I’ve been away for a while trying to collect my thoughts on the game.
Let me start with this: The more I let the game settle in my head the more I realized it is not the end of the world.
Tom Herman was the worst kind of right when he said the Maryland loss is not that big of a deal. True, it is not that big of a deal for the season as it doesn’t affect the conference standings and you can’t judge an entire season on one game; However, it does affect the outlook of the program. It leaves you questioning the progress and the direction of the program and whether or not this staff can fix these things.
The sky isn’t falling yet, but being concerned is justifiable. Still, the season is far from over.
This review will mainly be taking a look at what went wrong, but there are some things that were big pluses:
- Safety play was phenomenal
- Offensive Line has major improvements (I’ll cover this)
- Texas has a good run game (as long as they use it)
- The DL is solid and Chris Nelson can somewhat fill Poona Ford’s shoes
- This team can stop the classic run plays
Let’s take a look at the film.
LACK OF LB BIG REASON FOR SLOW START
When going against a Canada team, it’s almost like you’re facing the triple option: they can either hand it off up the middle, get around the edge, or pass it. When it comes to this, you need a linebacker who can cover ground quickly. Unfortunately, Texas didn’t have the luxury of choosing from a good stock of LB.
This left them with having to play a 270-280 lbs Malcolm Roach in the MLB. Malcolm Roach is not built to play MLB in the defense and therefore didn’t do a great job. That’s not on him, but it was a problem nonetheless.
This can best be seen on two plays, the first play of the game and the first touchdown.
Maryland isn’t doing anything that Canada hasn’t put on film. Texas is ready for the fly sweep after the diagnose it by forcing the runner inside into defensive help. However, Malcolm Roach just doesn’t have the speed to cut off the speedy WR.
Again, you can see the lack of comfort Malcolm Roach has in the second level as he lets his eyes take him away from his position against a Fly Sweep concept team. Another note to add is that he and Johnson are lined up at similar depth. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea as it caused issues all game for Texas with players running into each other.
YOU LACK DISCIPLINE
I knew there would be some regression in the defense after losing the spine of the defense (DT, MLB, FS), but it wasn’t the level of talent on the field was down so much as it was a general lack of discipline. Let me break it down into two categories…
WTH! You’re a Senior, Why?
There were multiple times at the start where I just threw my hands up and asked why? Why do what you just did? I never bought the hype that Kris Boyd was improved in his consistency and I was proved right multiple times throughout the game. The same goes for Davante Davis, but still, I was flabbergasted by some of the very dumb things this defense did to start off the game. It went beyond just “Silly penalties.”
It was unbelievable and at the same time very believable.
What Happened to the Basics?
Let me start off here by saying Texas was unstoppable when they came face-to-face with a normal play like the simple run. But at some points tackling regressed into “let me run my shoulder into him and hope he falls” and the defensive backs had a lot of trouble with eye discipline (as seen above with the Davante Davis Pass Interference) or high school route concepts.
Both of these were directly responsible for the loss
While it is a little thing, getting your head on the right side of the ball carrier is the difference between a solid hit and an arm tackle. Here we seem a lapse in ability. These were seen multiple time in the games with guys like Senior LB Gary Johnson launching his body to take down guys (not on the targeting) and not wrapping up. How did this team forget to tackle over a summer? They did fine in the Spring Game.
I believe that having the secondary stay at the same depth here is a matter of preference and some teach their secondary to do this. I’m an opponent of that for the very reason shown above. PJ Locke and Davante Davis are beaten by a high school route concept. This is something that can be taught, but still embarrassing to see.
(Minor) WR Blocking:
While not having a direct result of the scoreboard, this is still a huge problem. When you’re averaging 6’2” and 215lbs then you’ll have a bigger WR corps than most every DB corps. Unfortunately, for guys like Collin Johnson, this doesn’t translate into “want-to” or ability. Devin Duvernay (the smallest of the starting 3) was the only WR who seemed to really want to block. This has been a problem since last year and Drew Mehringer should have gotten this figured out.
I’m of the opinion that playcalling is not the foremost responsibility of the offensive coordinator. That would be making sure the team is executing. That then mixes in the responsibilities of knowing personnel and putting them in the correct position to succeed.
It would suffice to say that Texas did not do that very well for about half the game.
I don’t have much to say here besides the players were in their own heads to begin. They were trying not to make mistakes. The switch to tempo took away their ability to overanalyze. Perhaps Texas should come out of the gates in tempo for both halves.
I do have something to say about Tom Herman taking over. Having a coach be the offensive coordinator is a double-edged sword. It could work out for you if you have a splendid support staff (i.e. Lincoln Riley) or it could hinder the ability to see the big picture of the game (clock management, personnel, other side of the ball… etc.). Tom Herman really wants to be able to see this bigger picture, so the bottom line is that if you are going to change your play caller within the first 15 minutes of the season then he should have been let go long before that was a problem.
Texas should have taken inspiration from the end of the first half for the end of the second half. They stopped calling plays that were working. They lost the flow of the plays and were not trying to set up later plays with current ones. They were acting like they were running out of time with 4 minutes on the clock.
Maybe one of the most talked about problems was having Kyle Porter in the game for the last drives of the game. That is valid, but only half the problem. My main problem was if you’re going to have your best blocker in to end the game either use him as a blocker or get someone else in there.
In fact, Texas just forgot that they have a running threat at the end of the game and was trying to chuck it against 8 defenders again and again. Given the probabilities of throwing to 5 guys against 8 it was no wonder Sam was picked off twice. Yes, he is partly to blame, but he also wasn’t put in a position to succeed.
Let’s take a look at the end of the first half to see how it is done.
What this play and others before it did was it forced the defense to respect the run and the chunk yardage that Texas was getting to the outside.
That play set up this one.
The defense has to respect the ability of Sam Ehlinger as a runner and the right side of the field with Devin Duvernay and Lil’Jordan Humphrey was a threat. This play was perfectly set up by the context of the plays before… Much unlike a certain double reverse that came out of a randomizer and killed a promising drive…
If you are not going to use Ehlinger or Porter for what they’re good at, why are they on the field?
OFFENSIVE LINE IMPROVEMENTS!
It’s still too early to call the Herb Hand hire successful, but the results so far are promising. The Texas offensive line did things that were nigh impossible last year. As you can see from the play above the unit was able to take on a 5-man blitz and created a beautiful pocket that allowed Ehlinger to deliver a beautiful ball where Collin Johnson made a beautiful catch for a beautiful touchdown. It all starts up front.
However, it went beyond this!
Last year pass blocking was abysmal. The QB’s were running for their lives all game long.
One summer of Herb Hand and they are taking on stunts with ease. Just watch this…
The way the stunting blitzers were dealt with was textbook.
After they got out of their own heads, run blocking improved tremendously.
Something as simple as taking the defensive line and using their own momentum against them without the Texas offensive line getting blown up somehow was unheard of in the 2017 season. There were plenty of other examples of the run game blocking improvements. Pin & Pull (a very big staple of the blocking in this offense) was performed very well and caused quite a few breakaways in the run game.
The offensive line is not a finished product, but baby steps. They’re headed in the right direction.
MY NITPICK WITH INGRAM
I was very cautious about the hype in a few different areas this season. Ingram was one of them. I’m glad to say I was wrong not buying into that hype. Ingram was underutilized in that game and even Tom Herman admitted that.
However, I will say he has either some vision problems or just the freshman mindset where he thinks he can still take on 5 guys at once. Let’s take these plays for example
As you can see, Ingram left some yards on the field at times. I think these are things that can be coached away, but it is something to keep an eye on.