November 16, 2008

The grades are in - KU report card

On a day when the entire nation was sitting by, hoping for more BCS madness to unfold, the No.3 Texas Longhorns simply went about their business and took care of a Kansas team that was a BCS game winner just a season ago with relative ease… on the road, no less. In conditions that might have forced previous Texas teams to flinch, this group of Longhorns handled the cold and the strong winds with the same unbending focus and determination that has carried them through a gauntlet of a season. Here's a position-by-position review of Texas' 35-7 win over the Jayhawks.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - I think the thing I love about Colt McCoy the most as a player is that he seems to dial in and play his best football when the circumstances might suggest that he can't. Battling winds that could have completely derailed the Texas passing game, McCoy put together a very efficient afternoon of football. The good news about having a kid from West Texas as your quarterback is that he's seen some nasty winds a time or two in his life. That wasn't adversity that McCoy faced yesterday as much as it was a walk down memory lane. Overall, McCoy was 24 of 34 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. More than that his work in the passing game, this was the McCoy we saw earlier this season - taking off when the running lanes presented themselves and leading the way in the Texas running game. The stats weren't out of a video game, but in some ways his performance was as impressive as any he's had all season. There is no better player in college football and no single player means as much to his team as McCoy means to the Longhorns.

Grade: A+

Running backs - Well, what can you say? Everyone was hoping to find out a little more about redshirt freshman Foswhitt Whittaker and on a day when the team decided to entrust the running game on his shoulders, he was held to 15 yards on 13 carries. To his credit, Whittaker did catch five passes for 42 yards, but he was not successful by any measure as a runner in this game. The good news for the Longhorns is that Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya both took care of business in the red-zone when they were given the opportunity, scoring from 14 and 10 yards out, respectively. Another bright spot was the last-drive running of true freshman Jeremy Hills, who led all backs with 41 yards and two carries. Overall, the backs finished with 80 yards in 17 carries and two touchdowns, but those numbers aren't nearly as impressive as they might suggest and they don't suggest much.

Grades: D+

Wide receivers - Like McCoy, the wide receivers didn't put up some of the amazing stats that we've become used to seeing, but they made the plays that were needed to keep the offense successful. Also, it was definitely a total group effort on this particular day with no single receiver catching more than 70 yards. Leading the way was senior Quan Cosby, who led the team in receptions (six) and yards (70), while also providing one of two touchdowns through the air. Jordan Shipley wasn't far behind with five receptions for 37 yards. Of course, his biggest highlight came on a six-year leap over the pile on a fourth-down fake of a field goal that would have made the late Walter Payton proud. Others that stood up and made big contributions were Brandon Collins (two receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown) and James Kirkendoll (three receptions for 27 yards). Overall, this group combined to catch 17 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns.

Grade: B

Tight ends - Well, this group played a much smaller role in this game than we've seen the last two weeks, especially once Greg Davis decided to pretty much live and die with the passing game. If the idea of adding to the tight end to the line-up was to help the running game, that didn't work. However, the tight ends did not give up the big plays in pass protection that they've had in recent weeks, so in that role they were much more effective this week. Honestly, I don't have a clue when it comes to grading this position because the standards aren't the same as the other positions on the team.

Grade: Incomplete

Offensive line - The best news of the weekend for this group is that there wasn't any real drop-off in the play of the line on Saturday with true freshman David Snow substituting for veteran starter Chris Hall at center. Other than the bad exchange under center on an early fourth down play in the first half, you wouldn't have even known that Snow played and Hall didn't. There weren't any major issues with pass protection and if the Jayhawks tried to test the youngster with a variety of stunts or blitzes, they didn't work. For the most part this group played like it has all season, as they struggled to open holes in the running game, but usually gave McCoy all the time he needed to make plays in the passing game. This group really does have a lot of positives, but the inability to run the ball in this game put a lot of pressure on McCoy to play at an elite level in some pretty difficult circumstances. This group was supposed to be the strength of this offense and that has not been the case next season.

Grade: C+

Offensive game plan - I give Greg Davis a lot of credit for his play-calling and in-game adjustments on Saturday. There's no question that Davis and Co. wanted to run the ball on Saturday, but unlike the Texas Tech game a few weeks ago, the Longhorns offensive coordinator was not going to sit around all afternoon and bang his head into the wall waiting for it to happen. Like a manager that's not comfortable with his starting pitcher in a playoff game, Davis was not afraid to pull a quick hook on an idea that wasn't working. For all of the discussion about the wind, Davis' short and intermediate passing game was built for days like this. While teams that feature more vertical routes might have been greatly impact by the elements, the Longhorns were able to do what they do best, take small chunks of yards all the way down the field until you get into the end zone. There was nothing flashy about the play-calling, but that's exactly what was needed on this particular Saturday, especially with the defense handling the Jayhawks in dominant fashion. Outside of the one botched fourth down play, the offense was turnover-free, productive (421 yards of offense) and incredibly efficient with four drives of 60+ yards and four of seven-plays or more. It was just a good, steady, smart day at the office.

Grade: B.

Defensive line - Ask Todd Reesing what he thinks. The Longhorn defense was the dominant force in this game and the defensive line led the way. Even without a completely healthy Brian Orakpo, this group pressured Reesing throughout the day and made sure that he never settled into anything close to a groove. The group of Sergio Kindle, Roy Miller, Sam Acho, Eddie Jones and Henry Melton combined for four sacks, eight tackles for loss, 10 tackles, three quarterback hits and numerous pressures. Meanwhile, the Kansas running game was non-existent with 40 total rushing yards and a 2.0 average per rush. Basically, this group dominated the line of scrimmage.

Grade: A

Linebackers - This group performed much better this week than they have in the last three weeks, as Roddrick Muckelroy, Rashad Bobino and Jared Norton were all good against the run and solid against the pass. The stat sheet might not reflect it, but these guys played a good game and the defensive couldn't have played as well as it did without a strong performance from this group. That being said, there weren't any tackles for loss, forced fumbles, interceptions or sacks - basically, no big plays. It was definitely an efficient day of football, but this group has been awfully quiet since Big 12 play started. If we want to end on a positive note, I thought Keenan Robinson played better this week, especially on the last drive of the game for KU, than he did against Baylor.

Grade: B-

Secondary - Say what you want about the Jayhawks, but Reesing is a very good quarterback and this team can sling the rock around pretty well. This was a big challenge for this secondary and they passed with flying colors by consistently blanketing the KU receivers in coverage and providing tough and sure tackling throughout the game. The play from the safety position was especially strong, as true freshman Blake Gideon was having his best day of the season before leaving with a concussion in the third quarter. Up until then, Gideon had made two incredibly huge plays with his pressure on Reesing on a first-half fourth down play and his forced fumble/recovery along the sideline in the second quarter. Once Gideon came out, redshirt freshman Christian Scott came in and played at perhaps an even higher level, as he also forced and recovered a fumble, made three bone-crunching tackles and broke up two passes. Combine the two freshmen together and you have a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week winner. The play of the cornerbacks was also solid, as Earl Thomas, Deon Beasley and Ryan Palmer made sure that the KU passing attack was mostly a non-factor. Forget about the yards and look at the numbers and the story of the game. This group probably had its bets game of the season. Kudos to everyone.

Grade: A

Defensive game plan - Will Muschamp will love this game because he didn't have a lot to do with the great performance, at least not in terms of in-game adjustments or KU-specific schemes. His defense mostly did their base stuff and they did it extremely well. This defensive performance arrived because of outstanding technique, consistent execution and a mastery of the basics. This defensive performance was all about the things this team has done in practice for four months and for this one glorious Saturday afternoon, it all came together like it's drawn up on the blackboard. Honestly, games like this are as rewarding as anything else that can happen for a coach because it's all about everything that's been taught all season and when Muschamp and the defensive staff preach the basics moving forward, he'll point to this game and say, "All you have to do to be successful is play hard, do your job, limit the mental errors, play tough and execute better than the other guy.

Grade: A

Special teams - Texas won the special teams battle on Saturday. Yes, Justin Tucker finally shanked a punt with that rugby style of his, but the true freshman downed two inside the Kansas 20-yard line. Also, when John Gold came into the game, he booted a 58-yard kick. There wasn't much to report on in the return game for the Longhorns, but the coverage units were outstanding, limiting Kansas to 16.6 yards per return. Also, Ryan Bailey was perfect on all five of his PAT attempts. There wasn't anything spectacular to talk about, but this group did a lot of little things right on Saturday.

Grade: B

Overall - First, the Longhorns won the game and that's important because it was their last road game of the season and figured to be their toughest remaining challenge. One more win and the Longhorns can probably pencil themselves into a BCS game, unless they were to go to the Big 12 title game and lose. So, first things, first - mission accomplished. As far as style points go, this team dominated Kansas like you'd you want to see. The offense was efficient and the defense had its best day of the season. Perhaps the scoreboard wasn't running like a pinball machine, but the weather was a factor, as are the obscene standards that the teams in the Big 12 have established this season. In scoring only 35 points, keep in mind that the No.1 team in the nation has only done that four times this season. In only giving up only seven points, you'll find that Texas Tech and Oklahoma have only accomplished that feat once, and that came against SMU and Tennessee-Chattanooga , respectively. That's not to take anything away from those teams, but it does show just how complete of a game this was for the Longhorns. Mack Brown, the entire coaching staff and the all of the players deserve a lot of credit for performing at a very high level.

Grade: A

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