Defense will be consistent at worst
Despite missing four defensive backs (two starters and two second stringers), two linebackers (one leader and one second stringer), and the starting NT, Texas looked very solid in all facets of the game.
Obviously, the most impressive part of the entire defense was how solid the fundamentals of the game are within every single player. This was best shown in how reliable they were at making tackles in the open field.
These fundamentals of position, tackling, and playing the ball were visible in every single player from the best players on the defense to the walk-ons. Every single level of the defense was doing the little things correctly which resulted in minimal yards after first contact (basically stymieing the run game).
This along with the different blitz packages (that I detail in almost every play below), will be as much a problem for opposing offensive lines as it was for their own.
And while there was a bit of give and take in the passing game, when the offense didn’t hit the weakness of a certain scheme as the starting defensive backs were solid. The only times there was blown coverage, it came against walk-on transfer Chase Moore. The only times that the offense just flat-out beat the defense were when Kobe Boyce or Josh Thompson had to guard the two best players on the offense every single play. Even then they looked good. For example:
You almost can’t play better defense than what Kobe Boyce shows in the below video. He’s in the hip pocket of Collin Johnson and gets a hand in the catch zone. Against almost any other receiver, those are break-ups. And that’s your back-up.
Protection up-front still has issues
Certain players on the offensive line had mediocre to bad performances during the Spring Game. Two of those were Denzel Okafor and JP Urquidez. Both of them were facing two monsters in Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu every single play. Furthermore, Denzel Okafor a guard trying to play tackle and JP Urquidez probably still needs another year of development before he’s ready to take on those two every single play.
However, the one player who worries me the most on the offensive line is Patrick Vahe.
For a guy who wants to be drafted, the Senior leader, and the anchor of the offensive line, plays like the ones below are unacceptable, and Patrick Vahe knows this.
On the first play, the offense uses a scissors route combo to completely take advantage of the weaknesses present in four deep coverage, and it works! Unfortunately, when Patrick Vahe moves to pick up a blitzing Malcolm Roach, he opens his body completely. This poor position proves to be like a partially cracked door for Roach who runs right through it. This causes Shane Buechele to have to get the ball off quicker than he’d like, throw off his back foot, and sail the ball just over a wide open John Burt. Buechele had pressure in his face just when the getting was good, and that costs his team six points.
Again, the play is perfectly drawn up for the defense called, but as I showed above, two things happened the resulted in a fumble.
The first is again Patrick Vahe whiffs on his assignment or miscommunicates with Denzel Okafor. While Vahe tries to carry the DE down, he is completely unaware of the blitzing B-backer who is being passed off to him. With no OG to get in his way, the walk-on B-backer has a straight shot to the hand-off point and makes the offense pay. The offensive line should not be beaten by a walk-on.
The second is freshman TE misreads the situation in front of him thinking he’ll need to block Anthony Wheeler. When Derek Kerstetter makes the correct read and works to the second level, Leitao is left searching for something to do. He needs to follow the DE and carry him whichever direction he chooses to go.
Now I could be very wrong on whose responsibility is what for these two plays, but from what it looked like, the offensive needs to step up big time, or Texas will be in a world of hurt. Luckily, reinforcements are on the way.
TE position has a pulse
Now it’s not perfect. The good news is that the TEs were consistent in pass catching. Whenever the TEs were targeted they were able to pull in five catches (on seven targets). But whenever they did make the catch, there wasn’t much going on afterwards, with the longest catch of the day being a six-yarder. I would chalk up the lack of yardage to the phenomenal open field tackling I showed above.
When it came to blocking, it was almost reverse of the pass catching. There was a bit of inconsistency, but when they did everything correctly, the protection was phenomenal and resulted in the longest RB run of the day.
This play was made possible by due to a good block from Denzel Okafor and a great sealing block from Andrew Beck. Beck puts himself in position for the block by taking a great angle to it. This and other examples showed understanding of assignments that are much better than what Texas has seen over the past couple of years. This should enable Texas to open up the run game and bust a few big gains per game.
However, there were still instances of plays like this one.
Now blame the lack of positioning here to Andrew Beck playing his first game in about two years, but with the running back blocking inside-out, he needs to figure out a way to disallow the inside rush and push his man beyond the QB.
Still, the TE position is miles ahead of where it has been, and Cade Brewer returning to the line up Texas has a solid group of talent in that position which will help in every phase of the offense.
Not enough to evaluate extent of QB development…
But if I had to choose right now I’d pick Sam over Shane. While both quarterbacks progressed in areas, I saw Sam do the little things more often than Shane.
For example, looking back at the previous play, that is a small lack of understanding from Shane Buechele to stare down Collin Johnson and not keep BJ Foster glued to the middle of the field with his eyes. If he looks off Collin Johnson or pump fakes, that is a for sure touchdown. Instead the safety is able to easily read the play and make a play on the ball. Next year, BJ Foster intercepts that.
Now let’s take a look at Sam Ehlinger on the other side. Both quarterbacks looked good throwing the short to intermediate ball, but I saw more development and higher upside from Sam.
He goes through his reads in a timely fashion, understanding how to work inside the pocket (even though he works better outside of it), and delivers a ball to the correct spot. That was an impressive throw and field vision. In fact, his field vision came into play a few more times than that with one of my favorite plays of the game, an 8 yard pass to Devin Duvernay that he fit into the correct spot.
Don’t get me wrong. You did see something similar to this from Shane Buechele from time to time. In fact you saw a lot of it in his touchdown throw to Collin Johnson, but it wasn’t there as consistently from what I could see on the film.
Also, I’m not saying all of Sam’s problems are fixed.
I don’t really need to break down this play to show what’s wrong here. Sam and tries to force the ball and ends up throwing to the wrong shoulder. This ball needs to be thrown to the outside of the wide receiver or farther down field. At the very least make it a jump ball. This could’ve easily been an interception.
Still, I trust Sam to run this offense more efficiently. What he can do and the areas he’s shown improvement far outweigh his flaws. It’s still a close fight though, and Shane could easily reclaim his starting spot.
WR’s really helped out QB’s with long ball
This point kind of rags on the last, but this wide receiver group is special. How can you tell? Because they made the quarterbacks look good. Both QBs could use a tune up on their long balls. Shane moreso than Sam. Shane was having trouble locating his receivers, overthrowing John Burt (how do you do that) once without a valid excuse. Sam was consistently underthrowing his receivers.
The times they did complete the longballs, they were given considerable help from their wide receivers.
Like on this play right here:
This is probably not the best decision coming from Shane Buechele to throw off his back foot into double coverage with a man in his face (which by the way, check out how well that blitz was executed). There is a way to get the ball to Jerrod Heard there, but the throw wasn’t put in a spot where only Jerrod Heard could get it. Luckily, Jerrod Heard was in the mood to make a lot of plays in the Spring Game and made a great adjustment to the ball and came back for it.
Sam Ehlinger also had help from the wide receivers, but a little less so. His problem was mainly me saying, “if you throw a yard or two deeper, it’s a touchdown.” Like here:
A few things to notice, as I pointed out above. The offensive line and Toneil Carter pick up a nice blitz to create a nice pocket for Ehlinger. Ehlinger then steps into his throw with a quick throw into a pretty tight spot. However, he throws it short. This forces Devin Duvernay, who runs a great go, to have to come back to the ball and take a massive hit instead of having the chance to catch the ball in stride.
Texas has QB Depth
It’s a recruitmas miracle. Texas has a solid QB room. It was obvious from first viewing that the freshmen QBs will be good. I don’t really need to break it down.
Again, both young quarterbacks look to have promising careers. Rising was able to read and fit a nice ball into a perfect spot with a quick throwing motion. He also displayed a heck of an arm with accuracy.
However, I was much more impressed with Casey who threw a few great balls and looked good inside and outside the pocket.
I mean, that ball to Collin Johnson on the second video is placed perfectly.
I believe these are flashes of what both will be capable of later on. The offense for these two was very much simplified to be more digestible for the youngsters, so they’re obviously not ready to jump right into the fire.
WR Corps Have Potential to be All-Time Great
I don’t have film for this section because most of the film I showed above.
Let’s start with a guy I’ve been saying all Spring, “If he’s becomes consistent, he’ll be incredible.” Collin Johnson showed what he can do when he’s consistently making catches on jump balls and routine catches. It was highlight catch after highlight catch. He ended the day with six catches for 91 yards. If he’s able to be that good next year every game, at the very least he’s an early second round pick in the NFL Draft.
Now let’s take a look at the MVP of the game and probably the best all-around player on the team, Lil’Jordan Humphrey. I’ve been singing his praises since last year ended and then bought a microphone during Spring ball to make sure the point was clear. Lil’Jordan Humphrey will consistently get you production wherever you put him pulling in seven catches for 100 yards. He won’t make the big play in the air as consistently as Collin Johnson, but if you get the ball in his hands, he’ll make something happen… which is why they put him at running back where he succeeded there as well. If he doesn’t go to the draft after his Junior year, I’m predicting he’s in the Heisman conversation his Senior year.
Next up is the “back-up” to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Jerrod Heard. Now, I put back-up in quotes because Jerrod Heard played like a starter and would be on most any other team. The only reason he’s a back-up is because you have to get Lil’Jordan on the field somehow. Heard has found a natural fit in the hole that was slot and showed just how well he can adjust to the ball and bring it in multiple times throughout the game. I don’t even think we saw him shine where he shines best, which is in the redzone. He’ll be a guy who gets you large chunks of yardage at a time as he pulled in four catches for 89 yards. I’m excited about Heard and what he can do.
There were plenty of rumors surrounding Devin Duvernay in January and February, but Devin showed in the Spring Game why those quieted down. While he wasn’t targeted as much as I thought he should’ve been, Devin showed palpable and marked improvement in his route running and understanding of positioning. Add to that his hands and speed and you have an exciting guy on the outside.
Devin will be splitting time with John Burt, who while he didn’t put up crazy numbers, like Devin Duvernay, showed he has taken a huge step in his game. Burt’s problem has been pulling in the easy passes. Even when he did catch the easy balls last year, it looked like a huge struggle. During this game and through the Spring, Burt has gotten over the yips. The only reason he didn’t have two touchdowns during the Spring Game is because he was overthrown both times. Even on those overthrows, Burt showed a tremendous amount of athleticism and willingness to sacrifice.
Again, when it comes to the wide receivers…