October 17, 2010

The grades are in - Nebraska report card

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - Here we go, again with yet another quarterback performance from Garrett Gilbert that I really can't figure out how to grade. Let's start with the obvious - Gilbert was four of 16 for 62 yards and that's not good in any universe. In fact, the passing game was so off that it's probably a good thing that the Longhorns were able to play with a lead because they scrapped the passing attack in the second half, attempting only one pass after they scored to make it 20-3 in the third quarter.

That being said, I thought Gilbert did a lot of nice things in this game and they wouldn't have won it without him. The plays he made with his feet, including a tough, tackle-breaking third down run that preserved an eventual touchdown drive, and helped give this team the offensive spark it needed in the first quarter. The fact that he led the team in rushing for most of the game, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns has to count for something. So does what appeared to be a little more vocal leadership. So does not turning the ball over on the road against a defense that normally forces them by the bunches.

A C-grade seems too low to give to a guy who did everything in paragraph two, but goodness gracious, he was four of 16. Let's meet in the middle.

Grade: C+

Running backs -This group manned up in a huge, HUGE way. Before he was injured in the second quarter, Fozzy Whittaker was having a nice day, even if his raw numbers (28 yards on 11 carries) don't support it. His biggest play came in the passing game when he took a third down conversion and turned it into a near long touchdown. Regardless, it helped set up a key touchdown. Once he went out of the game, Tre' Newton was solid with 41 carries on 10 carries, but the true difference maker turned out to be Cody Johnson, who came into the game in the second half and served as the finisher for the Texas offense. His 73 yards off the bench were huge, but no run was bigger than his 24-yard run on the final drive that allowed the Longhorns to get into Victory-formation. Overall, this group accounted for 132 yards on 32 carries, while also adding three receivers for 57 yards.

Grade: B

Wide receivers - I'm going to cut this group some slack because I think it's pretty clear that Mike Davis and John Chiles might have been on the field, but they weren't near 100% and both players lost reps as the game went on. Without Gilbert's top two targets, the passing game is playing with one hand tied behind its back to start the game. That being said, one catch? One stinking catch? That's just gross and while the position was phased out of the game-plan as the game went on, this position left some plays on the field as well. Where is the separation and play-making from this group?

Grade: D-

Tight ends- This was a position that didn't have a big role this week, but I'll give Greg Smith some credit because he did more in the running game this week in limited reps than I can remember him doing all season.

Grade: Incomplete.

Offensive line -Game ball, fellas. I know I've been hard on this group, so let me stop right now… and give this group a slow clap. Come on, join with me. S-l-o-w c-l-a-p. Seriously, this group played at such a different level of play from the other five games they've played this season that it's hard to make serious comparisons. They flat out whipped Nebraska's front four the entire game and took on a huge load of responsibility for carrying the offense… and they succeeded. I can't believe I typed those words.

The left side of the line with Michael Huey and Kyle Hix were as good as they have ever been in their entire careers at Texas. That's not hyperbole. They were that good. The same is true of David Snow's play. Those three played inspired football. Frankly, the entire line did because the right side, featuring Mason Walters and Britt Mitchell, played its best game as well.

So, after a game in which they allowed zero sacks and helped pave the way for a ground attack that averaged 4.5 yards per carry…I've…. got… to… here it is…

Grade: A+

Offensive game plan - One game after earning an F-grade for the Oklahoma performance, it's time to come right back around and jump on the Greg Davis game-plan and play-call selection bandwagon. The Longhorns made a ton of tweaks and it helped keep Nebraska off-balance enough that Texas was able to jump out to an early two-score lead.

I've railed all for two weeks that the tight ends needed to be devalued and that he needed to call more called draws for Gilbert (plays he succeeded on at Lake Travis), and by God, that's exactly what he did and it worked like magic. Meanwhile, I loved the little one-on-one battle Davis was able to create with the backs in coverage against a linebacker that led to Whittaker's big play.

Even his red-zone play-calling was terrific at times, especially coming out of a Bo Pelini time out and used the Nebraska personnel change and adjustment against them with a wrinkle that led to Gilbert's second touchdown.

Really, outside of the overly conservative second-half attack, which was completely understandable, it was easily Davis' best moment of the season, especially when you consider the personnel issues he was dealing with in regards to injuries (both before and during the game).

Grade: A

Defensive line -If we're giving out game balls, this entire unit deserves one as well because they took a big, bad Nebraska offensive line that had been killing folds and they put them over their knees and spanked them. The foursome of Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Kheeston Randall and Alex Okafor were sensational throughout the game in defending the Nebraska running game, combining for 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a sack. Their pass rush was limited because they were so afraid of opening up lanes for Martinez to run through, but this group gave the defense exactly what it needed to have - four guys all carrying wallets onto the field that had "bad MF" inscribed on them.

Grade: A

Linebackers -There was a hell of a lot of things going on at this position that deserve special consideration. First of all, before he was injured with a concussion in the second quarter, Keenan Robinson was turning in another beast performance. Even though he missed 60% of the game, he still finished with six tackles and a fumble recovery.

Once he went out of the game, the Longhorns were forced to lean on true freshman Jordan Hicks and he lived through some up and down moments, but make no mistake about it - the kid stepped up and made some plays. The Huskers tried to pick on the true freshman, but he fought through a lot of different things and gave a solid performance. Same with Jared Norton and Dustin Earnest.

The guy who was great for most of 60 minutes was Emmanuel Acho (seven tackles), who helped carry a huge load on defense with Robinson out.

Grade: A

Secondary -This group had a bit of an uneven game because there were some plays that Nebraska could have made down the field that weren't unsuccessful because Texas played great in the secondary. To be fair, Taylor Martinez's legs kept the pass rush from often trying to get close, which made the secondary have to hold their coverage longer than usual.

The trio of Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Blake Gideon were really, really good throughout the game and not only suffocated the Nebraska receivers, but they were important in defensing the run. That was especially true of Williams, who lined up all over the field and led the team with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Also, Christian Scott (seven tackles) might have had the best game of his young career. He's really starting to get better and is making few mental errors. Also, special consideration has to be given to true freshman Adrian Phillips, who filled in for Kenny Vaccaro and held up very well when pressed into nickel duty. The kid showed up well more than a few times.

The only guy who struggled was Chykie Brown, who almost got beat for a couple of big plays and did miss a tackle on a play that led to nearly 20 yards after the catch and Nebraska's only points in the second half.

Overall, this group was mostly nails.

Grade: B

Defensive game plan -Will Muschamp got his swagger back on Saturday. I guess I should say that the entire defense got their manhood back in Lincoln. The Longhorns were perfectly prepared for Taylor Martinez, as they had at least one spy on him on every play, although the responsibility changed from player to player, depending on the situation. The key to this game-plan was execution and there's no debating how well this team was prepared during the last two weeks because they played near-perfect assignment football against Nebraska's bread and butter for four quarters.

What was really impressive about Muschamp's performance on Saturday was the fact that his line-up last key players early in the game and had to be replaced by pups, but the performance level from the entire unit barely dipped and he wasn't changing things to protect any potential weaknesses. Muschamp had to weave together a game-plan that was limited in terms of aggression, but his back seven was good enough to make that concession and not have it burn them.

It was his 2010 masterpiece to date.

Grade: A+

Special teams -Can we just agree that the Justin Tucker fake off the field goal look coming out of a timeout was a bad call and the players on the field were simply put in a position to lose and that it's hard to blame the linemen on the coverage unit for not knowing how to cover a punt return?

If we can almost forget that the play ever happened, then it was a pretty damn good day for the special teams. The kickoff coverage unit was terrific, especially Kenny Vaccaro (three special teams tackles) before his injury. Tucker was solid as a rock on field goals and PAT's, while giving the team good work on kickoffs that included two touchbacks.

The punt game (with the exception of the last one) was great, averaging 46.7 yards on seven kicks, including three inside the 20-yard line.

Even the punt return game had a couple of solid returns from Williams and Brown, even if there was another weekly muff. All told, this phase of the game took a huge step forward and gave Texas a winning performance.

Grade: B

Overall -Give Mack Brown, his staff and his players a ton of credit. This was a game that they looked unlikely to win on paper, but they outclassed Nebraska in such a way that those of us that picked the Huskers are feeling some embarrassment today.

The players played with a level of passion and purpose today that was fit the uniform and they played with the kind of discipline that hasn't been seen all season. It was as if they switched bodies with the players that had previously been in the uniforms for the first five games.

Whatever this team did in the last two weeks, they need to bottle it up for the next six weeks and good things can happen for them.

Grade: A

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