Fitting that we'd follow the script from a bad horror movie on Halloween. Predictably cliched failures landed Texas in a location as perilous as any abandoned summer camp or chainsaw-filled basement: The Land Behind the Chains. And then they turned The Puzzle of Third and Six into something between Saw III and the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser - ominous, insoluble and a ticket to hide-your-eyes gore.
It's usually the teens' mistakes that pave the road to disaster in most splatter flicks, but the nominal adults were the ones leading the charge into perdition in this one. Only my long-lasting regret over dropping an actual F-bomb on Steve Edmond in a prior post-gamer prevents me from making the same mistake here, so I'll just say that Sed Flowers turned in an absolutely shameful effort. Allowing penetration in the run game, generating zero movement and somehow regressing from "lost" to "possibly point shaving" in his disastrous efforts against simple, telegraphed T-E stunts. The left side A gap returned to a pure house of horrors, and while Taylor Doyle's play left plenty to be desired it was a non-competitive effort from #66. The staff finally kicked Perkins inside and threw Tristan Nickelson back into the fire at RT, but the damage was done.
Johnathan Gray's effort wasn't lacking, but the results certainly were. While it's not fair to ask a guy to consistently transcend his blocking, a P5 runner just has to turn none into two and two into four and three into seven and one-guy-swiped-your-ankle into something more than five yards more than one time a game. D'Onta Foreman's foot injury was absolutely murderous - a breakaway would have been manna from Heaven, but those simple, extra two and three yards could have made a major difference.
It might not have mattered, though, as Texas also pulled a Deep Blue Sea tonight - just when you were waiting for the name-above-the-title headliner to lead a heroic escape he got suddenly, messily and comprehensively devoured.
While many sins can be laid at Shawn Watson's feet, but skepticism about Jerrod Heard's potential as a passer might not have been one of them. Heard looked completely and utterly lost in just about every passing situation - baffled by simple zone drops, self-pressuring against benign three-man rushes and tossing inexplicable balls to ISU defenders. It's hard to think of a single thing we did to help him out - not attacking downfield off-schedule, not running any recognizable route combinations and allowing the aforementioned absurd A-gap pressure - but Heard's execution was simply abysmal. The confident passer we saw against Cal - or even against Okie State prior to the Marcus Hutchins Experience - has gone absolutely AWOL.
Potentially triggering a QB controversy that looks like Marsellus Wallace chasing Butch after the car crash in Pulp Fiction, Swoopes made some regular Tyroneasaurus appearances and then took the reins for an utterly ineffective Heard once it was all over but the cryin'. An inexplicable decision to try and bounce a Single Wing run outside against a pair of dudes with outside leverage was a meteor strike for Tyroneasaurus, and aside from that he played like the guy we've thought he is - big, good in a straight line, awful moving laterally, live arm, slow processing and dubious downfield acccuracy. His miss on an absolutely uncovered Daje Johnson blew out hope like a candle in a storm, and even a cosmetic last-gasp drive came up empty.
We may have had wide open guys on some sexy Four Verticals options happening off-screen, but what was on the screen showed next to no ability to work guys open by beating defensive leverage or - for at least the fourth time this season - even the beginnings of a plan for making multiple spies pay for hanging within five yards of the LOS. I won't pretend to totally unpack calls from execution after a single viewing, but Norvell looked to go from this:
in a real hurry.
The Cyclone's final rub-it-in drive left a particularly bad taste, but the O bears the lion's share for this fiasco as prior to that the D held Iowa State to seventeen points against the tide of constant three-and-outs from the O and consistently luxurious field position. With that said, there were plenty of mind-numbing botches that helped Iowa State along their way and plenty of unforced errors by the Red and Gold that kept an embarrassing score from turning full-blown hideous.
The Longhorns just aren't well equipped to handle legitimate Read Option attacks, as dubious reads and outright assignment busts on traditional looks and blitzes continually hand out free candy. The annoying but ultimately harmless runs from KSU's Charles Jones as Texas keyed on Hubener last week turned a lot more harmful when a superior back in Mike Warren was abetted by his QB's ground game success and an ugly-but-functional passing game. All of Texas' LBs failed to read keys properly as traditional LBs, and several times the edge defender crashed hard and crushed our chances by allowing Lanning a cake-and-candy pull and stroll for 10+. Most maddening was bizarre blitz execution that routinely saw Diaz-style DL loops and one-side overloads while leaving a gap - or occasionally two gaps - wide ass open for handoffs or simple escapes on 3rd and long.
3rd and long continued to be a house of horrors for Strong and Bedford, but while the coverage botches were limited the simple inability to put a dead-to-rights QB on the ground in the backfield played a hand in at least two scores and keeping the Longhorns consistently buried inside their own 10 yard line when we did force a stop. This hasn't been a particularly poor tackling team outside of Haines, but cashing in sacks has been this team's Kryptonite and it played a major role in burying us tonight. They bagged Lanning a few times - Cottrell had a couple of nice moments and Naashon Hughes had a couple of hits among several, several misses - but this team is out of luxuries at this point and free conversions for the opposing O has to be the first thing to go.
Most of the Cyclones' passing game was focused on attacking Devante Davis at left corner, and while he acquitted himself reasonably well through the bulk of the game he started slipping in time with the team's overall ebbing fortunes. Holton Hill was the right kind of invisible through the bulk of the game, but became the wrong kind of visible late - peeking in the backfield when you've got a deep third of the field is just mind-numbing. As the game got out of reach, Lanning was able to find wide-open guys on every escape to his right - making you wonder how tough it really is to make that a staple for a QB who's always escaping to his right.
There might not have been a winning effort to be found in this one outside of literally pitching a shutout and running in a Pick Six, but the final three games of the season will be an outright death march if this bunch doesn't clean up its game against far more capable O's.
Daje's dubious decision to field a punt at the six yard line put Texas in jail on an early possession, and while it's not his fault that they stayed there for well over a quarter it was symptomatic of a night where tying on ST's was nowhere close to good enough. Nothing you can do about the ISU punter's All-Conference execution in pinning Texas inside the 10 like a luckless butterfly in an 8th grade bug collection, but another ho-hum effort on kick return ensured that the Longhorns' sodden compost heap of an offense couldn't find anything resembling a spark.
The Bottom Line
There's no shine for this one - it was a wretched effort that torches almost every bit of momentum that Texas earned against OU and K-State while putting the offense all the way back to Square One. Strong, the staff and the team pulled the season back from the brink following an absolute debacle against TCU - unfortunately, it's easy to make the case that this game was worse. If they're unable to turn the same trick, this Halloween horror show could mark the death of more than Texas' bowl hopes.