- Vincent Young I have never seen one person make such a difference on an elite college football program. Michael Vick changed the nations perceptions of Virginia Tech, and he elevated the play of his entire team, but I wouldnt consider Virginia Tech an elite college football program at that time. Barry Sanders turned Oklahoma State into a force, but the Cowboys werent a prominent program to begin with. Its much easier for one person to make a big difference on an average team. Its harder for one person to make a difference with a perennial Top 10 team.
- Improved Offensive Line Play Who are these guys? Really, who are they? If no other coach of this team stays on next year (and I have a feeling they all will), I hope the Horns keep Mac McWhorter. What once was a slow, sluggish offensive line is now more active, reaching the second level, and pulling more than any UT line I have witnessed since the first time UT played Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game. Granted, their jobs are becoming easier because of Youngs presence, but they have each improved individually.
- Weak Defenses Let me tap the brake a little bit here. The run game is a lot better, but one of the main reasons it has improved so much is the quality of the defenses the Horns have been playing. Iowa State and Baylor are pitiful, and Nebraska played the most plain-vanilla defense you will see. Go back to my statement about when kids move their fastest and play their best. Nebraska stayed in the same spots and allowed Texas to remove any hesitation with reads and blocks. Yes, the Huskers did do some blitzing, but did they do any up the middle, or was it mostly off of the corners? The Blackshirts defense didnt disrupt a single blocking scheme with interior blitzes or movement by the linemen. I get as frustrated as anyone with Carl Reeses incessant zone blitzes, movements, and mad scientist attempts at defense, but I think I would rather have that than have the defense sitting in the same spot waiting to be blocked. Texas is running the ball much better, but the other teams defenses havent done a lot to stop it.
- Harder Running by Cedric Benson I dont know what finally lit a fire under him, but he ran harder last week than he has since his freshman year. I know he was hampered last year by injuries, but it appeared that he was hampered by a large ego for the first part of this year. Maybe he finally realized that the offense and the game can go on without him. Maybe he gets up for Nebraska. I dont know, but I hope he keeps it up. He kept churning his legs until the whistle. He made some unbelievable cutbacks. However, I think it was the speed with which he was hitting the hole on Saturday that I found most impressive. Cedric, we missed you. I hope you will stay a while.
- Better Play-Calling and Offensive Scheme It appeared early in the season that the UT coaches wanted to have the same offense that as the past two years. Say what you want to say about the guy, but UT doesnt have a player with the talents of Chris Simms playing quarterback anymore. (Before you scream at the monitor, realize that I said they dont have anyone that has the same talents as Chris Simms. Vincent Young has talent. Chance Mock has talent. But their talents are different than Simms talents.) Until the last two or three weeks, the UT coaches have been trying to put a square peg into a round hole. The Horns cant run the same style of offense that they've been running before and be as successful as in the past. A change was in order, and the coaches made the change. You have more running plays, more misdirection, more pulling. And this goes back to the biggest difference maker Vincent Young. They finally have installed an offense that plays to his strengths. Just beware in two or three years they will probably go through a similar identity crisis. But basing the offense around the "zone read" play has been a great move by Greg Davis. The offense looks like it has finally lifted anchor.
- The Texas Defense I just want everyone to recognize the improvement made over the past two weeks with the defense. The fact that they were able to dominate Nebraska made it easier for the offense to settle into a rhythm and run more running plays. The offense didn't have to play catch-up and it wasnt involved in a whoever-scores-last game. The defense did a great job, and when it does, the offense (especially the run offense) will have better numbers.
How is Vincent Young making such a difference in the running game? First of all, he is the best running back on the team he just happens to take the snap from center. Also, he becomes the focal part of the offense, taking pressure off of Cedric Benson. In addition, he takes a lot of pressure off of the offensive line, and this may be the area where he has had the most impact. When UT is running the "zone read" play that Frisbie wrote about, the defense has to respect both the running back and the quarterback. The aggressiveness of the defense is used against them because they will take a step with the fake. It makes the angles for the linemen easier, and it allows the pulling linemen a chance to get to the blocks on the playside quicker.
I know we are all enamored with VY right now, and it is for good reason. Dont doubt for one minute the impact he has on this team.
One thing that I personally learned from John Mackovic came from that same Big 12 championship. Before that game he asked his team when they played their best, and when they moved the fastest. The majority answered that they play their best when they know what they are doing, and they move the fastest when they know where they are going. Any indecision that this team might have had seems to have disappeared since the OU contest (now why did I have to bring that up?), and that has a lot to do with the scheme being communicated effectively. That, my friends, has a lot to do with Coach McWhorter. You may be wondering, "Why did it take him so long to get the scheme across to the linemen? Other teams do it quicker." You are exactly right. However, he has to know what the gameplan is himself, before he can pass it down to the troops. And to be frank, I dont know if Mack Brown or Greg Davis knew what the plan was the first few weeks of the season. Ill be touching on that in a minute.
Back to the offensive line: I saw more movement and quickness by Jonathan Scott and Justin Blalock than in their first few games combined. Its nice when you have two tackles who can pull and seal the inside on the counter play. It makes it a lot easier when the play can be run both directions without flip-flopping the offensive line. To show you the improvement of this line, Tillman Holloway is playing worse than anyone else on the line, and that includes Jason Glynn. And if my memory serves me correctly, Holloway was the only pre-season All-Big 12 pick for the Horns offensive line. They really have come a long, long way.
I dont want everyone to think that everything is coming up roses on the Forty Acres. There is still improvement that needs to be made. However, Im glad that the team is moving in the right direction, and Im glad the run offense, for all the reasons above, is too.
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.