November 15, 2009

The grades are in - Baylor report card

If the nation is looking for the Texas Longhorns to stub their toe on the road this weekend or any other, it looks like they'll be sorely disappointed and they'll simply have to find their end-season drama somewhere else in 2009. In jumping out to a 40-0 halftime lead over "MacGyver" Briles' Baylor Bears, the Longhorns sent a message that they aren't taking anyone lightly in their pursuit of a national championship. UT's dismantlement of the Bears was methodically swift and beautiful at the same time as all three phases teamed up together to choke the life out of the up-start home team. Here's a position-by-position review of the 47-14 romp in Waco.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - No, the final numbers weren't worthy of front-page Heisman headlines, but in completing 23 of 34 passes for 189 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Colt McCoy served as a perfect bus driver for a Texas offense that was able to mix the run and pass as well as they have at any point this season. McCoy did a very good job of distributing the ball around to all of his receivers on Saturday, as four different receivers caught four or more passes. When the Longhorns could have padded McCoy's stats in the second half, they chose not to. Still, it was a very efficient, mostly mistake-free performance.

Grade: A

Running backs - For one of the few times this season, the Longhorns were able to pretty much run the ball at will in the first half of a game and the running backs deserve a huge piece of the credit. Sophomore Cody Johnson was a beast in his first start this season, rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Johnson enjoyed most his success in the first half when the offense was in sync, but if we can sort through all of his runs, the thing that stands out the most if the lack of negative carries. His ability to move the chains and keep the down/distance in the offense's favor was a big key to the team's success in the first half.

Redshirt freshman Tre' Newton proved to be one heck of a change-of-pace back for the Longhorns, as he erupted for a 45-yard touchdown run in the first half and finished with 80 yards on the afternoon, while also sending an emphatic message that he shouldn't be forgotten for the rest of the season. When it was all said and done, the Texas running backs produced 211 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, while also chipping in four receptions for 25 yards. Mack Brown and his staff will take 236 yards of total offense and three touchdowns each week.

Grade: A

Wide receivers - It was a fairly quiet game for the Texas receivers, as the Longhorns had a really tough time getting the passing game going down the field with the Baylor defense giving up the run and the underneath routes, but nothing deep Therefore, Jordan Shipley, Dan Buckner and James Kirkendoll teamed up to give McCoy a trio of underneath receiving options and the Longhorns were able to move the ball with a controlled passing game. Shipley finished with six receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns, but was mostly an afterthought in the second half with a 40-point lead in hand.

The player outside of Shipley that really made an impression on Saturday was Buckner, who made a couple of huge third-down conversions with catches away from his body that would have made former NFL All-Pro Cris Carter proud. He finished with five catches for 48 yards in a welcome-back-to-the-offense outing. Overall, the Texas receivers had a nice, controlled performance, but a case of the drops in the second half and the lack of big plays in the passing game cause for a slightly underwhelming performance.

Grade: B-

Tight ends

Starting tight end Greg Smith had a solid performance in the running game and the staff seems more and more comfortable each week with leaving him in one-on-one situations with defensive ends. The only time he saw a pass came his way, Smith dropped a third down pass that should have gone for a first-down conversion.

Grade: C

Offensive line - For the first time this season, the Texas offensive line resembled the group of capable two-way threats that most envisioned at the beginning of the season with so many returning starters. The Longhorns running game thrived behind the power play of the right side of the line, led by Kyle Hix and Michael Huey, both of whom played as well as they have at any point this season. Although we're singling out the play of those two, the truth if that all of the starters had really strong days. Even back-up Tray Allen got into the game at left guard in the first half and had a huge contribution on Newton's touchdown run. The group was great in both phases and a big talking point for the offense after the game. They get a gold star report card.

Grade: A+

Offensive game plan - Oh man, this has to be exactly the kind of game that Greg Davis was hoping to have heading into this weekend. Davis clearly saw something in the Baylor defense that caused him to believe they could bludgeon the Bears behind the right side of the Texas offensive line and that's exactly what they did in the first half in Johnson's debut as the starting back. Of course, a lot of that had to do with the fact that Baylor appeared terrified of the Texas receivers and played as soft in the box and on the perimeter as any team Texas has played this season. Overall, the Longhorns ability to mix up the run and pass with play-action allowed for the Longhorns to execute exactly like they wanted in their preferred personnel. The only real negative for the offense was the inability to execute in the second half, but that has as much to do with the players not converting opportunities as anything else.

Grade: B+

Defensive line - For the second straight game, senior defensive tackle Lamarr Houston used a game as a showcase for his future NFL aspirations, as he manhandled the Baylor offensive line often embarrassing fashion, as he finished with five tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. Don't tell me that this guy doesn't deserve first-team All-Big 12 status. Also, I don't know what made Baylor think they could attack Houston at the point of attack, but they didn't have anyone that could block him and I'm not sure if they had two..

When he wasn't destroying the Baylor line, the likes of Sergio Kindle, Sam Acho, Kheeston Randall and Ben Alexander teamed up to shut down everything Baylor attempted. The cherry on top of the sundae was a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown by Eddie Jones.

This group is playing at the highest level of any defensive line I've covered at Texas.

Grade: A+

Linebackers - The Longhorns were without senior leader Roddrick Muckelroy, but it didn't matter because of the strong play from Dustin Earnest, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Earnest and Robinson were fantastic at the point of attack in the running game, as they stuffed the Baylor inside running game time and time again, with Earnest's stop of Nick Florence on a fourth down running attempt serving as one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. Robinson might have been as good as he's ever played when it comes to physical football. When you add in Acho's weekly array of big plays (an interception this week), you've got a group that continues to play lights out football. The only thing that keeps this group from getting a higher grade was some sloppy tackling and execution in the final five minutes of the game.

Grade: A-

Secondary - There seems to be a different star each week with this group and on Saturday it was Aaron Williams' turn to look the part of future Thorpe Award greatness. The sophomore from Round Rock McNeil changed the game for the defense when he turned into a one-man-gang in the red zone, first breaking up a pass on the goal line and then making another freaky athletic interception to snuff out the scoring opportunity. For whatever reason, the Bears decided to test Williams all day and he made them pay dearly for it.

Junior Chykie Brown also responded with perhaps his best game of the season, as he led the team with eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Outside of the short screen game to the wide receivers, there wasn't a lot of success to be had against the Texas secondary through the first 45 minutes of the game.

Grade: B+

Defensive game plan - Will Muschamp was clearly aware of the speed and post-catch abilities of the Baylor skill players (especially at receiver) because he called a pretty safe and scaled back game against true freshman in Florence. For most of the first quarter, he chose to let the defense play in their base without a lot of tricks in the pressure schemes, but he eventually found a little magic with the corner blitz (on the second time) that seemed to rattle the cage of Florence from that moment on. That was how he attacked the Bears for most of the game, as he mostly allowed his defense to whip their opponents on first and second down, and then he occasionally pulled the string on a zone-blitz when down and distance favored the defense and it helped create pressure/big-play opportunities. It was a pretty text-book game for Muschamp in terms of concepts and execution.

Grade: A-

Special teams - Mack Brown was not thrilled with the play of the special teams last week against Central Florida, but he probably felt much better about a group that blocked a kick, had a big return, mostly covered well and converted a last-second field goal attempt.

Freshman Kenny Vaccaro might have been the unit's best performer with a number of solid plays in coverage and a blocked punt that helped set up a touchdown. Shipley was bottled up a couple of times in the punt return game, but his 25-yard return in the first half helped set up another touchdown.

Hunter Lawrence was good on all of his chances, including a 41-yard field goal. Overall, the Longhorns had to feel very good about their resurgence this week in the kicking game.

Grade: B+

Overall - For the first 30 minutes of this game, the Longhorns looked the part of a determined national championship contender. In the final 30 minutes of this game, the Longhorns looked like a bored national championship contender nursing a 40-point lead. On some level, that might be a good recipe this week for the Longhorns because the staff will coach them harder this week because of some of the sloppiness in the second half. The bottom line is that the team dominated when it mattered and ran their record to 10-0.

Grade: B+

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