1) The quarterback merry-go-round. If you've been reading this site for awhile, you know that we picked Garrett Gilbert as the starter. Check in our column. And we said that David Ash would likely get snaps if Gilbert struggled. Another check. But there was no way to see that Gilbert would get pulled after two first-half interceptions … and promptly lose his job, sit out the rest of the season with an injury and transfer.
And how were we to see that Case McCoy and Ash would form a quarterbacking duo that would look like the real deal, only to fall totally flat? Or that Ash would then get the sole job for a week, only to have Texas coach Mack Brown announce that the job isn't totally his afterward with a vague 'every job is open' quote? That McCoy would be rumored to transfer, only to have a chance to win the job back and ow, that's enough to give anyone a headache. Needless to say, the complexity of the quarterback battle was a surprise.
2) The bevy of running back talent. Sure, it appeared that Texas would be pretty good at the position. But with Cody Johnson moving to fullback full time, the Longhorns were without their 2010 leading rusher. Fozzy Whittaker struggled to start off the season, lending credence to the thought that he wasn't an every-down back. And D.J. Monroe was explosive, to be sure, but had only received minimal touches. Malcolm Brown was obviously the wild card, but he expected to make an impact after arriving as one of the top high school running backs in the country.
And then, everything went positively. Brown has shown an ability to take (and deliver) a pounding and is on pace for a 1,000-yard freshman season. After he was bumped to the team's second-choice back, Whittaker exploded and is now averaging 5.1 yards per carry, while emerging as one of the league's most dangerous kick returners. And Monroe's 22 carries have gone for nearly eight yards per tote. Monroe carried the ball 23 times in 12 games a year ago. Even freshman Joe Bergeron has shown flashes in limited work.
So while there was reason to hope that the Longhorns would be better at running back, it's safe to say that this backfield group has exceeded expectations.
3) Texas just can't get to the quarterback. The Longhorns came into the season excited about the potential of ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. And while both have picked up the pace in recent weeks, it's worth noting that the duo has just two sacks (both Okafor's) between them in six games.
It's not like they've been fighting through their teammates to get there, either. Only one other player (Emmanuel Acho) has multiple sacks, with the Texas defense reaching the quarterback just seven times this season in six games. The lack of a pass rush has been increasingly evident in the past two weeks, with Texas getting just two sacks in 93 drop-backs (not counting scrambles).
Early in the year, it was fashionable to state that the Longhorns weren't getting to the quarterback because opposing QBs were simply flinging the ball out on three-step drops to avoid their impending doom. But Oklahoma and Oklahoma State each displayed typical drop-back games and the Texas defenders couldn't get their quarterbacks bore-sighted.
4) Texas seems to have lapsed into last year's habit of missing run fits. Run fits are the coaches' favorite explanations for why a running play went somewhere, or didn't. Simply put: run fits are where a player fits into the gaps of the offensive line. Theoretically, if everyone fills (or fits into) their respective gap, they should build a wall through which the running back cannot run. But if one player misses his fit, it creates a hole, and as the saying goes: "all it takes is one."
The Longhorns missed fits against Rice, then were stellar in that area against BYU. After missing a couple against UCLA, the effort was back against Iowa State. And then, when the Longhorns faced the two toughest games on the schedule, they were gashed for scoring runs of 64, 30 and 74 yards.
The Oklahoma game was largely over when Dominique Whaley broke his 64-yarder, but the Oklahoma State runs — both by Jeremy Smith — were devastating. Simply put, if they don't happen, Texas might have won last weekend. Allowing big plays through missed assignments was seemingly the modus operandi of last year's defense. It certainly expected to be fixed at this point.
5) The most consistent group on the defense might be the cornerbacks. Before the season, that would be taken as a huge positive. After all, the Longhorns returned great talent at linebacker, were excited about the defensive ends, had a potential All-American at defensive tackle and returned two experienced safeties. If anything, cornerback was the biggest question mark, with little used sophomores Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips teaming with true freshman Quandre Diggs.
But, aside from moments in the Oklahoma game, they've held up incredibly well. Especially Byndom, who is starting to emerge as the cover cornerback the staff had always hoped he would become. They say that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger, and there isn't any doubt that Byndom emerged from games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's receivers better than he entered them.
This development has been especially impressive given No. 3. The cornerbacks have been left on an island to defend, with the pass rush struggling, and have still been able to hold up in coverage. And that's a great sign for the second half of the season.