From "hut" to whistle, you never go less than full-speed.
For the most part, the defense was stellar. Three three-and-outs in the first quarter, and one four-and-out on the first series was great. For the most part, there was better tackling on Saturday. Kalen Thornton had his best game of the year, and Rodrique Wright solidified his ranking as one of the best defensive tackles in the Big 12. Derrick Johnson made some outstanding plays. However, it was almost "all for naught" because of four plays by the defense, four plays where there wasnt maximum effort. The same mistake cost the Horns the Arkansas game for the most part, and it was almost the reason for a loss on Saturday.
Follow along as I go through these plays. Go back and watch the tape, and see if you agree.
Play 1 -- It was the sixth overall drive by the Wildcats, and it was the second drive of the second quarter. Kansas State was backed into a hole of 2nd and 14. The Wildcats had done absolutely nothing to this point. The defense was on fire, and the Wildcats were reeling. There was a late strength call by the defense, and Reed Boyd was shifting across the formation. Players were out of position and confused. As Boyd ran across the formation, he runs in front of the other linebackers, causing a temporary distraction. Roberson drops back to pass, surveys the field and takes off scrambling. LB Brian Robison doesnt understand where he needs to be, so he takes off for the quarterback on the outside. Roberson steps up into the hole vacated by Robison, and sprints for the first down. On that play, Kansas State gained more than a first down; they gained confidence, also.
Play 2 -- The first play of the second half by the Wildcats. Texas had a 17-3 lead, and was firmly in control. The Wildcats already had good field position, and the Longhorns made their job a lot easier. Right before the snap, the TE for the Wildcats flinches. Should it have been a penalty? Yes. However, you dont ever stop playing football to play referee. Sometimes calls go against you, but you dont compound the problem by giving the other team extra yards. Instead of playing out the play, Boyd and Tim Crowder point at the TE that flinched, and continued to point at the offender, even though it was obvious the refs werent stopping the play. Darren Sproles takes the ball to the opposite sideline and turns upfield. Boyd is out of position in his pursuit angle (at this point, he had no chance on the play), and Sproles is able to pick up ten extra yards. If Boyd had kept his head in the game, he might have been stopped short of the first down. Now, we will never know.
Play 3 The next example was on the same drive, only two plays later. I get excited during the game, like everyone else, but this play drove me over the edge. Roberson scrambled outside, and it appeared that no one wanted to make the tackle. Marcus Tubbs was jogging in pursuit, as was Derrick Johnson, Crowder, Boyd, and, most of all, Robison. This was the play that Roberson scored on, and where Robison got an absolute kill shot laid on him by the Wildcat wide receiver. The worst part of giving up on a play is that you put yourself in a position to get hurt. Your legs get rolled up on, your knee gets buckled, or you end up with a headache or concussion. I dont want to wish harm on anyone, but, in a way, Robison got what he deserved. Roberson eventually got penned up, but the lack of downfield pursuit allowed him to reverse direction and score. Momentum swung heavily toward the Wildcats.
(I could throw in the blocked punt play here, but it wasnt a total lack of effort by multiple players, just one.)
Play 4 The fourth play of the fourth quarter, just after the long wide receiver screen. Boyd had made a nice hustle play to make a touchdown-saving tackle. How do his teammates reward him? By giving minimal effort on a goalline play that put the Wildcats ahead. It followed the continual trend of giving up on the play after the opponent makes a big play. This trend started with Arkansas, was seen against Tulane, and reared its ugly head against Kansas State. I think the coaches should recognize this and burn a timeout to allow the defense to get its legs back under them. I dont want you to think that everyone just laid an egg on Robersons sneak play for the touchdown. Wright and Tubbs were giving their all. But the linebackers and defensive backs were not lined up on time. Michael Huff and Boyd were out of position when the ball was snapped.
The reason I wanted to point these plays out is this: a lot of blame is placed on UT's head coach and defensive coordinator. I mean a LOT. However, the greatest "scheme" or alignment can go to waste if players dont give the maximum effort every play. Sometimes it is easy to sit back and criticize the coaches, because the players are young. They are our heroes. We have memories of touchdown runs, interceptions, and big plays clouding our opinions. We put them on a pedestal and treat them as infallible. (Unless, of course, the player is the son of a NFL quarterback.)
What people need to realize is that these guys were never coached to fumble. They were never coached to jog down the field. They were never instructed to give up on a play. Can preparation eliminate several of these mistakes? Sure. However, when the lights go on, Mack Brown and Carl Reese dont suit up. They dont step between the lines. Theyre not perfect, but they're not as evil as some fans want them to be.
The players play the game. Once the ball is kicked off, Brown and Reese have less impact then we would want to imagine. We want to think that someone is in control. However, the players sometimes have to take it upon themselves to do their job. And, if they take even one play off on Saturday, it could be the difference between the Sugar Bowl and a return trip to the Cotton.
Mark Kissinger has coached high school football in Texas and Tennessee, coaching OL, TE, WR, DT, DE, and serving as both an offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In high school, he was coached by the legendary G.A. Moore. Mark recently retired from coaching and received his M.B.A. from Rice University and is in his second season of writing for IT. His 'Coach's Look' column appears after each game during football season on InsideTexas.com.