call for it. When you've got a young QB and a pair of runners who look like they stole at least three stars between them in their recruiting rankings, your offense is going to go as the OL goes. And the OL is not going well. If there's a kind of reverse marijuana that actually gives you glaucoma, I may ask Harrison and Estelle to grab me some to help obscure the sight of our next few games.
Swoopes looked to progress in some areas and regress in others. He looked like he was asked to go through more reads today than he did against UCLA and BYU, but he's not getting through them quickly and decisively enough. Couple that with a disturbing tendency to run from ghosts in the pocket and self-sack and you quickly end up with a lot of frustrating pass plays. Swoopes looked to get flustered for stretches of the game and miss easy throws, but there were also times when he got in rhythm and showed that his early-season accuracy wasn't a mirage. He's still best getting outside the pocket on designed plays with a high-low read, but he absolutely lacks the quicks to freelance out there and the parabolic arcs that he has to take to avoid rushers tend to compromise his ability to square up and throw on time. It was good to see us take some shots downfield and manufacture a few play-action looks. Now it's up to Swoopes to refine his downfield accuracy and understand when to lead a guy and when to just throw a catchable ball and let his receiver go up and win it.
Harris continues to be the brightest light in the wideout corps, and Shipley was frequently open and sometimes hit with an accurate ball.
The offense is going to be somewhere between a grind and a slog this season - call it a grog.
A shutout always deserves plaudits, even when it comes against a squad that got dubbed a pile of crap by their own coach. The secondary lost track of guys once or twice, but they still get today's game ball thanks to several coverage flushes/sacks and a double brace of INTs. Quandre started things off with an end-zone INT to snuff the Jayhawks' opening drive, Duke Thomas contributed a pair, and Hicks bagged Cozart's Fourth when he ran with a receiver up the seam late. Jason Hall had an active game (a tad TOO active on special teams, per normal) and Dylan Haines came up with a nice breakup late that prompted a wildly regrettable game thread comment by yours truly. Gonna go ahead and blame the screwdrivers on that one.
We spent a good portion of the game in a 3-down lineman look, and when we went with a straight 3-3-5 it became comically easy for the Jayhawks to spread us out and run right up the gut. Strong has had plenty of success against the run with 3-down lineman looks in his prior stops, but if we're going to pull it off this season we'll need consistent edge pressure from the corners to allow us to slant and otherwise foul up blocking - we just don't have good enough LB play to get downhill, take on blockers and wreck runs if the DL isn't doing 70% of the job.
Malcom, Hassan and Ced all chipped in some quality plays in the run and pass game, and they're all capable of defeating blockers and wrecking things in the backfield. The problem is depth - we just don't have enough behind them to get the kind of rotation going that we'll need against the upper-tier up-tempo offenses that we'll face, and we're wildly dependent on superhero plays from the DL to keep the run game in check. Ridgeway showed reasonably well on the nose, and while he's not really built to be a true space eater he can probably give you some approximation of a Jay Ratliff-style penetrating NT when he's got his wind. There were enough good moments from Blueitt and Shiro on the day to make you think that a 4-2-5 is probably our most advantageous look - it'll be interesting to see how we align against the Bears next week.
The linebackers did OK today, and Hicks got downhill a number of times in addition to his nice awareness in coverage. Edmond got his hands (or, more precisely, his helmet) on another ball in coverage, but he's still not instinctive enough to play as a relatively unprotected MLB in 3-down lineman looks.
The defensive effort didn't feel truly satisfying thanks to some consistent inside running from Kansas and the game's overall malaise, but all in all it was a solid showing. Things are about to get a hell of a lot tougher from here, though.
Geez. Charlie Strong's head veins looked ready to jump out and attack Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube at several points during today's game, and most of those were special teams-related. We saw a bricked extra point and a borderline jailbreak on a blocked field goal, and the weekly Jason Hall Holding Call is becoming regular enough to earn its own Godzillatron sponsorship (Steve, if you're listening - please don't actually do this.) Rose at least banged his kickoffs deep, and managed to shove his SEC Swoop out of his eyes long enough to connect on a 40-yard try in the 4th. We're still way, waaaaaaay behind where we need to be in this phase of the game, and the whole thesis of a scrappy hard-nosed win-it-in-the-fourth-quarter team gets compromised when special teams keeps giving up the goose. It's a rebuilding roster, but it's time to get better efforts from the guys that are out there.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Darrell Royal said that Ol' Ugly is better than Ol' Nuthin, and if it's good enough for Saint Darrell then it's good enough for me to shrug off some of this game's unsightly elements and be happy for the win. Besides, the next few weeks may prove just how apt that aphorism really is.