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Texas-Kansas Postmortem: Offense & Defense

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Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Overview

What do we make of bludgeoning Kansas?  The Jayhawks are a truly terrible football team.  Did Texas grow from this experience?  Or was this just much needed schedule padding for a team that hasn't been done many scheduling favors? I'm generally inclined to say that whipping a hapless opponent doesn't do much for growth, but this team's inexperience and fragile mental state might require another perspective.

I used to train at Lord's boxing gym in Austin.  Sometimes I would spar really good guys - pro fighters who could toy with civilians like me but just wanted to get in a little work - or I'd take on much less skilled but still dangerous athletic beasts - an offseason NFL player, an Austin Icebat hockey goon, a Marine ROTC candidate who wanted to prepare for boot camp boxing matches.  You learned that against the top end of the spectrum, a lot of sparring was as much about survival as success.

Sparring people better than you can make you better...to a point.  It certainly hammers home some fundamental lessons.  However, if you only fight people better than you, you stop growing.  And eventually regress.  You go conservative, you no longer mount meaningful offense, you're only reminded of your limitations, attitude suffers, you never really let it go for fear of more skilled reprisal.  Sometimes, it's nice to get in there with an inferior or equal and realize that you're capable of dishing it out too.

Maybe a youthful Texas, fresh off of a fierce humbling in Ames, needed to let it go against an inferior opponent and be reminded that they're capable of thriving and not just surviving.  Perhaps that's the value of Texas playing three quarters of fun, loose football last Saturday.

It's equally likely that it meant absolutely nothing and West Virginia treats us like an outhouse.

Offense

QB

Jerrod Heard threw on point to single read go routes early, but his most important football came in Q3 when he hit on several intermediate throws - specifically, two 3rd down slants and a hitch to John Burt.  That offset the Q2 offensive malaise and blew the game wide open.  The intermediate passing game is key to his development and without it, Texas has little chance of making 3rd and manageable into a new set of downs.  It keeps defenses honest and opens up every other aspect of the offense.  Including Heard's feet.

On the down side, Heard still can't complete a WR screen pass.  So why don't we stop throwing them?  Because those passes are packaged with our run plays.  When there are too many men in the box or DBs are in off coverage peeking into our backfield, it is, in theory, an easy check for 5-15 yards.  He's so hilariously bad at this throw that we're now running into a loaded box ignoring favorable numbers outside just so we don't have to face 2nd and 10 after we flub it. Either Heard has to demonstrate growth here or we need to tie his line audible with a different, but more dangerous throw (i.e. slant).

Tyrone Swoopes was exceptional in relief and in his packaged plays.   11 plays, 157 yards while accounting for five touchdowns is a solid day's work.  The idea that playing him undermines Heard's confidence is insane.  I think we should be playing him more on normal downs, not less.  It fires up our OL, gives us an identity and spares Heard some hits.  Heard is the starter.  Swoopes is a very useful tool.  This isn't hard to understand is it?

RB

On the season, Foreman averages 6.9 yards per carry.  Gray averages 4.0.  We've had enough rushing attempts to smooth out the data.  So, hey, math.  While Gray's merits as an offensive security blanket shouldn't be undersold, it's clear where the predominant carries need to go.  If you've read this blog for a while, you know I tend to view most RBs as commodities - block well and any reasonable RB looks good and a lot of "amazing" RBs are actually just creations of the larger offense - and though Foreman's 93 yard shortside gallop was perfectly blocked, his acceleration, decisiveness and footwork to erase the free safety were really impressive.

Kirk Johnson showed some violent cuts in limited action and promptly rewarded my excitement with a fumble.

OL

Wickline is continuing to experiment with groupings and I don't have a problem with it.  Raulerson and Nickelson got heavy play early and often, but there is no magic bullet to solve our problems beyond the passage of time and new bodies. We're also distributing snaps with an eye towards 2016.  They struggled a bit to open holes and get movement on base plays until the offense opened up and the skill players began to make some plays.  This bunch is a lot better blocking down and on the move than firing out and just trying to displace someone.  The game against KU highlights the weird, reciprocal nature of OL play.  If they block well and the skill players don't convert the opportunity, the offense struggles and the OL gets no relief as the defense overplays with impunity.  When the defense has to defend the entire field, even average OL play can yield large gains and productive O.  The intermediate throws were just as important to opening up the entire offense as the opening touchdown throw to Burt or D'onta uncorking his 93 yard mad dash.

Want good OL play?  Have your skill players make a play.  Want your skill players to get opportunities?  Play well on the OL.

WR

John Burt continues to impress.  He reminds me of Steeler WR Martavis Bryant and while his ability to get open and win deep is well documented, his willingness to block, ability to run other routes and catch in full stride suggest plenty of still untapped upside.  In a class of impressive freshmen, Burt is, in his own way, just as impressive as Connor Williams and Malik Jefferson.  Marcus Johnson dropped two catchable balls that would have been touchdowns, Daje added another drop and Armanti distinguished himself with a nice late touchdown grab and some live downfield blocking.

Defense

I wasn't that pleased with several stretches, but that evaluation is heavily tempered by the fact that Strong and Bedford emptied the entire two deep onto the field early and often.  But there was some sloppy tackling and a lot of bad angles. At one point, during meaningful game play, Texas had six true freshmen on the field.  Yikes.  I'm a little afraid of what we're going to look like defending WVU's run/pass option routes given the burden it places on safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field.

DL

Good, sometimes withering, pressure.  Texas had six sacks and should have had a couple more.  Ridgeway doesn't look 100% to me, but he had several outstanding plays driving enemy OL into the backfield.  The problem is that if his linemates don't follow suit or the linebackers limit themselves to a single run blitz gap, it actually works against us as his penetration creates an exploitable crease on a cutback.  As predicted, Cottrell has replaced Shiro as the primary SDE.

LB

Jinkens has certainly raised his level of play and I'm most impressed by his energy and improved physicality - he consistently lays the wood - but he also had some regrettable reads and missed tackles that marred an otherwise nice box score. Jefferson played sparingly due to a stomach ailment but props to him for gutting it out when we needed some energy.  We saw a lot of Cole, Hager and Wheeler and they had mixed results.

DB

Hello, DeShon Elliott.  Just when you think the 2015 class couldn't show more promise, we get to see extended minutes from a prototype young safety with range, hands and instincts.  Elliott grabbed two interceptions, showed class against the pass, but also took a couple of bad angles and did some expected freshmany things. Haines added an interception of his own and the Longhorn secondary showed better as the game progressed, limiting Kansas to 19 of 41 passing for 234 yards and 3 interceptions.  My primary irritation with our DBs is that they conceded 45% on 3rd down - often allowing short gains that moved the sticks when situational football suggests they'd be better off sitting on a route - or tackling terribly in the open field against Jayhawk screen passes on 3rd and long that seemed guaranteed for 15+ yards every time.  Then I remind myself that we're starting two freshman cornerbacks and I take a deep breath. Unlike last year, we're not able to disguise a lot because we're as likely to fool our own players as the enemy QB.

We now feature five true freshmen in our DB two deep.  The future is bright, but shades may be necessary to cover some short term black eyes.

Overall

I have no idea how we'll play against West Virginia.  A -8.5 WVU spread suggests not very well.