November 9, 2008

The grades are in - Baylor report card

It wasn't a masterpiece, but all things considered the No.4 Texas Longhorns will take it. After a heart-breaking loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock, the Longhorns simply needed a win, any win, so that they could get the taste of losing out of their collective mouths. In beating the Baylor 45-21 at DKR on Saturday, the team was able to turn the page on last week and they begun the process of finishing the final leg of the 2008 season. Here's a position-by-position review of the win.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - Junior quarterback Colt McCoy must look at peers like Sam Bradford and Graham Harrell and shake his head at how they can emerge from a game without any dirt on their uniform, while he has to fight, scrape and claw his way through every game. McCoy took some more tough shots on Saturday and even made a few mistakes along the way, but he was clearly the best player on the field. McCoy completed 26 of 37 passes for 300 yards and five touchdowns. The two interceptions were definitely throws that McCoy would like to have back, but when you consider the pressure that this kid carries on his shoulder every week, I'll cut him some slack because in a lot of ways the success of this team is tied to him like the 2005 group's was tied to Vince Young. McCoy is everything to this program right now and he delivered again on Saturday.

Grade: B

Running backs - This group made some progress on Saturday. With senior Chris Ogbonnaya limited to a small role, redshirt freshman Foswhitt Whittaker took on the featured back role and did some very nice things in rushing for 77 yards on 15 carries (5.1 average). Although he didn't break free for any real long gainers, Whittaker was able to get some tough yards after contact and he generally kept the chains moving with his running. The same was true of sophomore Vondrell McGee, who quietly added 55 yards and a team-best 5.5 yards per carry on 10 carries. Overall, this position contributed 158 yards on 32 carries (4.9 ypc), while adding three catches for three yards. Not great, but that certainly represents progress from the last couple of weeks. Expect to see more of the Whittaker/McGee duo next week.

Grades: B-

Wide receivers - The best news of the day on the offensive side of the ball might have been the fact that this group had a bevy on contributors. Senior Quan Cosby seemed doubtful early in the week, but he made stunning progress throughout the week and ended up not only playing, but leading the team with eight receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Playing the role of Robin to Cosby's Batman this week was Jordan Shipley, who added six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown. In a lot of weeks this season we'd stop talking about the position after we summarized the play of those two players, but not this week. Sophomore Brandon Collins added a 40-yard touchdown reception, James Kirkendoll caught four passes (two of which went for first downs) and Malcolm Williams added three catches to help build off of his breakout game last week. Overall, this position caught 22 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns, and it wasn't just two guys that provided the food for the dinner table this week.

Grade: A

Tight ends - This group played a prominent role in this game, so we gave them their own slot this week, unlike the last few weeks when we've just grouped them with the offensive line. Sophomore Greg Smith played the majority of the snaps and he was effective in the running game for the most part. He also added a first-half touchdown as a receiver, but outside of that play he was mostly used as a decoy (a space-clearer) in the passing game. Senior Peter Ullman also saw action, but he nearly got McCoy killed when he failed to pick up a blitz off the edge in the second quarter. Even Josh Marshall saw some extended action in the second half. This is a group that will likely be called on even more in the coming weeks, especially if Adam Ulatoski is out for any length of time, but they aren't giving the team much more than the minimum passing grade. While the overall play wasn't a net loss, there's not much to write home about. It's just amazing that the program was in a position to see such a large drop-after Blaine Irby's injury.

Grade: C

Offensive line - This group played pretty well. First, let's look at the numbers. The offense averaged better than five yards per carry through the first three quarters of the game and McCoy was only sacked once, and he generally had all of the time he needed to pick apart the Baylor secondary. Adam Ulatoski was playing a very strong game before he went out with an elbow injury, but sophomore Tray Allen held up surprisingly well in his absence, which is a good sign moving forward if Ulatoski isn't able to go. The interior of the offensive line played much better than they did a week ago. The only real negative occurred when Chris Hall gave help to Cedric Dockery with a double-team and didn't see a delayed blitz, which delivered a vicious hit on McCoy. This group gave a very solid performance overall and they'll need to keep it up in these two games if the offense is going to continue to click.

Grade: B

Offensive game plan - Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis came out firing with a four- and five-receiver look on the first drive and the Longhorns were able to quickly drive the length of the field for an early touchdown. After that drive Davis committed to more use of the tight end position and there was a solid mixture of three-wides/one tight end sets and four/five-wide receiver sets. The extra use of the tight end position had a lot to do with the re-commitment to the running game that the Longhorns seemed to want to make in earnest last week in Lubbock. The offense didn't really do anything flashy in this game. Instead, Davis' group went back to the basics made a conscientious attempt at remaining as balanced as possible. The bottom line is that Davis' game-plan wasn't flashy, but outside of brief breakdown in the second quarter, the offense moved the ball at will all day.

Grade: B+

Defensive line - Don't let the final rushing numbers deceive you because few of those 201 yards came at the expense of this group. Although this group clearly missed Brian Orakpo's big-play ability off the edge, they dominated all attempts by the Bears to run between the tackles and they provided a steady dose of pressure on Robert Griffin. Seniors Henry Melton and Roy Miller were the two best defensive linemen on the field today, as they combined to sack him twice and put him on the ground another four times. After the loss of Lamarr Houston to an ankle injury, true freshman Kheeston Randall gave the team some good reps. Overall, the play of this group was solid, but not great.

Grade: C+

Linebackers - Remember when this group seemed to be coming on like gangbusters in September? Well, that might as well have been last season because this group has really struggled in the last month. The big plays have completely disappeared from this group and even Sergio Kindle, who is a pseudo-defensive end, had perhaps his quietest game of the season. Junior Roddrick Muckelroy led the team with five tackles, but he was curiously quiet in this game, although he did save a long touchdown run in the second quarter. Rashad Bobino and Jared Norton shared snaps inside, but neither made a meaningful impact in the game, with Norton's miss on Kendall Wright after a screen pass helped lead to Baylor's second touchdown. Redshirt freshman Keenan Robinson played more snaps this week, but he struggled with getting off blocks and outside containment. Add it all up and there weren't any tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles and not a single hand touched a football in pass defense. There are bigger expectations for this group that that.

Grade: C-

Secondary - Congratulations to this group because I was really impressed with their performance coming off of last week's disappointment. Freshmen safety Earl Thomas rebounded in a big way, as he tied for the team lead in tackles with five, while also contributing three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a pass break-up. Neither Thomas nor fellow freshman Blake Gideon had any trouble in the passing game, but redshirt freshman Ben Wells was burned for a long touchdown pass after Thomas was forced to briefly leave the game. The Bears tried to take come shots down the field at Deon Beasley, but the junior held up well, even if he did miss a couple of tackles and was flagged for pass interference in the end zone. The biggest play of the game from this group came from senior Ryan Palmer, who changed the game with his interception return for a touchdown. This defense hasn't forced many turnovers this season, but that was a big one. Add in Palmer's big second quarter sack that ended a scoring drive and you can just go ahead and give him a game ball. Overall, they gave up 71 yards and 55 of those came on the one play that Wells gave up.

Grade: A-

Defensive game plan - Like the offense, Will Muschamp didn't go anything flashy in this game. There weren't many blitzes and the Longhorns didn't really draw up anything that they haven't done all season. What they did do was execute very well throughout the game. The missed tackles were limited and the big plays allowed in the passing game were at a minimum. Had the defense been able to contain the Bears on the perimeter with the backwards-laterals to the receivers and the running of Griffin, we might have seen this group's best performance of the season. Instead, it was just a very solid performance.

Grade: B

Special teams - The good news is that the kickoff team did a pretty good job in coverage, outside of the one 49-yard return. Keenan Robinson and Dustin Earnest were both outstanding at times in this phase of the game. Justin Tucker's kickoffs were solid and his 53-yard punt continues to make the rugby-style approach that the Longhorns have used in recent weeks a winner. The trio of Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams and Malcolm Williams was solid on returns. Had it not been for Hunter Lawrence's two missed field goals, this group would have had a fairly complete afternoon. After Ryan Bailey came in and kicked a 30-yard field goal late in the game, you have to wonder who will be kicking in Lawrence.

Grade: B-

Overall - This team had a lot of excuses heading into this one. The team is tired, had players missing due to injury and the entire team had to still be feeling the effects of the loss in Lubbock. Still, this team came out with fire to start the game, jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and ended up separating fairly easily from a team that fought Missouri to the very bitter end last week. The team played well in all three phases and competed hard for 60 minutes. When they do that they are a very tough team to beat. It might not have been their best performance of the season, but when you consider that any win would have done just fine, you have to be impressed with the manner in which they played.

Grade: B+

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