Longhorns midterm review
Bye week jitters: Horns halfway to paradise or purgatory
Six games—and three starting quarterbacks—into the 2011 football season and Texas Longhorn fans still don’t know whether they’ve got another 5-7 team or one that goes 9-3 before the bowl game. But you have to worry when a 12-point loss at home last week against Oklahoma State is treated by coaches and fans as a "moral victory."
That's such a new term for Texas football that there’s not a homespun Coach Royal-ism about it. "A moral victory?" he could've drawled. "Why that's just a loss in a three-piece suit." When did “hey, we kinda held our own against a really good team” turn into a rallying cry at Jamail-ville? Around the same time Baylor became a must win game on the schedule.
Oklahoma showed that the "Brick By Brick" Horns forgot the mortar. There’s a Major co-running the offense when UT needs a mason.
During this bye week, in which the defense will register one fewer sack than on an average Saturday, we already know we’re not going to go from worst to first. In the most recent AP poll, Texas (4-2) has fallen from the Top 25 and is ranked a couple notches lower than Southern Methodist in the also-rans. SMU? When did they start playing football again? And when will Texas?
This year started with promise after a nightmare 2010 which began with an appearance in the national championship game and ended in the cellar with Head Coach Mack Brown looking for new offensive and defensive coordinators and wondering what was eating Garrett Gilbert. Hands spent more time wringing, head-scratching and finger-pointing last year than making the hook 'em horns sign.
This season, questions have been answered by more questions. One thing we do know: The Longhorns' weakest link is at quarterback, the most important position in all of team sports. You can’t win the Tour de France on a bike with training wheels and unless you’re the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, you can’t win a championship with a QB who gets the starting nod by being the “least ineffective” option.
Like a hothead in a customer service job, Gilbert just wasn’t working out, so after wink-wink surgery he decided to transfer. Things started looking up, with Case McCoy and David Ash leading the Horns to a come-from-behind win against BYU and routs of last year’s dream killers UCLA and Iowa State. McCoy to Shipley = happy days again.
But then Oklahoma showed that the "Brick By Brick" Horns forgot the mortar. There’s a Major co-running the offense when UT needs a mason. Oklahoma owned Texas 55-17, but then two weeks later, last night, lost at home to a 4-2 Texas Tech team. How bad does that make UT look now?
Against the Sooners, a bewildered Case McCoy performed like Colt’s nephew, not his brother, so true freshman David Ash, who also played like the scrapings off a zookeeper’s heel, was named the starter by default against Oklahoma State the next week.
Ash took every snap, after which the most positive thing he could do was hand the ball to Malcolm Brown, Fozzy Whittaker or the mysteriously underused D.J. Monroe. The high point of the team thus far is a running attack that calls for reconsidering the Wishbone. Or maybe a variation they could call the Fozzbone or the WishBrown. No, no, I've got it: Wishbone Ash! In the past two games, opponents have scored on three long runs due to defensive assignments as busted as Chip Brown's tail light. Let's start doing to them what they've been doing to us.
It’s time for Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite to get even more creative with the run. Forget those quick passes in the flat which seem to average about 2.4 yards per completion and start focusing on blowing holes up front. Don't have the hosses? Then get off your high horses and recruit junior college studs who've already proven themselves. June Jones of SMU has made a career plucking JUCO beasts, which is why the Mustangs have rebounded faster than Michael Vick's image.
Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis are having good seasons at wide receiver, but so are the guys covering them. So many balls are coming back the other way, Coach Brown’s gotta consider tackling ability when determining starters on offense.
As for the other side of the ball, coordinator Manny Diaz has inadvertently created the lasagne layer defense, with hearty play by the D-line and the DBs using their noodles. Unfortunately, the highly-touted linebackers are the ricotta cheese in the middle, so soft and creamy. Although Emmanuel Acho has played well, against OU he couldn’t cover “Louie Louie,” so why not blitz him every down? Send Kenny Vaccaro, too, for the same reason. Meanwhile, Keenan Robinson and Jordan Hicks have guessed wrong more times than Miss South Carolina playing “Jeopardy" at home. I'll take gap issues for 20, Alex.
When the other team has a better QB than the Horns do, which was emphatically the case with Oklahoma's Landry Jones and OSU's Brandon Weeden, there’s a good chance of that game going into the L column for Texas. The hope is that Ash will eventually stop staring at his intended target like an inmate at a Shakira video.
Although Kansas QB Jordan Webb, who comes to town Saturday, has been putting up big numbers, he's been a turnover machine. On defense KU is PU, with opponents putting up so many points that a quick glance at the score makes you think basketball season's already started. Tell your cable provider, Kansas looks like a sure win for the Horns.
But after Texas Tech shocked everybody by beating Oklahoma 41-38, the rest of the way could be dicey. Texas plays Tech Nov. 5, and there's no way they're beating the team that showed up in Norman. QB Seth Doege made Mike Leach obsolete and even rubbed it in by hitting Adam "Shackman" James for a 34-yard touchdown. Even those of us who hate Tech with dark intensity had to be impressed with this team's strut when it seemed the Sooners were destined to overtake them in the fourth quarter. Let's hope they used up most of their mojo.
The rest for Texas: At Missouri Nov. 12; at home against dreaded Kansas State Nov. 19; at Texas A&M Nov. 24; at Baylor Dec. 3. If the Horns can make some big plays and hold onto interceptions, they might win two of those. That’s a 7-5 season and a bowl game sponsored by a muffler company.
But it’s just as likely that Texas will have to beat RG3 and Baylor to get that once automatic bowl game. The fields of uncertainty were planted last year and all we really know so far about the 2011 Texas Longhorns is that we just don’t know.