Just as many thought, the game Saturday was a shootout between two teams that are growing their young offenses while failing to fix their problems on defense. Led by Joe Bergeronâ€™s 5 touchdowns, the Longhorns held on to beat the Baylor Bears 56-50 in a game that revealed more of the identity that this Texas team is showing; one that is very opposite of what many of us had thought before the season.
These are in no particular order.
1. Joe Bergeron: I donâ€™t feel comfortable saying that ground game is back on track because Baylorâ€™s defense, like Texasâ€™, has been one of the weakest in the conference. But it was reassuring to see Joey B and company have success against the bears like they were expected to. Bergeron had 19 carries for 117 yards and 5 touchdowns, just 1 shy of tying Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williamsâ€™ six, which he accomplished twice in his college career. Though I would have been happy for Joey B, I found it fitting that he felt 1 shy because I have yet to see anyone at UT as good as Ricky was in the backfield. Along with Bergeronâ€™s big day, freshmen Daje Johnson and Jonathan Gray both scored their first rushing touchdowns of the season. I said this before the season, but the strength of UTâ€™s running game wouldnâ€™t be displayed due to one running back taking over as the lead back, but because each of the running backs provide a different running style and brings something different to the offense. And that was very evident on Saturday night. This rushing attack will need to continue to be a strength of the team because it looks like the offense will have to carry the team to wins.
2. Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis: For the second straight week Jaxon Shipley had only one catch the entire game. And for the second straight week Mike Davis had at least 5 catches. Some people are saying there may be something wrong with Jaxon but Iâ€™m not buying that right now. I think itâ€™s more of a combination of defenses focusing in on Jaxon, and Ash spreading the ball around to different options. Donâ€™t get me wrong, Iâ€™d love to see Shipley touch the ball 5-10 times a game. (But it is what it isâ€¦ just kidding.) But I donâ€™t think his lack of production is because of a secret injury. As for Davis, he is looking like the Davis of old and Iâ€™m happy for him because he is producing. Though he can still work on avoiding drops. Heâ€™s had a bad drop every now and then that has cost the team big time yards or points.
3. David Ash: Though he didnâ€™t have a big game, he had a good performance and a solid showing after a rough weekend in Dallas. Ash eased a lot of my nerves and concerns by passing for 274 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. Aside from the OU game, Ash has continued to provide the offense with the passing plays that can make this offense one of the strongest and most balanced in the nation. And not only does he continue to make some nice throws but he isnâ€™t doing anything to necessarily lose the game or put the team in a tough spot by making dumb mistakes (once again, aside from the OU game). The Bears defense wasnâ€™t anything special but the fact that he was able to bounce back and have a solid showing the entire game after falling flat on his face in Dallas is a big sign of maturity and confidence for him.
4. Offensive Line: Give credit where credit is due, the offensive line was solid Saturday night. Ash was protected well, but more importantly the O-line was able to open up holes and get a push off the line for the running backs. Whether or not they were playing against a weak Baylor defense, as a team Texas rushed for 251 yards and scored 7 touchdowns, and that could not have happened without the offensive line playing well.
5. Turnovers: The game was a shootout and the difference was six points. But this game was won largely because Baylor committed two turnovers while Texas had 0. The defense did give up a lot of yardage and points, but the turnovers they forced played big parts in the game and led to two touchdown scoring drive for the Longhorns.
Texas has had its problems on both sides of the ball all year, but the turnover ratio has actually been a bit of a strength this season, which is a good improvement from the past couple of seasons. Currently the Longhorns have tossed 3 interceptions (all by Ash) and lost 3 fumbles, but have gained 4 fumbles and picked off opposing teams a total of 9 times. Thatâ€™s good for a ratio of +7, which is 22nd in the nation.
If you want to see who ranks ahead of Texas, here is the link:
SI.com – College Football – FBS Season Statistics – Team Turnover Margin
6. Flags, Confusion: There are a few signs in football that can almost always signal that a team is lacking discipline, adequate coaching, or both. Texas had problems with both. If I counted correctly, Texas committed 5 flags that totaled 52 yards for the Bears. Of those 5 flags ALL 5 were committed by the defense (defensive holding, rouging the passer, personal foul, pass interference, & offsides). In addition to the flags there were multiple times when the defense struggled to line up correctly with the offense, had substitution issues, and/or had to look to the sideline for the play because they were confused on what exactly to run. All of these problems fall on one person and that is defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Sure the players are the ones causing the flags but Diaz is the one who should be coaching them not to. Diaz should also be the one coaching the defense to be ready for the play call, to be ready for the substitutions, and to play with discipline. Iâ€™ve been very impressed with the offense this year at how well they are able to substitute in between plays. Itâ€™s a luxury to have a plethora of players to insert onto the field, but sloppy substitution efforts, as displayed by the defense, completely nullify that advantage. Also, this far into the season there should have been no reason why the defense was having as many problems as they did lining up or understanding which play was called. There were at least 2 instances in the game where LB Demarco Cobbs was lined up on a Bearâ€™s player who was split out furthest to the sideline in a multiple WR set. Normally youâ€™d think a corner would be playing that far out. Iâ€™ll admit Iâ€™m not exactly sure if that was actually by designâ€¦ But if thatâ€™s the case then thatâ€™s one weird play design. Either way, in addition to points allowed/yards allowed, the defense continues to show signs that they are not being coached well and are not playing up to standards expected.
7. Stopping The Run: In a game dominated by offense, Texas again struggled with stopping the run. Baylor rushed for a total of 255 yards and scored 4 rushing touchdowns. Watching the defense against the run is very frustrating and the problem starts at the line and with the linebackers. The D-line continues to get swallowed up and fails to shed their blocks. And the linebackers make poor reads and take themselves out of the play more times than not. This is very uncanny of Longhorn teams in the past and the defensive problems will continue to appear as long as teams are able to run the ball with success, like they have all season.
8. Lacking Instincts: Of all the injuries the Longhorns are dealing with, in my opinion Jordan Hicksâ€™ injury is easily the most significant. Not only is the defense lacking leadership, but also his instincts and strong ability to react to plays are missing, especially at the linebacker position. Though Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs have different playing styles than Hicks, every great linebacker is usually good at having an idea of where the ball is going and/or being able to react to plays quickly as they develop. So far Cobbs, Edmond, and any of the rest of the linebackers havenâ€™t shown any consistency or strength in that area. It should be noted that this is basically the first year that any of these guys are getting significant playing time. But currently all of them can still make large strides at reading the play faster and getting into the right position to make a play on the ball carrier.
9. Stepping Up: With injuries and inadequate play starting to plague the defense I liked how both Josh Turner and Cedric Reed played against the Bears. Turner made some good tackles and was responsible for the only interception of the night. And Cedric Reed showed some decent pass rushing ability and recorded a sack during the game as well. On the offensive side of the ball M.J. McFarland finally made a splash as he hauled in 1 reception for 29 yards. It appears that M.J. is finally improving his blocking enough to see more playing time.
All of these players are underclassmen and have the entire rest of the season to display their skills in hopes of solidifying their roles and positions. Iâ€™d love to see each of them step up and win a starting job.
10. History: Texas continues to add to an uncanny year defensively by allowing the most points ever scored during a win for the school (Baylorâ€™s 50). This defense is one of the worst in the country and Iâ€™ll be surprised if Manny Diaz is retained after this season.
It took a lot of points and some turnovers to help the Longhorns get the win against the Bears. It may not have been a dominating victory, but this win was very important for this young Texas team after being completely stomped on by OU in Dallas. There are still a lot of problems with this team, specifically on defense. But at the same time there are things to like, such as the play of David Ash. If the defense could play at a high level like we all hoped they would then there is no question this Texas team would be a top-10 team. But according to Mack â€œit is what it isâ€ and for now the offense is carrying this team while the defense continues to struggle.