November 2, 2008

Trying to make sense of it all ... in The Fix

Oklahoma State may be playing the best of any team in the league right now, and the Cowboys will beat Texas Tech in Lubbock next week because the teams that give Tech fits can run the ball and eat clock.

It may not look good for the Longhorns to reach the Big 12 title game at the moment. But if Oklahoma State and Oklahoma both beat Texas Tech in the next two games, the Longhorns are back in the conference title picture.

In the mean time, the Texas offense needs to stop outthinking itself. Why did UT suddenly think it could establish the run or throw to tight ends when it hasn't been able to all season? (Even if Quan Cosby was out of the game - trust your young receivers and keep working the four-wide, flex passing offense that got you to No. 1.)

And anyone who's blaming Will Muschamp and company for an effort that had the defense on the field for 81 plays - 43 BY HALFTIME - and kept Tech out of the end zone in the second half until there was one second left - please.

This one was on the offense. An ill-fated game plan from the jump. Two tight ends has been a lousy set for Texas all season. Throwing to tight ends has been an even lousier concept. By this time of the season, coaches should have had enough confidence in Brandon Collins, James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams to keep going with the four-wide flex offense that UT used against OU and helped turn this offense into a machine.

Texas' failure to be a power running team was exposed on the first play when the blocking assignments on the left side of the line collapsed and UT started turning Colby Whitlock (who?) of Tech into an All-Big 12 performer Saturday night.

"Because they are a zone match team we felt like we could get some rhythm going in the short passing game, but we didn't," Davis said.

A short passing game is one thing. But who are you throwing it to? Blocking tight ends? As good as Greg Davis and his telepathy with Colt McCoy have been all season, this loss was on the offense. Whether it was Quan Cosby struggling with his back injury (we have confirmed he was in a green jersey at practice all of last week), Texas got away from its bread and butter and tried to change its identity in one game. Establishing the run was a lost cause until Foswhitt Whittaker (six carries for 42 yards, 7.0 ypc) entered the game - in the second half.

THREE THINGS …

… THAT GOT BETTER

1. Malcolm Williams -
It's starting to look like the circus catch Williams made over two defenders for a touchdown against Missouri did ignite his confidence. Williams was an animal against Tech - catching a 44-yard pass on third-and-25 to set up a field goal right before the half. Then, he catches a 37-yarder for a TD at the end of the third, cutting Tech's lead to 29-19 (Mack inexplicably went for two too early in the game for such decision and failed). Then, Williams pulled off the trifecta with a 91-yarder for a score that sobered up much of Jones AT&T Stadium and cut Tech's lead to 29-26 with 11:00 left to play. The search for a big deep threat is over.

2. Colt McCoy - His first half was horrible. But much of that was the offensive game plan and receivers who seemed to be wearing Crisco instead of gloves. In addition to his heroic, 11-play, 80-yard drive that took 4:16 off the clock en route to UT's only lead - 33-32 - with 89 seconds left, McCoy showed once again he can take a punch. I'm not sure he knew what day it was after the game. He took shot after shot, including a high-low special in the third quarter when McKinner Dixon hit him low and Colby Whitlock (who?) hit him high and twisted McCoy flat on his back. The shot split McCoy's lit open and caused blood to rush into his mouth. That was on the first drive of the second half. He then went on to complete 13 of 19 passes.

3. Roy Miller - If Miller could have gotten any kind of breather from the offense, he might have had the game of his career. Instead, he had the first quarter of his career, when he split double teams, disrupted Graham Harrell and even dropped Harrell for a sack. With everything going wrong for the Longhorns' offense, Miller led a charge that limited Tech to just a field goal until the final play of the first quarter. That the defense had to spend 12:28 of the first quarter on the field is inexcusable. That the offense went three-and-out twice to open the second quarter and then made only three yards (and a 43-yard field goal) after inheriting a turnover at the Tech 29 was mind-numbing.


…THAT STAYED THE SAME (OR GOT BETTER)

1. Justin Tucker -
The freshman from Westlake has turned into a kicking game assassin. Not only were half his kickoffs touchbacks, but he has taken over punting from John Gold because he has taken to the "rugby punt" in which he runs to his right and then drills a line-drive, roller. Tucker averaged 56.8 yards on four punts, including a long of 67. All four were killed inside Tech' 20.

2. Hunter Lawrence - Does anyone have a doubt when Lawrence walks onto the field? He is 9-of-9 on field goal attempts this season, including a long Saturday night of 43 yards. Four of his attempts this season have come from 40 yards or longer.

3. Jordan Shipley - Let's stay with the kicking game theme for the moment. Shipley had the 96-yard kick return against Oklahoma and added a 44-yard kick return Saturday night before taking over Quan Cosby on punt returns in the second half. On his first punt return of the season, Shipley returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. This helped make up for a rare off night in the receiving department, when Shipley dropped two passes, including one that looked like a sure touchdown catch.

… GOT WORSE

1. Offensive game plan -
See the opening to The College Football Fix.

2. Clock management - This was costly and critical. No need to belabor the point. Mack Brown took the blame after the game for not running more time off the play clock on UT's go-ahead scoring drive when the Longhorns had first-and-goal from the Tech 5 with a couple minutes left to play. Coaches get on players about details all the time. In a situation like that, coaches have to be responsible for minding the details. No matter how hard it was to get points for Texas in this game offensively, you have to expect to score from the 5, and you have to force Tech to burn its lone timeout in the process.

3. Handling the big moment - As harsh as it may sound, when given the chance to make a play with the game on the line, it has to be made when you're the No. 1 team.

NEXT OPPONENT - BAYLOR (3-6)
(11 a.m. Saturday, Royal-Memorial Stadium, Fox Sports Net)

Baylor probably did Mack Brown a favor by playing Missouri down to the final possession before the Tigers escaped Waco on Saturday with a 31-28 victory. Brown has been talking up Baylor for two weeks, and the Bears' performance against Mizzou helps his cause a little bit.

The story for the Bears in addition to first-year coach Art Briles and his never-say-die attitude is freshman quarterback Robert Griffin.

Griffin completed 26 of 35 passes for 283 yards but threw a pick on his final pass attempt, his first interception this season. He had attempted 209 straight passes without a pick, breaking the Division I record for most consecutive attempts without an interception to start a career, previously set by USC's Brad Otton (202, 1994-95).

Led by Griffin, Baylor had long scoring drives on each of its first three possessions after halftime. Griffin blamed himself for throwing an interception with a chance to win the game.

"That's just not acceptable," Griffin said. "It's a crucial part of the game. I tried to fit it in there, and the linebacker made a good play."

Twice down by 14, the Bears got even twice but never led. It was their 16th straight loss to ranked teams over the last five seasons, but the others had been by an average margin of nearly 30 points.

Griffin and running back Jay Finley account for 130.8 of the Bears' 183.3 yards per game rushing. The Bears have nothing flashy among receivers. Kendall Wright leads BU with an average of 4.4 receptions and 57.1 receiving yards per game. On defense, Baylor is led by linebacker Joe Pawelek, who is third nationally averaging 11.7 tackles per game.

Baylor gives up more points per game (27.9 ppg) than they score (27.3 ppg). The Bears' victories this season have come against Northwestern State, Washington State and Iowa State.

BIG 12 POWER RANKINGS


1. OKLAHOMA STATE (8-1)

Last week:
No. 2

This Saturday: at Texas Tech

Bottom line: Zac Robinson threw for five touchdowns, RB Kendall Hunter ran for 104 yards and WR Dez Bryant had nine catches for 171 yards and four TDs in a 59-17 rout of Iowa State.

Chip's pick: Oklahoma State 42, Texas Tech 37

2. TEXAS TECH (9-0)

Last week:
No. 4

This Saturday: Oklahoma State

Bottom line: I think Texas is better than Tech, but the Red Raiders had the final answer.

3. TEXAS (8-1)

Last week:
No. 1

This Saturday: Baylor

Bottom line: With or without Quan Cosby, Texas has to get back to its four- and five-receiver sets and throwing to set up the run. (With more work for Fozzy Whittaker.)

Chip's pick: Later in the week

4. OKLAHOMA (8-1)

Last week:
No. 3

This Saturday: at Texas A&M

Bottom line: The way you beat OU is by throwing on the middle of the defense. Nebraska couldn't pull that off in a 62-28 victory by the Sooners.

Chip's pick: OU 31, Texas A&M 28

5. MISSOURI (7-2)

Last week:
No. 5

This Saturday: Kansas St.

Bottom line: Tigers slept-walked through victory against Baylor.

Chip's pick: Mizzou 48, K-State 17

6. KANSAS (6-3)

Last week:
No. 6

This Saturday: at Nebraska

Bottom line: Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier are taking teams apart.

Chip's pick: Kansas 32, Nebraska 28

7. NEBRASKA (5-4)

Last week:
No. 7

This Saturday: Kansas

Bottom line: The Huskers did some serious imploding last week at OU. Bo Pelini has some work to do this week.

8. BAYLOR (3-6)

Last week:
No. 9

This Saturday: at Texas

Bottom line: Bears are catching Texas in a bad mood.



9. KANSAS ST. (4-5)

Last week:
No. 8

This Saturday: at Missouri

Bottom line: Did we mention the Wildcats can't stop anybody? K-State is giving up 444.7 yards and 33.7 points per game.

10. TEXAS A&M (4-5)

Last week:
No. 10

This Saturday: Oklahoma

Bottom line: QB Jerrod Johnson is growing up quickly, but the defense is still horrendous.

11. COLORADO (4-5)

Last week:
No. 11

This Saturday: Iowa State

Bottom line: CU is showing signs of collapsing as Buffs' quarterbacks combined for three interceptions and zero touchdowns in 24-17 loss at Texas A&M.

Chip's pick: Colorado 24, Iowa State 23

12. IOWA ST. (2-7)

Last week:
No. 12

This Saturday: at Colorado

Bottom line: Iowa State has lost seven in a row and hasn't been the same since blowing a 20-0 lead against Kansas.

COAST TO COAST

THE TOP FIVE

1. FLORIDA
- The Gators are starting to put it all together
2. ALABAMA - Offense may not be ready for prime time, but defense sure is.
3. TEXAS TECH - Defense is better than advertised and so are Harrell and Crabtree
4. TEXAS - Longhorns picked a tough time to have an off day, but they'll be heard from again
5. OKLAHOMA STATE - I think the Cowboys would beat Penn State on a neutral field

THE OTHER FIVE

6. USC - Trojans' defense keeps making statements against pitiful Pac-10
7. PENN STATE - After spending a weekend breaking down the Nittany Lions, I'm just not convinced it can compete with the offenses
8. OKLAHOMA - Ho hum, another five-TD pass day for Sam Bradford, but D is suspect
9. TCU - Could Gary Patterson be the next coach at Clemson. He's earning the consideration.
10. UTAH - Game of the Year in the Mountain West Thursday night at home against TCU

THE PICKS

TCU at UTAH (Thursday) -
I predicted Utah would be the BCS buster before the season, but I'm having second thoughts.

Chip's pick: TCU 28, Utah 24

FLORIDA at VANDERBILT - Can Gators keep their focus?

Chip's pick: Florida 38, Vandy 24

ALABAMA at LSU - Nick Saban returns home … to find the Tigers with insufficient QB play.

Chip's pick: Bama 28, LSU 21

GEORGIA TECH at NORTH CAROLINA - This is for the ACC's Coastal Division

Chip's pick: North Carolina 28, Georgia Tech 27

PENN STATE at IOWA - OK, I'm back off the Penn State bandwagon. UPSET SPECIAL.

Chip's pick: Iowa 31, Penn State 24

NOTRE DAME at BOSTON COLLEGE - Golden Eagles beat the Golden Domers.

Chip's pick: Boston College 31, Notre Dame 21

CINCINNATI at WEST VIRGINIA - The Bearcats are prowling. UPSET SPECIAL No. 2

Chip's pick: Cincinnati 27, West Virginia 24

CALIFORNIA at USC - The Trojans are rounding into BCS form.

Chip's pick: USC 31, Cal 7

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

Still wondering why things played out the way they did Saturday night. Not wondering why Texas Tech won. Texas played poorly enough on offense to answer that question. But wondering why things played out the way they did on the final two plays and the heart-ache a couple players must be experiencing at the moment.



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