October 12, 2011
Texas returns home from a disappointing and demoralizing loss to Oklahoma, falling 55-17 in a game that really wasn't even as close as the final score indicates.
So many questions from that game, but two stand out above all. Can the Longhorns bounce back in a hurry with a potent Oklahoma State team heading to Austin this weekend? And, is this Longhorn team similar to last year's squad that struggled to a 5-7 record, or is Texas' solid 4-1 record a more accurate reflection? We'll know the answers to both questions at halftime of this week's game.
Why halftime? Because to me, it's all about how the team starts. If the Horns come out and are competitive through the first 30 minutes, last week's blowout can be considered a bit of an anomaly. OU is clearly the superior team, but are the Sooners really five touchdowns better than Texas, or did the Horns simply hand over too many gifts? On the surface, one would assume the latter with OU scoring three defensive TDs (although to be fair, Texas scored one of its two TDs on special teams), but I'm still not completely sure what to make of the 2011 Longhorns. With so much youth on the roster, and with last year's 5-7 mark still fresh in my mind, I'm not yet willing to stick my neck out and say this team is ready to compete with the upper-echelon of the Big 12. Maybe it is. Maybe it is not. The first 30 minutes of the Oklahoma State game will provide answers.
A few thoughts that have been running through my mind this week ...
--- I'm not sure I like hearing so many players (or coaches) saying that Saturday's loss largely boiled down to correctable mistakes. Emmanuel Acho went as far as saying in watching the film it felt like a one-score loss rather than a 38-point drubbing.
I don't necessarily disagree that some mistakes are pretty easily correctable (particularly the turnovers), but those are the EXACT same words we heard last year as the losses continued to pile up. Each week the team seemed to always mention that it was a missed block here, a bad read by the QB there, a dropped pass, a blown defensive assignment away from turning the corner. Longhorn fans need to hope the UT coaches and players aren't using the same "correctable mistakes" line next week.
--- Oklahoma blew up just about every trick play Texas attempted last week before the play had a chance to develop. Part of that was OU being able to pin its ears back and owning the line of scrimmage, but Bryan Harsin may have to dig a little deeper into his bag of tricks as teams continue to find a blueprint for defending the Texas offense and the young QBs. It'll be interesting to see what Harsin/Major Applewhite have ready for Oklahoma State.
--- Loved hearing Harsin describe Fozzy Whittaker as one of the best leaders he's ever coached. Whittaker's a young man who does things right on the field and off and it's good to see him get some recognition both on the field and off.
--- Texas still lacks proven playmakers on offense. Whittaker has been terrific in his limited role. D.J. Monroe's lack of touches are still a bit of a head scratcher, although it's hard to dispute Harsin's logic that Saturday's score took Texas out of its offensive plan, which had called for more Monroe. Jaxon Shipley is the only consistent pass catcher. Malcolm Brown is giving it everything he's got but the running lanes have dried up the past two weeks. This offense has much more potential than the 2010 group that was stuck in neutral in just about every game, but it still needs several guys to step up if it hopes to compete in the Big 12.
--- It's beating a dead horse, but Texas has to start getting more pressure on the quarterback. We've heard from week to week (including Rice in the opener) that QBs are doing a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly, but at some point that begins to sound like an excuse. Texas currently ranks 91st nationally in sacks per game. Texas A&M is No. 1. OU No. 3.
Alabama is No. 94 ... hey, maybe those sacks aren't so important after all.
--- I can see both sides of the argument for playing one QB versus rotating in Case McCoy and David Ash. My opinion is that Ash gives the team a better chance in the long-term, but it's not as if McCoy has played his way out of the rotation. Part of my job is to have an opinion ... my opinion is that Bryan Harsin knows way more about this than me and I trust him to make the right call.
SOME EARLY THOUGHTS ON OKLAHOMA STATE
Mack Brown's teams have always been able to bounce back after losses to Oklahoma, even blowouts. But I'm not sure Brown has ever faced a team that will challenge that mark the way Oklahoma State will.
The Cowboys feature an offense that's on par with Oklahoma, if not better. Texas, on the other hand, struggled offensively last week in its first real test of the year.
I do expect the Longhorn offense to bounce back this week and play better than it did against the Sooners, but I'm having a hard time imagining any way that Texas is able to keep up with Brandon Weeden and company. Weeden ranks second nationally in passing yards per game (376) and 12th in passing efficiency. Justin Blackmon comes in averaging 107 receiving yards and more than 9 catches per game. Running back Joseph Randle averages just under 100 yards per game on the ground.
The OSU defense is a paltry 103rd in total defense and pass defense, but those numbers are a bit misleading. Aside from A&M's success in the first half, most of the offensive damage against the Cowboys has come in the second half, when games have been out of hand. In five games, Oklahoma State has given up 33 points in the first half compared to 95 in the second half.
The guess here is that Texas is going to need some help in the way of turnovers or OSU mistakes if there's any chance to pull an upset.
WHO CAN FORGET THIS?
POP QUIZ: WHAT'S WRONG (OR RIGHT) WITH THIS PICTURE?