September 28, 2008

The grades are in - Arkansas report card

Boom, mot…er… goes the dynamite. If Texas fans were left wondering what a real national top five performance was supposed to look like after not seeing many since Vince Young departed for the NFL, they were reminded in a resounding way on Saturday. After a trio of impressive but flawed wins to begin the season, the Longhorns finally flexed their muscle against former arch-rival Arkansas and displayed the full power of the Death Star in rolling to a six-touchdown margin of victory.

Grading scale

A - All-American level
B - All-Conference level
C - Average
D - Below average
F - Complete failure

Quarterback - Ho, hum. I don't know about the rest of you, but these flawless performances from junior quarterback Colt McCoy are getting pretty boring. All he did on Saturday was complete 17 of 19 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns, while leading the team (again) with 84 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. So, the only question I have for McCoy is this - how in the world did you let two balls hit the ground? Seriously, McCoy needs to understand that if he's setting the bar at perfection, the fans and media aren't going to stand for any thing less. Sheesh.

Grade: A+

Note: Unlike last week, we're just going to pretend that the John Chiles fumble didn't actually happen because McCoy's flawless play warrants giving the position an A+.

Running backs - Behind another set of pretty average numbers were a couple of positives in this game. First, the Longhorns have probably found themselves a new starting running back in Cody Johnson, who 4.8 yards per carry and proved to be the kind of pile mover that was able to keep the running game afloat on Saturday. Second, if Foswhitt Whittaker can stay healthy once he returns from his most recent knee issue, the running game should have a nice thunder and lightening combination, at least it sounds really good in theory. Third, I thought sophomore Vondrell McGee improved from last week, even if his 48 yards on 16 carries doesn't seem to reflect it. The overall production from the group wasn't great (110 yards of total offense and one touchdown 31 touches), but they did convert some short-yardage opportunities and they didn't turn the ball over. I'm tempted to knock them a fraction of a letter grade because of the effort Jeremy Hills gave on Chiles' poor decision on the option play late in the fourth quarter that resulted in Arkansas' only touchdown in the game. That was a seven-point mistake that a little bit of focus and toughness could have prevented and if there's ever going to be a good lesson learned out of a terrible moment, let it happen when you're up by six touchdowns. I'm guessing the film session will be punishment enough.

Grades: C

Wide receivers - OK, I'm going to make a deal with Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. As long as they continue to catch everything that's thrown to them and the lack of a third receiver doesn't cost this team wins, I'm not going to punish the position for it's lack of a true vertical weapon and lack of overall development in game action. At the end of the game, all that mattered today was that Cosby and Shipley seemed to be there for McCoy every time he needed them and the offense never skipped a beat in this game because of the performances they did receive, while never being hindered because of what they didn't receive. Those two combined to catch 13 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns. Also, let's not forget that James Kirkendoll had a huge 27-yard catch and run that led an early score. One final note that should never go overlooked - these guys play hard in the running game, especially the two starters. I can assure you that they will be two of the more hated receivers in the Big 12 this season among defensive backs.

Grade: A

Tight ends - I'm really not even sure how to grade this position at this point. If the bar is David Thomas, Bo Scaife and Jermichael Finley, then this group isn't likely to see a grade over a C+ in a while. I thought the group of Peter Ullman, Greg Smith and Ian Harris did a decent job of doing what they were asked to do, but it's pretty clear that this group isn't going to be a real factor in the passing game from week to week and the run/pass blocking seems to be solid, not great. In fact, it was Ullman who allowed an Arkansas end to take a dead-on shot on McCoy in the third quarter that scared everyone that had moved from the stadium to the alumni center. It remains to be seen just what the loss of [db]Blaine Irby is going to ultimately mean to this team.

Grade: Incomplete

Offensive line - This group can play better in the running game, but overall I thought this group played a very strong game. These guys have been like a well-oiled machine in pass protection all season, but they dominated every look that Arkansas tried to give them in terms of blitz packages and line stunts. A huge piece of McCoy's success in the passing game and even in the running game was due to this group's stellar performance. In re-watching the game, I'm not sure I saw a lot of dominant individual performances, but the group works very well together, regardless of the line combinations. With Charlie Tanner back on the field this week, the Longhorns had more depth inside and the overall quality of the group was the best it's probably been this season.

Grade: B+

Offensive game plan - Perhaps this offense will soon derail in the wake of a much tougher schedule, but at this point in the season it looks like Greg Davis has a perfect feel for how to use McCoy to maximize the best of his abilities. Same with Cosby and Shipley. The game plan was a prefect compliment to the symmetry that these three currently possess. In actuality, Davis created a little game of pitch, catch and run all day long for his top playmakers, which is exactly what you want to see from your OC. It is interesting to see that the offense is starting to call for more designed runs from McCoy. It looks like Davis truly understands that his most explosive runner on the team right now isn't the back-up quarterback. On a day when the offense did very little wrong, while racking up 421 efficient yards of offense, it's hard to nitpick near flawless execution of the offense that was seen at times in this game. Davis has his best players performing at an extremely high level.

Grade: A

Defensive line - This is the kind of performance that Longhorn faithful fantasized about in the off-season when they imaged the volume of athletic linemen that Will Muschamp would have at his disposal. On one hand you had All-American Brian Orakpo racking four tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and another quarterback hit, while knowing those numbers might have been doubled if Arkansas left tackle Ray Dominguez didn't have naked photos of the officials back in his dorm room in Fayetteville. On the other side of the line, you had senior Henry Melton giving perhaps the best performance of his career with a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a number of other quarterback pressures. Mix in an interior that stuffed the Razorbacks to 11 total rushing yards on 26 carries and helped the overall front seven dominate an SEC offensive line, and you've got one of the most impressive performances I've seen by a front four in burnt orange in recent memory. Four sacks, two forced fumbles, five tackles for loss and that run stuffing support is getting it done. Bravo!

Grade: A+

Linebackers - Sergio Kindle has officially arrived. If anyone was concerned that he might not be able to put a string of consistent performances together, they can take comfort in knowing that Kindle (a team-best five tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss) was the best defensive player on the field as far as I'm concerned. Whether he was coming off the edge, playing sideline-to-sideline or chasing down a screen pass when he had originally blitzed himself completely out of the play, Kindle was everything we've always wanted him to be. Juniors Jared Norton and Roddrick Muckelroy were solid, but Kindle is raising the level of this group's play to another level. The other player that really raised some eyebrows was redshirt freshman Keenan Robinson, who seemed to be all over the field in the second half, as he finished with four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Expect his playing time to start increasing each week. He has an extra gear that nobody else in this group can claim with the exception of Kindle. Outside of a few coverage lapses in the first half, this group was outstanding.

Grade: A-

Secondary - If you want to talk about good things that came from this game, let's start with the secondary. You might not have noticed, but Earl Thomas played one hell of a football game. For the first time in his brief career, Thomas looked comfortable on the field and he started to spread his wings in this game. The combination of Thomas and fellow true freshman Blake Gideon was very strong on Saturday. Meanwhile, Chykie Brown, Deon Beasley, Ryan Palmer, Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Clark Ford all shut down the Arkansas passing game in coverage with just a few exceptions. By the way, if you didn't notice, Williams was in on the first drive when the Longhorns went into their nickel defense and his playing time is starting to become substantial. Don't be shocked if he eventually pushes for a starting position this year or at least a very high volume of reps. Duane Akina[/db[ has his next superstar.

Grade: B+

Defensive game plan - Someone from the state of Arkansas must have done something to Muschamp in this life or another because he looked like a witch doctor on the sidelines today with his combinations of blitzes, defensive fronts and player alignments. When he had Kindle lined up as an outside rusher on the same side of the field as Orakpo in the first quarter, I feared for [db]Casey Dick before the snap and had he not been looking for No.2 at the snap, he might have been carted off the field because Kindle came completely free as Orakpo's inside stunt drew a double team. Expect to see more of that little combination in the coming weeks. Overall, this is the king of defense that Texas faithful have been yearning for since the day Mack Brown arrived in Austin. From play to play, you just never had any idea what Muschamp was going to call from the sidelines and the Razorbacks never figured out how to keep from being overwhelmed for 60 minutes.

Grade: A+

Special teams - The Longhorns couldn't ask for any more from their kickers than what they received from the trio of John Gold, Hunter Lawrence and Justin Tucker on Saturday. Gold has been a breath of fresh air at times this season and his 54-yard punt late in the second quarter completely flipped the field position battle and helped give the Longhorns a short field after Melton's forced fumble. The team will take a 47.0 average every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Also, if Gold is a breath of fresh air, then Tucker has to be like 10 breaths. Although I don't want to bring the anointing oil out too soon, he has to be the best kickoff man Brown has had in ten years. Throw in Lawrence's 34-yard field goal and you've really got something to feel good about. The coverage units were outstanding and Chykie Brown and Cosby both had nice runs in the kickoff return game.

Grade: B

Overall - For the last two years I've been preaching that this program needed to find its soul after two straight disappointing seasons, with the quality of play dipping slowly throughout that time. This team needed to find its swagger and play with a thirst for domination. On Saturday afternoon the Longhorns Nation saw this team find that, but they were also treated to a masterful performance that would make the 2005 national championship team proud. The Longhorns played well and were coached well in every phase and it led to a beating that was so sound that a final score of 52-10 didn't seem to tell the story of just how badly the Longhorns demolished this Razorbacks squad. If the Longhorns can build off of this game and keep getting better each week, the sky is the limit for this team.

Grade: A+

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