Random thoughts from the weekend:
- The Big Ten makes the ACC look like the SEC West. Iowa lost to Central Michigan? Really? And don’t blame Greg Davis for that, unless he now coaches the kick return team. It’s easy to recover an onside kick when the other team (“other team” being Iowa) doesn’t know or care what an onside kick is. Awful.
- Jim Schwartz blaming “miscommunication” for the Detroit Lions’ loss in overtime to Tennessee was something else. After rallying to score 14 points in 18 seconds (the first team to do that in 29 years) by scoring, getting an onside kick and scoring on a hail Mary with no time left, the Titans and the Lions went to overtime tied at 41. The Titans kicked a field goal, and with the new overtime rules the other team has the chance to respond (a touchdown wins it, a field goal they keep going), so the Lions and Shaun Hill, in for the injured Matt Stafford, drove down to the Titans’ 7-yard line and faced a 4th & 1 from the 7. What would you do? What should you do? Easy, you kick it and keep going, right? Not if you are Schwartz. You instead try a quarterback sneak and lose a yard, and the game, then blame it on “a miscommunication” as to why you called the play in the first place. I’m glad I already didn’t like him/them. Awful-er.
- I think one million penalties were called on Sunday and then there was the nonsense on Monday night. The replacement refs have to go. Coaches and players seem more concerned with them than the game and the game is being affected in every possible way. Awful-est.
- Alabama gave up a touchdown with 2:40 to play on Saturday. It was the first score on the Tide in three weeks. Hope you’re happy with yourselves, fellas. That is not how you win a national title… Oh, wait. Yes it is. Never mind. Carry on.
- The Patriots and Packers are 1-2, the Saints are 0-3 and Cardinals are 3-0. What planet is this?
- Come on, Rangers. Almost there. MONSTER win Monday night.
- The Houston Texans are insanely good and Matt Schaub is insanely tough. He got a chunk of his ear ripped off (actually it wasn’t ripped off, it just got knocked off) and was back on the next play.
- Jack (of Jack in the Box), your wife is mean. Just because you played the word “Swavory” in scrabble doesn’t mean she gets to act like that.
- Torey Smith, you are stronger person than I am. You deserve all the praise you get.
The second season is here. Conference play. Texas had the last week off to get healthy and take a look at what has worked and what hasn’t. Now it’s time to see where the Horns stand as they start the brutal part of the schedule. First up, a trip to Stillwater and a date with Oregon’s new fashion partner, Oklahoma State. Let’s get to it.
No.10 TEXAS (3-0) @ No.22 OKLAHOMA STATE (2-1)
Saturday, September 29th
Who has been to Stillwater? It’s a great road trip. The drinks are cheap, the food is good, the atmosphere is fun, we both hate oklahoma and the people are nice. Well, most of them. A story from another time and for another time. They love their Cowboys and the place gets really, really loud. They will not call Texas anything but “visitors” and if a Longhorn breaks off a 99-yard run for a touchdown, the only thing the announcer will say is “first down visitors.” It’s awesome.
Texas has taken better teams to Stillwater and played far worse Oklahoma State teams and struggled mightily. The T Boone’s have won something like eight straight games against teams from Texas, including the last two meetings with the Longhorns, both in Austin, and are terrific at home. This could be a shootout, or it could get away from someone quickly. On paper this looks pretty even. How even? Based purely on points allowed and points scored the score of this game is OSU 39.1, Texas 38.5. If the limited math skills I have are correct, you round down when it’s less than .5 and up when it’s .5 or greater, so that means this a 39-39 game. But it isn’t played on paper, and if it is please, please, please be healthy Anthony Fera. PLEASE.
I kid, I kid. I don’t think Anthony Fera is going to be the difference in this game, but who knows? Let’s get to it.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
This is the same Oklahoma State team you’ve seen the last few years, now with different personnel. They are going full-speed NASCAR tempo and will not sniff the teens on the play clock, pushing the tempo and trying to wear the defense out. Defensively they want to pressure the quarterback and force turnovers with their talented secondary, and if they can’t force the turnover they want to get the ball into the hands of their outstanding special teams and break the game open that way. Pressure defense, high-octane offense, playmaking special teams. A solid team that lights up the scoreboard. Can they do it? Of course they can. Will they do it? No way.
As I said, this is a fast break offense that wants to run like a basketball team, forgoing the huddle and forcing the defense to react to them and wearing them out by limiting their substitutions. Unlike Texas Tech under Mike Leach, they will do it as often with the run as they do with the pass and at times the quarterback is the only who knows whether it will be run or pass. Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken gives the qb the option to hand it off or throw it depending on the defense in their shotgun, one-back set. In a split second he needs to decide to hand it off or throw it. That’s a lot on the quarterback and last year Brandon Weeden was terrific doing that, keeping defenses guessing on making plays when it was called. This year the quarterback is a freshman and while he’s had some terrific moments, he’s still a freshman. Named the starter over the summer, true freshman Wes Lunt has thrown for 588 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions. He was the cat’s meow vs. Savannah State, but struggled on the road against Arizona when he threw three picks. He injured his knee on the sixth play of the game two weeks ago and has not practiced since (he was on crutches a good portion of the bye week) and Mike Gundy is channeling Bill Snyder when it comes to his status this weekend (which means he won’t say). Like Weeden, Lunt is a big kid at 6-foot-4, 211 pounds and is similar in personality and game, making plays with his arm more than his feet. On the season he’s been solid, even in the loss and the picks notwithstanding, with his decision-making and ability to push the ball down the field. In his absence the backup, redshirt freshman JW Walsh, played well. He is more like former OSU qb Zac Robinson in that he is a dual-threat guy that can run and pass. Not as big as Lunt at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he’s more of a runner and doesn’t have quite as big an arm and with limited reps in practice that run/pass option play might not be on the table for him as often. If I had to guess, Walsh plays, but Texas will prepare for both of them. Whoever it is, between them they have played three games in college.
Even with the loss of Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State still has plenty of talent outside for the quarterback(s) to lean on with Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Blake Jackson. The three combine for 205 yards receiving a game and have seven of the team’s 11 touchdowns through the air. The good news for OSU is they are all three completely different players, meaning defenses have to address them differently. Moore is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior with a lot of experience that has the speed to go deep and the size and attitude to go over the middle. He’s a great route runner- ask Arizona. He plays outside while Jackson and Stewart play inside. At 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Stewart is terrific at finding holes in the coverage and getting open or sliding outside from the slot. In contrast is Jackson, who at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds will line up as a tight end or h-back and block, then float down the seam on a route as often as he will line up as traditional wide out. He’s a problem for linebackers, evidenced by his team-high 19 catches. If they can get loose, they can do some serious damage and so far this year, they have gotten loose.
Greatly aiding them in getting loose and greatly aiding the new quarterback will be a super tandem at tailback. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith are NFL-ready backs that Texas would rather not see again. I can still see Smith running in DKR last year. And running. And running. Randle averages 111.7 yards per game and Smith 57.7 and each has four rushing touchdowns. Randle is the starter and Smith comes in as relief, but they are both dynamite and, with their Big 12 Title and BCS bowl game skins, the best and most accomplished duo in the Big 12. Like I said, they are NFL backs with NFL skills, NFL vision and NFL hands (catching the ball) and if they can establish the run, it sets up the quarterback for play-action passes and deep shots down field, like Texas had against Ole Miss…
… And the boys up front will decide if any of the above happens. They lost several starters from their Big 12 Title team last year but they haven’t allowed a sack this season, not a single one, which is mighty impressive. Still, I see a brand new starter at one tackle, a brand new starter at center and a spot starter from last year at the other tackle. They could be sensational. The best ever. Then again maybe not.
Like I said, Oklahoma State wants to push tempo and get Texas huffing and puffing. They will spread the Horns out and run off-tackle, forcing the linebackers to make tackles in space, and throw to their trio of wide outs. Look for screens and dump offs to the backs and plenty of running from JW Walsh when he’s in the game to keep the Texas pass rush at bay and the defense honest. They want Texas back on their heels, unsure of what is coming next, like last year when Smith torched them for big gains up the middle as the secondary was worried about the receivers… But it’s all up to the boys up front to make it happen. They need to control the line of scrimmage, because it doesn’t matter how many NFL backs you have if they are tackled two yards deep.
I usually come in here with numbers, but I’m not doing that this time. Here’s what I see: I see a defense that has played a I-AA team, a Louisiana-Lafayette team that ranks 87th in total offense (14 spots below Wyoming if you are keeping track) and an Arizona team ranked No.12 in total offense. They do this with three new starters up front who get little pressure on the quarterback as a group. They depend on their linebackers (Alex Elkins, Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis rank 1, 2 and 10 in tackles on the team) and a secondary billed by the media in Oklahoma as the best in the Big 12.
Now I know these guys have played in a lot of big games and won a lot of big games, but I see an undersized defensive line that doesn’t get to the quarterback all that well on their own, meaning linebackers and secondary help must come to get pressure. If they get there (which it doesn’t look like they do that often) great, but if they don’t, I see plenty of opportunities for Texas down field.
Sure, the Longhorns have their defensive issues this year, but the issues I see for Oklahoma State are not issues that are correctable in a bye week. You can address tackling, focus and communication in on off-week. You cannot address size, experience and depth in an off-week. This is going to be a problem for Oklahoma State this week. Expect to see a lot of bodies up front to defend the run. They want to force Texas to throw and create turnovers… But to do that they need to control the line of scrimmage. Can they? Not nearly enough.
They have terrific pieces on special teams. Justin Gilbert, who took a kickoff back against Texas last year for a score, is back and averages 29 yards per return. They average a solid 10.6 yards per punt return and kicker Quinn Sharp is 4-5 on field goals, has hit 25 straight extra points, averages 46.2 yards per punt with two of six downed inside the 20 and has 21 touchbacks on 24 kickoffs. They allow 9.6 yards per punt return and only 14.5 per kick return.
They are terrific from top to bottom and have an edge with Sharp as the place kicker. If it comes down to field goals, Oklahoma State has to feel good. Gilbert is a straight assassin, or he was in Austin last year. If they can spring him the stadium will explode.
No doubt Texas has seen and read the same things I have: the passing game is “so-so.” David Ash still can’t throw the ball. The secondary can’t tackle. The defense isn’t living up to the hype. Oklahoma State has better wide outs, the better secondary, the more explosive offense…. I expect the Horns are done hearing all this and done with the critics. I think, like the Ole Miss game, Texas goes on the road with a more dialed-in mind set, this time on both sides of the ball for the entire game.
This is real simple: if the Texas offensive line can control the line of scrimmage, Texas wins this game. This is a smallish, inexperienced d-line and while the linebackers are extremely talented, it’s hard to tackle someone if you are on your back or fighting off a block.
A win up front means the running game is clicking and Brown/Bergeron (who said he’s ready to go and will play) are punishing the back seven, forcing them up to the line of scrimmage and opening up play-action passes. It means the defense is at the line of scrimmage to address the running game as Goodwin, Johnson and Monroe run outside on jet sweeps and the potential to pop something big increases. It means wide outs have one-on-one coverage as the defense has to worry about the run. It means David Ash is clean and a clean quarterback makes good decisions, which leads to completions, first downs and points. A win up front means the special teams will have less pressure to convert, making them more comfortable.
Unlike their counterparts, I see Texas being able to own the line of scrimmage in this game. Not Ole Miss owning, but owning in that Texas will get the ground game going and control the tempo and flow. And when they do, look for Malcolm Brown to go OFF.
It’s on YOU, fellas. Take over.
Same goes for the d-line. If Texas controls the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball, it limits anything OSU can do. It shuts their running game down, it shuts their play-action passing down and it affects a quarterback’s ability to drop back and pass.
Texas can do that. They will do that. The Horns have NFL talent up front and it’s time to flex and show it off for an entire game, proving just how dominant they can be. I see some really scary match ups for the Oklahoma State o-line this week and I think Texas’ front four are going to have a field day, especially outside at end.
I am making this sound easier than it is. The Horns have correctable issues on defense, but there are still issues. Texas has to tackle better in space and talk on the field. They can’t blow coverages and allow easy points because of a miscommunication like they have at times this year. The linebackers have to step up and get the backs on the ground and play better. There is a good chance Jordan Hicks is out, so it’s on the young guys to fill the void. Oklahoma State has to like their match up of running back vs. linebacker and Texas must limit the success they have on screens and runs with better lb play and pressure. The corners have to play smart and the safeties have to be aware of trick plays and play –action. Both are coming. Just know that. OSU will score and will get some yards, but I think Manny Diaz is going to dial up some things that these freshmen qb’s haven’t seen and it’s going to lead to turnover opportunities. So far this year, the secondary has taken advantage of those opportunities. I think it happens again. Oklahoma State is 105th in turnover margin and Texas is sixth, so if form holds true the defense is going to make some plays.
Frankly I think this defense is tired of hearing about how disappointing they are and are going to be a nightmare for the Pokes in Stillwater Saturday night.
Texas has to play this even. No big returns. No missed field goals. It can’t happen this week. A big return or a miss ignites this combustible crowd and it could turn the game completely.
Oklahoma State has been plagued by turnovers and penalties while Texas has been blessed with almost none of either one. Texas needs to stay cool. The crowd is going to be loud and raucous and the Cowboys are going to make some plays. The Horns need to weather the storm of emotion and block out the crowd noise.
Last year OSU came to town and their veteran quarterback, excellent ground game and play making defense got out of town with a hard-fought over a forming Texas team with a freshman qb. Texas played them well, but Oklahoma State was the better team. This year things are reversed. It’s Texas with the veteran quarterback, the excellent ground game and the play making defense against a forming Oklahoma State team with a freshman qb/qb’s. And Texas is the better team. They will prove that on Saturday night in Stillwater.
Come on, lines. This is YOUR game. Make it happen.
Last Week in the Big 12
OKLAHOMA STATE (2-1) BYE
IOWA STATE (3-0) BYE
TEXAS TECH (3-0) BYE
Friday, September 21st
Louisiana Monroe Warhawks 42 BAYLOR 47
This is exactly what I said would happen, isn’t it? I am a GENIUS.
Saturday, September 22nd
No. 13 KANSAS STATE 24 No. 5 oklahoma 19
Come on, anyone see Youngblood? Who? You get to see a young Keanu Reeves playing a French Canadian. Who doesn’t want to see that? No one, that’s who.
KANSAS 23 Northern Illinois Huskies 30
Virginia Cavaliers 7 No. 16 TCU 27
This one not so much genius. TCU looks… uninterested. Starting tailback Waymon James was lost for the season earlier in the season and the ground game struggled mightily against the Cavs, who rank in the 90’s in rush defense. That’s two games that TCU has looked fairly flat to me. Maybe the drug bust is still an issue? Just thinking out loud.
Maryland Terrapins 21 No.7 WEST VIRGINIA 31
I have to tell you, I wasn’t all that impressed. Geno Smith was lights out as always, but the Terps shredded that Mountaineer secondary for 305 yards and three scores and held WVA to 25 yards rushing. I said in the pre-season this might be an issue. Again, GENIUS.
This Week in the Big 12
No.8 KANSAS STATE (4-0) BYE
No.15 oklahoma (2-1/0-1) BYE
KANSAS (1-3/0-1) BYE
No. 24 BAYLOR (3-0) @ No.7 WEST VIRGINIA (3-0) 11 am F/X
I can’t wait to see this game. It’s going to be like 66-64 and whoever hits their free throws will win. I think the Land of Burning Couch has a little more on defense than Baylor, so expect this to be a Mountaineer win. WHY IS THIS NOT ON FRIDAY NIGHT? This is where that game belongs, amIright?
TEXAS TECH (3-0) @ IOWA STATE (3-0) 6 pm FCS
Somebody will be 4-0. Let that sink in for a second.
No.14 TCU (3-0/1-0) @ SMU Mustangs (1-2)
Continuing his tour around former Big 12 opponents, Garrett Gilbert is going to get harassed and hit and will overthrow/throw-it-too-hard-and-miss a one touchdown and get picked off twice as Southwest Purple wins the battle of the Metroplex and takes home the coveted Iron Skillet. Hey GG, I’m not a hater at all, I’m just talking about what I see.