September 22, 2008

Hit or miss - Did UT achieve success vs Rice?

Heading into Saturday's road game against UTEP, I came up with a list of ten things the Longhorns needed to do to make the game a true success. In the first game of the season the Longhorns hit eight out of 10 in their romp over Florida Atlantic, but they only hit five of 10 the following week against UTEP.

So, how did the Longhorns do this week in their beating of Rice? Let's find out!

1. Start Fast

The build-up before the game: " Great teams strike fast against inferior opponents and if Rice has any delusions of winning the game, the Longhorns need to end those fast. Championship quality teams bury outmanned opponents at home from the outset, which means the Longhorns need to have a two touchdown lead going into the second quarter."

The verdict: Had it not been for a turnover by Quan Cosby inside the red-zone, this would have been a mission accomplished. Instead, they ended up taking a 7-3 lead into the second quarter.

2. Limit the turnovers

The build-up before the game: " In a game like this, you wouldn't like to see any turnovers, but if you're going to have one, it can't be the kind that leaves short fields or returns for touchdowns. Overall, McCoy and the offense need to keep the turnovers at one or less."

The verdict: The good news is that Colt McCoy enjoyed a turnover-free night, but Cosby's fumble, along with John Chiles fumble in the second half, cost the Longhorns 14 points on the scoreboard. You can get away with silly turnovers against Rice, but that cannot happen as the schedule gets tougher.

3. Force the vertical passing game

The build-up before the game: " It's time that this offense starts to open it up a little and there needs to be an average of at least one designed vertical throw (over 25 yards) per quarter."

The verdict: The Longhorns took a few shots down the field to Jordan Shipley, but he was the only one that they took a shot with. At the end of the day the scoreboard might have gotten in the way of the Longhorns throwing downfield more, but where are the vertical attempts to the younger receivers? It's a miss… barely.

4. Get the young receivers involved

The build-up before the game: " It's pretty simple - get guys like Malcolm Williams, Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll and Dan Bucker more quality opportunities. There's no reason for the Longhorns not getting Williams more opportunities, especially in light of the fact that he represents everything the Longhorns need at the position. All four of these players need to catch passes in this game and it needs to happen before the third quarter."

The verdict: By the letter of the law, the Longhorns get a check mark here because Williams, Collins and Kirkendoll all caught passes in the first three quarters. Yet, I can tell you that a bunch of short, underneath stuff wasn't what I had in mind.

5. The line paves the way for 250 yards rushing and they limit UTEP to two or fewer sacks.

The build-up before the game: " I set the bar at the same level for this group against UTEP and they didn't come close. This group needs to overwhelm Rice at the point of attack and open things up for everyone in both phases of the offense. The Longhorns have run at will against the Owls for years and that needs to be a trend that continues."

The verdict: Give them a check mark. After 259 yards rushing and only one sack (I'm not punishing them for the Chiles sack/fumble), these guys get a passing grade.

6. Let's see some explosive plays in the running game

The build-up before the game: " Who cares which back gets them, just get them, right? There need be at least six runs of more than 12 yards and two runs that gain more than 30. You'd think this team is due for a huge game on the ground this week and there should be a lot of room for all of the backs."

The verdict: I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that Texas had seven runs of more than 12 yards. The bad news is that only one of those came via the running back position and the Longhorns didn't have a single run that went for 30 or more yards. Overall, the running game is not where it needs to be.

7. Shut down Jarett Dillard

The build-up before the game: " Heck yes, he's a good player and probably their best, but great defenses find ways to shut down players that are not surrounded by equally formidable weapons. This is Texas' first chance to play an elite-level receiver and they will see plenty of them in the coming weeks. Scheme to limit Dillard's production and make the Owls beats you with the rest of their skill players - that has to be the goal. Overall, the Longhorns need to keep Dillard under the 100-yard mark, while also keeping him out of the end zone."

The verdict: Not so much. Dillard just killed the Longhorns on Saturday and it didn't matter who was lined up against him.

8. The linebackers force at least one sack, three tackles for loss and one turnover

The build-up before the game: " Calling Jared Norton, Sergio Kindle, Roddrick Muckelroy and Rashad Bobino- be playmakers. We should see weekly improvement from these guys and the bar is going to be set higher than it has ever been before with Longhorn linebackers under Brown."

The verdict: The unit recorded two sacks, two tackles for loss and zero turnovers. The team needs Muckelroy to make more downhill plays. Of his seven tackles, none occurred behind the line of scrimmage. Close, but no cigar.

9. Do not allow Rice more than two touchdowns

The build-up before the game: " The Longhorns need to dominate Rice. If the defense is leaky and they are allowing 20+ points, it's a bad sign with the meat of the schedule just around the corner. That being said, the defense shouldn't be punished if the offense or special teams gives up a cheap score. This week is about principles and the Longhorn defense needs to keep their opponent out of the end zone."

The verdict: Mission accomplished.

10. More explosives on special teams

The build-up before the game: " Special teams can be a great equalizer and the Longhorns have the look of a team that might be very strong in this phase. Block a kick, return a punt for a score or recover an onside kick - it can be anything, but this group needs to continue to attack and force game-changing moments in each game."

The verdict: It was a pretty boring night on special teams, all things considered. There wasn't anything close to an explosive play in this phase.

Overall: There were a lot of close calls when it came to hitting the objectives, but the Longhorns only hit three of the ten goals I established before the game, which indicates that this team still has a lot of work to do before the meat of their schedule arrives.

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