Coach's Look: Is There Hope?

Traditionally, this article entitled &quot;A Coach's Look&quot; involves me, the coach, taking a look <I>back</I> at the game of the past week. No one wants to talk about Baylor! Thoughts of Baylor have been put to rest in everyone&#146;s head, so I will take a look <I>ahead</I> to the game that will be&#133;the Red River Shootout. What will the final outcome be? What will give the Longhorns and Sooners fits? What will the Longhorns have to do to win? Well, I have answers to those questions.

The Texas Longhorns just got finished dismantling a barely mediocre Baylor team, but this was one of those games where the game seemed a lot closer than the score. If Baylor played its best game (eliminating unforced errors), this game would have been closer to 35-21 than 44-14. How many of you would feel good right now? Not very many, and to tell you the truth, I don’t have a very good feeling right now.

Let me get my prediction out of the way right now. Most people are saying that this year will be different because Texas can run the ball. If Texas could have run the ball last year in the Red River Shootout, the score would have been closer. However, put that in perspective… if you take two touchdowns away from the Sooners, and you give two touchdowns to the Longhorns, the final score is 51-27. Still not impressed? Take away three touchdowns, and give the Horns three more. Final score? 44-34. We can talk about how improved the Longhorn rushing game is, and we would not be lying. It was much better post-OU last year than pre-OU. Would it have made a difference last year? No, because the Horns couldn’t stop the Sooners.

Let’s say the Texas defense is better this year, and, I believe it is. Is it three touchdowns better? Even if the defense was three touchdowns better last year it wouldn’t have made a difference. Is there any hope?

Objectively, there isn’t much hope. I’m trying to find some way that I can justify predicting the Longhorns to win, and I can’t. Oklahoma is a much better football team. Here are some problems the Longhorns are facing…

  1. The Longhorns 1st team offense showed some stretches in the Baylor game where they were ineffective. They had three "three-and-outs" and one "four-and-out". Though teams will have some down times, it shouldn’t happen versus Baylor, and it shouldn’t happen regularly with the first string. Thirty-three percent of the first O's drives ended after four plays. That won’t get the job done against Missouri, much less Oklahoma. Why were the Bears able to stop the Horns? They were gambling and guessing right at times. They were shooting gaps, penetrating, and disrupting plays. Oklahoma will be able to do the same thing without gambling. Two drives in the 2nd quarter were stopped by this combination… Benson for 1 yd, Vincent Young pass incomplete. You just can’t do that and win versus OU.
  2. The defensive line is much weaker than I thought it would be. Yes, I know Rodrique Wright was not playing against Baylor, but it wasn’t his backup, Frank Okam, that scares me. It was Larry Dibbles. Many people think Larry Dibbles is becoming a monster. Guess again. They are probably the same people who thought Tommie Harris was the best defensive lineman in college football last year. Dibbles can play ball when he is moving to a certain area at the snap. If he is slanting, he’s pretty good. If he is asked to play base defense and play gap control, he’s a hindrance on the field. Why doesn’t Greg Robinson just send him every play? You live by the sword, and you die by the sword. If you blitz and stunt every play, eventually you are going to get caught with your pants down. The defensive ends are better than I originally thought, but they excel mostly versus the run. I don’t see a pass rush coming from this unit alone. Texas will have to blitz from other positions to get pressure. Which is maybe not a bad thing, since….
  3. The Longhorns don’t play zone defense very well. One good consequence of possibly having to blitz most of the game is the fact that the Longhorns will have to play man-to-man more. Will the secondary still give up some big plays? You bet. However, it will be much easier to tolerate knowing that one man got beat instead of a whole unit. The zone defense is way too soft.
  4. Vince Young isn’t a much better passer this year than last year, and I don’t think he is as good of a runner as he was last year. He needs to keep the ball more on the zone read and make things happen. He was much better last year when he was trying to prove that he belongs as the Texas QB than this year, where it appears he is trying to prove he belongs in the NFL.
  5. The special teams aren’t special. Is the field goal kicking better? Is kick return better? Is punt return better? Is punting better? Absolutely not. The only thing that might be better is the punt block team. Other than that, the team is just not very good at special teams play. OU out-distances UT by 5 yards every punt. That is a huge difference in the way the game is played. Even if each offense has a similar drive, Texas is actually losing 5 yards every series in which UT and OU trade punts. Eventually, UT will get backed up against the goalline, and when they do, bad things will happen.

Is it all "doom and gloom"? Many UT fans are saying that this is UT’s year. I really feel they are thinking with their heart instead of their head. OU’s team might be slightly worse than last year, and UT’s might be slightly better, but it is probably still a 2 touchdown difference at best. I predict OU 38, Texas 17.

The Longhorns can do several things to prove me wrong, and here they are…

  1. Have a very successful first drive. Not a moral victory, either. A get down and dirty, drive it down their throat, punch it in, touchdown-scoring drive. If they don’t get this, the Horns could feel that "here we go again" feeling.
  2. Get Vince Young involved in the running game more. So many times in the past two games the opportunities have been there for Young to keep the ball on the zone read. He needs to balance up the zone read scheme for the Horns to be effective. Run, Vincent, Run!
  3. Run the ball without having pulling linemen. Pulling linemen across the formation didn’t work against Baylor, and it won’t work against OU. The Sooners are going to get too much penetration.
  4. Have very good success on first down. The Longhorns have to average 4 yards on first down, and nine plays of zero yards followed by one play of forty yards will not cut it. They have to stay out of second-and-long situations.
  5. They have to continue to tackle well. Any breakdown here will be disastrous.
  6. The Longhorns can’t have any offensive penalties. No holding calls, no false starts, no illegal procedure, nothing. They have to eliminate them.
  7. The Longhorns have to be +2 in turnover differential. The breaks have to go in Texas’ favor, or it will be another long afternoon.

Maybe those seven keys to victory didn’t leave you with much hope. Honestly, I don’t have very much myself. I really would like to see a UT victory — for the players, for Mack, and, selfishly, so I don’t have to listen to the talking heads drone on and on. If you are reading this, it means you probably would like to see a victory, too. So let me leave you then with a pre-game pep talk quote from Pat Riley…

"When you're playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you'll fight for the winner's circle. If you do, someday the cellophane will crackle off a fresh pack, one that belongs to you, and the cards will be stacked in your favor."

Make this the year, Longhorns.

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 third season of writing for IT. His 'Coach's Look' column appears after each game during football season on InsideTexas.com.


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