Holiday Hangover: Is There A Doctor In The House?

It’s New Year’s Day, but the throbbing Holiday hangover that lingers in the skulls of Longhorns everywhere was suffered two days ago in San Diego.

Washington State (a program that can only dream of Texas’ talent, resources and tradition) is still tooting its own Holiday horn after what one Cougar said was the biggest win in program history. Meanwhile, the long, drawn-out ‘morning after’ for Orangebloods still includes watching Oklahoma play for its second national championship in four seasons.

Are ya’ feeling me?

Operating on the premise that it helps to talk about it, the most painful part of the game for me came on the opening series of the fourth quarter. Trailing 26-10, Texas had a first down at the WSU 2-yard line following the only second half drive that showed any semblance of offensive balance: five runs and seven passes.

I must confess that I am Old School in this scenario. Trailing by two scores, my offense now has four shots at the end zone. Four snaps to negotiate just two yards. Hell, if you can average a half-yard per carry, either Texas QB is big and strong enough to lean for the final six inches (as Vince Young did on the winning score against Kansas State and Chance Mock did on the successful two-point conversion against Texas Tech).

Here, you’ve got the nation’s No. 5 rush offense against the nation’s No. 6 run defense. It’s their strength versus your strength. There’s more than 14 minutes left in the game -- no need to panic, no need to get cute. Not when you’ve got a running back that led the nation in rushing TDs. Besides, if your big uglies up front can’t push their fat boys two yards off the line of scrimmage in three attempts, then you're going to take your hats off and shake their hands. The thing we got going for us is, we’re Texas and you’re not.

For the first time, both the UT sideline and its fans in the westside stands at Qualcomm Stadium seem genuinely interested in this second-tier bowl game. Second-and-goal from the two: this was primal football, baby! It’s time to show those West Coast pretty boys with their silk underwear offense what it means to go mano-y-mano against the fourth winningest college football team in NCAA history.

Incomplete pass. Incomplete pass. A field goal. And Texas still trails by two scores.

Head coach Mack Brown praised the "kids" for fighting back ("Most teams in America would have quit") and, to be fair, the "kids" fought to the bitter end. But, to me, the play calling that led to the fourth quarter field goal was the moment Texas waved the (orange and) white flag. It was like saying, "We concede. We cannot beat you against what you do best, even when we are doing what we do best."

From that point, Texas’ offensive game plan went like this during its final four possessions: 18 passes, zero runs, three sacks, two fumbles, one safety, and a quarterback running for his life as Mock managed nine completions during that span.

Listening to the post-game reaction from Longhorn fans, the consensus was Texas waved the (orange and) white flag even earlier when Brown benched Young after nine offensive snaps in the third quarter.

Livid Orangebloods berated both Mock and Brown immediately following the game and, again, at the San Diego airport the next morning. Several fans said they hoped Mock would transfer because they fear Brown will push the panic button and prematurely bench Young in similar situations next year.

It can be easily argued that until Young’s passing game comes close to complementing what he can do with his feet, Texas becomes one-dimensional and gets in trouble against top run defenses such as WSU’s and OU’s. Young’s passing stats (6-of-14 for 15 yards) don’t beat anybody except the Aggies. Out of deference to the freshman, Roy, Sloan and B.J. easily had 70 yards in drops before Mock took over.

If I’m Mock, I’m outta here. Out of deference to Mock, the junior is too competitive and too talented to ride the bench. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said that Mock has already shown NFL scouts what he can do, but I think we all know Mock will neither get the snaps nor the development under Davis.

Personally (and selfishly), I hope the gritty junior returns. Texas does not beat Texas Tech without Mock, just as Texas does not beat Kansas State without Young. Texas needs both these guys in uniform next season -- especially if Brown fails to sign a quality quarterback from this year’s bumper crop from the Lone Star State.

When Brown benched Young, Texas (in essence) became the offense we saw against blitz-happy Arkansas. The difference between the two losses is the defense pitched a shutout during the last 21 minutes of the Holiday Bowl. (Remember, WSU scored it’s last nine points against the Texas offense).

The defense at least gave the offense a chance; it’s a shame Davis did not. If you’re going to junk the nation’s No. 5 ground game by relegating Young and RB Cedric Benson to interested observers, how about a downfield passing attack before it’s desperation time? (Roy collected 76 of his 97 total yards on two plays, but not until the last four and one-half minutes of the game). It’s as if Davis has been afraid to go deep across the middle since the 2001 Big 12 Championship loss to Colorado.

And as far as mitigating a pressuring, blitzing defense: what ever happened to the shovel pass? (It seems like the last time we saw it was back in 2001, as well). Or how about a screen to offset those blitzing cornerbacks and DE D.D. Acholonu (three sacks, two forced fumbles).

Other than that, the most telling stat of the game was this: Washington State: seven sacks for minus- 64 yards; Texas: zero sacks; zero yards.

"They didn’t sack me the whole game," QB Matt Kegel said. "I don’t even think they pressured me but once or twice."

Right now, the only pressure is on Brown to (again) orchestrate the off-season "tweaks" (as he likes to call them) to try and win them all at Texas. For whatever reason, Brown would rather lose his right arm than part with Davis. That means whatever off-season changes that are likely to emerge must focus on, a) shoring up a run defense that was rated just No. 59 nationally, allowed WSU’s No. 100 ground game to outrush you 157-131, and still shows no semblance of a pass rush against ranked opponents, and b) developing Young’s passing game (making it a focal point of spring drills).

After all, 10-3 is cause for celebration at Washington State. But it’s cause for soul-searching at The University of Texas.

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