The swarming, stunting and blitzing Texas defense that limited Arizona State to 22 rushing yards and produced four sacks was the kind of attack that most expected from Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina during the regular season. Late in the year, there was buzz within the inner Burnt Orange circles that head coach Mack Brown had fettered Akina's penchant for an all-to-the-ball, aggressive scheme. In fact, the very morning that Brown announced he wanted to 'simplify' the defense for the bowl game, CB Ryan Palmer told Inside Texas that the Horns pretty much ran the same stuff week after week. In other words, it just wasn't that complicated. It was a matter of execution and, in some areas, personnel. Akina blitzed the heck out of undersized MLB Rashad Bobino throughout the 2007 campaign, but the junior would jettison into a scrum of offensive linemen and, in essence, disappear. Akina dialed up more blitzes from every linebacker spot and generally played man defense behind them. Akina has long stated his bias toward man coverage rather than Brown's preference for mixing man and zone. The pass defense gave up chunks of yards (306, to be exact), but last Thursday it was a bend-not-break group that was a far-more effective than the soft zones that got torched throughout the season.
A vocal contingent of Horn fans, understandably, would rather unload Akina than unleash him. Since the national championship, Texas' pass defense has sunk to historic levels of ineptness not even seen during John Mackovic's reign. In my perfect world, DeLoss Dodds eventually ponies-up and brings former All-American Jerry Gray back to direct the defense. Akina has certainly cashed in whatever mulligan he may have had, but if he can bottle the effort he got from his troops in San Diego, continuity may best serve a unit that has had four different coordinators calling the shots during the past five seasons.
RESOLTION NO. 2: UNLEASH FINLEY
Assuming he doesn't declare for the NFL, TE Jermichael Finley is an amazing specimen who has all the tools to set the gold standard at his position in 2008. Need a visual? Just go back to the first half against Oklahoma. Finley set a UT single-game receiving record by intermission on an afternoon when the only thing stopping him was offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Finley finished with 149 yards and became the first TE in Longhorn history to grab two receptions of 50+ yards in an entire career, let alone a single game. But he had just one reception in the second half. Save for a critical, series-sustaining catch late in the game against Nebraska, Finley has generally relegated to max-protection to bolster a young offensive line that was riddled with injuries. The O-line will obviously be a year older and wiser in 2008, allowing Finley some room to roam in 2008.
RESOLUTION NO. 3: INVOLVE JOHN CHILES OR REDSHIRT HIM
There was actually a John Chiles sighting at the Holiday Bowl. The true freshman QB had not logged a snap since the Nebraska game and did not set foot on the field in half of Texas' 12 regular season games. Coaches dusted off Chiles for the Holiday Bowl, inserting him on a two-play, 57-yard drive late in the first quarter. Chiles' mere presence as a running threat helped spring RB Jamaal Charles' 48-yard sprint before Chiles capped the series with a four-yard scoring run. This time last year, Chiles was a Four- or Five-Star recruit by all recruiting series before enrolling early to participate in spring drills. This is clearly Colt McCoy's team, but it would be criminal to relegate Chiles to the sideline for two more years, waiting for Colt McCoy to complete his eligibility.
Texas should either redshirt Chiles in 2008 or scheme to get him at least 10 touches per game.
RESOLUTION NO. 4: 20+ CARRIES FOR CHARLES
Assuming he returns for his senior season, RB Jamaal Charles will be a legitimate Heisman candidate if he picks up where he left off and if coaches will get him 20+ carries per outing. Charles averaged 180+ yards during his final five games and won the Big 12 rushing title. He'll play behind an improved O-line in 2008, but he also plays for an OC who, at least once or twice per season, confesses to abandoning the running game too soon. Coaches also need to remember what an explosive receiving threat Charles is.
RESOLUTION NO. 5. MAINTAIN 'NOS' DRILLS & EMPHASIS ON ACCOUNTABILITY
Somewhere between Texas' 38-30 loss at Texas A&M and the 52-34 thumping of Arizona State, Mack Brown became Rick Barnes. In other words, Brown assumed the in-your-face, tough-love, butt-kicking instead of butt-patting persona of Texas' fiery hoops coach. Players insisted that Brown was not paying lip service to 'opening' all starting jobs prior to the Holiday Bowl. They also told how the 6:00 a.m. sessions, emphasizing fundamentals and toughness drills indicative of spring football rather than bowl week, had instilled the kind of urgency and camaraderie missing from the team at inexplicable intervals throughout the season. Players told how the reinstatement 'Not Our Standard' drills, where the entire team is 'punished' for each detected sub-par effort from individual players, was the very thing which enforced accountability. The result was the Texas team you saw in San Diego. While the Horns did not play a perfect game, it was Texas most complete and determined effort of 2007. The team that showed up last Thursday does not lose to A&M or K-State.
Brown releases a revised depth chart every Monday during the season. But he should withhold the weekly depth chart until Thursday night, along with the official injury report. Brown did not release a depth chart until just before kickoff in San Diego because he wanted players competing for jobs until the last minute. The same attitude and work ethic should be instilled every week during the regular season as well. Keep every job open until the final practice.
At the same time, there was no reason to discontinue to 'NOS' drills that former DC Greg Robinson brought to the program in 2004. Brown finally quit worrying about fragile egos and fretting about injuries; he held the players accountable. And they responded. It shouldn't be a one-time, shot-in-the-arm prior to a second-tier bowl game.