November 22, 2009

The grades are in - Kansas report card

One step down, two more to go. In dismantling the Kansas Jayhawks 51-20 on Senior Night in Austin, the No.2 Texas Longhorns didn't put together the kind of complete team performance that has become the weekly bar for this program, but there was an awful lot to be excited about from Colt McCoy's Heisman-worthy performance to Earl Thomas' Thorpe Award statement to Hunter Lawrence's prime-time pitch for the Groza Award. Yes, the tackling was sloppy and the kick coverage was sketchy in spots, but the stars came out to play against the Jayhawks and the result was a 31-point win. Here's a full position-by-position breakdown of the performance.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - If the Texas SID office was looking for a Heisman campaign poster shot of Colt McCoy, they got their wish on Saturday night with one of the best performances of a storied career. From the very outset of the game, the Longhorns relied almost exclusively on McCoy's arm to carry the offense and he delivered time and time again by completing 32 of 41 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns. With mostly terrific pass protection to work with for most of the night, McCoy carved up the Kansas defense like William Cutting, taking whatever he wanted in the short, intermediate and deep passing games. Yes, McCoy took a couple of sacks and committed a turnover outside of the pocket when he probably should have gotten rid of the ball, but it's hard to debate an artist's masterpiece in the middle of his commission. The bottom line is that McCoy was in the zone and felt like he could turn water into wine for most of the night, and he was right.

Grade: A+

Running backs - This is really a tough position to grade because the Longhorns decided from the outset that the running game was going to take more than a backseat to the passing game. Greg Davis put his running backs in the trunk during the first half, giving them only two carries in the first quarter and seven in the first half. With so much focus in the game plan on McCoy's arm, you have to remember that when grading this group. That being said, the huge lead allowed the Longhorns to turn to the running game in the second half and the Longhorns were officially credited with 40 rushing attempts.

The player who stirred the drink for the Longhorns in this one was redshirt freshman Tre' Newton, who finished with 66 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, along with three receptions for 36 yards. The backs only produced two explosive plays (12+ yard run/16+ yard reception) in the game, but both were produced by Newton. Sophomore Cody Johnson was mostly a non-factor with the exception of his touchdown in the second quarter, as he was held to 15 yards on eight carries. Overall, the Texas running backs contributed 106 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, along with the 36 yards in the passing game. When you consider how limited their opportunities were in the first half, the production level is more than respectful.

Grade: B-

Wide receivers - The performance that we witnessed from this group on Saturday night was what many expected to see the entire season. It wasn't just the Jordan Shipley Show, as every receiver in the line-up contributed significantly from start to finish. You had junior James Kirkendoll catching eight passes for 86 yards and a team-best two touchdowns. There was also sophomore Malcolm Williams' six receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown. Oh yeah, Marquise Goodwin, John Chiles and Dan Buckner all contributed big plays as well. By the time you get to Shipley's 10 catches for 108 yards and a touchdown, it almost started to feel like an embarrassment of riches for the Longhorns. Six Longhorn receivers combined for 363 yards and four touchdowns. It's not rocket science.

Grade: A+

Tight ends

With the Longhorns playing so much 10 personnel in the first half, the tight end position was not nearly as important to the offensive game plan as it has been the last few weeks, which meant that junior Greg Smith had a reduced role in this game, as he wasn't targeted in the passing game, although he was solid in the run game in the second half when the team played a little more 11 personnel. One interesting development was the increased playing time for true freshman Barrett Matthews. Like Smith, he wasn't targeted in the passing game, but he seemed active at all times when he was on the field. There's no question that he brings a little bit of nastiness to the field with him.

Grade: C-

Offensive line - This is going to sound like nails on the chalkboard for some of you, but in re-watching the game I came away fairly impressed with the performance of the offensive line. When Greg Davis asked his group to stand in there without a lot of help from the backs or tight ends in pass protection in the first half when the team often went with five receivers, this group responded pretty well. Yes, there were a couple of pretty poor individual plays that led to offensive breakdowns, but when you consider the pressure that Kansas tried to bring and the amount of time McCoy had for most of the night, you have to give the group some credit. If you're looking for standouts, I thought Chris Hall and Charlie Tanner played the best brand of football. The right side of that line needs to keep making improvement, but they showed up well at times in the running game in the second half and asserted themselves much better as the game went on. The bottom line with this group is that they were charged with three sacks, but I'm not going to pin those completely on them. When it was all said and done, they helped pave the path for 532 yards of offense and 6.5 yards per play.

Grade: B-

Offensive game plan - Greg Davis unveiled his "Heisman Plan" on Saturday night in front of a prime-time national television audience. Of course, I'm kidding… kind of…but when you consider the damage opposing teams have done to Kansas' secondary this season and the one-on-one battles they were willing to give, it shouldn't shock anyone to see Davis come out with a fling-it-all-over-the-place mentality. If there's a real knock on Davis' approach to this game, it's the fact that he didn't mix in enough of the run in the first quarter when he only handed the ball off twice in three drives. During those first 15 minutes the Longhorns netted only seven points, but as he diversified the offense just a little more in the second quarter, it opened up play-action and everything in the team's arsenal. When you break down the running game, 22 of the team's 37 rushing attempts (not counting the three sacks) produced a quality run by the staff's standards (four+ yards, a first down or a touchdown). That's right at 60 percent and Davis will live with that number each week. As far as the passing game goes, the offense was as diverse in throwing the football as it has been all season.

Grade: A-

Defensive line - After seemingly overwhelming teams in the last month, the Texas defensive line came back to earth a little against a Kansas offensive line that protected as well against UT's front four as any team this season. Sergio Kindle (a unit-best four tackles) and Lamarr Houston (two tackles and a sack) each had moments, but the Jayhawks' line deserved a lot of credit because they kept the salivating pass rush demons off Todd Reesing for much of the game. Of course, the Texas front four helped limit Kansas to 47 yards rushing on 26 carries (1.8 yards per attempt), while still racking up five tackles for loss and three sacks. There might not have been any superstars on this night, but when you add in the contributions of Eddie Jones, Alex Okafor, Ben Alexander, Sam Acho and Kheeston Randall helped this group turn in a controlling, if not overwhelming effort.

Grade: B+

Linebackers - It's not that the linebackers played poorly on Saturday, but this group has established a high bar and it includes making game-changing plays, but those were missing from the defense this week from Roddrick Muckelroy and Emmanuel Acho. Outside of an early sack and tackle for loss by Keenan Robinson, the Texas linebackers didn't contribute a tackle for loss, sack or turnovers in the game. The fact that Muckelroy and Acho were shut out of the big play mix and had fairly quiet evenings is almost shocking when you consider their usual weekly contributions. The play against the run was mostly strong (the defense of the option wasn't always good), but this group is too talented to combine for nine tackles and not much else in 65 defensive snaps.

Grade: C

Secondary - There's good news and bad news for this group as well. Let's start with the bad news. Each member of the secondary had some shaky moments, as all of the corners took a power punch or two from the likes of Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and Jonathan Wilson. It didn't matter whether it was Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Aaron Williams or Deon Beasley, the Jayhawks were able to complete more passes than the Longhorns usually give up in a month. On top of that, the tackling was awful at times. The good news is that the Longhorns also won more than their fair share of battles, as they never surrendered a touchdown pass and Earl Thomas' interception in the fourth quarter sealed the game. When the dust settled, Thomas was sensational throughout and the rest of the group was a little uneven. Still, they took some shots and responded with big plays when it mattered.

Grade: C+

Defensive game plan - The chess match between Mark Mangino and Will Muschamp was really entertaining to watch. It was pretty obvious that the Longhorns wanted to get by with rushing only four, but the play of the KU offensive line forced Muschamp to get creative in his pressure tactics, with most of his success coming with a blitz from the slot with a cornerback. With Muschamp daring the Jayhawks to attack his corners, they did exactly that and were able to hit more plays in the vertical passing game. Mangino had a few nice little wrinkles in the game plan, including the option run game, but Muschamp always adjusted accordingly. The aspect of the Texas game plan that I loved the most was the aggressiveness with which they attacked the KU screen game with the receivers. Throughout the season, the defense has struggled at times with the screen plays on the perimeter, but that wasn't the case on Saturday and that helped eliminate a big piece of the KU offense.

Grade: B

Special teams - It wasn't a total disaster because of the place-kicking of Hunter Lawrence, but the coverage units missed too many tackles and allowed too many big plays and that was before the touchdown by Briscoe. Overall, the Longhorns gave up 273 yards on kickoffs and another 32 on punt returns. For you non-math majors, that's 305 return yards allowed on the day. Wow.

On top of that, the coverage units were not helped by Justin Tucker, who didn't have a touchback among his 10 kickoffs or John Gold's short punt that was returned by Daymond Patterson for 32 yards. The only thing missing was a fumble in the return game… oops... even Shipley had one of those in the first half, although it was recovered.

Again, the good news is that Lawrence was perfect from 49, 47 and 35 yards out.

Grade: D

Overall - For the first time all season, the offense outperformed the defense and special teams in a way that allowed them to carry the team throughout much of the game. Yes, there was some sloppiness, but this team committed only two penalties all evening and was still able to fight through it all for a 31-point blowout win that could have been worse. On a day when the Longhorns could have stubbed their toe against an inspired KU squad, they suffocated the life out of them in two quarters. Name another team in a BCS conference that is doing that on a weekly basis.

Grade: B

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