Saturday Scrimmage Observations

Observations from the Horns' Saturday morning scrimmage at DKR.

Quick Apology

Sorry for the delay in today’s scrimmage report, but a combination of allergy medication, errands for the wife and pet-related computer problems knocked us off our stride. Apparently, cats really do like mice, as mine chewed through the mouse cord, leading to another trip to Office Depot. And since I like to eat and hate sleeping on the couch, a trip to Target was a time-consuming necessity. Without further ado….

Bizzaro World Scrimmage

Up is down. Black is white. We’re through the looking glass here, gentlemen. Those are the phrases that leap to mind when describing what happened in this morning’s 90-minute, hard-hitting, big-play-filled scrimmage at DKR-Memorial Stadium.

What made it a Bizzaro World scrimmage was how big plays manifested themselves. For the first time this fall, the passing game took a back seat to a powerful running game, anchored by a very strong performance by the first team offensive line. The Longhorns showed patience and versatility on offense, running strong in passing formations, and passing well in running formations, mainly on short passes to the backs. It was a very encouraging performance.

The first team offense concentrated on the run and short passing game, while quarterback Chance Mock and the passing game struggled to get on track. Roy Williams running an in while Mock threw the up seemed to typify the often off-cylinder scrimmage. Mock was careful with the ball and made no mistakes, and he did lead a very sharp drive for a touchdown in the two-minute offense. He took what the defense gave him, but was not as laser sharp as he had been in the previous three practices, when he went 16-24 with five touchdowns.

The offensive line, however, turned in one of its best performances. The first team offensive line provided Mock with mostly excellent protection and opened some huge holes in the running game, including a giant hole on the left side that running back Cedric Benson exploded through for 35-yards on a draw play. Six of the 12 running plays behind the first team offensive line went for more than six yards, including 4 of 5 plays with Benson on the field.

Though the offense did well, the defense, particularly the first and second units, was once again the story. Linebackers Garnet Smith and Brian Robison made play after play, and the defensive backfield gave quarterbacks few options for much of the morning. A majority of the first team defense was on the field for five series, allowing only 88 yards of offense, most on a 40-yard touchdown run by Vince Young on a quarterback draw. Nine of 14 plays against the first team defense went for less than one yard, including a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Drive by Drive

Mock led 5 drives, two for scores. He was solid but not spectacular, shaking off a tepid start to finish 11-17 for 89 yards and a touchdown. He had ample time in the pocket and did not have to scramble away from pressure. He was at his best during the two-minute drill, going 5 of 6 for 65 yards, including a perfect post pass to freshman Limas Sweed for 36 yards.

Young led 7 drives, mostly against the first team offense, with one scoring drive. He made most of his plays with his feet, including two dazzling runs, one for a touchdown. He finished 4-9 for 35 yards, but did have a deep pass called back for offensive pass interference.

Matt Nordgren had another nice day, leading 2 drives, one for a touchdown on a fullback draw to freshman Albert Hardy for 20 yards. Nordgren finished the day 3 of 6 for 41 yards, including a sharp sideline pass to Yomi Odusi for 15 yards.

Plays of the Day: Young Giveth and Taketh Away

It was often the Vince Young show, for both the offense and defense. Young had a dazzling 40-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw. He later connected with walk-on Eric Enard on a 47-yard bomb, but it was called back for an iffy offensive pass interference call.

Young also gave back 7 points when, under pressure from a blitzing Eric Foreman, his pass was intercepted by Cedric Griffin and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. It was so well diagnosed by the defense that strong safety Michael Huff had his hands on the pass first and would have had the touchdown had he hung on.

My Two Cents

1. I’ve resisted the following assessment for a while, mainly because I think Reed Boyd has been unnecessarily criticized by too many fans for scheme-related issues. Despite those feelings, after watching closely the linebacker play this week, it is clear to me that Robison should be starting alongside Derrick Johnson and Garnet Smith. It is not a knock on Boyd; Robison is just the better linebacker, in my opinion.

The difference can be summed up in one sentence: Boyd is in on plays, while Robison makes plays. During today’s scrimmage, he was one of the best players on the field, making plays in the backfield in the running game and doing a good job in coverage.

2. Many more days like this and we’ll be smack dab in a quarterback controversy, at least among fans. Longhorn fans are raised from birth to cheer loudest for the backup quarterback and, today, Young gave them every reason to raise their voices. While Mock struggled to get untracked, Young made several huge plays against the first team defense, mainly with his feet, including a lightning fast 40-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw. Young later connected with Enard on a 47-yard bomb down the right side, but Enard was flagged for pushing off. It was still one of the bigger plays of the day. Young did, however, throw an interception that went back the other way for a touchdown.

Mock made fewer big plays, but he also avoided the big mistake, which fans often forget at a scrimmage, but will not forget in games. No matter what happens, however, Young continues to show flashes of why he was the National Player of the Year out of high school and that he is on his way to becoming a complete quarterback. The future is indeed bright.

Quick Hits

In near live action, Phillip Geiggar took the opening kick-off and scampered 60 yards against the second team kick-off crew.

Benson appears poised for a huge season. He is looking more like he did in high school, cutting sharply and running with great speed and power.

Aaron Harris had a very nice day, getting on several tackles, included a wicked hit on Selvin Young on a run to the left side.

Its official: David Pino and Dusty Mangum are in a battle for the starting job. Both made all of their kicks today, with Pino hitting both of his 38-yard PATs and Mangum hitting a 21-yard field goal.

The draw play is setting up the play action pass, and vice-versa.

The full first team defense gave up one big play — a quarterback draw around the left side by Young that went 40 yards for a touchdown — but was dominant throughout the practice. Rodrique Wright, Marcus Tubbs and Bryan Pickryl were constantly in the backfield, disrupting run and pass plays. The coverage was like a blanket, especially against the receivers. Young’s only passing options were to the backs and tight end on drag routes.

Despite giving up one big run to Vince Young, the first team defense looks to be the clear strength of the team.

Tim Crowder continues to push for a lot of playing time. He was a constant presence in the backfield and looks better each day against the run. On back-to-back plays on the final drive, Crowder blew around LT Brad Poronsky for certain sacks, though the whistle was not blown.

Paging a punter. It appears that no one wants to be the starting punter. Taylor Landin’s first punt, against a 2-mph wind, was not that high and went only 35 yards in the air, 31-yards after the bounce. His second punt, from the 50, was too high and too deep, going into the end zone. Justin Smith boomed a towering, 47-yard punt that was fair-caught by Nathan Vasher, but followed that up with a stomach-churning 27-yarder that was nearly blocked by Roy Williams. Richmond McGee may have had the best kick of the day, drilling a 43-yard punt that was fair caught by Aaron Ross.

The tempers continue to flare. On just the fourth play run by the first team offense, a fight broke out between the offensive line and linebackers, negating a sweet cutback run by Benson for a big gain.

The quick whistle again penalized runners, especially Vince Young. There were several plays blown dead at the touch that looked to be destined for much more.

Brett Robin, who has been a major presence thus far, did not see any action.

For the most part, both offensive lines did a very good job in blitz pick-up.

Brandon "Flypaper" Foster played big again today, breaking up a couple of passes —including a potential touchdown pass to B.J. Johnson — and making nice, sure tackles at the line of scrimmage in run support and against screens.

Will Matthews continues to impress as the first team fullback. He was a punishing lead blocker this morning and took a draw and powered his way for 13-yards behind Jonathan Scott.

Mike Garcia was helped off the field late in the practice, but appeared none the worse for wear. He jogged out to the middle of the field to sing "The Eyes of Texas" and walked off without a limp.

Garnet Smith made several huge plays and is looking like he will be a star at MLB.

The tight end in the middle of the field will be a huge weapon this season. Neale Tweedie and Brock Edwards, lining up as a tight end, both made big plays over the middle. Overall, Texas has four tight ends that can run and catch.

Texas is deeper at linebacker than ever under Mack Brown. Besides the starting three, six others — Scott Derry, Harris, Marcus Myers, Robison, Foreman and Robert Killebrew — have turned in extremely impressive performances against both the pass and run.

Larry Dibbles is playing very well. He was in the offensive backfield several times today, including a big hit on Erik Hardeman for a two-yard loss.

Speaking of Hardeman, he is making it very difficult for Mack Brown to redshirt him. He made several good, hard runs today often after he was hit in the backfield. He finished with 11 rushes for 36 yards, made a nice catch and run for a first down, and had a potentially huge run blown dead after bounding off a big hit by Cedric Griffin.

Limas Sweed is stepping into the void created by Robert Timmons' absence. He is a huge target and has very good hands. He has been very difficult for our defensive backs to cover and is making plays.

Mock looked like he injured his right thumb on his final drive. Oddly, he was more accurate after the injury, hitting five straight passes, including a touchdown to Tony Jeffery, in the two-minute offense.

I will go out on a limb and say that Aaron Ross will be a freshman All-American. Today, he made a terrific read on a throwback screen to Roy Williams and stopped it for an 8-yard loss. He hit Williams so hard it forced the ball loose, but Williams was able to hang on.

Tully Janszen continues to make plays in the backfield whenever he is on the field. I counted 2 tackles for loss.

Dakarai Pearson appeared to tweak his ankle during pre-game warm-ups. He did start and didn’t look affected by the injury.

The option, movement, misdirection and play action continue to be staples for the offense.

Fullback Hardy had a very nice scrimmage. He made a jarring block on Aaron Harris to spring Hardeman for a 10-yard gain, and rushed for 20-yard touchdown.

Quote of the Day

"We took a lot of flak last year about being soft. And toughness is an attitude, a temperament. You can’t just decide on game day you want to be tough. You get tough out here (on the practice field)." Mac McWhorter in today’s Austin American-Statesman

Truer words have never been spoken, and McWhorter’s influence is manifesting itself every day. The offensive line continues to improve every day and is developing a serious nasty streak. After a sometimes-shaky performance in the first scrimmage, the first team offensive line showed flashes of dominance.

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