I wasn’t planning or expecting to have to drop one of these pieces so early in the season, but now that I’ve had a day and some change to think it over I’m going put some of my thoughts on paper about what transpired on Saturday in Austin.
I said in the predictions piece on Friday that no matter how the game played out that you couldn’t get too high or too low because the season can’t be won or lost in week one. I’m sticking by that because obviously there is still plenty of season left to circle the wagons. They say in coaching that when you go back and watch the film it is neither as good nor as bad as you thought was when the game was playing out live. More times than none that holds true.
I’m sure when Tom Herman and his staff go back through the film they will find some positives that they feel like they can build on, but they will probably also find plenty of things that they either need to fix or scrap completely going forward. At the end of the day the game against the Terps brought about a lot more questions than answers and given how the schedule is setup, that isn’t promising for the Longhorns.
So where do we start? From the moment this staff was hired and put in place we’ve heard time and time again about how the little things have been stressed and how Herman constantly harps on the details. It was hammered home how the team would be sound fundamentally and discipline would be instilled after the previous staff failed to accomplish that. After taking in that game in its entirety I can safely say it feels like everyone was sold a bill of fake goods.
Bad angles in pursuit, alarming number of missed tackles, defenders not hitting their run fits, busting simple protections in pass protection, blunders on special teams, and lastly… penalties. These are things that plagued this team last year and led them becoming the butt of several jokes nationwide. After watching this team on Saturday all those things mentioned seemed to be front and center once again like nothing had changed. Except this time there is no Charlie Strong to blame it on.
After the game, Herman said something along lines that if everyone expected things to fixed in nine months then they were mistaken. I don’t think anyone reasonable expected all issues to magically disappear between now and last November, but at bare minimum I was expecting this team to be able to go out there and execute what is being asked of them and that they will play sound, disciplined football. It’s safe to say that bar was not cleared.
At this point I have questions that span from things such as why some guys seem to be stagnant in their development and when is it time to give other guys a bite at the apple to what exactly was going in the coaches’ office when they were going over game planning for Maryland?
For instance, the staff knew going in they were deficient at tight end and were going to have to trot out Garret Gray as their starter if they wanted to use him in personnel packages. Gray is a converted wide receiver who in normal circumstances is probably not going to see too much PT in an ideal situation. The coaches knew going in that the situation was far from ideal and they still opted not scheme around the position like Herman had previously mentioned. Instead they put Gray in situations in which he had to win as a blocker on the edge and it went about as bad you would expect. They also opted to keep Gray on the field when they decided to go to empty sets rather than putting another receiver out there, which I didn’t really understand at all.
That’s just one example, but here’s another. Linebackers are still completely lost when it comes to their run fits. We saw a lot of this last year to the point where you had to ask if guys just weren’t getting it or were the coaches just horrible teachers. At this point it’s probably a bit of both because after having months to hammer out the basics they were back to getting gutted in the run game and letting Maryland rip off big runs. It was no secret that Maryland wanted to establish the run early and pound the rock. Everyone knew for months that was what they wanted to do when they rolled into Austin. Yet the defense looked completely bewildered and confused.
Want another? The secondary is still getting balls thrown over their head in crucial situations where they absolutely can’t allow it and guys seem to not know where there help is coming from. This once again led to the defense not being able to get off the field and kept drives alive for Maryland. You can take your pick and just about every guy in the starting lineup gave it up on Saturday. So once again are things just not clicking for guys or are the coaches horrible teachers?
These are the kinds of things going through my mind as I watch the same issues from last year play out in week one of this season.
The offense has plenty of things it has sort out in short order, but if the defense is going to allow 40+ per game, then it makes the margin of error for the offense almost nonexistent and forces them to have to be perfect. That’s not feasible.
Speaking of the offense, my worries about the running back position came to fruition on Saturday. Texas doesn’t have a feature back on the roster to pick up the slack left by D’Onta Foreman (landing JK Dobbins stings even more now). On top of that, the offensive line wasn’t getting a consistent push at the LOS for the run game to get going and they had Shane Buechele under fire most of afternoon, which was something I wasn’t anticipating to be an issue outside of right tackle. The run game was basically abandoned early on as Texas found itself in a big hole it had to crawl out of thus leading to Buechele having to throw the ball 50+ times.
Anytime the Texas offense looked like it was getting some momentum or putting a drive together, they found a way to shot themselves in the foot via penalties, lack of execution, or poor play calling. I love Drew Mehringer as a recruiter, but he better be drilling his group all week on how to run a proper pick route. If my three year old daughter can tell it’s an illegal pick then you need to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate how you are teaching the technique.
While I’m talking about coaches going back to the drawing board, Derek Warehime needs to rally his troops. It’s unacceptable that Maryland was able to get pressure on Buechele with as few as three rushers at times. It’s unacceptable that his bunch looked befuddled when it came to picking up blitzing linebackers who are tipping their hand. This is day one stuff that an experience group shouldn’t be struggling with in week one. Can’t happen and shouldn’t happen.
This brings me to the topic of the quarterback. As you see I just laid out some issues that were surrounding Buechele on Saturday and I’ve already previously written on the board that I don’t fault him for a lot of the stuff that transpired out there. Was he without fault? Absolutely not. The first series of the game was as bad of a series you will see from Buechele and it resulted in him getting squared up for a big hit that he doesn’t need to be taking. He wasn’t as crisp on the deep balls as we’ve seen in the past, he self-sacked and self-pressured himself at times, and he isn’t going to strike fear into a defense with his wheels and ability to improvise. He’s not perfect and nobody is saying he is.
With all that said and all the issues plaguing the offense, Buechele still posted a respectable stat line that included 375 yards passing with a completion percentage of 65% and three total touchdowns. Lets make things clear. Buechele is far from the biggest issue holding the offense or the team back right now. Before we start screaming for a change at quarterback, I would rather see a staff competent enough to scheme around the strengths of their starting quarterback who threw for almost 3,000 yards last year and set freshmen records in 2016.
Capable staffs can scheme around the strengths of their personnel. I don’t think Sam Ehlinger, a kid who was just taking snaps on the high school level several months ago, is going to be some kind of magic bullet that people are making him out to be. He has yet to take a snap at the collegiate level and people think he will be the answer to kick starting the run game without having anything to go off of. If the offensive line doesn’t get its act together it may not matter who is back there taking snaps, so be careful what you ask for.
I’ve talked/written a lot. But these are the things that have been on my mind since the clock hit triple zeroes on Saturday. At this point I have as many questions for the coaches as I do for the players, because I feel like the coaches didn’t have their team put in the best possible position to go play confidently and to be successful.
Texas was never going to win all of their games this year. That wasn’t feasible. Thinking this team was going to hit the corner and win 10+ games wasn’t any more feasible. At this point this team needs to show it can put together a complete football game for sixty minutes before we start trying to predict wins. Saturday’s loss to Maryland showed that this team isn’t anywhere close to competing for championships of any kind. The season isn’t over by any stretch, but expectations need to be dialed back and recalibrated until the team proves it on the field.