October 18, 2009

The grades are in - OU Report Card

In the aftermath of No.3 Texas' 16-13 win over the No.20 Oklahoma Sooners, there certainly was a lot of carnage to sort through. While the offense was completely disassembled for the better part of four quarters, the defense was at its A-level best in not allowing the Sooners cross midfield in the final 20+ minutes of an air-tight game. Still, that doesn't mean that everyone on offense deserves to sit in their room without dinner on Sunday night or that everything about the defense was perfect. The truth of the matter is that a review of the game finds more positives than expected, but the overall results were a mixed bag. Here's the full position-by-position review of the game.

Grading scale

A - All-American level
B - All-Conference level
C - Average
D - Below average
F - Complete failure

Quarterback - Yes, there are a lot of layers to the offensive struggles on Saturday and senior Colt McCoy might have had to deal with offensive line breakdowns against a dominant OU front seven and scheme, and his own coordinator's game-plan was certainly lacking, but you if you're a senior All-American you cannot come out of this game with a tackle on your own interception in the fourth quarter as the most significant contribution in the game.

If McCoy protects the football better in this game, the Longhorns win going away. Instead, he not only turned the ball over three times, but he committed the sin of twice giving up the ball inside his opponent's red-zone. It's hard to overcome those mistakes and win on most Saturday's and on this one the Longhorns barely had enough.

Overall, McCoy was 21 of 39 for 127 yards and a touchdown, with his woeful 3.2 yards per attempt explaining as much about the offense's day as anything else. The wildcard in evaluating McCoy on Saturday was his contributions in the ground game. Although he was officially credited with 33 yards on 14 carries, those numbers are bit deceiving because McCoy did gain 65 yards before sacks start whittling away at his final numbers. His ability to move the chains with his feet was invaluable today.

With all of the ugly that represented his day, let's leave the commentary on a good note by giving McCoy a good pat on the back for successfully leading the offense in its quest to run out the clock in the final minutes of the game when the Sooners were desperately trying to get the ball back one last time. On a day with so much ugly, that's as good as the good gets.

Grade: C-

Running backs - Who would have thought before the game that the running of Foswhitt Whittaker and Cody Johnson would represent the high point for the Texas offense on this day. Whittaker was a breath of fresh air at times in the first half when everything else smelled to high heaven.

Whittaker's quickness allowed for some positive yardage on the perimeter and his 71 yards on 18 carries might not look like much on the surface, but it represented a key component of what little offensive success this team did have. That being said, he had a couple of big breakdowns in pass protection and his lack of field awareness might have cost the Longhorns three points at the end of the first half.

Johnson was a non-factor in the first half, but he came into the game in the second half and gave the Longhorns a sledgehammer in the running game that the Sooners weren't able to corral. His 6.2 yards per carry on five attempts helped the Longhorns control clock and field position.

Overall, the Texas running backs rushed for 109 yards rushing on 25 carries, while also adding five receptions for 27 yards. Perhaps most important is the fact that none of the Texas backs put the ball on the ground, which became a critical point in the fourth quarter when the Longhorns were protecting a lead.

Grade: B-

Wide receivers - This group's production was a disaster. Senior Jordan Shipley (four receptions for 22 yards) had one of the worst days of his career, as the Sooners harassed him with a variety of coverages throughout the game. Sophomore Dan Buckner was projected by many to turn in a big day against a usually soft underbelly of the Sooners defense, but he didn't turn in a single catch (although he did generate a pass interference penalty) on the day.

Junior James Kirkendoll might have contributed even less than Buckner, as he caught three passes for 11 yards (none moved the chains) and his 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty can't occur. The top team's top three receivers combined for five receptions and 33 yards.

The only player to step up was true freshman Marquise Goodwin, who caught four passes for a team-best 36 yards and scored the team's only touchdown in the third quarter. On a day when Shipley was an invisible player in the offense, Goodwin made a few big catches when nobody else would. He gets an A-grade for his performance, but it's not enough to save a group that underperformed as much as any position on this day with 14 receptions for 81 yards and a single score.

Grade: D+

Tight ends

Normally, I haven't created a separate grouping for the tight end position because the use of the position hasn't warranted a separate discussion, but Greg Davis decided that Saturday was the day Greg Smith was going to have a heavy role in the offense. Smith was at least partly responsible for the offense's first turnover of the day when he turned Austin English loose for a free run at McCoy, which led to a drive-killing turnover. Outside of the throwback to Smith that netted a first down, he was mostly ineffective as a receiver and every time Colt McCoy looked his way, it almost resulted in a pick six. Smith wasn't responsible for everything that was happening with the protection/blocking issues, but he wasn't didn't have a net positive impact in this game, which means that he has to share a combination of grades with the receivers/offensive linemen.

Grade: D

Offensive line - Let's start with the good news. This group's performance wasn't nearly as universally poor as you probably think that it was. The left side of the line with Adam Ulatoski and Charlie Tanner actually performed surprisingly well in this game - both in the run and in pass protection. When the Longhorns had an issue in protection, it was almost never because of what was happening on the left side with these two. In fact, Tanner might have had the best game of anyone on the line and he deserves a game ball in my opinion, as well as the Boss Hogg Award. Don't snicker because it's deserved.

The real problem for the Longhorns is that the Sooners correctly identified the right side of the Texas line as the weak spot in the line's foundation and they ran blitz after blitz and stunt after stunt at the three man trio of Chris Hall, David Snow/Michael Huey and Kyle Hix. Of that group, the right guard position probably grades out lower than any position on the team because they never came close to slowing Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy down. I could pound away at the play of this side of the line for a while, but I'll just stop and note one final time that this group must play much, much, much better moving forward.

As bad as things were up-front at times, you have to give the group credit for winning the battle at the line of scrimmage in the second half. Even that much-maligned right side of the line opened some good things up in the running game, especially in the second half.

Grade: C-

Offensive game plan - Ugh. Let's just get the obvious out of the way. Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis had one of the worst days of his career, which is quite a mouthful when you consider some of the low-points in his decade in Austin. His group was completely overmatched against a Sooners unit that looked infinitely better prepared, as they took advantage of every weakness and blind spot they could find in the scheme and personnel.

It wasn't that Davis didn't make a few nice adjustments during the game or didn't have a couple of nice wrinkles in the game plan (see the misdirection with D.J. Monroe in motion in the running game), but nothing about Davis' offense was great on this day and only the running game left a positive impression.

The inability to get Shipley, Buckner and Kirkendoll more involved in the offense left the Longhorns without any real firepower, and Davis is going to have to open up the offense more with the passing game moving forward because teams are getting more and more aggressive each week with their disregard for the Longhorns' inability to test them over the top. From the decision to continue to unsuccessfully run the hurry up running game on third downs (again!) to taking Buckner off the field in exchange for Smith to not having any kind of way to get Shipley the ball, it just was pretty much a terrible day for Davis.

Grade: F

Defensive line - The Oklahoma offensive line is going to have their own nightmares for the rest of their lives after being overwhelmed by the Texas front four. Senior Lamarr Houston (four tackles and a tackle for loss) and Sergio Kindle (six tackles, four tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and half of a sack) could not be blocked at all from the first whistle of the game. Houston was incredible in helping shut down OU's inside running game and he provided constant pressure on Landry Jones. Meanwhile, the Sooners tried as much as possible to roll Jones away from Kindle, but his hands were all over the game as he lived in the Sooners backfield. I'm not sure what else the coaching staff could have asked of those two because they both gave All-America performances.

They weren't alone in providing outstanding play. Defensive tackles Ben Alexander and Kheeston Randall also controlled the line of scrimmage and helped suffocate the Sooners running attack. Once you mix in strong play from Sam Acho (four tackles), Eddie Jones (sack) and Alex Okafor and you've got a front four that forced the Sooners into offensive ineptitude that OU probably thought wasn't possible.

Overall, the defensive line was credited with 20 tackles, seven tackles for loss, a sack and countless quarterback pressures, while limiting OU to -16 yards rushing.

Grade: A+

Linebackers - The foursome of Roddrick Muckelroy, Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson and Dustin Earnest also played a huge part in Texas' ability to shit down any resemblance of an OU running attack, while also giving the team some great support in coverage as well.

Muckelroy didn't have an impact performance on the stat sheet, but he was important in the Longhorns being able to shut off the middle of the field to the Sooners. Robinson might have had the biggest impact on the game with his solid coverage against the tight ends, fullback and even DeMarco Murray. Even a pass interference call on Robinson doesn't ruin the job he did. Acho continues to make plays every week and twice he was Johnny on the Spot in recovering two OU fumbles.

Grade: B+

Secondary - For one of the few times all season, the Longhorns' secondary was seriously tested, as the Sooners came out attacking Texas cornerbacks Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown with a variety of short, intermediate and deep passes. Although they gave up more plays than they had at any other point this season, the entire secondary, including Brown and Brown, ended up forcing the Sooners' passing game to tap out in the second half.

The stars of the day were sophomores Aaron Williams and Earl Thomas, who combined for 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and two interceptions. Thomas was all over the field against the Sooners and made plays in almost every conceivable fashion. His game-clinching interception will get all of the attention, but he makes so many plays during the course of every game that it would take an hour to sort through his entire day's work.

Meanwhile, Williams took out Oklahoma starting quarterback Sam Bradford with a sack in the first quarter and made perhaps the most spectacular interception that I've seen in covering this particular game. His only ugly moment occurred when he whiffed on Ryan Broyles' touchdown catch and run that tied the game in the third quarter. Of course, he also deserves a ton of credit for saving a touchdown on Murray's long catch and run on a screen pass in the opening moments of the game. If those two plays are a wash, the rest of his day was pure platinum.

Sophomore safety Blake Gideon threw his body around all afternoon and didn't have coverage breakdowns, although he had a couple of missed tackles that led to big after-the-catch opportunities for the Sooners.

As for the Brown and Brown tandem at corner, it's important to acknowledge that they held up well against an offense that clearly felt like they were the guys to attack. Chykie Brown was attacked the most and while he gave up some intermediate stuff on occasion, he got better as the game went on and never gave up anything truly costly. Curtis Brown was even better, as he helped break-up two deep shots in the first half and mostly pitched a shutout throughout the game.

In the end, the secondary provided enough game-changing plays and impact performances that I'm willing to overlook a few of the costly missed tackles.

Grade: B+

Defensive game plan - Will Muschamp has waited an entire year to get another shot at Oklahoma and he didn't disappoint at all. Muschamp did a variety of things schematically, ranging from bringing his corners off the edge to dropping Kindle in pass coverage in the second half, but the bottom line is that he was able to put together a defensive performance that completely kept his counterparts completely off-balance.

One of the biggest adjustments that Muschamp made during the game was eliminating the two-on-one screen game opportunities that Oklahoma was getting with Thomas playing so far off the receiver against their two receiver looks to the wide side of the field. As Muschamp started to squeeze the life out of OU's screen game, his front four allowed him to run a variety of pressure packages that kept Landry Jones from every truly getting into a rhythm. The fact that the defense held Oklahoma from crossing midfield in the final 20 minutes of the game is reason enough to warrant an A-grade, but to have his unit play so well with the stress levels at peak levels is most impressive.

Grade: A+

Special teams - Although the Longhorns never got anything going in the return game with Shipley or Monroe, they were able to win the other phases of the kicking game thanks to two forced fumbles, outstanding punting from Justin Tucker and a perfect afternoon of place-kicking from Hunter Lawrence.

Deon Beasley's forced fumble on Dominique Franks might have been the biggest play of his career, as it helped set up Texas' first points of the day, while Curtis Brown's forced fumble helped ensure that the Sooners didn't do any more offensive damage I the first half following the field goal.

Tucker averaged 45.4 yards on eight punts and three were downed inside the 20-yard line. Meanwhile, where would the Longhorns have been on this day without the steady hand of Lawrence?

Overall, the Longhorns clearly won this phase of the game and don't likely win this game without this unit's strong contribution.

Grade: B+

Overall - The Longhorns and Sooners showed up at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday and an SEC slugfest broke out. The Longhorns might not have played a clean game, but they fought their guts out and that was enough to keep them undefeated against an Oklahoma team that probably had one last chance to feel good about this season. The Longhorns were dominated early, but they controlled the game for the final 40 minutes or so and eventually proved to be the better and more complete team. If the Longhorns play a slightly cleaner game, they win this thing going away, but the bottom line is that they beat a bitter rival in a way that they probably couldn't have in 2008. The fact that this team can overcome offensive ineptitude should be the biggest reason for smile on this day, along with an undefeated record. The dominant of the defense and special teams will serve this team well if it happens again.

Grade: B

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