Following a 17-7 win in Ames on Thursday, let’s take a look at how the offense graded out against the Cyclones.
Playing in his first game since the season opener against Maryland, Shane Buechele had a mixed bag of results. The sophomore ended the night 19 of 26 passing for 171 yards and a touchdown. He also added 13 rushes for 53 yards. During the first half, I thought Buechele played well and was able to find a rhythm in the passing game. His touchdown pass to Toneil Carter was one of the best throws he has made in his career, standing in the pocket and delivering a perfect ball when he knew he was about to get hit. Unfortunately when the penalties started piling up and the offensive line broke down in the second half, Buechele struggled mightily. His lone interception was a pass that he tried to force down the field into coverage. Iowa State brought 3 rushers for most of the night, and Buechele never seemed to completely trust his offensive line, often times moving outside of the pocket before he needed to.
Scoring 17 points against a defense like Iowa State is not good. A lot of fans were unhappy about the QB play, and deservedly so. As I was watching the second half it occurred to me that no one on the offense is being put in a position to succeed. Right now, players are being asked to do things they are not good at and their strengths are not being utilized. Starting Sam Ehlinger next week is not going to solve a lot of the problems. Buechele has to improve, though. I will give a passing grade due to his first half play, his success running the ball (I still cringe every time I see a QB power) and because a lot of the breakdowns in the second half were not his fault, but he needs to take better care of the football and take what the defense gives him.
Following the first drive it looked like Chris Warren was well on his way to a monster game, but he only finished with 44 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown. Kyle Porter was certainly not much better – carrying the ball 17 times for 41 yards. It is quite frustrating to watch the offensive staff try to run Porter between the tackles and then try to give Warren runs off tackle. The offensive line is not giving the running backs anything to work with. In particular, Warren seemed to be getting hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on nearly every run following the first drive. The fumble on the reverse play was a good play call, but poorly executed. The ball should not have been pitched once Warren saw the traffic he was going to have to navigate through. The pass blocking for both backs looked decent, but right now the primary focus has to be figuring out how to get Chris Warren going. Maybe Texas needs to utilize the screen game more, like the play at the end of the first half.
Toneil Carter was the bright spot on the entire offense and helped pull this group’s grade up. He saw his first extended action of the season and looked very good. A couple of his runs were called back due to penalties, but the freshman still finished the night with 4 carries for 14 yards to go along with 2 receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown. Carter has the best burst out of any running back playing right now, and I think the coaching staff is beginning to realize that. He will continue to see more playing time going forward and hopefully can become a nice compliment to Porter and Warren for the rest of the season.
It was a quiet game from the receiver group, mainly due to the absence of any sort of consistent passing game. Lil’ Jordan Humphrey led the way with 4 catches for 36 yards, with the next highest yardage total coming from Collin Johnson with 2 catches for 27 yards. One problem I saw was the inability for receivers to get open when Buechele was outside the pocket. There were several plays where Buechele had more than 5 seconds to throw, and it looked like receivers were doing a poor job of coming back to the QB and finding ways to get open. The blocking in the screen game continues to need work. It is baffling that guys like Devin Duvernay and Jerrod Heard continue to be absent in game plans and are hardly being utilized.
Kendall Moore and Cade Brewer saw all the playing time at tight end again. Moore’s role in the offense basically becomes mute when the offensive line is allowing constant pressure. I saw several plays where Moore handled his man, but 2 or 3 other guys got beat and the play never developed. Brewer caught 1 pass for 6 yards and was otherwise quiet. Neither tight end stuck out, but neither tight end is the reason that Texas was not moving the ball well. It will be nice when Texas develops an offensive identity, because I think Brewer in particular is too much of a weapon to not be a difference maker. Texas still lacks a complete tight end that can block well and catch, but tight end is low of the list of what is plaguing the offense right now.
At halftime, I was writing down some thoughts and I actually planned on praising the offensive line’s play given the circumstances. The second half completely changed that. The offensive line allowed pressure the entire second half and committed penalty after penalty. Texas commits on average 9 penalties per game, ranking 115th in the country. Derek Kerstetter had a rough second half but actually performed decently well overall. He is a plus blocker in the run game and plays through the whistle. He is still a work in progress in pass protection, but it is obvious that the potential is there and the staff likes what they have in the true freshman. I mentioned this in my post game thoughts, but Tristan Nickelson is at his best when he is asked to block straight ahead and not move east/west. Calling an off tackle sweep or reverse to his side is just not smart play-calling. The coaching staff needs to know what their offensive line succeeds at and put them in less vulnerable positions.
The interior of the offensive line created no push in the run game and performed okay in the pass game. Patrick Vahe and Jake McMillon need to be difference makers up front with the absence of Connor Williams, and they did not perform that way on Thursday. Zach Shackelford actually looked to change the way he held the ball pre-snap, and had a clean game in that regard. The unit as a whole looked good in the first half due to Iowa State rushing 3, but once they began to bring pressure in the second half, things unraveled quickly.
Run Blocking Grade: D+
Pass Blocking Grade: D
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