This is going to be the longest, most football-heavy post I have ever written. However, in light of recent events, it is necessary.
As of about 3:00PM CST on Saturday, it seems as though everyone wants Mack Brown’s head on a platter. Heck, even Scipio Tex, a writer for Barking Carnival who I respect, wrote as much. Would that solve all the “problems” at Texas? Would that have helped us avoid what I believe was an expected result at OU? Lets take a look…
The main problem, which has been evident since the Oklahoma State game, is that the defense isn’t nearly as strong as we expected when the season started. Sure, they played lights-out in the first two games, and pretty well against Ole Miss, but then what happened? Well, THIS did.
Anyone who has talked to me about Longhorn football the last three weeks knows that I’ve been harping on the fact that losing Hicks was the downfall of this defense. I’m convinced that no one else is able to see what I see. Hicks was your only returning starter at linebacker. He made all the calls, and told everyone where to go. He was the only one with experience in Manny Diaz’s complicated scheme. He was also the most athletic of your LBs, playing the weak side, but still ending up involved in tackles when the play went to the strong side. Too many people have underestimated Hicks’ role in the Texas defense.
With Hicks out, we weren’t able to run a standard 4-3, and had to resort to a 4-2-5 w/ Vaccaro playing as a de-facto LB/nickel, because he’s the next-best at reading the backfield and reacting. That left Edmond and revolving door of other young guys at LB (And Demarco Cobbs, who proved last year that he can’t take a good angle to save his life). None of them are great at reading and making calls (yet?) and teams exploited that. By putting two backs in the backfield, Oklahoma State made reads more complicated on the young LBs (Who is the ball going to? Power or misdirect? Maybe he’ll throw? What if the FB releases for a screen? What if the FB AND RB release? Etc) and they looked BAD. Even if they got the correct read, whichever one was at the point of attack was getting locked up by the FB, and then the second one couldn’t get over to tackle the ball carrier. That left our secondary to try to make plays on a 6-1 200lb running back going full-steam ahead. That generally (as we saw) doesn’t work out well. Even if it does, the tackle is being made 7-10 yards downfield. When he was available (IE: Not covering the WR in the slot), Vaccaro could run down the guy and make a play, but this was not sustainable.
Jump forward to West Virginia. What did they do? They ran the ball. Often times with the SAME FORMATION that Oklahoma State used. So, repeat all of what I just said above, except take Vacarro out of the equation because he was having to cover the more-dangerous WVU WRs in the slot. Tavon Austin was used by Holgo to take Vaccaro away from the play either by lining up on the other side, or going in motion away from the play. There was no way for Diaz to scheme around this, because he simply didn’t have the personnel.
Now we have Saturday against OU. Guess what? They ran the ball. Often times with the SAME FORMATION that Oklahoma State and WVU used. So, repeat all of what I just said above, except add in a better offensive line (So we couldn’t get good pressure on Jones), and an opposing defense far superior to what Texas had seen thus far. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a blowout, doesn’t it? Without Hicks, we had little to no chance of stopping OU. We had to commit Vaccaro to either run support or pass support, and OU was able to hurt us with the opposite one.
“But what about the offense! They were GREAT against everyone else! Surely we should’ve been able to keep up with OU!” Oh dear. Someone’s been drinking too much Kool-Aid. Before the season started, we knew exactly three things about our offense:
1. We have pretty good running backs that should be able to carry the load. Brown has great vision and quickness, while Bergeron has more power and brute force. Gray is an unknown.
2. Our offensive line is young and weak, and may be a problem. We’ll hide their problems with lots of misdirection, motion, and counters off of our base plays.
3. We have two decent quarterbacks, but one of them is going to have to step up and play really well.
Guess what? Our running backs have been pretty good (When healthy), and have carried the load. Our offensive line has been okay, but only against overmatched opponents. And Ash has played pretty damn well. So why couldn’t we keep up with OU? Simply because they are the first quality defense we’ve played. The yards and points we put up against inferior defenses were a red herring. This offense is still a work-in-progress, and it showed in a big way on Saturday. To beat OU we were going to need to be able to get a few successful base plays in, and then use misdirection to use their defensive speed against them. Unfortunately, with Malcolm Brown on the sidelines, we weren’t able to get our base plays going (Bergeron doesn’t have the vision or quickness to make things happen when there are tiny/non-existent holes, and Gray doesn’t have the strength to be effective after contact) and therefore weren’t able to move to counters and misdirection. As far as the passing game goes, without the run threat, the passing game never opened up. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a blowout, doesn’t it?
All things considered, we had a solid gameplan against OU on both sides of the ball, but without some key players we were going to be in a world of hurt. The margin between “competitive game” and “blowout” was razor thin for Saturday, and it all hinged upon Malcolm Brown and Jordan Hicks being healthy.
Now, dear reader, tell me how firing Mack Brown would make up for Brown and Hicks being hurt. Please, I’m begging you.
Better yet, tell me how firing any of the current coaches could help. Would a different defensive coordinator be able to magically conjure a replacement for Hicks? Or somehow age all of our players overnight so they can make reads like returning starters? Would a different offensive coordinator have a stronger and more experienced offensive line? Or maybe he’d lay his hands on Malcolm Brown’s ankle and make it all better.
None of those things would help. The issue is that this team is young and inexperienced, and we have an entitled fanbase. “But Mack Brown said on the Longhorn Network that this team was good and close to being great!” Holy shit. Have you ever heard of motivation? OF COURSE he’s going to say that! He’s trying to motivate his young team by telling them if they give all they have they can be great. Unfortunately, they gave all they had against WVU, and came up short. And then they came out flat against OU, because they knew they weren’t great.
Don’t tell me we should fire Diaz because the defense isn’t great. Don’t tell me we should fire Mack because the team isn’t great. Texas has lost two games to two pretty good teams. This season started with just about everyone saying that we’d lose 2-3 games. Guess what? That is still possible. You don’t go out and buy a new car just because you got a flat tire.
If we continue losing games (Baylor, Kansas, and Iowa State are up next), then you can come back and say “I TOLD YOU SO!” But for now, be reasonable. Firing a coach doesn’t magically make players older or stronger or healthier. Unlike in 2010, this Texas team has tangible physical issues, not mental ones. If we lose games that we shouldn’t, though, perhaps the physical has become mental. Then it’d be time to panic and ask for heads to roll.
To sum up: Everything that has happened to Texas football this year has been expected. Nothing should be a surprise to anyone who has closely watched this team without burnt orange glasses on. Keep calm and carry on.