The week after a UT loss is painful, and especially after a loss to OU. There are always plenty of people around to rub salt in the wound, and you can't find any respite on Longhorn message boards it seems. Normally levelheaded people show you a side that you can't imagine. I don't know if I'm adding fuel to the fire with this article or if I'm helping to put it out.
So what went wrong on Saturday? That's the question everyone wants answered, but the answers aren't easy to find. From a coach's standpoint, there were several areas of weakness. First, and totally unforeseen, was the not-so-special play of the special teams of the Longhorns. If I had known going into the game that Dusty Mangum would not miss a kick and Brian Bradford would average over 40 yards per punt, I would have been excited. If you had told me that the Longhorns' coverage teams would have played so poorly, I would have said you were crazy. However, that's exactly what happened. The biggest play of the game, in my opinion, was the Antwone Savage kickoff return at the end of the first half. The coverage team committed the cardinal sin of kickoff coverage by not staying in their "lanes". It's the most basic rule of coverage, and it is taught at the junior high level, but it still rears its ugly head at all levels. Looking from the end zone camera, five Longhorns were within 10 yards of each other when Savage caught the kick. When you get bunched up on kickoff coverage, one man has the capability of blocking several players at once by causing one pile.
On the same kickoff return, a lot of the Texas players cut underneath the block, instead of fighting across the front of the block. For example, say I was running down the field, and a player trying to block me put his helmet on my right side. The easy route to take would be to go underneath the block, but the proper thing to do is to fight across the face of the blocker, essentially getting him on my left side. When you take the easy route, you basically block yourself.
The Savage kickoff return wasn't the only dark spot in coverage teams, with Antonio Perkins basically having a lot of space to return punts. When you punt from your own end zone (or near it), the worst thing that can happen is getting the punt blocked. Therefore, the punt team blockers will hold their block a little longer than normal. Although it prevents the punt from being blocked, it almost always ensures a strong punt return, because the coverage team takes a while to get there. In addition, the punt returner has more time to build up speed before the coverage team makes contact. What can you do in that situation? The best thing you can do is not get in the situation at all.
This brings me to the next point. Texas had poor starting field position for most of the second half. Many people look at that as fate dealing the Longhorns a poor hand. Let me be among the first to say that play calling and coaching decisions determine field position much more than fate. Many of you are probably licking your chops right now, thinking I am about to deliver Greg Davis' head on a platter. So let me say this…I agree with a lot of the plays that Davis called, but I have a problem with the personnel and the formations.
As I have been charting the offensive plays over the course of the season, UT has run the ball out of basically three formations. The most successful way the Horns' ran the ball was out of the straight I. Texas has had some success out of the offset I. The poorest performance out of the UT running game has come out of the one-back set. On Saturday, the Horns showed the straight I on only a handful of plays. Most of the running plays came out of the offset I and the one-back formation. (The plays UT ran out of the one-back set were much better this week, and a lot of it had to do with the threat of the reverse to the WR in motion. I liked that addition to the playbook immensely.)
Also, the level of blocking from the fullback position this year has been best with Matt Trissel, second best with Will Matthews, and worst with Ivan Williams. Maybe Trissel was injured for the game, but he seemed to look OK on the sidelines. I will admit that Ivan Williams has improved his blocking tremendously, but it is still lacking compared to Trissel. I thought that Ivan was in there to set up OU for the play-action pass he scored on against UNC. Unfortunately, I never saw it.
I wasn't disappointed with the play calling, per se. I liked the mix of run and pass, and I liked the shots that UT took down the field (in the first half). However, when you run your first-down running play out of your poorest formation and gain only one or two yards, you have set yourself up for failure. The mental difference in a player's mind between second and five and second and nine could be measured in miles, not yards.
So the special teams and the offense have been mentioned, and I would be remiss if I didn't include the defense in the reasons for the loss. The demon that I thought had been cleansed from the defensive side of the ball -- overpursuit -- reared its ugly head again on Saturday. Quentin Griffin does an amazing job of hiding behind his blockers, setting up his blockers, and cutting back. He did a great job of letting UT's speed and athleticism be a detriment instead of a blessing. In addition, the tackling by the UT defense was less than stellar.
All in all, it was a pretty poor performance for the Longhorns in all facets of the game. You don't know how much it pains me to say that, but I must be honest. Some will want to lay the blame for this loss on individual players or coaches, but it was a tail-whipping the whole team had a part in. There really isn't a single area of the team above criticism.
Fans, in general, are a crazy lot. Sometimes we find it easier to criticize the team we love than to congratulate the team that was superior. I'm trying to get away from that, and the more I watch the game tape, the more I realize that OU beat UT a lot more than UT beat themselves. As much as it pains me to say it, Oklahoma played a tremendous game against Texas. Again. And it hurts. Again.
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. His 'Technical Analysis' column will appear each week on InsideTexas.com.