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Thoughts Following the Meltdown Against Texas Tech

Photo: John Gutierrez, USA TODAY Sports

Coming off the win against West Virginia, this Texas team looked like they were heading towards capping off Tom Herman’s first season with a three game winning streak in what looked like an inevitable win over a struggling Texas Tech team. Confidence only improved when the news broke prior to kickoff that Texas Tech would be rolling with their backup quarterback in the season finale.

Then the game happened. Texas was in control of the game for most of the night despite the offense being poor for the majority of it. The defense did their job, but once Nic Shimonek entered the game, he jump started the Tech offense to a degree that resulted in two passing touchdowns, including the dagger that won it.

My intro to my actual thoughts will be a page long if I don’t get started, so here we go.

That was the worst loss of the season and it’s not even close

I didn’t think it could get much worse than the debacle that Texas opened the season with against Maryland at home. Well, the Red Raiders rolled into Austin and Texas promptly said hold my beer. Maryland, prior to the massive rash of injuries they sustained, actually wasn’t a bad football team. It was easy to see the pieces for the Terps and remain hopeful with what they had to work with.

In Texas Tech’s case you have a coach who was on the brink of getting fired by his alma mater, he just benched his starting quarterback, and the defense (despite being improved) is still not very good and gave up their fair share of points and yards this year. They were beaten down coming into this game and even though they were playing for a bowl berth, they probably would have folded after a few good punches to the mouth. Was Texas able to accomplish that? Nope.

After marchimg right down the field on the first series of the game, the Texas offensive continuously found ways to keep Tech in the game by struggling to make first downs (7 for 22 on 3rd down) and being absolutely horrific in the red zone when they made it there. This offense failed time and time again this year and they were unable to impose their will on a defense when they needed it most. Tonight it ended up costing them. Josh Rowland had to kick field goals from 19 and 20 yards out because the offense was unable to finish in the red zone and if they punch just one of those in it’s a completely different ball game.

Even after that the game was still there to be won. The bottom line is this game was absolutely winnable and the team proved once again that they have an issue finishing teams in the end. To be clear, this was bigger than the offense not getting done. The defense had several let downs of their own and the biggest ones came down the home stretch once Shimonek was inserted into the game.

Good teams finish and the proof is in the pudding for this once again for this 6-6 team.

Turnovers cost Texas in more ways than one.

I probably could have led off with this considering that turnovers led to Texas’ demise in Austin on Saturday. The Longhorns gave the ball back to the Red Raiders on four different occasions (two INTs, two fumbles) and the last two were the most crucial.

Texas managed to navigated around the fumbles, but the two Ehlinger picks were back breakers and both were questionable, at best, decisions from the freshmen. Texas is driving to put the game away in Tech territory and as he scrambles right he throws back across his body into the arms of a defensive back, who ran the ball back deep into Texas territory setting up Tech for the go ahead score. The final one looked like a desperation heave towards to two Texas receivers who didn’t have a shot at making the catch and tried fruitlessly to play defense to no avail.

I still think Ehlinger will get better and by no means am I bailing on him this early in his development, but in at least three instances this year he turned the ball over in crunch time. The fumble at USC, the turnover against Oklahoma State, and the pick tonight against Tech. Depending on how you view the Oklahoma game you could add another one onto his resume.

The kid will live and learn, but those were all game-deciding turnovers that could have drastically changed the trajectory of Texas’ entire season.

While we are on the topic of turnovers, how many potential turnovers did the Texas defense leave on the field tonight? They managed to pickoff McClane Carter twice, but they also dropped several more that could have changed the outcome. DeShon Elliott in particular dropped one that hit him right in the hands, and if he keeps his feet he has a chance at one on the game winning touchdown drive.

Something has to give in the offensive meeting room.

For me (and just about everyone else) this goes way beyond just a one game performance. The Texas offensive went an entire season without really having an identity or any rhyme or reason. At best, the offensive performance was frustrating this year, and at worst it was absolutely maddening. Tonight was more of the latter than the former.

The offensive line only allowed one sack tonight early in the game when the Texas offensive brain trust inexplicably inserted Shane Buechele into the game after initially starting Ehlinger. Buechele completed two passes for six yards and was then never heard from for the rest of the evening.  I am still struggling to grasp the idea of putting Buechele in early on. That’s one of many things I would like explained by the offensive decision-makers on this staff.

I’ve already touched on the red zone issues the offense has faced all season, but the most puzzling football decision of the night came on the final drive before the half. With only seconds left and no time outs deep in Tech territory, why on Earth is Texas trying to run the football? Not only was Tech selling out on the run on that play, but Texas was fortunate that progress was blown dead because it almost became a turnover. That was a bad football decision in a season that has been full of bad ones. Another instance that stands out in my head was when Texas tried to hurry to the line and run back to back quarterback sweeps on second and third down. The Texas offensive line struggled all night (and year) to impose its will in the run game, so you rush into the same play to the opposite side just to get thrown for a loss and have to punt? This offense scratched and clawed out 116 yards on the ground at a whopping 3.5 yard s per rush against a less than stellar defensive front.  It feels like the guys in the booth have been watching a different group from the rest of us all year long.

From the beginning of the season to the end of the season I didn’t see any growth or progress on the offensive side of the ball. Injuries impacted that side of the ball this year, but that still doesn’t explain several things that range from game planning, play calling, and personnel groupings.

I can’t imagine Herman envisioned having to make a staff change this early in his tenure, but there is absolutely no way he can stay with what he has after the performance on the field and up in the box.

Finding the optimism will be tough heading into the offseason.

This team just scratched and clawed its way to yet another 6-win season and even with a bowl game on the horizon this season feels deflating on so many ways. A three game winning streak and a seven-win year can be candied up a bit, but ending the season on that kind of note leaves an awfully bitter taste in your mouth, even with the bowl eligibility.

All of the momentum built up last week just went out the window, and now Texas is likely to lose several guys to the NFL via early declarations. Lets say hypothetically Connor Williams, Malik Jefferson, Holton Hill, and DeShon Elliott all declare for the draft next month. Do you feel confident a 6-win team will improve in 2018 after losing those key players considering the issues it faced this year?

This season has several parallels to Charlie Strong’s first season in Austin to the point that it is almost scary. The only thing that is missing is a beat down in a bowl game that sends the team to 6-7 on the year before being victimized by the NFL Draft.

Kris Boyd continues to play well

Lets end this thing on a positive note.

I’ve criticized Kris Boyd as much as anyone this year, so it’s only fair that I acknowledge when he is playing well, like he has been lately. Last week he locked up a Biletnikoff award finalist in David Sills and this week he was matched-up on Dylan Cantrell who only logged two catches for 12 yards this evening.

Boyd may not have played at a high level all year like his counterpart Hill did prior to deciding to be a knucklehead, but he is showing with Hill out that he can pick up the slack as the team’s number one corner. That’s very encouraging with the likelihood of Hill declaring for the draft in the coming weeks and gives Todd Orlando a building block to work with in the secondary in 2018.

A loss like this takes the wind out of your sails if you are this team and the staff. It looked like the staff was going to be able to hang its hat on progress with a 7-5 year, in which they were competitive week-in and week-out and weren’t embarrassingly blown out like we had become accustomed to. Instead of ending the regular season on a high note, Herman and his staff endured their worst loss to date during his short tenure in Austin, by allowing a mediocre Texas Tech squad to mount a comeback in the final moments and embarrass a program in prime time.

I’m not sure where to begin as a coach in the locker room tonight. Now you have to get this team refocused and confident over the next month as you prepare for a third tier bowl game that nobody will probably remember.

On to the bowl season.

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