I really wanted to come with some silver linings, but I’m not ready to lie to myself yet. The best I can come up with is that special teams wasn’t entirely a disaster as it has been in the past, and more important, Texas may have still found a way to win if it hadn’t committed so many stupid penalties. Normally you’d say those are fixable, but the repairman has been MIA for years. After what I’ve seen these past several seasons, my definition of fixable for this football team has changed.
This is 2016 all over again: a combination of players who are lost and players who are trying to do too much. The play is sort of an inverted zone bluff. The H-back crosses the formation like he’s going to kick out the defensive end, but instead the DE is being read, and the H-back is looking for the next off-color jersey. The quarterback can either toss it to the running back or run it between the tackles.
The man being read is sophomore Malcolm Roach. He should be responsible for the quarterback, but he bites on the fake toss and opens up a lane inside. It was probably game over at that point.
But there was another error. Had Roach forced the toss, there would have been no one there to clean it up because Mac linebacker Anthony Wheeler – a junior – was chasing phantoms. There’s nothing indicating to him that he should run inside and into the waiting arms of the right tackle. He and DeShon Elliott should have been outside and in position to bracket the H-back’s lead block. Only Elliott did his job.
This time, Maryland is running zone read with a triple option. Texas almost plays it well: Elliott eliminates the third option, Charles Omenihu (who’s being read) has the QB, and the inside linebackers are running a cross dog blitz into the A gaps. Malik Jefferson hits the frontside A gap, and Wheeler is supposed to fill the backside A gap. Instead, Wheeler attacks the outside shoulder of the guard, also known as the B gap. He can’t shed the block and get back into his gap, and the ballcarrier waltzes through the opening.
EVEN STILL, there’s a safety between the ball and the goal line. Safeties at major programs should make this tackle; Brandon Jones didn’t even make contact.
Jones was the star of his own tragicomedy when it came to perimeter run defense on Saturday. Look up most of the outside runs and you’ll see him either falling victim to very defeatable cut blocks or flailing hopelessly at the runner’s feet. On this play, it’s the former.
But there’s plenty of blame to go around. Junior nickelback P.J. Locke makes the best block on the whole play, since he eliminates two defenders – himself and Wheeler. The running back who becomes the lead blocker should have been looking to cut Locke, but since Locke had already blocked himself, Maryland was able to block Jones, who should have been free.
Finally, there’s the comically bad pursuit angles taken by Locke and Kris Boyd. This issue has reared its head over and over for years, and it’s hard to blame coaching. Go to any youth football practice and you’ll see players doing pursuit drills. Being incapable of observing a runner and adjusting your speed and angle to intersect his path is the punter equivalent of this:
At least Todd Orlando can blame youth for some of this play. True freshman Taquon Graham is lined up as the 4i on the right side. He’s responsible for the B gap, but Maryland’s left tackle is able to dig him out of his gap. Freshmen playing like freshmen (ahem, Daniel Young fumbling a kickoff) is understandable, especially in week one.
But where the heck is Locke going? He runs straight upfield, but he’s not responsible for the near back – that’s the job of Brandon Jones (just out of the shot). Maybe Locke thought Maryland was running a sweep, but the back likely would have been lined up closer to parallel with the quarterback if that were the case, and at any rate, even a cursory glance at the nearest lineman would have told him it wasn’t a sweep.
No Pass Rush, No Eye Discipline
Here’s one of those exotic blitzes you heard about when Orlando was hired. It’s a four-man rush, with Elliott blitzing off the weak side. Behind the blitz, it plays out like Cover 2. Jones and Locke are the deep zone defenders, and there are five underneath defenders, with the solo-side cornerback (Kris Boyd) in man coverage. The biggest problem is that Locke lost a race; in the future, he probably should start bailing before the snap. But he also should have had a little help from Jones in the other safety spot. Jones basically didn’t drop at all. If he had, he may have been able to affect the throw.
The defensive front also could have done more to disguise the pressure. It would have helped, for example, if Naashon Hughes had lined up closer to the box instead of defending grass. I’d blame it on the new scheme, but Texas has been terrible at disguising looks for years now. Underclassmen, upperclassmen – it doesn’t matter.
Here’s another pressure that didn’t get the job done. The blitzers, Locke and Wheeler, were hardly at the line of scrimmage by the time the quarterback had completed his drop. There was no anticipation of the snap whatsoever.
Behind that, an old problem in the secondary was back. Despite having no run responsibilities, Kris Boyd was so focused on the backfield that he forgot about his only job: covering the guy in front of him. There’s no reason for it; he’s trying to do too much.
Buechele: The Difference Between ‘A’ Problem and ‘The’ Problem
Shane Buechele had ups and downs, but my initial read is that he played an above-average game. His stat line was fine and looks better when you consider that he was under pressure even when Maryland was dropping seven or eight into coverage and had NO run game to ease the pressure. The biggest problem I saw was that he was trying to do too much.
This was an insanely predictable play call to start the game. It was one of the most frequently run plays in the spring game – watch the first two plays and you’ll see it. Maryland thought it was predictable as well, which is why they rolled their coverage to the trips side – the best defense against this passing concept (known as Sail).
What’s frustrating is that the coverage has a glaring weakness – the weakside flat – and the play has a route built into it to target that area. For whatever reason, Buechele seems to think that’s a play-fake and not a true option. It’s pitch and catch for at least a five-yard gain if he makes the obvious throw. Some folks on Twitter wanted him to throw the flat route, and perhaps he could have for a minimal gain, but the defense was accounting for that route as well with two defenders. The fatal mistake had already happened.
Tom Herman said Maryland played a lot of 2-Man. Here’s an example. To beat it, the offense needs to be able to run the ball, create rubs to knock defenders off their man, or select or manufacture favorable matchups. The first option was too tall a task for Chris Warren, Kyle Porter and the offensive line. (I hope to find out why later this week.) The officials deemed the second option intolerable – and Texas wasn’t very good at executing the rubs anyway. The third option somehow wasn’t viable as often as it should have been; guys weren’t consistently winning and getting open.
This time, one of them did. Texas switched the normal alignment so that Armanti Foreman was the No. 3 receiver and Porter was in the slot to the trips side. Maybe Maryland would get sloppy and put a linebacker on Foreman. At the very least, this alignment gives Foreman more room to work.
The protection was good (it was just a three-man rush, though), and Foreman beat his defender. The throw wasn’t great but ironically may have disoriented the safety enough to enable Foreman to score.
Reggie Hemphill-Mapps picked up where he left off in the spring game. He’s not the game breaker that Urban Meyer and Herman are used to having in the H role, but he appears to be dependable and he played as hard as anyone on Saturday.
Holton Hill is another guy who looked pretty good.
Hill did a great job hanging on the vertical route by the outside receiver until the ball was thrown, then closing on it in time to snag the tipped ball. He may have been a tad too quick in his backpedal, but it worked out fine. He seemed to be all over the field.
I hope to have time later this week to analyze the problems with the run game on both sides of the ball.