October 26, 2008

The grades are in - OSU report card

So, did the Longhorns play a bad game or is Oklahoma State really every bit as good as the final 28-24 score might suggest? Maybe it's actually a little bit of both, as the Longhorns made mistakes in all three phases (some that hadn't been made all season) of the game and were still in a position to win this one by double digits. Here's a position-by-position breakdown of a performance that was as impressive in some respects as any they've played this season.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - I've got a rule for Colt McCoy that I installed after the first game of the season. Because asking your quarterback to never make a mistake is an impossible bar to clear every single week, I've gone into every game feeling like the Longhorns would be very tough to beat as long as McCoy doesn't lose the ball more than once in a game. For the first seven games of the season this golden rule has proven to be a pretty good one and in most of the games this season McCoy hasn't even flirted with one turnover, let alone two. Yet in the eighth game of the season, McCoy made a couple of mistakes, including a critically careless one in the red-zone late in the game. It was the kind of mistake he hadn't made all season. McCoy will likely beat himself up a little over those mistakes because they were the difference between a comfortable win over a top 10 team and a total nail-biter that featured 60 minutes of drama. Still, the guy was mostly sensational in this game, completing 37 of 45 passes, including a ridiculous school-record breaking 24 consecutive passes at one point, for a career-high 391 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with 41 yards and a touchdown. If not for those two costly little turnovers…

Grade: B+

Running backs - For the first time since the game against Rice, I thought Chris Ogbonnaya hesitated a little too much as a runner and that played a part in the Texas running game slowing down this week. In the previous three games, Ogbonnaya has done a great job of getting his shoulders squared and hitting the holes right when he needs to. That didn't happen this week, as he seemed a little unsure of where to take the runs and he finished with a disappointing 24 yards on 11 carries, although he did his usual stellar work out of the backfield as a receiver (seven catches for 73 yards). Picking up the slack a little bit was sophomore Vondell McGee, but he only rushed for 27 yards on seven carries. Even Cody Johnson was a step behind his previous performances, as he failed to cash in the scoring opportunity in the final minutes on two tries. Overall, this group accounted for 53 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries, along with 10 catches for 99 yards.

Grades: C-

Wide receivers - In a league of great receivers, Jordan Shipley doesn't take a back-seat to anyone as far as I'm concerned. Although he did drop a pass today (What's up with that?), he also caught a school-record 15 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown, while also adding one of the only explosive runs of the day by the Texas offense with his 17-yard scamper on a reverse. Playing the part of the sturdy No.2 receiver on Saturday was senior Quan Cosby, who caught eight passes for 76 yards and a score. The trio of Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams had a fairly quiet afternoon, combining for five catches for 45 yards. Overall, this group combined to catch 28 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

Grade: A-

Offensive line/Tight ends - I actually think this group was the key to victory for the Longhorns on Saturday. Yes, the run game needs to better, but I don't put those issues completely on this group and it became evident early on that Texas was going to kick the run game to the curb and survive offensively through the air. With the game in McCoy's hands, Oklahoma State threw the kitchen sink at Texas offensive line and that group worked magnificently after the first drive of the game, allowing McCoy to have the protection he needed to pick the Cowboys apart. Adam Ulatoski and Kyle Hix were outstanding on their islands and the interior group led by Chris Hall, Charlie Tanner, Cedric Dockery and Michael Huey did a great job of working together as a unit, handling all of the twists, blitzes and line stunts that Oklahoma tried to hammer them with. This might seem a bit high for some of you, but as an old offensive line guy, I was really impressed with what this group did in leading the offense to 504 yards of total offense.

Grade: B+

Offensive game plan - I loved a lot of what Greg Davis did on Saturday and there were a few things that I didn't like. The reverse pass from Cosby to Shipley wasn't only set up because of Shipley's earlier reverse, but that play was eight games in the making and it's sad that the end result was only a 15-yard penalty because I thought it was beautifully crafted and very nearly perfectly executed. Perhaps the most important decision that Davis made early in the game (perhaps before the game) was that his offense was going live with the pass the entire day. Some of these Texas offenses in previous seasons might have pounded its head into a wall in an effort to remain a sense of balance, but Davis' trust of McCoy is higher than any he's had with any other quarterback at Texas and I think that includes Vince Young. The decision to trust McCoy allowed the Longhorns to play with their foot on the gas and being able to play ahead and not from behind was the single most important critical element of this game. While I thought Davis was money for most of the game, there were a couple of things I didn't like and it usually occurred when Davis tried to get a little too cute with the offense. Davis has been so good in the red-zone this season, but that's where some of his worst play-calling was this week, especially with that final fourth-down decision at the one-yard line. Still, you can't nit-pick that call and not give him credit for the victory-sealing play-call on the same drive when the offense fakes a screen and had Shipley run a corner route after selling a block initially. It was just a beautiful, beautiful call and execution. The play-calling and schemes were find, but the execution wasn't a little off in this one.

Grade: A-

Defensive line - Just like I don't blame the offensive line for the problems with the running game on offense, I really don't blame the defensive line for the Texas run defense getting ripped apart by OSU's Kendall Hunter. Could the group have done a better job in that aspect? Obviously, but a lot of the damage that was done occurred on the perimeter where the Longhorns often had no protection. The area where this group really helped control the game at times was with the pass rush. Zac Robinson has rarely seen the turf this season because of oncoming pass rushers, but the Longhorns were able to generate five huge sacks, while also officially being credited with another eight knockdowns. The tandem of Henry Melton and Brian Orakpo were magnificent off the edge, combining for 12 tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks and three pressures. I thought it was as well as I've ever seen a Texas defensive end duo play in a game against elite-level competition. The tackles were quiet for most of the game, but Lamarr Houston's play on the fourth-down receiver screen to Dez Bryant was a game-changer. Speaking of Houston (three tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack), he's been getting better each week and that might have been his best game of the season. Overall, this group played a huge role in the success that the defense did enjoy against the potent Cowboys.

Grade: B+

Linebackers - It wasn't a good day. Forget about the number of tackles, the most telling thing from the stat sheet is the fact that the trio of Jared Norton, Roddrick Muckelroy and Rashad Bobino didn't combine to make a tackle for loss, a sack, create a turnover, get a hand on a pass or pressure the quarterback. The group simply got swallowed up inside too many times when the Cowboys ran to the outside and they never adjusted, which allowed OSU to find success on the perimeter pretty much whenever they wanted. When the linebackers were in a position to make plays, they often missed tackles. The only real bright spot was Sergio Kindle, who made his presence felt with a sack and a fumble recovery. Overall, it just wasn't a good day.

Grade: D

Secondary - The play of the cornerbacks this week was outstanding and that was without the help of their best corner (Chykie Brown). Frankly, I don't know that I would have thought this group could have controlled the Oklahoma State passing game without the help of Brown, but this group got an outstanding fill-in performance from sophomore Curtis Brown. No matter the combination of players, the group of Curtis Brown, Deon Beasley, Ryan Palmer and Aaron Williams were outstanding in this game. To limit Dez Bryant to six catches for 74 yards and no touchdowns, while also pitching a shutout on the rest of the OSU receivers was sensational. I'd give those guys an A-grade. The play of the young safeties wasn't quite as good. There weren't any major coverage busts, but the tackling was not sharp at times. Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas didn't get a lot of help from the second level of the Texas defense, but they've been really good over the course of the last month and they didn't perform at the same high level today. Still, Thomas gets a big bonus mark for forcing Hunter's fumble in the first quarter.

Grade: A

Defensive game plan - This is a hard one to get my hands around. On one hand I thought Will Muschamp's decision to give constant over the top help to its corners was a big reason for Oklahoma State's downfield passing failure. The Cowboys wanted those big plays and probably needed them in order to win, but Muschamp was not going to allow the big play to beat them this week, especially with Chykie Brown out of the line-up. The thing that this defense lacked yesterday wasn't with the game-planning, but with the execution. The poor spacing by the linebackers allowed Oklahoma State to get outside at will and Texas was rarely able to control the down and distance on the Cowboys. When Texas was able to do well on first down, they were able to throw Oklahoma State off-balance with the pass rush that came from the front four. At the end of the day, this side of the ball stepped up and finished in the fourth quarter when their offensive counterparts couldn't. It wasn't always pretty, but there's nothing ugly about holding this Oklahoma State team to 24 points.

Grade: B

Special teams - It was pretty ugly. The poor play on kickoffs kept Oklahoma State in the game when the Longhorns were really executing well on offense and finishing drives. From the kicks to the tackling to maintaining lane integrity to the decision by the coaches to concede nearly half the field out of fear - it was all bad. It did get better in the second half and Keenan Robinson made up for a rough first half with a big tackle on the only second-half kickoff by this group. The confidence that this group has right now can't be good after the scared play from the last two weeks that has led to really poor execution. The return game was a non-factor. The good news is that Hunter Lawrence made all of his PAT's, which was actually a big deal when you consider the final margin of victory.

Grade: D-

Overall - It wasn't pretty at times, but the better team won the football game and the Longhorns should be celebrated for having survived their sloppiest performance of the season with a win over a legit Top 10 team that has a lot of really good football players. Colt McCoy had a couple of turnovers, the running game never got going, the defense missed too many tackles and the special teams were awful. There's probably not another team in the country that could survive that. USC couldn't against Oregon State. Florida couldn't against Ole Miss. Missouri couldn't against Oklahoma State. This Texas team could and did, and it begins with the preparation they commit themselves to during the week. The Longhorns might not have been crisp, but they were ready to play and that's why they were able to control the game for 60 minutes (they never trailed) and that's why they were able to make a couple of more plays than the other team. This was a bit of a gut-check moment for this team and they responded well. For that reason alone we're grading this one on a different curve. When you achieve something that perhaps no other team in the country could accomplish, you can't focus too much on the numbers. Just look at the scoreboard.

Grade: A

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