Offense: Overly conservative or simply smart?

Overly conservative or simply smart? There seems to be a wide variety of opinions on which of those two descriptions best fits the Horns' offensive gameplan in College Station Friday.

As someone who in the past has been critical of Greg Davis when warranted, I find myself in the unusual position of, to an extent, defending the offensive coordinator's decisions in the A&M game. Several factors, I believe, point to "smart" rather than "overly conservative."

For those not at the game Friday, I have no idea if the TV coverage even remotely did justice to the effect the wind had on both team's passing games. The effect was substantial. The official stat sheet listed winds from the south at between 13 and 20 mph, but from standing on the sideline I'd estimate gusts easily topped 20 mph.

On the Horns' second offensive series, the strong tail wind pushed two Chris Simms passes wide of the target. One of those attempts, a short swing pass for Cedric Benson coming out of the backfield, would have easily been a big gainer (at least 10 yards, and possibly more, from the A&M 38). The Texas QB commented on that very play post-game, saying he couldn't believe how much the wind affected even that relatively short throw, one that he invariably nails.

But let's briefly back up to UT's first offensive series. Simms threw three passes on the possession and was sacked after a deep drop on a third-and-10 play from near midfield. On the two completions, the QB connected with Roy Williams on quick hitters to the left, one gaining nine yards and the other getting stuffed for no gain. The other attempt, an incompletion, looked to be a miscommunication between Simms and receiver Sloan Thomas. Thomas broke deep rather than cutting off his route as he should have done with Simms facing intense Aggie pressure.

The reason I wanted to go over that series is twofold: one, to point out the communication issue, one that affected the Texas offense all day; and two, to point out the stoutness of the A&M defense.

The din of noise at Kyle Field (the loudest of all the stadiums I've traveled to) made line-of-scrimmage verbal play calls almost impossible according to Simms, Mike Williams and all of the other UT offensive players I talked to post-game. The Horns could communicate by hand signals, which they did, but that method limited the options Simms had when stepping to the line. See the Sloan Thomas play above. So, we saw an offense somewhat limited in what it could do because of crowd noise, facing what I'd say, based on seeing them both in person, is as good a defense as the one the Horns faced on Oct. 6 in Dallas.

Don't underestimate the strength of the A&M D. I think I fell into that trap a bit before the game, thinking that the Texas offense would score in the low 30s, but the reality is, the rumors of that unit's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Because of the Aggies' inept offense, their defensive unit has faced a heavier overall burden, particularly a time of possession burden that many other top ranked defensive units, like UT's, have not, and A&M still came into the UT game ranked No. 13 nationally in overall defense. What I'm getting at is this: the Aggies have a pretty salty defensive unit when healthy, and against the Horns, that unit played all 11 starters for the first time since early in the season. The line and linebackers did an outstanding job of not only stopping the run but also pressuring Simms while corners Sean Weston and Sammy Davis blanketed the Texas receivers better than any pair of corners outside of the Sooner secondary.

An example as described above: on UT's first drive, LB Jarrod Penright blitzed and sacked Simms, who took a deep drop to look downfield. If the clamoring for more downfield passing was heeded by Davis in this one, Simms may have been sacked eight times, possibly fumbling on a blind-side hit or having his arm hit just as he threw, resulting in a game-changing INT. Instead, he went down just twice and did not throw a pick.

If we see the same lack of imagination and daring vs. Colorado in Dallas, or in the bowl game (like vs. Oregon last December), I'll join the "conservative" chorus, but in this game, given the weather, the crowd and the opponent and coupled with the fact that the Horns remained committed to the run (largely) throughout, I'll call the A&M plan "smart," not "overly conservative."

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