Credit apathy and low expectations, but I’m not as upset about this loss as I was about the others. Remove the two idiotic defensive penalties on the first series, hand the officials an NCAA Football rulebook, and embrace the deep ball sooner and with more fervor and the outcome may have been different. I didn’t feel that way watching it live, but taking the emotions out of it, this was a more competitive game than I thought. It was certainly more competitive than it’s been against TCU in recent years.
The best way to think about the challenges the offense is facing is to imagine Texas is playing a man down. Maybe even one and a half or two men down — but definitely on the offensive line. As Tom Herman said, there is no waiver wire, and the notion that players get better during the season is usually false — that’s what the other eight months are for. Once the games start, they’re about as good as they’re going to get. For Texas on the O-line, “as good as they’re going to get” is freaking awful.
Texas has good receivers. They have good running backs, whom the coaches chose not to play for half the season. But there are no run or pass plays that are designed to work with 3-4 offensive linemen. Fine, bring in a tight end and try to run it. His is just one more potential missed block. Bring in a tight end, don’t release the back and try to throw it with seven-man protection. That can work, as we saw, but it mostly amounts to 50-50 balls, and it gets less effective the more players the defense drops into coverage. I don’t know what the answer is except time — time for young players to develop, for injured players to get healthy and for new players to enter the pipeline.
Here are some of the more cringeworthy examples of the offensive line’s woes.
The first play is infuriating because Daniel Young was one Tristan Nickelson block away from going 64 yards for the touchdown. The play is dart — it looks like inside zone except the “frontside” tackle pulls and the back cuts back to follow him. Patrick Vahe is on the ground. Terrell Cuney starts getting worked once Jake McMillon moves on to the second level. And still, if Nickelson gets his body on his man, this is a long run. What else can you do?
The second play is zone read. It’s 3rd down, and Texas needs a damn yard. Shane Buechele reads it correctly and keeps the football. All he needs is for Derek Kerstetter to get in the way of a linebacker.
The third play is Twitter famous now (Cuney essentially did the same thing on another draw in the fourth quarter) so I’ll be brief. This can’t happen. The coaches are trying to help the line out by doing things to slow down TCU’s front, and they can’t even be bothered to execute those things.
Here’s one of those outlandish defensive line stunts that purportedly blew the minds of our linemen, I guess because they don’t watch film ever? Cuney is put in a position where he must — *gasp* — block a person coming right to him. He employs the old speed-bump technique, Buechele does a Sam Ehlinger impression, etc.
The second play came after a play I’ll discuss in another clip, but suffice it to say Texas had just gotten hosed. Still, they have a chance to score before the half, with the ball at the TCU 31. Buechele wants to throw quickly to Armanti Foreman on the quick out, but he doesn’t, probably because Kerstetter is being walked back into this face. (This isn’t obvious from the still shot in the video, but let it play; the pressure was very likely to affect the throw and result in a floater/potential pick six.) That’s bad news for Shane, because TCU’s pass rush only has to count to two-Mississippi. Oh, it’s another Tex twist stunt.
The next clip is from the ensuing play. The video speaks for itself.
The fourth play was discussed during the broadcast. There’s a 90 percent chance Lil’Jordan Humphrey was supposed to run a bubble screen, and probably an 80 percent chance he’d have converted the 4th down. Instead, it’s a … coverage sack, I guess?
Chuck and Pray
A few weeks ago when Collin Johnson lost his spot to Dorian Leonard, I posited as a reason that Johnson wasn’t making the tough catches that a big receiver is supposed to make. I said 6-foot-6 receivers are supposed to turn 50-50 balls into 70-30 balls. Herman bumped that up a notch after the game and said he considered them 75-25 balls. This is what they’ve been looking for from Johnson (and on the second play, from Humphrey).
What the diagram on Humphrey’s catch shows is how Quarters coverage handles vertical routes. The receiver on the solo side is double-covered. The outside receiver on the twins side is one-on-one. And the slot receiver is effectively doubled for the first 10-12 yards, but then he’s one-on-one with the safety. That’s the matchup Texas targeted on the second play.
They should have done it more often. I understand the impulse to throw 9 routes to Devin Duvernay, because you know he’s the fastest man on the field. But the defense knows it too, and every opponent so far has treated him as such. There is no point throwing a go route to him against this big of a cushion, especially when TCU is giving you the same matchup on the slot from the previous clip. Let your 6-foot-4 freak of a receiver, with the entire middle of the field to work, try to beat their 5-foot-10 safety, whose last name is literally Small. From just these clips, it should be clear how close Texas was to going into the half trailing 17-14.
What the (F)Eck?
Alan Eck, the official from the 2015 Oklahoma State-Texas game who I can only assume sleeps on a bed of T. Boone Pickens’ money, is now off taking bids in the NFL, but Saturday’s crew gave me flashbacks. We’ll focus on the two drive killers, again just to illustrate how close this game could have been.
The first clip depicts the hosing mentioned above. That man in the funny striped shirt and black pants is called the “umpire,” and one of his jobs is to identify penalties such as defensive holding that occur 15 feet in front of his face. Texas had been moving the ball pretty well on this drive, which started at their own 21. This penalty would have given them the ball at the TCU 21, and at least the chance for Buechele to get sacked three consecutive times instead of only two times.
“OK, but officials are human,” you say. “They miss fouls all the time. What’s the big deal?” And you’re right. EXCEPT THAT IN THIS CONTEST AND THIS CONTEST ONLY, THEY ARE ABLE TO REVIEW PLAYS AND CREATE PENALTIES THAT WEREN’T CALLED ON THE FIELD. I couldn’t find anything in the NCAA rulebook that allows officials to create offensive pass interference from instant replay. Instead of 1st & 10 at the Texas 39, the offense is pushed back to 2nd & 23 at its own 13. This kills the drive. It was still just a 10-point game at this point. Texas’ offense is pitiful enough without bad officiating conspiring against it.
Protect the Flats
Until the last touchdown, TCU’s offensive success was predicated on speed sweeps and the quick game to the flats, then countering when Texas overcompensated. We can pretty much walk through the first three scoring drives and see this.
TCU opens the game with a quick screen to the outside. Antwuan Davis did a nice job filling in for P.J. Locke, but he was late to react here. Easy yardage.
Later in the drive, TCU comes out in a quad set and Texas doesn’t get lined up. The DBs are playing off the line and are outnumbered. Davis does a better job here, but he can’t finish the play. Easy yardage, exacerbated by Holton Hill’s late hit.
The effects of this sideline-to-sideline attack manifest themselves in the next clip, where backside linebacker Malik Jefferson runs past playside linebacker Gary Johnson in pursuit of the sweep action. Mad props to Breckyn Hager for blowing up the right tackle and disrupting the puller, but this should have been a tackle for loss, not a five-yard gain.
Now that Texas is overrunning plays to the outside, TCU employs the counter: a gutsy throwback pass on 4th & 2. When you’re away from the action as Malcolm Roach is here, you’ve got to clear the bootleg, the cutback and the reverse before you join your friends in chasing the football. Play with discipline, and you could force the ballcarrier to take a TFL or risk throwing a pick. Hell, they didn’t score it as such, but this was actually a backward pass; play it right and maybe there’s a scrum to recover the fumble. The only bright spot to point out is the effort by Poona Ford. And maybe Chris Nelson’s laughably bad vertical.
To the second scoring drive.
In the first clip, TCU recognizes the blitz and throws the bubble screen. Hill is too timid — compare his action here with Davis’ in similar clips, including the next clip — and what should be about a one-yard gain turns into six or seven.
Next clip: quads (with a tight end as No. 4 this time) again, and again Texas isn’t set. Davis blows up the block and forces the ball back inside to the pursuit, but TCU needed only one yard for the first down.
The next play is quads again. Unlike in the previous video, this time Texas matches the numbers by walking Malik out and putting him on the line of scrimmage outside of No. 4. The result is pretty good. If the ball gets outside of Malik, there’s only three defenders (vs. two blockers) between the hashes and the sideline, an area that’s 20 yards wide. By forcing the receiver inside, between the hashes, Malik makes him try to evade between five and seven defenders in an area that’s only about 13 yards wide.
The next play, TCU lines up in … you guessed it: a quads set. By now, Todd Orlando is fed up with this gimmicky crap. Matching their numbers wasn’t enough to make them cut it out, so he throws one more player out there. (He can also do this because the fifth eligible receiver is in the backfield instead of split out on the opposite side, where he would necessitate a corner and, so far, a safety. With No. 5 in the backfield, the weak safety can come over and help to the four-receiver side.) What this means is that the weakside cornerback — Kris Boyd, in this case — is basically free to float around against the pass and make sure nothing gets thrown behind him. Instead, he and Malik are both totally mesmerized by the weakest play-fake ever, and the No. 4 receiver is able to stroll up the seam unmolested.
A couple of plays later, there’s another bubble screen. TCU motions the wing out and into a position where he can easily reach block Davis, but there’s no discernible adjustment from Davis or anyone else. Predictably, Davis is reached, and Brandon Jones has to run the play down near the sideline.
Despite having 1st & Goal at the 2, TCU wasn’t able to punch it in because, for the first time in a while, they couldn’t really handle Texas’ defensive front. So when they got the ball the next time, guess what they did.
Cuatro. At first it seems like Orlando has forgotten what was just working for him — there are only three DBs out there, right? Play it through, and you’ll see the weakside safety shuffle over the top and John Bonney, who was lined up in a gap to deter the run, sneak out there as an underneath defender. It’s really 5-on-4 again. Davis again does a great job. Help is slow to arrive, however, and it’s a nice gain.
The broadcast cut off the beginning of the next play, but we can get the gist by slowing it down. It’s another counter to go with the barrage of screens to the flats. Texas is in Cover 2 and Hill gets nosy, letting his man jog outside and down the sideline uninhibited. We’re blind to what Jones does, but based on the ground he covered between the moment he left the picture and when he returned, we can safely say a better angle would have put him in position to make a play on this ball. (For what it’s worth, remember that he’s a true sophomore who saw most of his action on special teams last year. I think he’ll get there.)
Now inside the red zone, TCU goes back to dinking around the flats. Kenny Trill whips the ball out there like a shortstop. It’s pretty good defense. We’ll save the breakdown that followed for the next video.
I’m ignoring the first TCU touchdown because short-yardage plays are usually boring to dissect, and Texas played good defense. The little booger just dove over them.
This first clip is a comedy of errors. Texas looks to be running a zone blitz, bringing the nickelback and Mac linebacker off the edge and slanting toward the H-back. The blown assignments pile up in a hurry. Gerald Wilbon has a chance to follow the center to the football and make a Poona-like TFL, but he’s sluggish off the line — and then he gets reached by the backside guard! He winds up TWO gaps behind where he’s supposed to be. Taquon Graham, who is next to Wilbon, gets reached too. He’s also pushed a yard off the ball, which I’d like to say disrupted Gary Johnson’s path to the ball, but it didn’t. Because of Johnson’s bad angle (and Graham’s getting reached), the center is able to block him, and the H-back can move up to the safety.
Here’s how this should play out: Johnson slams into the H-back at the line of scrimmage, Graham DOES NOT get reached and gives the playside guard such a fit that the center has to help him out, and Wilbon gets off the ball while it’s still November and trails the center to the ball and the TFL. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the guys I just called out are a junior who’s only been in Austin since like July, a true freshman, and a true sophomore who’s exceeded all expectations so far.
Play two was, for me, the backbreaker. Get the stop on 4th & 1 and Texas takes over with maybe 70 yards to go, almost 4:30 on the clock and down by 10. It’s a long shot, but if Buechele connects on a couple long shots of his own, it’s possible. Anyway, this defense shouldn’t be surrendering 4th & shorts — especially not 4th-&-short touchdowns.
I’m not certain this is what went wrong, but I’ve got a strong suspicion. With a tighter angle, DeShon Elliott may have been able to make the tackle for no gain. I think Malik saw the huge gap in front of him created by Malcolm Roach failing at first to get to his gap and tried to fill that. But where it went awry, in my estimation, is on the frontside.
Chris Nelson knifed through the playside C gap and into the backfield, negating any chance that the ball could bounce outside. I think this is by design. I think he and Hughes were supposed to be exchanging gaps. With Hughes getting a base block from the tight end, he would fold inside to play the B gap, putting him in the path of the back. This is an inside zone-killing stunt, and TCU was running inside zone.
I’m not even going to talk about the missed tackle that followed.