Traditionally it’s considered common courtesy to wear black to a funeral, and the Iowa State Cyclones wore all black alternate uniforms as they officially laid to rest any hopes of Texas earning a berth in the Big 12 championship game. In Ames, ISU’s field goal as time expired resulted in a 23-20 win for the home team and a third loss in the previous five games for the Longhorns.
After starting the season with a promising 4-1 record, Texas has saddled itself with a 6-4 mark. With two games left on the schedule, the Horns find themselves playing to improve their selection odds for the minor Big 12 bowl games.
Of Texas’ four losses, one is to the #1 team in the country and two are to teams above them in the Big 12 standings. Better said, the story of the 2019 season has become that Texas is good enough to beat lesser teams but not good enough to beat a team as good or better than them.
Despite being non-existent early against the Cyclones, the Texas offense managed to do enough to put the Longhorns in position to escape Ames with a win. Continued failures by the players and coaches closed that window of opportunity.
From that perspective, the lesson of the game was: If a team is outplayed for 80% of the game, odds are they’re going to lose. Outside of 10 minutes total, Texas was outplayed.
After two months of concern over the defense, Texas got a serviceable game from that unit and wasted it with inept offense. In doing so, Texas has now completed the circle….all 3 three phases – offense, defense, and special teams – have now had glaring failures that have resulted in losses.
One of Tom Herman’s most-used talking points this season is that his team’s best effort is good enough to beat anybody. Beyond being a media sound byte, apparently the idea has been communicated to the team enough that players have echoed the thought when talking to reporters.
With the offense stepping up to carry its share of the blame in the ISU game, one of the three phases has underperformed in 9 of 10 games this season.
Nobody challenges the notion that, at its best, Texas is good enough to win any game, but with four losses on the books the idea has morphed into a hangman’s knot. If Texas’ best is good enough, why is that level of play elusive?
In attempt to avoid the mistakes costing them games, Texas coaches are consumed by tweaking schemes, play calls and the team’s execution. To the observer, perfection and alignment appear as priority.
Players win football games, not schemes.
Trying to develop perfect schemes and play calls is putting the cart before the horse. Players win football games, not schemes.
By focusing on Texas needing to play its best, Herman and his coaches seem to have overlooked a key cog in the wheel – their players. It’s often said that a team takes on the personality of its coach. Herman’s intellectual tendencies of trying to create perfect schemes instead of letting talent win over the course of four quarters has resulted in players concerned with perfect execution of a scheme instead of letting their skill dominate.
With just two games remaining, it feels unlikely that Herman and the coaching staff could change philosophically before the end of the season. Even if players were turned loose, there is no guarantee that habits from 10 games could be undone so quickly.
However. something beyond schemes and play calls needs to change. Striking a balance between chasing perfection and having players play in an unencumbered fashion is in order.
Each week Matt Cotcher will continue to build “The Story of the Season” as it unfolds.
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