November 26, 2010

The grades are in - Texas A&M report card

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - In a lot of ways, Thursday night was the perfect ending for a perfectly rotten season for the sophomore quarterback. Garrett Gilbert made his share of plays in completing 20 of 37 passes for 219 yards and accounting for two touchdowns, but he also made his share of critical mistakes in the game, and when push came to shove in the final moments of the game Gilbert had a chance to lead this team to a tie/win… and he blinked. In a lot of ways, he outperformed the ballyhooed Ryan Tannehill with his playmaking skills.

However, you can't ignore the turnovers and his fingerprints were all over this game with them. The mishap on the zone-read changed the complexion of the game forever, as did his third quarter interception on what was at that moment the most important drive of the season. And finally there was the tipped pass for an interception inside the A&M 15-yard line in the final seconds. Perhaps not all of those plays were his fault, but that doesn't matter. Only the bottom line matters and in this game Gilbert turned it over too many times… again… and didn't play well enough for the team to win.

I'm as invested as Gilbert as anyone, but he enters this off-season much like Colt McCoy exited the 2007 season. There's a level of commitment, leadership and talent that simply must be developed or this program will stay in this desperate state.

Grade: D

Running backs -There's some good news and bad news in this one. The good news is that Cody Johnson really did build on his performance last week and was the best player on the offensive side of the ball for the Longhorns with his 107 yards on 14 carries. The bad news is that he was only given two carries in the first quarter and six in the first half, while fellow junior Fozzy Whittaker was getting more touches at a 2:1 rate, despite averaging 3.5 yards per carry on the night. Frankly, it doesn't make any sense that Whittaker received even playing time or touches in this game, especially after last week's performance.

Meanwhile, D.J. Monroe might have sealed his fate with a fumble on his only offensive touch of the night, which seems fair because the offense has a history of benching players for poor play…

On the night as a whole, the position turned in a very favorable performance with 144 yards on 25 carries, along with five receptions for 59 yards. A 200+ yard performance that included explosive plays on the ground and through the air will win you a lot of games, just not last night's.

Grade: B-

Wide receivers -I'm done with this group for the year. There's so much about this group that I just don't understand. I don't understand why they don't come back for the ball or fight for the ball when it's in the air. I don't understand why it seemed like the Aggie receivers blocked like their life depended on it, while the Texas receivers chicken-fought with their hands. I don't understand the dropped passes or the personnel rotations. I don't understand not being ready for the ball. Again, there's so much that I don't understand at this position that it's hard to know where to start. I also don't know how all of this could pop up almost every single week of the season.

James Kirkendoll was ok with seven catches for 52 yards, but in the last game of his career his longest catch went for 11 yards. Meanwhile, fellow senior John Chiles caught two for 33 yards and apparently kept Mike Davis on the bench for most of the game with presence on the field.

Bottom line - 14 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown is below average production, which matches the level of detail and purpose we've pretty much seen for most of the season. This position needs a critical fresh start and a clean slate heading into 2010. No single player should be considered a starter at this point and nothing should be simply handed to players like it was this season.

Grade: C-

Tight ends- This group played a lot of snaps and was ineffective for most of the night. This position is just a total cluster void of quality players and play. A&M true freshman Nehemiah Hicks is five times the player than any tight end on the roster and he's a true freshman from a small central Texas classification that Texas didn't think was good enough to offer. Yes, that's a power indictment on this position and the decision-makers behind it.

Grade: D-

Offensive line -Speaking of positions that need to be started over from scratch. If there's one thing that you can throw a parade over today, it's the thought that the Longhorns will have two completely new offensive tackles in 2011, which is there was ever going to be addition through subtraction, this would seem to be a likely case. Can it get worse? As if getting abused by Von Miller and the rest of the A&M defense wasn't bad enough, the pre-snap penalties from Kyle Hix and Britt Mitchell killed a red-zone opportunity and turned another third-and-one into a third-and-six. Meanwhile, the run blocking was not good, especially on the left side of the line, and the pass blocking was just abysmal at times, as the performance of the bookends didn't give Gilbert a chance to compete at times.

Meanwhile, the interior of the line was not much better, but at least there's some youth there to pin the blame on. Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters were solid at times and not so much at others. The guy who played the best ball was probably junior David Snow, but when the line gives up an official line of three sacks and eight other quarterback hits, along with numerous dumb penalties and give-away plays, it's tough to notice. Even on a day when the running game had its moments, 18 of the 25 carries to the running backs went for four yards or less. Against a very mediocre defensive front seven, that is simply unacceptable.

Grade: F

Offensive game plan - Well, at least Greg Davis got to play his seniors one more time. Lord knows that he rode on that train until the very last car went flying off the tracks into a crashing mess. There was so much about this particular game-plan that made less sense than just about any the Longhorns tried this season. For instance, on a night when the wind was ripping the flags off the mast and the temperatures were near freezing, it seemed like a perfect night for Cody Johnson to touch the ball 20-25 times, except he touched it twice in the first quarter and five times overall in the first half. Instead, the carries went to a completely ineffective player and arrived on the heels of a career-best performance by Johnson. And, of course, once the Longhorns started to feed Johnson the pill on a consistent basis, he started to wear down the A&M defense in a big way. Meanwhile, there were seniors all over the field at wide receiver, which meant that Mike Davis barely touched the field all night and didn't have a pass directed his way until the second half.

If we stop and look at nothing else, the lack of use by both players, especially early on makes you wonder what in the hell the coaches sit around thinking about in the days leading up to the game? Is it collusion? Could they possibly be sitting around trying to figure out ways to get the wrong guys the ball? It would certainly explain the DJ Monroe situation better and deep down I couldn't help but think how excited Greg Davis was at the thought of not having to play Monroe again after the fumble. Anyways, I digress.

Really, what Davis served up was another remedial game-plan featuring the players on the roster that I suppose make up the safest possible line-up and against a defense that absolutely could be had, has been had and was asking to be had on Thursday night, the offense scored 17 points, turned the ball over four times, including twice in the red zone and twice more on their side of the field.

Thank goodness this season is over.

Grade: F

Defensive line -A disaster. And that was just the pass rush. In order for the Longhorns to win this game, they needed the defensive line to own and dominate the line of scrimmage like they have at times this season, but on this night they got their ass kicked by a young A&M offensive line. We'll get to the atrocious run defense in a second, but the pass rush was just as abysmal. Time and time again, Tannehill had time to throw the ball when the Aggies actually tried to throw the ball because the Texas front four couldn't get off blocks and create a pass rush. Sam Acho didn't need to be good in his last game at Texas… he needed to be great. Instead, he finished with one tackle, one special teams fumble recovery and that's about it. One tackle. Let that soak in for minute.

Of course, it wasn't just Sam. None of the defensive linemen made a dent in this game in a positive way. Their play against the run appeared to be scattered and without purpose at times, and their inability to control the line of scrimmage made this game almost impossible to win. One of the big challenges in the off-season will be rebuilding what turned out to be one of the worst defensive lines in the Big 12. There's plenty of talent in this group, but the tackle play outside of Kheeston Randall was so poor this season that it helped ripped the soul out of this defense.

Grade: F

Linebackers -Why are there only two linebackers on campus good enough to play for Will Muschamp? That's a question Muschamp needs to ask himself this off-season. The defensive coordinator is the linebacker coach and has been in town since January of 2008, but the depth at the position has never been worse under Mack Brown and the lack of size at the position proved to be a fatal flaw in this game like it had been in several others down the stretch. Junior Emmanuel Acho simply isn't an interior linebacker, but he's been forced into that role this season and he struggled with the responsibilities in a big way against the Aggies. Meanwhile, fellow junior Keenan Robinson made 13 tackles, but few were made moving forward. Outside of Acho's sack, the team's starting duo just didn't play that well. Give Jordan Hicks credit for coming in when Robinson was dinged up and making a key sack. Makes you wonder where he's been all season…

Grade: F

Secondary - The corners played pretty well, especially Aaron Williams, who shut down Jeff Fuller one year after the Aggie receiver destroyed the Longhorns. Curtis Brown also played a pretty good game and was effective against Fuller. When the Longhorns didn't put a safety on him that is already not very good in pass coverage, they defended A&M's best player very well. Ditto for youngster Carrington Byndom. He's a starter next year - book it.

The play at safety was as poor as the play at cornerback was good. The tackling and overall play from Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro and Christian Scott just wasn't very good. Those players had chances to make tackles and plays, but they just missed time and time again. In fact, the run support from the safety position was probably the worst this year that I've ever seen with a Mack Brown team and never was it worse than Thursday night when the safety play was so bad at times that they weren't even in a position to miss tackles at times on the most important plays of the game.

Grade: (B+) for the corners/(F) for the safeties

Defensive game plan -Like the offense, this game was lost before it started. The play at defensive tackle and safety has been an Achilles Heel all season and it popped up again in the final game of the year. There's just no way to hide those glaring weaknesses, along with the lack of size or depth at linebacker. You just can't be a great defense or even a good one like that.

Muschamp tried to play a lot of base. He did have Aaron Williams blanket Fuller for much of the game. He did rely on his front four to get a pass rush and it didn't happen. Once that part of the puzzle was destroyed, the rest of the plan didn't stand a chance.

The only real play I'll nitpick is the decision to let Scott man-up with Fuller in the end zone. It was just dumb and it cost the team seven points. Overall, a very average defense played a below average game and struggled with the basics of football as much as they struggled with the opponent. That's on the coaches.

Grade: D

Special teams -One on hand, the only thing that kept this game close were the special teams mistakes by the Aggies, so you have to give the Longhorns credit for creating a few fumble opportunities and a blocked punt that played big parts in a comeback. On the other hand, everything about the special teams is still a mess. The kickoff team basically handed starting field position at the 35-40 every time they took the field, whether they squib kicked it or kicked off normally. The return game was in shambles for another week. But, this was the only part of the team that turned in a winning performance, even with the poor plays included.

Grade: B

Overall - The worst season in Texas football history is now over. Thank goodness. In a way, it was a perfect loss for this team because everyone can own a big slice of the blame. So much about this team is currently a mess that it's time for everything to be stripped down and time for a fresh start. The hope if you're a Texas fan at this point is that real change is made and a real plan that works is put into place because this team sorely lacked a good working plan for all of 2010 and certainly in this game. The players played hard, but not well, and this is not the kind of town that is big into moral victories. In the final game of the season, they surely fought their guts out and in the process they made history… just not the kind of history a team that played for the national title a season ago can be proud of. Now it's time for everyone in the program to find a mirror and Mack might have to break a few without worrying about the perceived seven years or bad luck that comes with it.

Grade: F

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