Week 3 - (L) UT 43 at Cal 50

Quick intro/disclaimer: I'm not an aspiring writer or journalist, and am no more qualified to analyze football than your average Joe who played high school football in Texas. I'm literally "just another Longhorn fan", but I'd like to share my UT football opinions on a weekly basis with GIFs for a more pleasurable viewing. (If anything just scroll down to the GIFs and ignore everything I say.)

Week 3 - Back to life. Back to reality. Welp, the burnt-orange kool aid was tasting good, real good. But here we are coming off a lackluster defensive performance to say the least, and if you're like me, you've probably hit every emotion on the "Fire Charlie" to "We'll be fine" spectrum. Maybe even twice. 

Before I address the game, I want to address the aforementioned spectrum. At the end of this year will Charlie stay or will he be gone? It seems very #kneejerk to think about firing a guy after just one close road loss, but maybe the real knee-jerk was anointing UT as "Back" after one win against a ND team that just lost at home to Mich St. by 8. Remember when we beat OU last year? Remember when we got throttled by Iowa St (24-0) two games later? That got me thinking about Charlie's key wins and losses. You can disagree, but in my opinion these were the most uplifting/egregious on either side:

Key wins:
1. #10 OU - 24-17 (Neutral) '15
2. #10 ND - 50-47 (Home) '16
*3. #12 Baylor - 23-17 (Away) '15 - *4th string QB - I firmly believe either 1st or 2nd QB (Russell/Stidham) would've beat us handily

Key losses:
1. Iowa St - 0-24 (Away) '15
2. BYU - 7-41 (Home) '14
3. Arkansas - 7-31 (Bowl) '14
4. Cal - 43-50 (Away) '16 - We're ranked #11 and favored by 7.5 
5. Texas Tech - 45-48 (Home) '15
6. WVU - 20-38 (Away) '15
7. TCU - 7-50 (Away) '15

How Charlie stays:
- He figures out how to defend an uptempo offense 
     - I hate that he said he's getting more involved now. It feels the same as firing Shawn Watson after-the-fact. Be more involved/prepared beforehand. He was acclaimed for his defensive prowess at Florida, but he didn't coach against the current Big 12 style of offense. Can an old dog learn new tricks?
- The young guys step up and start making more plays, including freshman (ex. B Jones)
- UT finishes 8-4 and shows up in the bowl game win or lose unlike last year (I'd personally set the bar at 9-3, but that might be a little aggressive.)
     - Think about it, UT is currently 2-1, and will unquestionably beat Kansas, so 3-1. This means he only has to go 5-3 against the rest of a down Big 12, and essentially finish 4th in the conference, which will probably only have 2 ranked teams by season's end. 

Why Charlie could be gone:
- It's year 3, and his half of the game (defense) seemingly hasn't shown any improvement
     - What about the youth? Gilbert turned the offense around in 1 offseason and 3 games with a freshman QB, and a ton of sophomores. No more excuses. Defense better be a whole lot better in Big 12 play.
- Tom Herman. Familiarize yourself 
     - Herman is the current Houston coach. He's 5-0 against ranked opponents (2 wins vs top 10) in 2 years at Houston, and was the OC at Ohio St when they won their national championship 2 years ago with a 3rd string quarterback. Also, he has Texas ties, and recruits the state very well. He got the best DT in the state (5 star) to go to Houston. HOUSTON!
     - Most importantly, it's said on some insider forums that Herman has a short list of 5 schools he'd leave for. Texas is on that list, but so is USC, and they're having a terrible year. FYI, we play USC the next 2 years. (The other schools on the list have pretty solidified HC situations)

In sum, can Charlie right the defensive ship, and how long is his leash with Herman likely only being available after this season?

Personally I love the guy. I have a picture of me and him on my cubicle wall at work. However, I love UT football more, and I want us to be back to the point of rolling over the teams that we should. 

Quick aside - if you flip-flop the scores of the ND and Cal games, we'd actually be looking up. We would have barely lost to a (supposedly) superior ND team with a new offense, and we'd have had a nice road win and a two game winning streak going into conference play - essentially improving upon last year. Instead, the ND win put high/unreal expectations on this team very quickly, and the complete dog doo of a defensive dud on Saturday has us feeling like Strong might only be half the head coach we need - Great recruiter/player developer, terrible strategist/in-game manager.

The Cal game

I think in just about everyone's opinion, this game really came down to the defense not getting it done. Sure the O turned the ball over a couple times, and maybe we should have run a little more (especially on the last drive when we went 3 and out without a run). But this one was clearly on the D, and most specifically the secondary. 

We gave up 8 pass plays of 20+ yds (20 is somewhat the standard benchmark for a "big play"). For reference, we gave up 3 total plays of 20+ yds against ND. Originally, I was going to post GIFs of all 8 plays, but Barking Carnival already broke them down so well with so much depth, so I'll pick a few different plays. Regardless, check out that breakdown when you're done - BC defensive breakdown. It's really well done.

Instead, I'll give some brief grades with thoughts on the Offense, Defense, and Special teams.

Offense: B- - Frankly, the O did enough to the win the game, but it wasn't perfect by any stretch. The 2 INTs were bad throws by the QBs and let Cal stay in the game, and not running it on 1st or 2nd down (when averaging 7 yds/carry) on the last drive were the biggest blemishes.

Run Offense: A - Would be an A+ except San Diego St. had a higher yards/run the week before against Cal, 
and we had a couple of drive-killing holds.

Just want to point out that I prefer a 2-1 ratio of Foreman to Warren carries from now on. Warren is tough up the middle and solid in his own right, but he doesn't have the burst that Foreman does. See them hit the hole at different speeds on virtually the same play.
(Q2 - Foreman with burst)

(Q3 - Warren not as much burst)

(Q4 - To have some positivity in this post - Foreman's TD run. Mucho burst.)

Pass Offense: B- - 2 bad throws for INTs, and a few costly drops, but a couple big plays as well. Buechele wasn't quite as on point on his deep passes as he was in the first 2 games.

Buechele INT - 2 things to point out. 1. No QB is perfect, and generally he misses his deep throws long and outside, so the safety can't pick it off like in this play. 2. When was the last time you saw a UT safety make a similar play? Can't wait for Hall/Haines to be gone.

Last Drive Playcalling:
1st play - Why not run? Blueitt split out is a key to the defense that it's going to be a screen, since we only use him as a blocker. At least keep Oliver in there to not tip your hand. See how the defender who makes the play immediate runs up at the snap - he knows what's coming. Out-coached on the play.

2nd and 3rd plays - Still don't know why we didn't run it on 2nd down. 3+ min left is plenty of time, and we could have made 3rd and potentially 4th down short yardage plays. Also, we're keeping in 6 guys to block 4, why? Oh yeah, because Blueitt is on the field. We literally run the same play again with the exact same results. This is actually a GIF of consecutive plays. You're better than that Gilbert.

Defense: D - They were bad from all 3 factors: strategy, play calling, and execution. The D wasn't able to create a turnover, and has only 1 in 3 games. If it weren't for the run D, I would have given it an F. The word in the insider forums is that B Jones will be starting at safety against Ok St. and they're switching some other things up to (hopefully) get more playmakers on the field. Again, if you want to relive the agony of a terrible defensive performance broken down really well, check out this post on Barking Carnival.

Here are a couple screen shots of the Cal/SD ST stats, and the Cal/UT stats. What pops out to you?

To me, it's that SD ST lost to Cal in almost all key team stats, except for one very important one: Turnovers. Their offense turned the ball over twice too, but their D was able to intercept Webb 3 times even returning one of for a TD.

Run Defense: B - If you take away the last long run, we only gave up 60 yds on the ground. Once he got past the first down, those extra yards didn't really matter. I wouldn't get too butt hurt about Enwere dropping the ball before crossing the line either - we shouldn't have needed that to win, and who knows if we could have scored anyway.

Pass Defense: F - Can I give it an F-? Does that exist? Think about this, this is the second time we've faced this exact offense, and we often face similar ones. Our entire secondary except for Duke Thomas returned. Our DC, Bedford, is also the defensive backs coach. Cal just lost their QB (#1 pick in the draft), and their leading 6 receivers. Who did we get torched by then (1 QB, and 4 top WRs): A graduate transfer QB, an ex-Idaho St transfer (great plays by Hansen, but we made him look like Antonio Brown), a JuCo transfer (Veasy), and 2 true freshman. Everyone except Hansen was playing their 3rd game in a Cal uniform. Un-be-lievable. 

Special Teams: B - The 2 missed FGs were 53 and 49 yds, so can't be too upset about those. B Jones punt block for a safety was huge (too bad it wasn't for a TD). Dickson was actually out kicked by Cal's punter, and our KO return game wasn't as good as Cal's either (18 yd avg vs. 28 yd avg). 

Let's end on a positive. Word is the #19 combination of speed/playmaking ability will be roaming around on defense at one of the safety positions in Stillwater.
(Q2 - B Jones punt block)

Week 2 - (W) UT 41 vs UTEP 7

Quick intro/disclaimer: I'm not an aspiring writer or journalist, and am no more qualified to analyze football than your average Joe who played high school football in Texas. I'm literally "just another Longhorn fan", but I'd like to share my UT football opinions on a weekly basis with GIFs for a more pleasurable viewing. (If anything just scroll down to the GIFs and ignore everything I say.)

Week 2 = A+. A+? Seriously? Yes I am if you take into account the curve that the class (aka, the Big 12) set with a dumpster fire weekend. Also, UT sat 5 offensive starters: 3 OL (Shackelford essentially sat - he left very early with ankle injury), TE - Caleb Blueitt, and RB1 - D'onta Foreman. So what if UT was only up 10-7 with roughly 6 min left in the 1st half, they accomplished the 3 main goals when playing a substantially inferior opponent early in the season:
 1. UT covered the spread (+30, especially nice after a very emotional win and a short week to prepare)
 2. No major injuries (Shack will be back this week)
 3. A LOT of freshman played

That being said, there were still a few things that made me raise an eyebrow, but overall, there were a lot of things I loved.

Things that made me raise an eyebrow

- Buechele taking hits: Shane looked great, no question. If this was only Shane GIFs and none of my gibberish, I could probably make some bank with Google Adsense, but that's not why we're here. (<-- Good idea though amirite?!) YouTube is the ointment for that itch. Back to my qualms with Shane/the coaching staff - Shane ran 11 times, was sacked 3 times, and was hit/taken to the ground about 2 or 3 other times after he released the ball, which essentially nullify the few times he slide on runs. That's roughly 15 hits on your 18 year old (barely looks old enough to drive) and 190 lb quarterback who has already proven to be the most important piece of the offense in just two games. The sacks are a result of having a much lesser Rodriguez at LT instead of the resting starter, Williams. But, he pulled the ball too many times, didn't slide enough, and was taken out of the game a little too late. He took a hit in the redzone in the 4th quarter when UT already had a 34-7 lead. Unnecessary. Coaches should make him run after practice the following week for every time he pulls it after 5 runs in games like these. Of the "things that made me raise an eyebrow", this carries the most weight by far.

(Q2 - Shane takes hit after poor "juke")

- Depth at Oline: This is obvious, but if you watched the first half, you could see 40% of the starting offensive line is not nearly as good as 100% of the starting line. In particular, Rodriguez giving up back-to-back sacks in the 2nd quarter just can't happen. Not a major concern though as all of our starting oline except Perkins will be back next year, and our freshman class is loaded with talent. It's unlikely any of the 3 backups who started will be full time starters in the future, but lets just hope that our freshman olineman can get game-ready as quickly as possible just in case they're needed.

- The TD run: UTEPs RB is a good player, and his speed showed on that play. And frankly, one big play/TD is nothing to get bummed about. I just don't like the poor performances by 3 specific Horns on the play. As you can see below, our highest ranked DT recruit, J Elliott #55, gets blocked at the point of attack quite easily. LB Cole #30 (and Malik's backup) is unblocked but diagnoses the play poorly and doesn't lay a hand on the RB, and one of our future starting safeties, De Elliott #4, takes a poor angle. 2 negative Elliott's doesn't equal a positive.

(Q1 - Jones TD run slowed down)

Things I loved

- WR Depth/Willingness to block:
 - Depth: In the entire 2015 season, 5 different receivers caught a TD (6 if you include tight end Blueitt). In 2 games in 2016, 5 different receivers have caught a TD. More than numbers, the actual play of the receivers show that if 1 or even 2 guys go down, we won't miss a beat.

(Q3 - Burt? Nope, Leonard. Awesome.)

(Q4 - Heard's 2nd TD)
If you've been paying attention, this is our 3rd TD in 2 games on this exact play. Pay attention to outside WR #9 Johnson on the play, he fakes a block and runs up field. Notice he's wide open if he keeps running toward the back of the endzone. They're setting that future TD to the outside WR over the middle beautifully. Can't wait.

 - Willingness to block: Usually receiver blocking is emphasized in the run game. The idea behind WR blocking is that a 15-20 yard run becomes a 50+ yard TD run with good WR blocking. But, in our new offense, the plethora of quick throws to the outside are only as successful as the receivers who are willing to block. And so far it seems that all of them are more than willing, which is an impressive feat considering most of these receivers didn't get recruited to block.

(Q3 - Leonard block on Warrick catch and run - great how he stays on block for 3 seconds)

And speaking of Warrick...

- Warrick: Jacorey Warrick is the only senior in the receiving corps. He had more receptions and yards against UTEP than he had in ALL of 2015 (7 - 71 yds, 1 TD) vs (6 - 35 yds). Furthermore, tight ends Beck and Blueitt had more receptions than Warrick in '15 - both had 8. Remember when we had an offensive coordinator who preferred throwing the rock to heavy-numbered guys (#47 and #42) instead of super shifty and quick light-numbered guys (#11)? Man, those were the days. Anyway, Warrick makes the first guy miss on almost every catch, and as you see above and below, his YAC (yards after catch) abilities are really going to make this offense go.

(Q4 - Warrick YAC)

- Fish playing and making plays: As I mentioned above, this game was successful because we got to see our highly touted freshman got to see a lot of game action, much of which was in the first half with first-teamers. Here's a great list of who played and how they fared. This is great for recruiting too - what recruit doesn't want to join a fast rising team, and know they'll get a chance to contribute as a freshman. But, here were my favorite plays by freshman not named Shane. 

 - Malcolm Roach had arguably the best game of all the non-Buechele freshman. Great sack in the first quarter, and was disruptive on other plays. But, I love this play. #32 (LB on the nearside) was a 3 star defensive end recruit, is listed at 6'2" 260 lb, and can diagnose and close on plays like a solid linebacker... as a freshman. Love it when poor recruiting ratings work in our favor. Big boy can move.
(Q4 - Roach playing LB)

(Q1 - Jones blocked punt - future starting safety, and big play early in the game)

(Q4 - De Duvernay catch nullified by Off PI - still, good speed and catch. More to come from him this season)

With UT's first road game coming up in just a few days at Cal (maybe see you there?!), I'm looking forward to seeing how our pass defense holds up. The Lubbock Has-Beens (Dykes and Webb) have put up about 450 yards passing in their first two games. In particular, I'd love to see more pressure from a 4 man pass rush. We have 8 sacks on the year, 4 by DBs, 1 by LB, and 3 by DL. I'm looking at you Omenihu and Hughes/Hager.

Week 1 - (W) UT 50 vs ND 47

Quick intro/disclaimer: I'm not an aspiring writer or journalist, and am no more qualified to analyze football than your average Joe who played high school football in Texas. I'm literally "just another Longhorn fan", but I'd like to share my UT football opinions on a weekly basis with GIFs for a more pleasurable viewing. (If anything just scroll down to the GIFs and ignore everything I say.)

Let's get to it. Week 1 was awesome - the greatest Longhorn home football game I've ever attended. I was an undergrad during the glory years of the mid 00's, so that's saying quite a bit. If you're like me, you've watched the highlights multiple times and the full game replay on LHN at least once.

I wanted to share my thoughts, opinions, and analysis of the game in a similar format as one of my favorite sports writers/radio hosts, Bob Sturm of DFW The Ticket and DFW Sportsday. He typically writes great recaps of Dallas Cowboys games and nice breakdowns of NFL prospects with GIFs inline to better explain his thoughts. Anyway, here goes.

As euphoria subsides ever so slightly and a pinch of hesitation over our #11 ranking in the AP poll creeps in, I can't help but question - Are we deserving? Is ND not that good? How optimistic should I be? After watching the game a couple more times, my answers are: Who cares, It's just an early season ranking. No, ND IS good. As optimistic as I want to be. It wasn't a fluke.

I've gathered my thoughts into three categories: Things to Hang Our Hat On, Moving Forward, and finally, er, Finally. I turned a lot of plays into GIFs to help explain my views that you may or may not have read, heard, or seen else where, but whatever, like I said, skip to the GIFs if nothing else.

Things to Hang Our Hat On

- Notre Dame is good: At least according to Kiper, Notre Dame is littered with future NFL players, and this list doesn't even include Kizer. Hats off to him, he is very good, will be playing on Sundays, and we're a little bit lucky Coach Kelly mis-managed his quarterbacks by ever playing Zaire. Again, Notre Dame was a quality opponent, and they played well. In fact, Texas lost the turnover, penalty, and special teams battles. (If you don't have ESPN Insider, he lists ND's LT, LG, DT, DE, MLB, and CB as top 10 players at their positions of draft eligible players.)

- Running game is legit: You heard this before the game, throughout the game, and likely since the game, but we have THREE very talented runners over 240 lbs, who like to punish defenders. Not only is our offensive line better (just watch the first series, and see how the Perkins/Hodges combo dominates on the right side), but we have depth for days at RB/QB2. You can't blame the Notre Dame 2nd level defenders (linebackers/safeties) for putrid tackle attempts on Swoopes after four quarters and one overtime of the 500 lb Foreman/Warren monster. We knew it coming in, but this run game is going to wear down defenses, and that won't change.

(Foreman - Q2)

(Warren - Q3)

(Swoopes - OT2)

- Malik is the man: Not much to add, except he's awesome, and everyone knows it. He'll be a top 10 pick similar to what Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith would've been if they didn't have their respective health issues. Fortunately, we have him for another year, so here are a few GIFs of his awesomeness that maybe the casual-est of fans might overlook.

(Malik sets the edge - Hager with the tackle for loss on the statsheet - Q1)

(Malik is FAST - runs down a smaller RB - Q1)

(Malik gets off the block and makes the tackle right before crucial stop - OT2)

Moving Forward

- Depth: Will any of our highly touted freshman become key contributors? Or maybe the better question is, how soon can they contribute? I'm interested in seeing some improvements at backup/rotation spots. There should be a lot of opportunity in the next two games for some younger guys to get playing time and prove themselves. Key spots I'll be looking at:
   - Safety - Will Brandon Jones get playing time, and can Elliot supplant Hall?
   - OL - Will any of the freshman (Okafor/Hudson) rotate in and can we get an improvement over Nickelson? There was significant drop off between Hodges and Nickelson at RT in my opinion. See the play before the INT when he gets pushed back 5 yards into the back field.
   - LB - Will the Shark (McCullogh) or Fowler make an impact this year? I don't think the second unit of Cole #30, Freeman #35, or Hager #44 should see a ton of playing time in big games moving forward. They're not bad, but they're not impact players. Maybe one of these freshman will be.
   - WR - Deep shots to Duvernay or jump balls to Collin Johnson?
   - DT - Any of the 5 4-star DTs showing up will be a huge help

   Not sure if this counts as depth, but having high quality role players round out your squad truly makes a good team great. Gotta give Jake Oliver some love. He's one of the few guys who wasn't on my radar before the game who made a few key plays like this one below.
(Oliver 3rd down catch - Q2)

- The new offense: It kind of reminds me of the old basketball adage, live by the three or die by the three. By no means am I blaming the disappearance of a 17 point lead on the new offense (it got us the lead to begin with) -  it's a combination of several factors including a very quality opponent, an untimely mistake/questionable QB management (the INT), and the aforementioned offense. The opponent - we can't control. The mistake - happens (Moving forward, all drives should start with Shane). High octane offense - it's here to stay (thankfully). On that last point, when you have consecutive 3 and outs after a turnover with a very uptempo offense, you will tire out your defense to the point where guys like Malik are jogging around, or are catching their breath on the sideline. Not only was the defense tired, but (and this may just be poor conditioning in week 1) you could see a significant fatigue in many UT offensive lineman as the game wore on. It has major benefits as seen throughout the first half. In the first GIF below, you'll see how easy a block the lesser Nickelson has on Buechele's amazing pass to Heard solely because the defender can't get in position before the ball is hiked. Nickelson is likely in because of Hodges being tired, and it's still only the first half.

(Nickelson #75, RT, easy block - Q2)

But, here you'll see a tired Hodges #58 block air. I can't say for sure that his assignment was to block the guy over his left shoulder (who ended up making the play), but on the other view, Shackleford appears upset with him just as the play ends. Regardless, blocking nobody was likely not his assignment. This was a crucial 3rd down during the ND come back. (I bet he was in because the coaches realized they'd rather have a tired Hodges than a rested Nickelson)

(Hodges #58, RT, tired no block - Q4)

John Burt's hands: I really don't think it will be an issue, but as you can see in the second video below, he almost dropped his long touchdown catch. In case you missed it, he dropped a perfect pass by Shane on essentially the same play in the first quarter. He also dropped a deep pass in the spring game. As you see in the first video, he can catch the ball with his hands with a defender barreling down on him, but for some reason, the wide open/full sprint/over-the-shoulder catch appears to give him fits. I hope it's mental and he gets over it, and not something that rears its ugly side during a crucial moment down the road. But if it does, I hope Heard and Duvernay are ready and willing to pounce on the opportunity should it present itself.

(Burt catch 5 yd stop - Q1)

(Burt TD - almost dropped - Q3)


- Boo-shell: Obviously I've saved the best for last. He deserves all the thesaurusy accolades already thrown his way, and there are many a highlight to enjoy, but I'll leave you with 3 key plays from the last TD drive of regulation that prove that in addition to finally having a spectacularly accurate deep passer ...

... we have a fearless (albeit undersized) guy at the helm who bounces back from costly mistakes.
(Buechele pulls it for an 11 yd run - Q4)

... we have a guy who makes quick decisions and adjust his throws over pass rushers.
(Buechele pass to Warrick - Q4)

... we have a guy who makes the easy pitch for an easy catch when he should at a crucial time, something this fan base hasn't seen in 7 years... Finally, we have a quarterback.
(Buechele pass to Foreman - Q4)