October 11, 2009

The grades are in - CU report card

If the No.2 Texas Longhorns were hoping to slide into a mid-season groove on the eye of their titanic showdown with arch-rival Oklahoma next weekend in Dallas, then consider Saturday night's 38-14 win over Colorado a miserable failure. Oh, the defense and certain aspects of the special teams looked sensational for the better part of 60 minutes, but the Longhorns offense was a flat out mess against one of the worst defenses in the Big 12. So, which positions excelled and which are lagging behind? Let's look at the Orangebloods.com report for the answers.

Grading scale

A - All-American level
B - All-Conference level
C - Average
D - Below average
F - Complete failure

Quarterback - There are a couple of ways to look at Colt McCoy's performance against the Buffs. On one hand, the senior All-American completed 32 of 39 passes for 265 yards, a touchdown and an interception. On the surface those numbers look strong, especially in terms of completion percentage. However, there's a lot more to playing quarterback than completing a lot of short passes and on this night McCoy didn't do a lot of those well.

Whether it was McCoy's decision-making or the offensive game-plan, McCoy emerged as a one-dimensional player in this game, locking on to Jordan Shipley and often ignoring every other receiver on the team. If the Longhorns are going to continue to remain among the nation's elite undefeated teams, he has to start trusting the other players in the offense because on a night when the Longhorns scored twice on offensive touchdowns, only one Texas player had more than 40 yards receiving. The 6.7 yards per completion and 8.1 yards per completion are frightening numbers.

Also, the two turnovers by the Longhorns came via McCoy and he has to share the some of the responsibility on both plays because he too good of a player to not protect the football better inside his own 20. On a lot of afternoons McCoy is often unfairly judged against some of his own best work, but on this afternoon the comparisons to mere mortals was more than adequate and McCoy's body of work on this night didn't add up to much. The bottom line is that he had as many turnovers inside his own 20 yard-line as his offense had scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns.

Grade: C-

Running backs - This is going to be a short review - they weren't good. In fact, things got so bad on this night that the Longhorns admittedly quit on the running game in the second half against a run defense that was so bad coming into the game that Toledo and West Virginia were able to make season highlight videos out of their games against the Buffs. Starting running back Vondrell McGee had 14 yards on seven carries, while adding four receptions for 23 yards. Back-up Foswhitt Whittaker had the team's only significant run with his almost accidental 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. All you need to know about this group, outside of their 47 rushing yards on 17 carries, is that the only run of more than five yards all night by a running back was on Whittaker's touchdown, which only required that he bounce out of a clogged hole, reverse field and outrun the entire defense to the pylon. It was a failure of a night for this group.

Grades: F

Wide receivers - Let's get Jordan Shipley's sterling performance out of the way because he's performing a such a high level that if the Heisman Trophy race wasn't the sham of an award that it is, Shipley would be a leading candidate because there's not anyone nationally that is outperforming him. The former Burnet star caught 11 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, but that doesn't really do him justice because as the Longhorns enter the sixth game of the season, he's emerged as pretty much their entire offense. Hell, we haven't even started talking about his special teams skills yet. He's the best Longhorn receiver in the history of the school in my mind, but to give you an idea of what kind of night he had, even Superman has to own a little responsibility for McCoy's interception because it went off of his hands.

After Shipley's contributions there wasn't a lot to speak of from the wide receivers, although Dan Buckner was solid with a career-high six receptions for 39 yards, with two of the six catches moving the sticks for a first down. Junior James Kirkendoll had three receptions for 25 yards, but he also dropped a ball, committed a holding penalty and really had a rough night in the blocking department. All of the chemistry that was supposed to have been built in the spring/summer with McCoy seems lost.

Meanwhile, John Chiles had a very limited impact on the game and sophomore Malcolm Williams was a total non-factor. Overall, this group caught 27 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. Solid numbers, but far from this group's bar.

Grade: C+

Offensive line/Tight ends - I can't remember a position group in the 10 years of the Mack Brown program that has ever underperformed more than this year's offensive line. When you consider that this group returned so much experience from last season and featured so many players expected to eventually step into all-star caliber play, it's numbing how poorly this group is playing.

Normally, an offensive line can take relief in knowing that one of the worst defensive front sevens in college football was headed in their direction, but at no point on Saturday night did this group control the line of scrimmage. On top of that, this group had way too many giveaway plays that left to forced turnovers, sacks and destroyed drives.

It's the same old story with this group. If you go back and watch the group play-by-play, there are flashes of hope and some positive signs. It's always one guy here and one guy there that end up having an F-grade performance on a play, and when you have more than a half-dozen of those kind of plays in a game, it just kills your offense. I'm not talking about missing an assignment. I'm talking about guys falling to their knees and barely waving at a defender before he forces runs free into the backfield to blow something up.

Also, let's make it clear that it's not just one guy, it's the entire group. At various times in the game, Charlie Tanner, Michael Huey, Kyle Hix and Chris Hall had them - giveaway plays that is. If you're looking for a winner of the Boss Hogg Award, I'm guessing it goes to Adam Ulatoski because he was solid and didn't have of the huge mistakes that the other had.

The bottom line is that this group is holding the entire team back and if they don't start playing better, the goals of this season will remain unaccomplished.

Grade: F

Offensive game plan - Greg Davis is going to need to regroup this offense heading into the Oklahoma game because he currently has a unit that can't run the ball against the worst of teams and a passing offense that appears to be restricted to within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and to two receivers.

Throughout the game the Buffs were able to use Texas' tendencies against them. If the Longhorns had Cody Johnson in the game, Chiles at quarterback or if the offense tried to hurry up to the line of scrimmage with a quick snap, the Buffs defense knew exactly what play was coming and almost the entire defense knew to sell out against the tiredly consistent play-calling.

By the end of the game, the Texas offense was nothing more than one quarterback throwing to a single receiver, with everything else representing white noise, while the Buffs defense continued to squeeze 10 or 11 men within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage because they had little fear of Texas throwing over the top of them. That fact is ironic because the Buffs had given up 11 plays of more than 40 yards on defense this season, but the Longhorns generated none on this night.

The Longhorns averaged 1.8 yards per rush, 4.8 yards per play and had as many turnovers as touchdown drives. If we're being honest, it was one of the worst offensive performances (considering the competition) in Davis' career at Texas.

Grade: F

Defensive line - This group continues to generate chaos for opposing offenses, while shutting down whatever resemblance of a running game a team brings against them. The Buffs can't do a lot of things offensively, but Rodney Stewart is their best player and he was held to 1.9 yards per carry on 21 carries, while the team was held to 42 total rushing yards on 34 carries.

Lamarr Houston, Ben Alexander (five tackles) and Kheeston Randall might not have dominated the stat sheet with sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles or any other headline-making plays, but they stuffed the run between the tackles all night and they provided a steady dose of pressure up the middle in pass rush.

Meanwhile, the Texas defensive ends were everywhere. Senior Sergio Kindle faced constant double teams and he still made plays all over the field, recording six tackles and two tackles for loss. Fellow starter Sam Acho was credited with five tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.

Overall, the defensive line was credited with 18 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack. They were dominant.

Grade: A

Linebackers - The Longhorns continue to get great play from at least two linebackers in each game and this week it was Roddrick Muckelroy and Emmanuel Acho, which is starting to become a running theme this season.

Muckelroy was sensational again with 11 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and constant caused mayhem for the Buffs, while the youngest Acho recorded five tackles and three big tackles for loss. Whether it was against the run or in pass coverage, the linebacker unit for the Longhorns did their job.

Perhaps the only real negative on this night was the blown coverage by Keenan Robinson on the initial touchdown of the game, but he should have had better safety help than he received.

Grade: A

Secondary - So far this season it hasn't really mattered who the Longhorns are facing, the opposing quarterback is not having a lot of success throwing the ball against this secondary.

While holding the Buffs to less than 100 passing yards and less than 40 percent completion percentage, the group of Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Earl Thomas, Blake Gideon, Nolan Brewster and Deon Beasley never allowed the fact that they had little offensive security on this game bother the. The scoreboard didn't matter, only that the secondary was not going to give up much of anything through the air.

The corners, along with Thomas were especially impressive, as they combined to shut CU's leading receiver Scotty McKnight to one catch for 12 yards.

Thomas 92-yard interception return for a touchdown was the play that broke the game open and Gideon's interception was one of the most athletic I've seen since Cedric Griffin's against Arkansas back in 2004.

Grade: A+

Defensive game plan - Will Muschamp and Co. continue to put together defensive plans that confuse and mostly render opposing teams helpless. One of the wrinkles that Muschamp added in this game to help combat the Buffs' power running game was a switch to a 3-4 look that had Kindle and another outside linebacker (usually Emmanuel Acho) standing up at the line of scrimmage. Look to see this front even more next week against Oklahoma because it gave the Longhorns added protection against the run and it opened up one-on-one opportunities for Texas' most lethal pass rusher.

Overall, Muschamp continues to do a great job of mixing up his personnel and defenses, which makes his group deadly when they get a little bit of a lead and can pin their ears back. Colorado's 1.2 yards per rush, 3.3 yards per pass attempt and 2.2 yards per play are just disgusting numbers.

Grade: A+

Special teams - This is a tough group to grade because there was a lot of bad mixed in with some breathtakingly great. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way. The protection lapse up the middle led to a blocked field goal, Justin Tucker averaged 28.8 yards per punt and mixed in a five-yard effort and the kickoff coverage was mostly abysmal.

The good news is that the Longhorns were able to make up for those mistakes with explosive plays from Shipley in the return game (74-yard touchdown return) and a blocked punt return for a touchdown.

The consistency from this group is not what it needs to be, but you cannot ignore the fact that this phase of the game contributed as many points to the scoreboard as the offense.

Grade: B

Overall - If the Longhorns are aiming for a championship level standard, they fell far from it on the offensive side of the ball. However, the defense continues to dominate the opposition and they've pretty much been able to do that through the first five weeks of the season. Now the Longhorns will face their biggest challenge of the season and the level of effort, consistency and production need to improve across the board next week if the dreams of a national championship are to remain alive.

Grade: C

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