God damn. This team fought its ass off against a Top Five team on their home turf and could have, should have won. Crucial deficiencies on the OL and in the booth did them in, but celebrate the fight, heart and attitude this team showed in a ferocious effort.
Chris Warren had four carries in a game that was never more than seven points out of reach.
There are a half-dozen different storylines of note in Texas’ half-wildassed, half-asstastic and half fantastic (this is the kind of game that warrants three halves) offensive game, but that’s the stat that tells the story of how Texas lost this game and who lost it for them.
An overmatched Tim Beck was utterly unable to build on the man/gap blocking success that Texas demonstrated against San Jose State, running futile zone plays that neutered Texas’ downhill potential while putting the entire game on a true freshman QB’s shoulders.
Sam Ehlinger was damn near equal to the task, eluding pressure after pressure to make preternaturally-advanced finds on the run against an upperclass-laden and well-schooled Trojan D. The Longhorn offense was fighting a massively uphill battle after the second-quarter loss of All-American tackle Connor Williams, but providing the remaining OL with no angle advantage against an athletic USC front did them no favors whatsoever. The staff may have been trying to preserve Ehlingher for conference play by not employing him on the Power Read and QB Lead Sweep plays that should be his bread and butter, but it helped contribute to the squandering of a golden opportunity to notch the first marquee win of the Tom Herman era.
Since the decision was apparently taken that the run game was totally vestigial to helping a true freshman QB beat a Top Five team on the road, let’s talk pass game. Ehlinger had his miscues, launching an ill-advised hoist to Devin Duvernay for a drive-killing INT in the first quarter and tossing another pick that I’m more forgiving of considering it came on the back of a blow to the head/face mask that went uncalled by a ref crew utterly unwilling to risk the home fans’ wrath.
But outside of those turnovers and a middling 53% completion percentage, Ehlinger was terrific. He fought dire protection from his tackles after Connor Williams went out, an utter abandonment of the run game, multiple uncalled PI’s on his wide receivers and - let’s face it - an stem-to-stern game plan that assumed Shane Buechele was under center instead of him - to notch a 298-yard, 2 TD performance that honestly should have gotten it done to torpedo Trojan hopes once again. Would it have been nice if he’d stuck a couple more throws? Would it have been nice if we hadn’t had a stretch where Denzel Okafor was determined to make a slug-ass 4.7-running run-plugging 5th-rounder who won’t get his NFL pension look like Kevin Greene?
Yeah. All those things would have been nice.
But that wasn’t the world we lived in. In the world we lived in Ehlinger overcame freshman jitters, a hostile road environment and incompetence on multiple fronts to deliver what should have been a winning performance.
I’m not sure what we do without Connor Williams at LT, and despite the fact that I’ve got eight drinks in me I’m confident that Tim Beck has a worse idea than me. But I know that a pass-first Shane Buechele O doesn’t survive nine conference games under those circumstances with a bottom-50% OC calling the shots. So rumble, young man, rumble.
We (re)discovered Collin Johnson’s dominance tonight, figuring out that 50/50 balls are more like 80/20 balls when he’s singled up and probably 60/40 balls when the safety is trying to get in the mix. Tim Beck will forget this simple fact, but if Herman manages to unshackle his long-term future from a short-timer he’ll mandate four throws a half to CJ irrespective of coverage. Armanti Foreman threw in a few vital got-to-have-it grabs and Lil’Jordan Humphrey offered glimpses of brighter days ahead.
Few of those days will come to promise without some better work up front, but for now we’ll light our Golden Girls candles for Williams and hope that we won’t be faced with outright rank incompetence when it comes to protecting an undermanned tackle group against a light-in-the-ass pass-first defensive crew going forward. And maybe we’ll stop the “Batman fighting Bizarro hand to hand while Superman solves crimes” dynamic of a Porter runs, Warren blocks game plan going forward as well.
Oh, and call some PI’s on Collin, you compromised chucklefucks.
Dare to dream.
What a difference a non misdirection-focused 20 personnel offense makes.
Todd Orlando put on a clinic shutting down the non-gimmick spread offenses where he’s made his bones to date. Constantly slanting opposite the back against an offense that might have just figured they were too damn talented to have to adjust, Orlando consistently ruined the Trojan run game and brought enough heat to make Darnold’s presumptive position atop the 2018 draft class a tad precarious.
This game might have been a rout if not for a half-dozen USC drops and bobbles on passes that hit them in both hands but Texas took full advantage of the Trojan miscues and then some. DeShon Elliott bagged a pair of INTs and took one back to the house - essentially equalling Tim Beck’s offensive output - while his defensive compatriots continually brought the lumber.
We kept conceding first downs by simple numbers on motion screens outside, but other than that the Longhorn D played lights out. The “they won’t risk Darnold by countering against a slant” philosophy paid off in spades, as Orlando continually sent his guys flying opposite Ronald Jones with a Locke blitz backing them and ruined the Trojans’ run-blocking schemes. Poona Ford had a lights-out effort while Malcolm Roach, Chris Nelson and even Naashon Hughes came up big when firing into gaps and ensuring consistent misfires by Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr. Maryland outfoxed Orlando with two-back misdirection and San Jose State constantly ran away from the slants and threw futile passes, but this is what Orlando’s D is schemed to look like against squads who aren’t willing to risk their QB on 10+ carries a game. Incompetents felt this scheme “neutered” Nelson and Roach, but that’s why you don’t get seduced by false double-decimal precision in allegedly analytics-focused pieces on major sites which could be written in their entirety without the X and O keys.
While the DL did the dirty work, the linebackers got to shine. Malik built on his career-best San Jose State showing with an even more versatile deployment - he stuffed the run, owned the edge and got in Darnold’s ass on the blitz. It’s hard to be prouder of Jefferson’s showing tonight - he left it all on the field and played winning football.
Anthony Wheeler also played his best game in a Longhorn uni, notching double-digit tackles and playing well off an impressive defensive front to close down plenty of Trojan run efforts. He gave up inside on a vital completion to Stephen Carr in the late-game moments, but hey - baby steps.
The secondary was by-and-large stout against a future NFL first rounder. They benefitted from a few Trojan drops, but also made their presence felt with a few picks, tight coverage and multiple hard shots. Brandon Jones raised his game from the Longhorns’ first couple of contests, but still boned us on the first overtime TD when he ignored his help rolling from the boundary to jump the #3 receiver and leave Kris Boyd hanging out to dry. C’est la sophomores, I guess.
I’m not even discussing our absurd game-losing end-of-half TD surrendered to Ronald Jones at the end of Q2 when Holton Hill took an angle that would make Euclid weep - I’m just assuming that some of you MF’s need Jesus and will atone appropriately.
Oh, and shit - I almost forgot. Charles Omenihu was a bad man tonight. Go get ‘em, young man - you will earn an NFL pension.
Reggie Hemphill-Mapps gained us 10 yards by snagging one kick inside the five yard line, and cost us 18 more by trying the same trick under much dumber circumstances. Our Decided Special Teams Advantage still has yet to materialize.
The Bottom Line
This was a heartbreaker, but at the same time it filled your heart to see the heart and never-say-die attitude that Texas sported from start to finish. If we’d squeaked out a disappointing win against Maryland, we’d be feeling a wildly saucy 2-1 right about now. Arrogance, incompetence and Tim Beck have us at 1-2, but all those elements are solvable in reasonably short order. We’ll light our Connor Williams candles and hope for the best on that front, but assuming we’re not SOL up front we’ve got a nice building block to turn this season into a...nice building block?
Fuck it, I’m drunk - I don’t know.