Texas Longhorns' faithful, I feel your pain.
I’m a fan just like you, and I hate to see what we have seen the last two weeks.
You can go through the stats and film to try and breakdown what is going on with this team. The problems are pretty black and white.
Fixing them, however, is not.
Fixing the direction of this team falls on Charlie Strong and the seniors. This team’s fate is still up to them.
Rather than focus on all the doom and gloom, I’m going to focus - like I always do - on football, what I see on film and the areas that this team needs to fix.
Being a former offensive player, I have always felt the way to generate turnovers on defense is to become aggressive. Both in blitzing and tackling.
After the Cal game where the Texas defense basically played a prevent defense, I went back to review this defense to find aggressive play and overload blitzes that are designed to create mismatches and confusion for the offense.
I went through the Notre Dame and UTEP games and struggled to find any kind of creative blitz.
What I saw was simple blitzes that did not create confusion for the offense. If the blitz worked for Texas, it was because of superior play by the blitzer. Remember the blitz and sack by Vaccaro v. Notre Dame? That was a superior athletic play by Vaccaro.
What I wanted to see against Oklahoma State was something different. A creative blitz package and aggressive gang tackling. Aggressive coverage in the secondary and no confusion!
I got some of what I wanted.
When you see a simple defense, there is usually 1 or 2 reasons for this. Either the players don’t have the mental capacity to run a complicated package. Or the coaches don’t have confidence in the players' mental capacity to run a complicated package.
What Texas did Saturday was run one base 3-4 defense and a few blitzes out of this defense. Keep the base defense and coverage simple and be aggressive from that look. I liked what they were trying to accomplish.
There was a change in personnel.
Malcolm Roach and Breckyn Hager played the outside LB position in a base 3-4 defense.
This is the same position that Lawrence Taylor played. This allows them to come off the edge and get mismatches against RBs and tight ends when rushing.
Get ready to see a lot more of Roach. This young man can play and will play the rest of the season, a lot!
We saw Fowler and Brandon Jones play for the first time. If I were to guess, I bet the Texas coaching staff had a come to Jesus talk with the defensive players last week and told them no one’s job was safe and they were going to play the best players regardless of age.
Fear is a motivator, and they were going to light a fire under the defense by sending a message that no one’s job is safe. Usually when there is a change of players and young guys start playing, this is what happens the week before.
I saw blitzes where Texas overloaded one side and forced the RB to stay in and block and they had to block players like Roach and Hager.
In this game Texas did have pressure and forced Rudolph to move around in the pocket and this is not a strength for Rudolph. I also saw some good 1-on-1 rushes by Charles Omenihu, who had 1 sack and was close to another.
Remember, you don’t have to blitz to get a sack.
You just need pass rushers to win at least one time a game! We also saw S Jason Hall get 2 sacks on blitzes and one of the sacks was an outstanding play by beating the running back and getting the sack.
OSU had 163 yards rushing, and I think the defensive line has been pretty consistent against the run all year. Always room for improvement, but certainly not the area of major concern.
When you review the stats to find out what happened, there is no real logic to Texas losing this game.
Texas had 329 yards rushing, 568 total yards, 239 yards passing, first downs than OSU (26-22) and more offensive plays (83) than OSU (71). If I saw these stats, I would say Texas won the game. So, what happened?
FOUR THINGS STAND OUT AS SERIOUS PROBLEMS FOR THIS TEAM:
#1 ... Secondary
#2 ... Special Teams
#3 ... Big Plays
#4 ... Turnovers
#1 ... SECONDARY:
- Texas gave up 392 yards passing this week and 397 at Cal!
The secondary looked lost Saturday. There were obvious communication breakdowns between the underneath coverage provided by the corners and LBs and the over-the-top coverage provided by the safeties. This was also a problem vs Cal and HAS to get cleaned up.
#2 ... SPECIAL TEAMS:
- 3 blocked PATs with one resulting in 2 points for Oklahoma State. That is a 5 point swing to OSU.
Let me repeat that - THREE BLOCKED PATs! I've never heard of this. I'm still having trouble comprehending it. I played football for a long time, and if I had given up a blocked PAT, I would've gotten a cab home.
- There is absolutely no special teams return game for Texas.
Texas is 98th nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 18.7 ypr and 59th in punt returns, averaging 8.8 yards per return. With all the speed Texas has, this is surprising. Texas is getting no meaningful field position out of their return teams.
And when they run kick returns out of the end zone, they are rarely getting to the 25-yard-line (where they'd start if they took the touchback).
#3 ... BIG PLAYS:
- Texas gave up 6 completions of 33 yards or longer, including TD passes of 54, 36 and 52 yards as well as a 30-yard TD run. That’s how OSU threw for 394 yards and piled up 555 yards and 7.8 yards per play Saturday.
Bill Walsh always talked about big plays. Whoever wins the big plays wins the game. They ignite the offense and the home crowd, which is not good if you're playing on the road. And they debilitate the defense and the entire roster of the team giving up the big plays.
#4 ... TURNOVERS:
- Texas loses the turnover battle - again - and still only has forced ONE turnover for the season.
If you look at Texas road games since last year you will see a common theme: When they lose the turnover battle on the road, they can’t win.
The one road game Texas has won dating to last season was Baylor, and the Horns had zero turnovers while BU had one.
This year, Texas is 0-2 on the road.
UT had 2 turnovers against Cal and 1 against Oklahoma State, while collecting none.
Cal converted those two turnovers into 14 points, and OSU converted the turnover into 7 points.
Basically, if Texas wants to start winning again, the defense has to create turnovers.
I always talk about how easily habits are formed - winning habits and losing habits.
Last year, Texas gave up third-and-long three times to Notre Dame on the Irish's opening drive of a 38-3 win, and Texas seemed to struggle all year on third down defensively.
And the more stress is put on the fact Texas is not creating turnovers on defense, the more players press to do it. Pressing doesn't help. Davante Davis appeared to have UT's first INT of the season in his hands Saturday on what would've been an incredible play. But he dropped it.
It's really hard to believe through four games Texas has only forced one turnover, putting them dead last nationally (127th) in TOs gained.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
So now that we have watched the film and looked at the stats, how do we fix these four things?
Well, that’s the million-dollar question that I don’t make enough money to totally answer.
However, I will attempt to from the cheap seats - where I am sitting.
I must always disclose that I am not in the locker room and do not know what is going on. I only know what I see on film and in the stat sheets. You can observe what’s going on, but only the coaches and players really know what’s going on.
I don’t know what to say about this secondary except that it is living proof why I don’t get excited about recruiting.
This was supposed to be one of the most talented areas on this team, and right now it's the Achilles heel with special teams running a close second.
You watch the game and the players know the coverage and they still play off the ball and give up high percentage throws and allow big plays.
Coaches coach and players play. But coaches also teach players how to play. This secondary needs to learn how to play. Be aggressive and utilize your talent. Don't hesitate and be afraid to make a play.
Charlie has talked about this! Somehow, this staff needs to get the most from the talent and build this unit's confidence. This group is playing not to make a mistake and is now making a ton of them. If this unit does not improve now, then I fear the worst.
You see receivers get off the ball unchallenged and this results in easy throws and catches. There was a TD given up where John Bonney is playing corner, ends up playing outside leverage, meaning he gives up the middle of the field and ends up giving the receiver a free pass to the end zone while putting his hands up, wondering where his inside help was?
If I see one more DB put his hands up in confusion, my grace will be challenged!!!!!!! Know what you are supposed to DO! Get on the same page. There is only a few different coverages, and a defensive back on the field at Texas should know all of them. Coaches need to make sure they do.
I would talk about the open field tackling of this unit, but there is not a person reading this that does not already know how bad the tackling by the secondary is. You saw what I saw.
Special teams is all about emphasis.
Don Shula was the first coach to send out a third captain before a game. The third captain was special teams. Now every team sends out three captains. Offense, defense, special teams.
Coach Shula emphasized special teams. This area of the game is as critical as the other two phases.
Texas has some problems in this phase. No return threat, poor blocking on PAT/field goal. Remember the dropped snap last year against OSU? Remember the missed PAT last year against CAL? The punt snap through the end zone at TCU?
It’s not one player's fault. When there are multiple mistakes by different players, it is a team problem.
Again, this needs to be fixed, and it's my understanding Jeff Traylor stopped being the special teams coach after the first game of last year (when he was elevated to run game coordinator). So special teams coaching is now dispersed throughout the staff.
Usually a team will commit more emphasis to this area by committing more time at practice. I’m sure Charlie will address this, because the blocking on extra points/field goals HAS to get fixed this week or your kicker's confidence will plummet!
Did you see when Malcolm Roach knocked WR James Washington out of the game?
He had a clean hit on Washington, who was fighting to get free from Davante Davis, and Roach knocked him clean out!
Also notice how Washington fumbled the football? I know, it was not called a fumble, but it was.
That is how you create turnovers! Go separate the opposing player from the ball! This is a physical game, and this defense needs to remind the opposing offense of this. Playmakers need to create plays, and the defense needs some playmakers.
Darrell Royal, Texas' three-time national championship coach, once said: “Only angry people win football games.”
The big plays that this team is giving up ties back to the secondary. The big plays are coming in the passing game and the passing defense is allowing the plays. Again, it is not being aggressive and challenging the receivers at the LOS. If you are going to get your ass kicked, go down swinging!
Let me say one thing about the offense. This unit is doing a lot right. My preseason excitement was based on the potential of this unit and it has not disappointed. When you rush for over 300 yards two weeks in a row, you usually win those games.
What this unit needs to remember is that their job is to score one more then there opponent and this unit has not done this the last two weeks. I say this because if you think anything else, finger pointing will start.
If there is finger pointing, the season is over.
This is a team of three units. All three units need each other and must play for each other. This means picking up each other’s slack week to week. This team needs to play for each other and ONLY for each other next week.
Let me leave you with one thing.
I am a Charlie Strong fan, and I am biased. I’m biased because I care more about these players after their career than during their career and so does Charlie.
Your football career is fleeting, but hopefully your life lasts. I have a son who plays football, and I would want him to play for Charlie. He is a good man and cares about his players. I’m pulling for him to get this right.
Remember, this team can still go 8-1 in the Big 12, and it starts with OU! It will take an incredibly organized and energized week of practice to get this team to start playing confident and relaxed.
But don’t forget - Texas beat OU last year and has been the more physical team in this series the past three years! There always a chance!
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