September 27, 2009

The grades are in - UTEP Report Card

For the first time in the debuting month of the 2009 season, the No.2 Texas Longhorns looked the part of a true national force. The offense could have scored 100 points and probably picked up 800-900 yards of offense if they wanted to press the issue. The defense was so dominant that UTEP could have tried for another four hours and they weren't going to get into the end zone or come close to sniffing it. The special teams were spectacular at times, showcased by the best kickoff return man in the history of the program. In fact, this was a rare occasions when a 64-7 win wasn't actually indicative of just how one-sided the game was. Let's take a look at an honor roll report card.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - Other than a single throw that I have to believe he'll be disgusted with when he watches the film on Sunday, senior Colt McCoy had a vintage 2008 performance, which of course means that he looked very bit the part of a guy competing for the nation's highest individual honors.

Although he was 28 of 35 for 286 yards and three touchdowns, those numbers probably should have looked more like 31 of 35 for 300+ and four touchdowns. It's not a huge difference, but it gives you an idea of how high of a level McCoy was performing on before he exited early in the third quarter. McCoy really did a great job of spreading the ball around to all of his receivers on Saturday, which appeared to be a problem against Texas Tech last week when he seemed to zero in on the Jordan Shipley/Dan Buckner combo exclusively at times.

Everything about his performance was better than it's been through the first three games of the season.

True freshman Garrett Gilbert did a terrific job of running the offense in the third quarter, completing five of six passes for 49 yards and leading the back-up offense into the end zone on two of three possessions before being replaced by Sherrod Harris. Although the margin of defeat has been both his best and worst friend in two of three games this year, he seems to be very comfortable in his new environment and every rep he receives in game action further cements his status as a viable option for the Longhorns should anything ever happen to McCoy (knock on wood).

Grade: A

Running backs - If there's one thing we know about the Texas running game, it's that we don't really know anything about what will happen or how anyone perform on any given Saturday. The good news on Saturday is that the Texas running backs rushed for nearly 300 yards as a group. The bad news is that if they had hoped to use Tre' Newton's first career start as a platform for the future of the position as the team heads into conference play, his pedestrian performance (25 yards and a touchdown on nine carries) was not exactly what you would have preferred to see. The redshirt freshman was never able to get untracked and some of it had to do with some early line issues that allowed major penetration that blew up a few runs before they ever got started. That being said, the inability to establish him in the first half is one of the few disappointments in the game.

If Newton couldn't quite tighten his grip on the starting job, junior Vondrell McGee made a case that his stint as the starter should get a second look, as he rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. For the first time all season, McGee was able to get his shoulders squared quickly and get through the first level of the defense without hesitation. Frankly, if there was a player on the team that needed to have a breakout came, it might have been the former Longview star. Hopefully, the coaches and McGee can bottle up what they discovered on Saturday.

While McGee was the star of the day, fellow back-ups Cody Johnson, Foswhitt Whittaker, Jeremy Hills and even Jamison Berryhill came in and ravaged the UTEP defense to the tune 164 yards and a touchdown. Overall, the running backs produced 291 yards and four touchdowns on 33 carries (8.8 yards per carry).

The only blemishes on this day were Newton's unproductive day and a pair of fumbles in the fourth quarter.

Grades: B+

Wide receivers - The Texas wide receiver put together a much more complete performance as a group than they did last week against Texas Tech. Of course, Shipley and Buckner led the way, combining for 16 receptions for 193 yards and three touchdowns. The Miners tried to take Shipley out of the game, but he worked hard to get open and McCoy kept feeding him the ball throughout the first half. Meanwhile, Buckner continues to emerge as a star. His two touchdowns were pretty much all him making big things happen down the field and his one-handed snag late in the second half might have been the best offensive play of the season.

Juniors John Chiles and James Kirkendoll, along with sophomore Malcolm Williams, turned in solid efforts - combining to catch 11 passes for 103 yards. The real unexpected bright spot, if there really was one, was the continued emergence of true freshman Marquise Goodwin, who is turning into Gilbert's go-to-guy on the second-team offense.

Overall, the wide receivers produced 32 receptions for 332 yards and three touchdowns. If not for a few drops in the first half, this group would have received a maxed out grade.



Grade: A

Offensive line/Tight ends - The goal of an offensive line each week is to eventually steal the heart out of the opposing front seven in ever game. Although there were some early individual breakdowns between a handful of players, there's little question that they were able to strip the will to play from a UTEP defense after a little more than 30 minutes.

Despite an early injury to starting center Chris Hall, the Longhorns were able to handle almost all of the pressure tactics that UTEP attempted to utilize throughout the game, as the offensive line kept the Miners from ever sacking the quarterback. Sophomore David Snow, junior Michael Huey, senior Charlie Tanner and junior Tray Allen all deserve credit for holding up well inside, despite a constant juggling act in the player groupings throughout the game. It would have been easy for an occasional mix-up that might have led to a drive-killing sack, but the entire group worked very well together for most of 60 minutes.

Senior Adam Ulatoski played perhaps his best game of the season and deserves a game ball, but perhaps the biggest development from the group was the steady and sometimes very strong play from back-ups Allen and Britt Mitchell. Both players were given early reps in the first half and both played well, especially Allen. If effort and tenacity mean anything, the former five-star prospect will continue to receive more action inside in the coming weeks.

Overall, there were a few things I didn't like that occurred early on, but the collective body of work from all of the linemen that played make this a performance that they can definitely build on moving forward because there was a lot to like.

Grade: A

Offensive game plan - I think we learned something about the Texas offense this week, if we didn't already know it, and it will prove important to remember as we move forward into the meat of Big 12 action. This is a passing offense first and foremost. For all of the teeth grinding over the inability to run the football at times this season, the truth is that running the football is not close to representing Texas' primary strength as a team and there will likely be days when it's really good and matters quite a bit and there will likely be others when… well… not so much.

If the Longhorns were ever going to try to develop a true downhill running attack or even develop more consistency in the running game in preparation for Big 12 play, this was the game to do it, but the Longhorns established early on in this game that they are going to be a pass-heavy team in the early stages of the game. Two things that really hit that home were the following:

1. When backed up against their own end zone, the Longhorns didn't use the opportunity to get the running game (Tre Newton) some needed early work. Instead, they came out in five wides and attacked through the air, pushing the tempo and they seldom took the foot off the pedal while McCoy was behind center.

2. Whenever the Longhorns found themselves in the red-zone, Davis went to the specialty "Wild Horn" (we prefer "Chiles Please" or "Chiles Play") package.

If ever there was a time to be truly dedicated to hammering out some running game identity, it would be in a game that you're winning decisively and faced with some obvious situational opportunities (inside either 20-yard line).

Outside of the decision to take the ball out of McCoy's hands in the red-zone with the use of the specialty package, I thought Davis was in a pretty good groove in the way of play-calling with the true base set of plays. That they didn't have to really do anything outside of their basic offense to reach 300+ yards in both rushing and passing is nothing short of amazing, especially when you consider that the Longhorns completely put their foot on the break offensively in the final 20 minutes of the game.

Grade: A

Defensive line - This group set the tone for the entire game in the first minute of the game with Sergio Kindle's sack and forced fumble. From beginning to end, the Longhorns absolutely whipped the UTEP offensive line, whether it was in the form of shutting down the run or getting after the passer.

When you talk about the Longhorns limiting UTEP to nine yards rushing and 0.4 yards per attempt, it' started up front. When you talk about the constant pressure that produced four sacks and four turnovers, it has to start with the work that was done up.

Individually, Kindle was on his way to a huge day before suffering what appeared to be a stinger, but junior Sam Acho picked up the slack and turned in another impact performance. So far this season, Acho has been able to make a difference-making play in each game.

Overall, it was the collective work of Kindle, Acho, Lamarr Houston, Eddie Jones, Kheeston Randall, Eddie Jones, Ben Alexander, Russell Carter, Calvin Howell, Tyrell Higgins and anyone else that saw playing time that helped produce such a dominating effort. When it was said and done, the Texas defensive line collected 13 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks and numerous quarterback pressures/hits.

Grade: A+

Linebackers - With the pre-game news that Dustin Earnest would miss the game because of the flu, Will Muschamp found himself with three healthy linebackers to rotate on a 94-degrees day. It's the kind of detail that will get lost in the shuffle of such a dominant win that produces so many talking points, but the job that Roddrick Muckelroy, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho did given the circumstances, makes for one of the most impressive performance from a Texas linebacker unit that I've seen in recent history.

Acho is emerging as an impact linebacker in a matter of weeks, as he led the team with seven tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack (and nearly a couple of others), while seemingly being all over the field on a play-by-play basis.

Muckelroy's stat-line (two tackles) doesn't suggest that he played extremely well, but he was a rock in the middle of the tackle box until he was removed from the game in the third quarter. If there was ever a stat-line that didn't necessarily reflect a player's impact on the game, Muckelroy's is a prime example.

One of the pleasant surprises in the game was the play of redshirt freshman Ryan Roberson, who recorded two tackles and a fumble, while covering the field aggressively in limited action.

Perhaps it wasn't a day when the unit produced a bevy of big plays, but a short-handed group essentially pitched a shutout against an offense that came in with some strong credentials.

Grade: A+

Secondary - UTEP isn't nearly as impotent and void of playmakers as it looked on Saturday, but the Texas secondary was on it's A-game from the very binning, despite losing perhaps their best player (Aaron Williams) early in the game because of a minor arm injury.

Only one pass all day netted more than 10+ yards and none qualified as an explosive play (16 or more yards). When you consider that the secondary netted three more interceptions than UTEP's receivers caught first downs, you get an idea of just good this group was in this game and how good they are becoming as a group.

Williams (Three tackles), Earl Thomas (two interceptions), Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Nolan Brewster, Deon Beasley and Blake Gideon (first career interception) all deserve equal credit for essentially locking down the UTEP passing game like bedtime on the cellblock.

Even reserves safety Ben Wells (interception) out together perhaps the best performance of his young career.

All in all, it was a huge day for this group.

Grade: A+

Defensive game plan - Muschamp and Co. put on a clinic on Saturday and they didn't have to use a lot of exotics to get there. The Longhorns played with keen intensity and dedication to the pursuit of perfection for four quarters and the result was a teaching tape for future games and seasons. There wasn't anything about this game from the defensive side that wasn't deserving of superlatives.

Grade: A+

Special teams - In only four games, true freshman D.J. Monroe has established himself as the best kickoff return guy in school history. Forget about having a player return two scores in a season, the Longhorns have never had a player in 100+ years return more than one kick for a touchdown in an entire career. Monroe has done it twice in four games.

Meanwhile, Shipley continues to dazzle on punt returns, the coverage units have been predominantly very good and his kickers/punters did a good job of executing throughout. The bottom line is that the Longhorns won every phase of the kicking game in a big way.

Only a missed PAT and a missed 53-yard field goal into a slight breeze keep this grade from matching the rest of the group grades.

Grade: B+

Overall - The Longhorns put together a complete 60-minute performance and on a day when top-ranked teams were dropping like flies, the Longhorns looked like a true national power. Each phase of the game contributed to an outright domination and if Mack Brown can get more efforts like this, he's going to feel very good about his team's chances of accomplishing all of its goals. A new bar has been set for this group.

Grade: A+


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