September 28, 2010

Mack Brown, Greg Davis say offense starting over

Some quick nuggets before we get to the BREAKDOWN … Sophomore Alex Okafor has earned the start at DT against Oklahoma because he played blocks well against UCLA and kept linemen from getting to UT's linebackers. … Trey Hopkins graded really well at OT after playing 10 snaps on the left and right side against UCLA. Greg Davis told me, "Trey will play more and more." (I think Hopkins should start at RT now.) … Emmanuel Acho has moved from middle linebacker to strongside linebacker, replacing Dravannti Johnson, and Dustin Earnest or Jared Norton will play middle linebacker against OU. The moves were made to match personnel with the Sooners. Johnson is more a pass rusher, and Texas wants to be prepared for OU's running game. … Mack Brown said WR Mike Davis is questionable with a left knee injury, although James Kirkendoll thought Davis would be fine. … The availability of S Christian Scott (turf toe) is uncertain this week. … WR DeSean Hales didn't play more against UCLA because he had "a banged up shoulder," according to Mack Brown. … The defense had 15 missed tackles against UCLA after not having 15 missed tackles through the first three games combined. … Will Muschamp said his defense needs to be smarter when facing an option attack like UCLA's pistol. "The option is responsibility football," Muschamp said. "Against spread teams, you can catch up and make a play. But not against the option. Be a smart football player. Put your ego in your pocket and play. Gotta be smart. Do your job. Be within the scheme." … Muschamp took the blame for not getting that lesson across before the game.

1. Mack Brown and Greg Davis said the search for answers on offense involves finding playmakers right now, not an overall identity.

"I'm only concerned about not scoring more points," Mack Brown said. "We've averaged 39 points per game around here for 13 years, and we're not there. I'm concerned with turnovers and points.

"We're turning it over more and not scoring as many touchdowns as we're used to. The rest of the stuff is all talk. How you get it in the end zone is all that matters. We talk about running it and identity. The fact is we're not scoring it enough and need to score more, and we're turning it over too much and need to stop it. The rest is coach speak.

"When you get in the big names and broad names: we're going to run the spread and do this or that, none of it matters unless you're scoring points.

"We said this in preseason and it's true. Scoring offense, scoring defense, turnover margin and rush defense are the things we look at. We just need to quit stopping ourselves on offense."

The Longhorns' coaching staff is not married to any one philosophy on offense at the moment. Greg Davis said he'll tailor an offense around the playmakers he think can move the ball. He said that kind of flexibility has been a strength of Texas. Of course, the alarming thing is the coaches couldn't identify who the playmakers are during 15 spring practices or 20 fall camp practices.

"I think right now we're looking for playmakers, quite honestly," Davis said. "We were very fortunate over the last seven, eight years. You had Colt and two pro receivers in Quan and Jordan and Limas when Vince was here. And everything was featured around the zone read when Vince was here.

"The guys we have who are explosive right now are D.J. and Marquise Goodwin and Mike Davis. So trying to get all that balanced, I think it's fair to say right now we are still looking right now for the identity we need to have.

"Because in that, you want to make sure you're asking your kids to do things they can do. That's something honestly we've done well around here - finding the best players and tweaking things to feature them. Obviously, Ricky was easy to give it to 30 times and everything was going to be OK. But Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young and Vince and all that. We've tried to constantly be evolving into what we do best."

When asked if he was concerned about being able to find the right answer for the offense by Saturday, Davis said:

"I'm concerned we haven't scored as many points as we usually do. I think there's a lot of reasons for that. The biggest one is execution. The biggest one is fighting from behind the chains. We keep making mistakes we shouldn't be making. When that's happening you're putting yourself in tough situations, and it's hard to overcome those."

Mack acknowledged fans are probably panicked over the loss to UCLA with Oklahoma up next.

"Fans have panicked before on me," he said. "This isn't my first fan panic. The only way to get them settled back down is to win. I understand that - 13 years is a long time at Texas.

"You gotta play good. Usually when you don't play well, it's because you're overconfident. So maybe this will bring them back down to earth."

2. Mack Brown said the coaches wouldn't know what the offensive game plan would be for Oklahoma until later this week.

"When people say, 'What are you going to do to fix it?' we still really don't know. You've got all day Monday. We'll watch all the Oklahoma film and start putting pieces together in practice. By Wednesday you've got a pretty good idea of what we're going to try to do.

"D.J. (Monroe) is not a power runner, but he's real fast. We got a little spark giving it to him, so we'll go back and see what that means because we didn't know that going into the game.

"We thought we would get it to him a minimum of five times and try to get it to him 10. I think he got it seven. The way the game changed and him being over there only one time."

Mack couldn't really articulate where the offense is right now.

"We haven't changed the offense much. We can't. We tried to," he said. "Right now we need to do whatever it takes to win. Saturday, we threw the ball about the same as if Colt was still here. At Tech, we did about the same."

3. The search for leadership on offense continues outside of Garrett Gilbert on offense.

"Garrett's getting better, but I don't know you'd say there's a guy who steps to talk on offense and everyone listens right now," Mack Brown said.

4. Mack Brown said outsiders unfairly built up Garrett Gilbert too much after last year's BCS national title game.

"We think Garrett has done some really good things," Mack said. "He's got to stop turning the ball over. Thought he was more confident and did some great things in the second half. He's getting better and better. But we can't turn the ball over, it's just killing us.

"Garrett is about where Colt was, I think. Very similar. I think both were ahead of Vince at the same stage. Everybody put a standard that was too high on him (Gilbert) after the second half of the national championship game that was unfair to him. I think he'll be real good."

Greg Davis said Gilbert, who has 4 TD passes and 4 interceptions, is not the problem with the offense.

"I think Garrett is going to be really good," Davis said. "When you evaluate through four ballgames, he's completing 63 percent of his passes. Then, when you think we don't throw nearly as many short balls as have in recent years.

"Colt's percentage was around 70 percent because of that. I'm really pleased with that and the way he's growing and maturing and seeing things. I think he's going to be outstanding."

Greg Davis was asked if he'd be comfortable letting Garrett Gilbert throw it 40 times a game the way coaches game planned with Colt McCoy.

"The answer is multifaceted," Davis said. "As we said earlier, through four games, his numbers are pretty good. Especially when you consider he's not getting as many dink and dunk type throws. But to throw it that often, the receivers are usually a factor and protection. All those things factor into what I said earlier and making sure you're asking guys to do what they can do.

"Sometimes it's not good enough for a coach to say, 'I know this is good, and we're going to do it.' And he may be right philosophically. But it may not be good right then for that situation."

5. It was Mack who wanted a power running game and made it a priority in the spring. The Longhorns spent the entire spring under center working on a downhill attack. So I asked Greg Davis about Mack's play-to-play involvement in the offense during a game. Here's what he said:

"Mack sets the tone for what he'd like to see on both sides of the ball," Mack said. "Obviously his background is in offense, so he spends more time with us than he does defensively.

"During the course of each ballgame, because he was a play caller, Mack knows when and how to talk to the play caller, meaning when we have just run a play and I've got thoughts, that's not the time to say think about this.

"Obviously, the head coach can say anything he wants to. But what he's so good about is once the play is out and the kids are getting set, he'll say, 'Now, think about this. If we make this first, think about this.'

"And it may be a gamut of things. 'They have their hands on their hips, let's stay fast tempo.' Or, 'Let's double move Johnny.' It may be if you make three or more, you're going to get four downs. There's constant talk along those lines rather than specific plays."

When Davis was asked if that much feedback play-to-play is a distraction, Davis said:

"No. It would be like if you were writing and someone says, 'Have you included this?' as opposed to the middle of the sentence, 'Don't forget to include this.' It's all about when it happens."

6. Because D.J. Monroe was only moved to running back last week (and spent no time at RB in the spring or fall camp), Monroe's lack of work with Gilbert in the running game was directly responsible for a lost fumble in the UCLA game.

Two weeks ago, Monroe was a third-team receiver. Now, he's listed as an either-or starter with Fozzy Whittaker at running back.

"With Tre' and Cody not well, we didn't want to put them in there if Fozzy and D.J. were doing well," Mack said. "You can say D.J. wasn't tight enough or Garrett didn't hold it out there long enough (on the fumbled exchange). It's a fact they haven't done it enough together under heat, so both would be responsible for it.

"The only turnover that totally goes on Garrett's shoulders would be the interception."

Davis said he thinks the coaches can increase the package of plays Monroe runs this week.

"I think D.J. Monroe's package can grow," Davis said. "I don't know what the magic number is because he hasn't been back there to see what his body will allow.

"Last week was the first time he'd been back there. He's got a background as a running back. He had been a receiver in camp. We tried to give him four or five base plays that he felt comfortable with. He'll be there all week and he'll get more and more of the execution and reps."

Coaches have always been concerned about Monroe's size (5-9, 175) being a liability in pass protection.

"Size alone is a question, but we also free release those backs," Davis said. "Fozzy's catch along the boundary was in free release against blitz. And D.J. is getting better and better at the other protections. You wouldn't want to ask him to do that a whole bunch of times because of his size."

With Foswhitt Whittaker and D.J. Monroe at running back, could the zone read be back in play for the Longhorns?

"Zone read is obviously a great football play," Davis said. "It's a play we've enjoyed over the years, and we'll just have to see if it fits."

7. Davis said both pass plays that came up short on fourth down against UCLA were designed to go past the chains.

"The first one, the receiver didn't execute the option route properly," Davis said. "The other one was fourth and four, where the route design was at 5 and we catch the ball and make 3. It's my fault on execution because we didn't push against press coverage like we should have. So my fault.

"We thought we were working past the chains, and it's routes we've used in those situations successfully. And again it kind of goes back to me making sure I'm asking guys to do what they can do."

8. UT's chart said to kick the extra point, but Greg Davis explained why Texas went for two after scoring on a touchdown pass from Garrett Gilbert to James Kirkendoll with 2:28 left in the UCLA game.

"We discussed that. We have a chart, and it said one," Davis said. "But we just felt like in that situation we needed to try to tell the offense, 'Hey, let's go try to get two more points.'"

Davis also said the east-west passing game to start the UCLA game was by design.

"We started the ballgame with the idea we wanted to go side to side because of the heat," Davis said. "So we started the game wanting to make them work side to side. When you do that with sprint-outs and nudes, you're not going to be as vertical as you are when you go back and play-action. Part or all of that was play-calling because of the way we wanted to start the ballgame.

"We wanted to get going at a fast tempo and get going side to side. Some of the short things in the sprint-out and nude game would work to our advantage and wear them down."

9. Mack Brown asked Sam Acho to speak to the team on Sunday to help rebuild morale and focus.

"He was really just emphasizing this is when we need to pull together," said junior safety Blake Gideon. "It's hard to bounce back in situations like this, but he said this is when we need to come together as a family because we're all we have.

"Sam doesn't have to be fiery. He's really not that type of guy to get up and yell at people, but when he does get up, people listen.

"After that Tech loss (in 2008), it was important for us to realize all we had and all we could trust was what we had in that building. Whether we had the support of anyone outside the building was irrelevant because it was us who had to go out and play. That's what we're taking up to Dallas to play Oklahoma.

"We're not going to let the young guys harp on this. That's what helped me back in 2008. They wouldn't let me harp on it . They were going to force me to move on, or they were going to move on without me. That's our situation this week. We're moving on."

10. The coaches are once again playing OU's fight song all week long in the Longhorns locker room.

"I think every week we play the other team's fight song, and we get pretty disgusted with hearing it and really don't want to hear it again on Saturday," Gideon said.

"We cross the Red River every day, which is the street where we practice, to beat Oklahoma. So every time we cross that street, we're going to work and playing to a standard to beat the best. That's something we always keep in mind."

BONUS NUGGET: Bob Stoops was asked again Monday on the Big 12 coaches call about losing four of the last five to Texas.

"Winning that game doesn't do it all for you," Stoops said. "It also gets down to being able to finish the season and being a champion. Three of the last four years, we've also been Big 12 champions, too. Heck, this is our first conference game. This game doesn't do it. The media makes it out to be all about this game. But you win this one and lose some others, it doesn't amount to much."

BONUS NUGGET 2: Sam Acho doesn't like OU.

"That game means so much to me being from Dallas," said Acho of St. Mark's in Big D. "Coach wanted me to say something to the team (Sunday). I talked about how we're a family, who we have to fight together as a team and have the potential to be great.

"I've never been a fan of OU. You come to Texas to play in this game. I tend to not wear red or crimson or anything close. I don't like OU. I'll just be real. I don't like OU."

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