The train jumped the tracks right out of the station as Daje got sandwiched between a pair of defenders – looking to suffer a concussion in the process – and put the ball on the ground on Texas’ second offensive play.
Things did not get better from there.
The unwelcome news that Kent Perkins was going to miss this one cast a pall over a nascent we’ll-come-out-angry-and-shock-the-world vibe, but his rotating cast of right-side replacements were only part of the reason that Texas’ O couldn’t get out of first gear. They certainly didn’t help – Marcus Hutchins’ absolute lack of interest in the proceedings on a second-quarter Heard rollout out-fought a passel of other contenders for the day’s most embarrassing moment – but Wickline’s bunch were short on everything but confusion for most of the day. Whatever Norvaylor had planned in the passing game got sabotaged in part by some absolutely wretched pass blocking as Heard was consistently scrambling away from pressure on simple twists and Day One-install A-gap blitzes. The left side A gap between Doyle and Flowers has an absolute target on it for every DC in the conference – one (or both) seniors blocking air while blitzers fly untouched into the backfield has passed the point of unconscionable.
A few of Wick’s mix-and-match combos managed to find some traction in the ground game against a solid TCU front, though it took D’Onta Foreman to make anything out of it. Foreman ran with power, purpose and authority, and he showed the vision and lateral burst to bounce outside on a couple of jammed-up interior runs that make you feel really good about his ability to shoulder a larger load going forward. I’m tired of laying into Johnathan Gray for being the player he is at this point, so I’ll just praise his blocking and hope that Foreman is shouldering a lot. Soon.
When he did have time to throw, Heard’s results came in well short of what anyone thought we’d see against a decimated TCU back seven. He wasn’t helped by Armanti Foreman failing to haul in a pair of well (enough) thrown sideline fades, but Heard never got into anything approaching a rhythm. Full marks to Patterson for organizing his youngsters into enough varied split-field coverage looks to baffle Heard’s initial reads. Unsteady feet and uncertain reads had Heard off his game – he threw multiple balls well over open receivers’ heads, failed to spot a wide-open John Burt streaking open on a post and our receiver screens had worse timing than the Spanish Armada. He managed a couple of nice scrambles away from pressure, but for the second game in a row we completely failed to make a defense pay for consistently floating a spy close to the LOS and Heard was a nonentity in the Read Option game.
Swoopes got less work than we hoped in the SwoopesDozer package, and a lot more than anyone expected as we turned things over to him in the fourth quarter. He did manage to keep Texas from getting blanked with a late TD to Lorenzo Joe (set up by a couple of PI’s drawn by John Burt, who has plenty of better days ahead) but his slow processing and utter lack of lateral escapability helped to remind the non-hoopleheads as to why the change was made.
The game was over early, but when I looked up and saw a Doyle-Rodriguez-Nickelson right side I knew it was OVER over.
We came out with what looked like a nice disguise-blitz game plan that short-circuited TCU on their first drive.
Things got much, much worse from there.
It’s hard to know just where to start on Texas’ defensive disaster, but chaos in the defensive backfield is as good a place as any. The natural consequences of plugging in young’uns right and left emerged with a vengeance. There’s no shame in Holton Hill getting worked by a 6’3” All-American in Josh Doctson, but simple coverage busts and an inability to understand basic zone responsibilities sabotaged any effort to keep Trevone Boykin remotely in check. At least it’s easier to forgive Antwaun and Davante Davis for not understanding when to stick and when to hand off, but when senior Duke Thomas completely beefs his Cover Two responsibility to let KaVontae Turpin loose on a sideline wheel route you’re dealing with a disturbing systemic breakdown.
I’d rather moisture with turpentine than watch any more of our efforts to cover Turpin in this one – in addition to clowning our senior corner, Turpin feasted on an array of bad matchups that saw everyone from Naashon Hughes to Peter Jinkens getting isolated and cooked.
No coverage was liable to succeed with the utter lack of pass rush pressure on display. Hassan Ridgeway followed up last week’s breakout with a milk carton performance, while Shiro Davis and Tank Jackson were literally missing in action during the early part of the game – Jackson was on the bench for at least the first three series, and if Shiro saw the field then I missed him. Bryce Cottrell and Charles Omenihu at least got close enough to Boykin to tell you what jersey number he wore on a couple of occasions, but for the most part Boykin had as untroubled an afternoon as you’ll ever see.
It was nice to see the targeting flag on Jason Hall get picked up – not only as a shout-out to competent refereeing after last week, but as a welcome sign that basic, clean safety play isn’t going to be completely legislated out of the game. The fact that a basic, clean hit from our enforcer safety couldn’t dislodge the ball from the Liliputian Turpin…that’s less nice to see.
The run defense was compromised by TCU’s constant spread looks, undercut by an M.I.A. defensive line and sapped by some disastrous game flow. The effort was there – generally – but noisome specter of Manny Diaz was raised once or twice as some voluntary sunderings of the defensive front gave the Frog backs an unmolested alley to rip into the secondary. Malik keeps making strides as a Mike and Anthony Wheeler had a nice moment or two, but when the DL turns in this kind of showing it doesn’t really matter much.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Whatever gumption this team brought into Amon G. Carter following last week's unjust affair went by the wayside in a heartbeat as the worst of all possible starts brought the Horns low long before high noon. Even allowing for that borderline-comical degree of misfortune, it was disconcerting to see Texas fail at any real effort to climb off the mat. There are disconnects all over this team right now, and the senior class seems completely divorced from the staff's effort to teach, motivate and mold anything resembling a cohesive whole.
That's a lot to sort out between now and the Red River Shootout - if the staff can't get it sorted quick, we could be in for a vintage Cotton Bowl Brown-out that could leave a permanent mark on the season...and beyond.