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Shooting From the Hip: Oklahoma State 30, Texas 27

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The D woke up, the O broke down, the special teams...arrggghhh and the refs were beyond belief.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

Last Saturday’s sunshine and roses gave way to a harsher reality this week – for all Jerrod Heard’s individual niftiness and long-term potential, above-average defenses will be able to take some basic things away and force us to go from an index card playbook to a few sheets of notebook paper faster than we may be able to manage.  And when you factor in some untimely injuries, unforced errors and…other factors that I’ll get to below, you can go from an offensive spark to a flameout in a real hurry.

Heard had his moments in the air (highlighted by a terrific deep post to Marcus Johnson on Texas’ second possession and a nice strike to Caleb "Double Duty" Blueitt to convert a 3rd and 11) and on the ground – mainly on scrambles as we didn’t feature much of a Read Option game today and the Speed Option needs to be shelved, stat – but this game featured a rough regression to the "freshman QB in his third start" mean.  The open-field magic was more sleight of hand than making the Statue of Liberty disappear, and a cavalcade of sacks turned his statline – and overall impact – from proud to pedestrian.

I don’t know that Heard got wide-eyed against the rush, necessarily, but he certainly wasn’t keeping his eyes downfield and finding outlets with the aplomb he showed against Cal.  There were some of the freshman-gonna-freshman moments that we had to know were coming, the most egregious of which was a 22-yard sack on 3rd down that knocked the Horns out of field goal range.  Of course, when you’re consistently behind the chains and seeing rushers come free after less than a one-Mississippi count, the bad outcomes are going to outweigh the good most times out.

Our troubles handling the Cowboys’ terrific DL were predicted in advance, but you just have to have something from the ground game that isn’t Heard keeping or scrambling.  Gray got one nice hole and hit a 42-yarder that he might have housed in his youth, and he threw a few nice blocks – other than that, it was the same old impersonation of the Star Trek: TNG movie franchise that saw him completely collapse after first contact.  D’Onta Foreman (or maybe Freeman, per the announcers) runs tough when he gets a soft edge but will need to add some significant nuance to his game to be productive without a five-yard head of steam.

It’s pretty much an incomplete for the wide receivers as Heard managed a scant seventeen throws.  The Daje-as-offensive-centerpiece coin came up tails today as a pair of brutal drops helped to snuff drives.  Marcus Johnson made a nice catch and a hell of a throw, and John Burt would have housed it had Heard's throw-before-the-throw not been half a foot too far forward.

The OL had its moments from the mid-first quarter through halftime and looked like they might be able to battle the OSU front to something resembling a draw.  They did fine work in the Swoopes Package and opened creases here and there, and they’d have come out looking a good deal better if not for some outright comical holding calls (again, more below.)  The wind went out of our sails and our Shallows Chart got exposed once Kent Perkins went out.  Once we were forced to sacrifice Marcus Hutchins to Emmanuel Ogbah at right tackle, any hope of a clean pocket went a-glimmering and we might not have gained another ten non-scramble yards on the ground.  Anywhere between two and three sub-replacement level seniors and pair of true freshman on the OL is no way to go through a season, son – get well soon, Perk.

Norvell and Traylor get full marks for coming into this game with an aggressive approach and some quality wrinkles - the throwback/forward pass to Marcus Johnson, jet sweep action to DeAndre McNeal, the throwback TD that almost was and most awesomely of all a Tyrone Swoopes QB Counter Draw package that had OSU completely off balance when we rolled it out in the first half.  The second-half adjustments to the Cowboys’ spy/blitz/ruin Marcus Hutchins attack were few and far between, though, and the lack of a functioning RPO game or any drag/cross action to punish the Cowboys’ relentless spying were nowhere to be seen.  This was always going to be a tough test that morphed into Chinese algebra once Perk went down, but we've got to see more consistent answers than we saw today.

Defense

While the return of Hassan Ridgeway doesn’t quite match the overall season-defining impact of Jerrod Heard’s emergence, it ain’t far off.  Heartbreak Ridge (I’m making one last bid to make this his official nickname) started breaking through the OSU O-line at will sometime in the second quarter and all of a sudden Texas started to look like a D1 defense again.  He treated us to a Green 20-Minute Mile on a scoop and score fumble recovery and was shoving guards into the backfield, knifing through double teams and executing the Longhorns’ first three proper stack-and-sheds against the run this entire season.  His effort was contagious as Poona Ford actually started using his hands to beat blockers (and possibly committing the first defensive hold on a run in NCAA history – again, more below), we got some sterner edge play from Shiro and Naashon Hughes and the linebackers finally had some clear keys and ability to fill downhill.

We still had our ground-game foibles, of course.  Peter Jinkens is still a child wandering lost in the woods against the run, Tim Cole is Tyson King with more melanin and less instincts and Malik remains a tantalizing but often frustrating work in progress when it comes to reading keys.  But the DL was always going to have to take the first step in getting this whole "defend every gap with a modicum of competence" thing going, and as they continue to do their part things will get easier for the guys behind them.

I was ready to demote the entire secondary to the thirddary or possibly even the fourthdary early on.  I had to check the calendar as John Bonney turned into a pumpkin and we were handing out Halloween-caliber free candy on any in-breaking route the OSU receivers cared to run.  The MOFO acronym for middle-of-field-open was getting quite a workout in my living room during the first half, and Dylan Haines’ failed Ronnie Lott impersonation on the Cowboys’ umpteenth skinny post had my dog running for cover.

But slowly, surely, some good things started to happen.  Strong and Bedford finally wrapped up their Freaky Friday experiment with Bonney at corner and Duke Thomas at nickel, and the replacements responded with some strong outside coverage.  The freshman started getting involved all over the place – Kris Boyd gave up some frustrating short stuff but started sticking tighter and tighter while Holton Hill showed some beyond-his-years savvy to come off his man in a Cover Four look and bag one of Mason Rudolph’s numerous overthrows for the defense’s second score of the day.  They were obviously helped by the better-late-than-never arrival of an honest-to-God pass rush and some WTF moments from

Special Teams

Holy hell.

For the second week in a row, the Longhorn special teams battled the absolute basics in the last minute of a game and lost.  For the second week in a row, that loss hammered a nail into Texas’ coffin.  The fumble/scoop/shank combo from Michael Dickson meant that the defense wouldn’t even get a shot to force overtime as the Cowboys just had to settle the ball to midfield and boot the game-winner.  At least Dickson should have some quality counseling close at hand with Nick Rose having lived through last week’s gaffe.

That mistake shouldn’t totally overshadow plenty of nice moments from Texas’ third phase this week – booming kickoffs and a solid 40+ yard connection in Rose’s bounce-back, some really nice punts from Dickson, greyhound coverage by Kris Boyd to down the ball at the OSU 2 and some nifty returns by Daje.

But good Lord, does it ever overshadow them.

Officiating

Texas made mistakes in this game.  Texas had legitimate weaknesses exposed and picked on in this game even as it shored up a few.  Texas had a shot to win this game despite anything the officials did, and they didn’t pull it off.

All these things are true.

And none of them remotely excuse what we just witnessed from today’s crew.

I’ll defer to anyone who saw the Grant Teaff Game live and in person, but this was far and away the greatest mockery of legitimate officiating that I’ve knowingly witnessed in any sport.  I say "knowingly" because I’m sure that I half-watched some Tim Donaghy-officiated NBA games on TNT back in the day and wasn’t paying all that close attention.

It was a ridiculous flag-fest and both teams made plenty of legitimate, stupid mistakes.  But at least five calls (and I’m sure I’m forgetting some):

– The absurd hands-inside-the-shoulder-pads hold call on Doyle

- The miss-a-blatant-grab-on-Shiro and call a personal foul on a pull-up bump by Boyette ON THE SAME PLAY to wipe out an INT

- The clean pancake by Vahe that turned into another hold

- The dubious and immediate awarding of the Walsh fumble recovery to Walsh when one Longhorn had the ball in his belly on the ground and another emerged from the pile with it, and…

- The crème de la crime defensive holding call on Ford that even forced Patrick and his idiot color man off of ref apologist duty for a moment to express incredulity

were beyond the pale, beyond belief and without remote analogue on the other side of the ledger.

The Pregamer boys have already given us one nice Photoshop of Charlie as Marsellus Wallace – now they need to give us another one featuring Charlie with a ball gag in his mouth and Zed wearing black and white stripes.  What happened to Texas at the hands of this crew was criminal.  Whether there was literal criminality involved or simply rancid incompetence distributed with probability-defying one-sidedness, I don’t know.  But in a public forum, I’m calling on the Big XII office to review this tape play by play with this crew starting 9am Monday morning to determine which of the two it is – because there ain’t no third answer – before this crew is allowed within a country mile of another Big XII contest.

The Bottom Line

During halftime, I caught a commercial advertising Texas-OU tickets for sale that had a "bring a Dr. Pepper can and get $5 seats to a Dallas Stars game" vibe to it.  It was a more stark reminder of the currently quavering passion of the Longhorn fanbase than any half-empty-upper-deck shot could ever have been.  I hope to never, ever see another one of those again.  We can thank Mack’s on-job retirement and Steve Patterson’s unconscionable hiring for getting us to the point where that commercial would ever be made, but it’s on Charlie’s shoulders to get us out.  We had a great, great shot today to log an eye-opening and energizing win, and came up maddeningly and frustratingly short.

The defense is making strides, the offense is fighting its way through a non-linear growth curve, and the special teams are nine parts improvement to one part improbable game-wrecking heartbreak.  Charlie and the staff have plenty of X-and-O, nuts and bolts coaching challenges ahead of them this season, but their biggest may be simply keeping the players’ heads up and hearts full with two heartbreakers in the books and a pair of extremely tough tests lined up.

If they can manage it, then the positives we’ve seen in the past few weeks can coalesce into something very interesting, and even sitting at 2-4 on October 11th wouldn’t be a death knell to Texas’ bowl game hopes this season.  If they can’t…things could get ugly.

Here’s hoping they can.

Hook ‘em.