November 2, 2008

The grades are in - Tech report card

It'll be a night that haunts the dreams of Longhorns everywhere, potentially for years to come. On a night when the No.1 Texas Longhorns couldn't do just about anything right for the first 30 minutes of the game, had players dropping like flies with injuries and seemed to be battling themselves more than their opponent, the officials or the crowd, the Longhorns had a very good look at what a 9-0 record on Sunday morning might look like. Yet with all of the momentum and experience that they seemingly possessed to rely on in the final two minutes of the game, the Longhorns inability to execute the most basic tasks eventually led to their ruin. Here's a position-by-position review of UT's stunning 39-33 loss to Texas Tech.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - On so many levels this could have been Colt McCoy's Heisman-clinching moment. Although he started slow, he rallied his troops on the road by completing 20 of 34 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns, and in the final moments he led his team to a come-from-behind lead. There's no question that McCoy was one of the true stars for this team on Saturday night and his ability to stay focused in the moment, especially after his third quarter interception, was beyond huge. Still, McCoy is going to go back and look at the execution on that final touchdown drive by the Longhorns and see that the offense was the Texas defense's biggest enemy at the end. Let's start with 2nd and two at the Texas Tech 11-yard line. With Tech down to their last time out, McCoy picks up a first down and then runs out of bounds. If he stays in-bounds, the Red Raiders either have to use their last timeout or the clock or another 40 seconds runs off the clock. That would have been costly by itself, but two players later, McCoy called for the snap with 21 seconds left on a ticking play-clock and game-clock. Instead of kicking off with 1:29 remaining, the clock could have easily been under 30 seconds remaining and the Longhorns wouldn't have had to do anything different. In the end, McCoy's overall play was strong, but his only turnover was a back-breaker that led directly to seven points the other way and his game management in the final moments was flawed and costly.

Grade: B

Running backs - Never have the Longhorns missed not having a go-to-guy at running back more this season than on Saturday night. Until Foswhitt Whittaker came into the game in second half, this position was headed for a big, fat "F". Starting senior Chris Ogbonnaya was a non-factor in this game with 14 yards on six carries, along with three receptions for 20 yards. It wasn't entirely Ogbonnaya's fault, but the inability of the Texas running game to get anything going in the first half was crippling and the fact that the Longhorns had to turn to Whittaker in the second half indicates just how badly things were going for a majority of this game. Whittaker finished with 42 yards on six caries and his 21-yard run on that final offensive drive for the Longhorns was huge in the moment, but the overall production of this unit on this night was poor. Overall, this group contributed 64 yards on the ground and 25 yards receiving.

Grades: D

Wide receivers - With Quan Cosby out of the game very early, this group really seemed to be lost for a while until Malcolm Williams stepped up and assumed a lead role. After having a breakout play against Missouri a few weeks ago and he had a monster breakout game against the Red Raiders. Not only did the kid catch four passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns, but it was his 37-yard touchdown catch at the end of the third quarter that really kick-started the offense and provided the momentum for the comeback on that side of the ball. Jordan Shipley was solid with six catches for 42 yards, but he dropped what could have been a long touchdown pass in the first quarter and given the Longhorns their first lead. Outside of Williams, this group provided 12 catches for 84 yards and zero touchdowns. If we're being honest about this group, they didn't carry their weight for four quarters.

Grade: C-

Offensive line/Tight ends - Oh boy. Where do I even start? It wasn't good. They couldn't move the line of scrimmage for most of the game, couldn't protect McCoy, committed critical penalties and generally played two steps slower than their opponent for most of the game. The holding penalty by Kyle Hix played a huge role in McCoy's interception on the very next play in the third quarter and Adam Ulatoski's personal foul on UT's final drive of the second quarter not only wiped out a critical first down, but it probably was the difference between getting seven points on that drive and being forced to settle for three. The combination of Charlie Tanner, Chris Hall, Cedric Dockery and Michael Huey got pushed around physically inside and had a hard time establishing itself as a group against a Tech defensive line that played with greater energy for most of the first half. Also, some of those sacks didn't belong to the line as much as they belonged to the tight ends. On two separate occasions, Greg Smith and Peter Ullman were beaten badly on one-on-one blocks against Tech's best pass rushers. The tight end position really did not have a positive net impact on this game and it was surprising to see them so involved in the game plan, especially after they had been deemphasized in the previous three weeks.

Grade: D

Offensive game plan - Greg Davis' biggest mistake in this game was not trusting the success he's had all season coming into this game. You could tell on the very first offensive snap from their one-yard line that this game was going to be called with Davis' foot on the brake. The heavy inclusion of the tight ends into the game plan this week was a mistake and it looked like offensive staff spent too much time thinking about trying to recreate the success that they enjoyed over Tech previously in this decade and not enough attention was paid to the fact that this year's offense has been as good as any in UT's history and its foundation is completely different than any of those past offenses. For whatever reason, the Longhorns forgot who they are. Perhaps the Cosby injury spooked the staff? Regardless, this group's inability to accomplish anything at all in the first half and that includes a simple first down to buy the defense 20 seconds of rest, was as responsible as anything else for this loss. Every aspect of the offense was insufficient for so much of this game that it almost created an impossible ladder to climb.

Grade: F

Defensive line - I thought this group played pretty dang well on Saturday night, especially when you consider how little help they received at times. Texas blasted through Tech's line by being nastier, stronger and more athletic. Even when they were fatigued, they played well enough to help limit Tech's offensive effectiveness for much of the game, as they harassed Graham Harrell throughout the game, even if the officials did turn a blind eye towards any potential infractions committed by the Tech offensive line. Senior Roy Miller was a man out on the field, as he constantly blew up the middle of the tech line, finishing with four tackles and a sack on the night. Junior Sergio Kindle was used almost exclusively in this game at end and he provided a steady stream of pressure off the edge, while also forcing a fumble and recording a sack. Losing Brian Orakpo to what looked to be a knee injury was a huge blow and the pass rush really took a hit after that play. Overall, they were solid against the run (105 yards on 25 carries) and gave a winning effort for four quarters when lesser men would have collapsed from the lack of support surrounding them. If every unit on the Texas roster would have matched the effort of this group, the Longhorns win by multiple scores.

Grade: B

Linebackers - It's not that Roddrick Muckelroy and Rashad Bobino didn't do some nice things in this game because there were times when they did some nice things against the run. Outside of that, this group was a total non-factor in this game if you count Sergio Kindle as a defensive lineman this week. Yes, the Tech offense is a tough match-up, but this team needed the defense to come up with some turnovers and this group hasn't done a good job of that all season, but on a night when they just needed one more interception, one more deflected pass, one more sack or one more of just about anything - this group provided none.

Grade: D

Secondary - Ok, let's just get it out of the way. Is Chykie Brown in the doghouse? How else can you explain the team's best corner from this season being used as a part-time player this week against a team that desperately needed him on the field, especially since the school gave him a clean bill of health the day before the game? As bad as the numbers were on this night (and they were ugly), this group deserves credit for keeping this Longhorn team in the game for much of the night. For the first 59 minutes and 50 seconds of this game, the Longhorn secondary had helped limit Tech to one touchdown pass in the game and zero touchdowns in the second half. Yet when they desperately needed to come up with a big play, a very young group seemed to get swallowed up by the moment. This is a game that Blake Gideon, Earl Thomas and Curtis Brown will learn from, but their inability to finish the game exposed their inexperience for one night. On a side note, I thought Ryan Palmer played very well in this game, as did true freshman Aaron Williams. With Chykie Brown on the sideline, the true freshman played at a very high level and at some point the staff is going to push someone out of the way in an effort to get him on the field more. Frankly, I thought he performed much better than junior starter Deon Beasley, who really disappointed at times with his inability to show strength in one-on-one coverage.

Grade: C-

Defensive game plan - The game-plan was good and it was good enough for a Texas victory in this game. The Longhorns rushed four and dropped eight for much of the night, and they did as well of a job on Texas Tech as anyone will do this season. As I said previously, this defense kept Texas in the game when the offense was trying to find themselves or whatever they were doing for much of the game. It was the defense that forced a punt on Tech's first drive. It was the defense that forced a fumble when things were getting away, only to see the offense settle for three points despite excellent field position. It was the defense that allowed zero touchdowns in the second half until that ill-fated last series. The defense gave up a lot of yards, but the scheme, effort and execution was good for most of the night. That all of that crumbled on Tech's last drive is painfully ironic.

Grade: B

Special teams - The Longhorns did win the special teams battle, although they made just enough mistakes that they also contributed. Shipley's punt return for a touchdown, Justin Tucker's incredible rugby-styled punting and Malcolm Williams' tackling on special teams were all highlights. The negatives included Tucker's kickoff that went out of bounds after Texas' first score and that big 38-yard kickoff return from Jamar Wall that set up Tech's final drive.

Grade: B+

Overall - There's not much else to say at this point. If there's really one blessing that can come out of this game, it's that every phase, position and coach contributed to what ended up being their first loss of the season. That the Longhorns were in a position to win this game speaks to just how good they are, but their inability to tackle the basics of the game that they've been so good at all season was their undoing. At the end of the day this team just didn't have a high-level performance in their tanks on this day and with Texas Tech not giving in to critical turnovers or mistakes to compensate for much of the poor play, it proved to be a little more than Texas could overcome. It's not certain that the Longhorns lost any of their bigger team goals as this game ended, but they no longer control their fate and that's a hard pill to swallow right now, especially on a night when c strong case can be made that Texas lost the game more than Tech won it.

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