You read the Quick Recap, Andrew’s Week One Thoughts, and JY’s Trench Warfare. Texas fans are not over the embarrassing season and home-opening loss, let’s rehash more, shall we? I try not to overreact. I stated as much in my Quick React. There were both lots to love and hate this past Saturday. Going forward, you can now begin empirically evaluating the team for improvement and unfortunately for Texas, on both sides of the ball, there are numerous ‘learning experiences’. With that in mind, I’d like to address some likes and dislikes as I see them.
Special Teams – Talk about a mixed bag! Though Texas special teams scored two touchdowns, they also gave up one, along with 2 fumbles, one turnover, and a big return. Is this an easy fix? It’s tough to say, but it’s likely that Rowland heightens his kicks, the returners field better, and kickoff return lanes are better maintained without overrunning the ball carrier. I didn’t mind the kicks to the corner and the coverage was mostly good. However, this unit is a focus and that needs to show. Clean up field goal height, kickoff fielding, and kickoff coverage and you have a unit well in the positive on both the turnover and scoring ledger.
Defense – For a brief moment, you thought this unit finally arrived. Holton Hill’s pass tip pick-6 was extremely satisfying. Then, your early 2016 Texas defense returned, one unable to fit runs correctly to save their collective lives. This unit has a steep hill to climb, but I think it can get there before talks of firing ANOTHER defensive coordinator begin.
– Run fits: this was troubling, especially to the strong side. You saw both Anthony Wheeler and PJ Locke appear confused as to their gap and contain responsibilities to the strong side and it hurt the defense early. Cleaning this up alone prevents half of the ‘explosives’ yielded by the defense.
– Leverage: this sort of fits in with the above point. Too often, the Nickel found himself inside the slot receiver, often a tight end or H-back. This places immediate stress on strong side pursuit. Add to that, the Nickel, Locke, found himself in the way of the pursuing Mike with disastrous consequences. Furthermore, the strong safety, Brandon Jones did not take good angles to the ball and didn’t shed cut blocks well and allowed runners outside, not good. I’d be curious to see if Orlando lets John Bonney play some in that spot next week.
– Safety Over: the way Orlando opted to align and defend trips sets and even split-back sets was interesting. Often he’d walk the boundary safety over to the field side. This meant that the Nickel became part of the front and the field safety covered down on the slot or aligned strong in the alley. The problem, if a crease forms against the run to the boundary, there is no safety help. We’ll see if Orlando continues to ‘cheat’ this way to the field. I prefer to maintain the 2-high safety structure, as there are plenty of adjustments the secondary can make to defend both the pass and the run.
– Dime: I’m teetering on the fence here. I like the idea of a sub-package, but when the main package is failing, it’s no time for a sub. Orlando is playing with one defensive lineman, 2 rush ends, and 3 safeties. It’s no wonder this sub-package was burned on a run or two. I’d rather see less replacing and the base defense defend 3rd downs.
– 0 & 3-Deep: Orlando’s defense was roasted on separate occasions when in Cover-0 (quarters) and 3-Deep zone-blitzes. Whether it was Boyd or Hill, both were exposed deep. Add to that, pressure not getting to the quarterback quickly practically ruins both calls, as they work in tandem. Change-ups are needed, but when you’re not throwing strikes, you’re letting them walk. I’d like to see more base coverage, a more conservative approach. These guys aren’t ‘there’ yet.
Offense – Early on, this unit struggled, This unit only managed 3 touchdowns against what was expected to be a middling defense. It was a bad omen when Shane inexplicably failed to notice the rusher from the alley only to get pummeled into the goal line for the first sack of the day. This young man needs protecting, mainly on passing downs. You had to like the offense building some steam as the game wore on, but it was too little too late.
– Shane: first off, don’t take unnecessary hits. Beyond that, Shane should be okay. Overall, I thought Shane’s decision-making was good. Of course, no quarterback is perfect and Shane will need to continue his growth in both the read game and passing game. Shane’s always been tough and a good ‘game manager’. So far, I like what I see.
– Tight End: Herman’s take on Gray’s performance as ‘okay’ is generous. There were simply too many instances of missed or non-sustained blocks to warrant the playing time Gray received. Give me more ’10’ and ’20’ split-back personnel.
– Big Uglies: these gentlemen were a letdown. Not only was the run blocking anemic, but the protection bust were inexcusable. Granted, offensive line is always a work in progress, but this unit isn’t doing its quarterback nor its backs any favors. They managed to settle down and put some good film together, but Coach Warehime will have plenty of teaching to do this week.
– Run Game: underwhelming to say the least. Texas needs backs more like Kirk Johnson and Toneil Carter in a bad way, guys that can better exploit space using quickness. On the other hand, there’s probably good reason those two aren’t starting. Anyhow, the identity of the run game needs to be solidified. If that means it’s zone, then only run Inside and Outside Zone, almost nothing else. Also, I’m not a big fan of the Pistol idea thus far. I’d rather them use Shane in the read game and RPO game, streamline things there. Lastly, I’m a big fan of both ‘ghost’ and ‘jet’ motion and think it should figure more prominently, especially with Humphrey, Foreman, and Hemphill-Mapps all showing some good burst. Since I hope more ’10’ personnel is utilized, I like the idea of an offense in near constant pre-snap motion or shifting.
– Screen Game: this was mostly positive. Count me impressed with the improvement in this aspect. Though I consider the screen game part of the run game, it’s important to note that the blocking outside shows improvement. Looking ahead, you’re likely to see a little more variety here.
– Pass Game: I liked what I saw here with only minor criticism. I didn’t like the fade and double-ins concept run against clear 2-man coverage and that there doesn’t seem to be an inside hitch, you know, the one you saw countless times last season. I like easy yards, do you? You had to love seeing ‘Mesh’, more Drag routes please and ‘Y-Sail’ or ‘H-Sail’, the concept Foreman scored on. I like the presence of Hemphill-Maps, Humphrey, and Foreman, those 3 need more playing time. Also of note, the offense worked well out of Empty sets and concepts like ‘X-iso’ on the backside, fade-out, and outside comeback routes worked very well. What were handled poorly were the goal line ‘Slip’ concepts, both killed on to prevent the Longhorns’ first touchdown. That may need to be looked at as well.
Those were some of my thoughts on re-watch. There are obviously early growing pains occurring. I expect to see improvement and better execution this coming Saturday. Though San Jose State doesn’t present any major dilemmas for Texas, it remains important to see a well-functioning team on both sides of the ball. Iron out the mistakes and head to ‘Troy’ with some confidence. I look forward to seeing if the coaches adjust any or run the same concepts. Let me know what you think in the comments.