September 11, 2011

The grades are in - BYU report card

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - Garrett Gilbert is the Humpty Dumpty of college football right now and his career as a Longhorns might have fallen off the side of DKR last night and broken into a thousand pieces. The scene in the first half on offense when Gilbert was on the field was painful to watch, as he completed as many passes to the other team with inexplicably bad throws as he did to his own teammates. It doesn't matter what happened in 2010, the bottom line is that Gilbert appears incapable of handling the starting role and his play last night was simply unacceptable. There's no reason to beat on the baby seal any longer. The question that remains with Gilbert is whether the King's Men of Texas or some other school will ever be able to put the pieces of Gilbert back together again.

The good news is that Case McCoy came off the bench and served as a very good bus driver for three quarters, completing seven of eight passes for 57 yards and zero turnovers. The downfield passing game was non-existent all night and with McCoy on the field, the Longhorns essentially conceded the idea of a vertical throw. Still, he did a nice job of working the underneath stuff and it was enough to help this team win the game. Meanwhile, David Ash came off the bench and gave the team a few sparks, but it's clear he's a limited player right now and his decision-making (running game included) is a work in progress. Of course, he is a true freshman in his second game. We probably need to remind ourselves of that each week.

The final production from the position was substandard: 12 of 20 for 123 yards and two interceptions, along with 42 yards on 12 carries in the running game. The steady hand that McCoy brought to the table keeps this grade from being at the basement level, but I'm not sure what we learned last night at the position, if anything, outside of the fact that Gilbert isn't the answer. In the long-term, the quarterback position is going to be an issue that might not go away.

Grade: D

Running backs - This game was like a repeat from last Saturday against Rice, as Fozzy Whittaker got the start and helped the running game get off to an incredibly slow start (four yards on four carries) before Malcolm Brown came off the bench and took the bull by the horns. After receiving only three first-half carries, Brown jump-started the offense in the second half and finished with a team-high 68 yards on 14 carries. That production includes the final third-down conversion of the night on third and eight, as Brown pulled off one of the best and most important 14-yard runs in quite a few years.

When you mix in the contributions of D. J. Monroe (66 yards on four offensive touches) and Cody Johnson (two touchdowns in short-yardage), you've got a position that had a pretty important night in the context of the win. The final numbers (26 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns/three receptions for 36 yards) were solid, but in the texture of the game the importance of the results were critical. This group saved the offense's bacon, especially Brown and Monroe.

Grade: B-

Wide receivers - Ugh. No position is getting caught up in the mess at quarterbacks as much as this group, but we cannot enable their lackluster play by pinning it all on the quarterbacks. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, there's not another receiver on the roster that has built any confidence with the coaches, which is why Marquise Goodwin was on the field after about five minutes of practice this season. Mike Davis and Darius White were targeted nine times and they finished with one catch for five yards and an unforced fumble that could have only made Matt Nordgren smile. The development of this position has been slow this season and the final numbers reflect the consistency - seven receptions for 57 yards. Shipley gets a B while the rest of the position gets a WTF.

Grade: D

Tight ends- Here's the good news: D.J. Grant caught his first career pass and it came on a critical third down conversion. Also, I thought Grant, Dominique Jones, Darius Terrell and Blaine Irby tried very hard in the running game. Here's the bad news: Although they tried hard, they weren't always effective in the running game and there's virtually little being gained from the position in the rest of the offense. An offense that has limitations at quarterback has to get more from the tight end position and that's not yet happening again this season.

Grade: D+

Offensive line -There was nothing wrong with this group in the first half that putting a five-star running back into the game won't help fix. Facing a very strong BYU front seven, I thought this young line did a pretty good damn job for four quarters, even if they didn't completely take control of the line of scrimmage until the third quarter. The pass protection was rock solid, giving up a few pressures on the night, but zero sacks. If I had to give one guy a game ball from this group, it goes to Trey Hopkins this week because he worked at both tackle spots and consistently played won his battles. I think I counted one true bust from him all night. Tray Allen and Paden Kelley (played two series in the fourth quarter at right tackle) were both solid. Meanwhile, I thought the interior play by the three-man tandem of David Snow, Dominic Espinosa and Mason Walters was pretty good, especially in the second half when they started to generate a real surge at the line of scrimmage. When this group wasn't asked to hold its run blocks and additional half second while the back figured it out, it's amazing how much more effective the group looked. Perhaps the performance wasn't a work of art, but it was a huge step forward.

Grade: C+

Offensive game plan -I'm going to nitpick Bryan Harsin a little but know this - I love the fact that he's absolutely fearless and is capable of anything at any time, which is especially impressive when you consider the train wreck he's dealing with at quarterback. The truth of the matter is that he did the offense, and especially Gilbert, a disservice by not playing Brown from the jump at running back. Harsin just cannot get the combination of Brown/Monroe enough touches in this offense and when the offense was so slow to start, they were nowhere to be found in the first quarter. That being said, once Gilbert flamed out, Harsin seemed to find a groove with the quarterback shuffle determined by down and distance. Overall, Harsin's biggest problem is that he doesn't yet know his true trusted personnel, a group that today probably consists of Brown, Shipley and possible Goodwin. The third down reverse pass to the quarterback was Harsin's highlight and it came at an absolute critical moment. Brass all the way.

Grade: C

Defensive tackles - Color me completely shocked that this group flat out dominated BYU's interior line one week after looking incredibly shaky against Rice. The Kheeston Randall/Ashton Dorsey duo was outstanding, and I'm not so sure that Dorsey wasn't the team's best defensive lineman on Saturday night. They were the kings of their domain. Meanwhile, back-ups Desmond Jackson and Chris Whaley made a few big flashes, especially Whaley who might have made the most impressive play of the night with an incredible pressure on Jake Heaps that involved him tracking him down outside of the hash marks like a rocket. Overall, a five-man rotation on Saturday night changed my expectations for this group moving forward. They raised the bar on Saturday night.

Grade: B+

Defensive ends -There was kind of a mixed bag performance, as I thought the group played much better at the point of attack than they did against Rice, but the pressure off the edge has been almost non-existent for two straight games. The best player of the group was Jackson Jeffcoat (three tackles and no tackles for loss), who finished with one more tackle than penalties accumulated. Expectations for junior Alex Okafor couldn't have been bigger coming into the season and he was invisible for much of last night's game. Progress was made this week for certain in the defense of the run, but even the run defense was just ok from this group. For a unit that was supposed to be the defense's strength, they've been a massive disappointment through two games.

Grade: C-

Linebackers - I called out this unit before the game, saying they needed to be impactful instead of just tacklers. Mission accepted and concurred. The three-man trio of Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Jordan Hicks was outstanding, especially against the run when they just stuffed BYU at every turn, inside and out. Of the three, I thought Acho and Hicks played as well as I've ever seen them. BYU didn't have a run of more than nine yards and that's because this group was everywhere. The only downside was that they were picked on in zone coverage in the first half with the BYU tight ends, backs and receivers in the flat, but when they went to more man-coverage in the second half, they suffocated that portion of the BYU plan. If this group can start forcing some turnovers, watch out.

Grade: B

Secondary - Here's all you need to know about the early play of the young Texas secondary members. My unofficial targets showed BYU completing the following passes against the UT defensive backs:

Targets vs. Quandre Diggs: 2 of 6 for 18 yards and an interception
Targets vs. Carrington Byndom: 2 of 3 for 13 yards
Targets vs. Adrian Phillips: 2 of 3 for 5 yards, a touchdown and an interception
Targets vs. Kenny Vaccaro: 1 of 2 for two yards.

Yes, this is still a group that is a work in progress, but you can't play much better than these young kids are playing this early in his career. The trio of Diggs, Byndom and Phillips provides hope that this group could be among the best in the Big 12 before the end of the season. Just as impressive as their play in coverage was their eagerness to help out in run defense. Of the three, how can you not love Diggs, who is just a mean little sucker that will try to knock a guy out if they run in his part of the field?

Vaccaro clearly played the best of the true safeties, although I keep waiting for him to create a turnover and it just hasn't materialized yet. Blake Gideon and Nolan Brewster were virtual non-factors, which is good because they didn't allow anything behind them in the passing game, but bad because they were minimally active against the run.

Grade: B+

Defensive game plan -I'm starting to develop a crush on the Man-candy Diaz. His defense made a gigantic leap forward from week one to week two, especially in the front seven with their physically dominant play. He tried like the hell to get the same corner blitz that killed BYU last week to work again and when it wasn't working in the first half, he quit banging his head into the wall and went with more interior pressure on passing downs with the extra man and it worked. Also, the adjustment to play the flats with man coverage in the second half helped shut down the only portion of the BYU game that was working and once that valve was shut off; there wasn't anything for the Cougars to do, except punt. This team can't win this game without a group that has allowed one touchdown in eight quarters.

Grade: B+

Special teams - BYU won the first half and Texas won the second half to create a push for the entire game. The numbers in almost every phase between the two teams were nearly identical, with Shipley's 20-yard punt return, Goodwin's 40-yard kickoff return, solid kicking by Justin Tucker and standout coverage from Joe Bergeron and Steve Edmond deserving special mention. Overall, this group has just been average for two weeks.

Grade: C

Overall -A huge win that will help the UT coaches sell their program moving forward. The Longhorns won a knife-fight against a team that specializes in them, which I wasn't sure was possible at this stage of the season. This is still a team with a million questions, but they grew up a little bit on Saturday night and you can see a little bit more of the light at the end of the tunnel because of it. Mack Brown was right when he said this team doesn't win this game last year. That's called progress in this season of baby steps.

Grade: B

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