Image via AP Press (Mark Terrill)
1. What a game.
What an absolutely amazing game. Nobody – including myself – gave Texas a punchers chance in a hostile environment of the Coliseum. It was the classic that no one expected.
A tremendous, but ultimately heart wrenching game for the Longhorns. Once our hearts are mended, I think Texas fans and media alike will be able to take a look at this game from 1000 feet and see some huge strides that were made.
2. Defense came to play?
This was the biggest surprise of the game. The fact that the defense held a potent USC run game to under 100 yards rushing and less than 2 yards per carry was huge in keeping the game within grasp for the Longhorns.
Beyond the run game stopping which was – again – phenomenal, Texas finally got some penetration in the pass game. Three sacks and had Heisman hopeful Sam Darnold running around the pocket and worrying about permanent damage to his spleen.
Players like Anthony Wheeler, PJ Locke, Charles Omenihu, Holton Hill, Malik Jefferson, Poona Ford, and Deshon Elliott showed up on fire. In fact, I feel bad soloing them out for good performances because (almost) every single player on the defense played tremendously.
That was the best single game defense Texas has seen since perhaps 2009. Props to Todd Orlando. Just have to work on putting together 30 minutes instead of 29:15 minutes.
3. The little things
When I went to Scotland over the summer I played golf a very nice golf course called Royal Dornoch with a caddie because I didn’t know the course. Now I’m not an amazing golfer, boogies are my pars, but I still asked my caddie what he thought of my golf game. Bracing for the worst, he said, “You’re not a hacker, but you’re erratic.” Which is true, I would hit a beautiful drive, and then the next shot was a shank.
The same can be said for Texas. So many times, Texas could’ve put the game away after a great play, but they had to shank the next play with a penalty or worse.
It really comes down to the fact that you can’t give good teams 52nd chances. This is the reason why Texas lost in the end. You don’t give up a TD on the last play of the 1st half, you don’t hold on the fake punt, you don’t field punts within the 1-yard line, you don’t have 10 penalties in general, and you don’t turn it over four times and you win that game in regulation. Texas shot themselves in the foot more times than a trigger-happy cowboy with a snake in his boot. If Texas can clean up even half of their mistakes then there is hope that they can win their tough slate of games coming up.
4. Where in the world is Chris “Carmon San Diego” Warren?
I think Tim Beck might be ghosting the best running back on the team. The two big keys to winning the game were stopping the run and getting the running game going. Texas did 1 of 2. Chris Warren got the ball handed off to him four times. To put that into perspective, Jerrod Heard also got the ball four times. Kyler Porter got the ball five times. Sam Ehlinger got the ball over 10 times, including the last play in the endzone where it would have been nice to have a big pile pusher holding onto the ball instead of the freshman quarterback. Okay… well in actuality he got the ball five times, but one was erased by a facemask. Still he ran the ball 8 yards on that play after getting his neck twisted chiropractor style. In short, the underutilization of Chris Warren was both baffling and inexcusable. Luckily the Longhorns have Collin Johnson…
5. We are not worth of Collin Johnson.
Maybe the most reliable player on the field for either side with 7 receptions for 191 yards and a billion highlight reel catches (that was the official number on the stat sheet). That is 27 yards per catch. How do you stop a man who will fight through a double team to make a diving or leaping play over your best corner’s head? Almost impossible to cover. Throw the ball in the air and let him go get it.
6. Sam Ehlinger made Freshman mistakes, but had an insane game.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you Sam Ehlinger is a world beater. However, Ehlinger did show everyone how gritty of a player he is. No quit in that boy’s body. He threw some great balls and made some great plays, but he was far from great most of that game. Some of his balls were a bit inaccurate and he made some decisions that were not the best. He was also running for his life some of the game. But the two interceptions were costly. Despite that he made plays when it mattered. The 3rd and 10 run that kept the pull ahead drive alive, the touchdown to pull ahead, and the ability to buy time with his feet and zip a ball in a hole it shouldn’t fit are all examples of this and there are more I’m forgetting.
7. Linebackers backed the line.
Malik Jefferson had his best game in a Longhorn uniform. He read the gaps, exploded through them, and made the tackles. I wish he would wrap up instead of throwing his shoulder, but despite that the running backs could not run away from him. Malik was not only stellar in the run game, but in the pass game Sam Darnold was unable to throw on him. How do you stop a 250lbs human who runs like a receiver? He ended up grabbing 11 tackles with two of those being for losses.
However, it was the fact that the guys playing next to him also showed up. Gary Johnson continues to be a freak. That man has his olfactory nerves tuned to cowhide and vulcanized rubber (what footballs are made out of). He was also a crucial part of helping Malcolm Roach stuff the ball early in the 1st quarter when USC was stopped on the goal line.
And don’t forget the media’s favorite whipping boy from week 1, Anthony Wheeler. That guy had an underrated performance grabbing 12 tackles, with 3.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks. That man was nasty on the field and a key contributor to filling the gaps.
The linebacking corps was a huge reason that USC couldn’t get going on the ground because they were quick to fill every gap that the DL couldn’t. Best game by the LBs since I’ve been covering the team.
8. Thank goodness for dropped balls.
Once again, the best defensive backs on the field were the hands of the wide receivers. Yeah… the pass coverage still has a ways to go. Kris Boyd and Brandon Jones have got to work on eye discipline. That is the reason USC was able to get the first OT TD so quickly. Both of them got lost in the beautiful blue eyes of Sam Darnold and missed their assignments. I’m surprised USC didn’t test Kris Boyd with more double moves and pump fakes.
The other side of the field was a whole other story. Holton Hill and Deshon Elliott were (almost) lights out. Besides giving up a TD due to Sam Darnold being a fortune teller and placing a perfect ball to a guy who wasn’t open, the pair had 4 PBUs. Deshon Elliott had a phenomenal game with 2 INTs (1 for a TD), 1 TFL, and 7 tackles. Holton Hill also had 7 tackles, locked up his man, and was the guy who didn’t let Ronald Jones extend the ball into the endzone for the goal line stand.
The coverage was much better than what Texas has seen in the past, but once again, dropped passes were the defense’s best friend.
9. Losing Connor Williams is huge.
Brutal. That is the guy you cannot afford to lose. Texas’ offensive line depth was already shaky with the loss of Patrick Hudson, Terrell Cuney, Elijah Rodriguez, and a bunch of transfers. It had a very noticeable impact on the offensive line when he left and Tristain Nickelson had to be moved to LT. That is not a good omen for the rest of the year if he is ruled out for any more games. Luckily, Texas has a week to get him healed up. Let’s hope it isn’t anything serious.
10. OL was hot and cold
Sam Ehlinger either had all day in the pocket or had a man in his face. There was no in-between. When USC sent a four-man blitz, the Longhorns did a pretty good job of picking it up, even if there was some trickery. However, that wasn’t the case every time. Sometimes a guy would sneak through and blow up your quarterback… three times in a row.
The trouble from the OT was understandable. On one side you have the BFG and the other a guy in his first big game thrown in due to an injury to your All-American. The trouble from Vahe, McMillon, and especially Shackelford was baffling. Shackelford was responsible for 2 fumbles and a ton of terrible snaps that Ehlinger had to dig out of his ankles. McMillon and Vahe couldn’t spring open any running lanes for their backs, which might be why they abandoned the run game all together.
I’d give this unit a solid C. Enough to pass, but not good.
11. It’s still early in the season.
Yes, the ability to hang with a team like USC is exciting. Very, very exciting. However, this is only the 3rd game… for both teams. Beating Notre Dame last year was an amazing feeling. So was beating Baylor. Yet, at the end of the season, they weren’t so amazing. Furthermore, we don’t know this Texas team. Can this defense show up like this every week or will there be more games like Maryland? Will Tim Beck figure out that Chris Warren is still on the team?
You see, while Texas’ defense played absolutely lights out for the game except the end of the 1st and 2nd halves, I’m eager to see if this is the result of aggressive play calling on defense that might bite Orlando in the ass more times than not. Sometimes coaches who call aggressive game plans the teams can be very inconsistent. Some games they look unstoppable, while others they look like Texas trying to stop Maryland.
Personally, I’m going to approach this game with some cautious optimism. It’s a moral victory, but moral victories get you eggs shells in your eggs and burnt toast.