5 Quick Thoughts: Maryland 30, UT 14

Malik Jefferson. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Malik Jefferson. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Here are my Five Quick Thoughts following UT’s 51-41 loss to Maryland on Saturday in Tom Herman’s debut.

Quick thought no. 1: …we underestimated Maryland.

If Texas had come out and stopped the run with authority, Tyrell Pigrome would not have been made to look like a Heisman contender in the early going. We’ve seen this story play out before, how amazing did Jerrod Heard look against Cal two years ago when they couldn’t play with discipline up front?

Nevertheless, the Terps played some pretty good football. Texas made some early mistakes on offense, defense, and special teams and Maryland jumped ALL OVER those opportunities and got six points out of several of them.

Their defense played tough and smart, with awareness of Texas’ relative strengths and weaknesses. Particularly on the right side of the line, which they hit with some pressures and stunts that were successful and allowed them to avoid overcommitting numbers to the pass-rush. Their ballcarriers were explosive and they had good team speed overall. The defense executed with better fundamentals than a year ago, DJ Durkin has some encouraging thoughts to offer bewildered Texas fan on the improvements that can come with time.

Quick thought no. 2: Orlando got ahead of himself.

This defense has really struggled with run fits and team leverage for several years now. Stopping Piggy and the Maryland offense was always going to be about demonstrating the ability to fit the run consistently in order to set up the passing downs where they could bring more exotic pressures and disguises.

Instead, Orlando brought a diverse and complex gameplan into this contest that had multiple packages, alignments, and coverages designed to bring extra run-stoppers from different directions. Perhaps he was fooled by their ability to stop the more limited Texas run game in fall camp?

At any rate, they gifted Maryland a lot of easy points with missed assignments and bad A-L-I-G-N-M-E-N-T on defense before Orlando just started calling base defense and making the Terps prove they could out-execute Texas.

I think the overly complex nature of the calls was self-evident from how many Maryland scores featured Texas DBs desperately racing to catch up with free-running receivers…however I do have a particular example that really stuck in my craw. There was a key “third and 17″ before Maryland made it 27-7 in which Orlando brought a disguised, zero-safety blitz…that should never happen against a running QB with a front that hasn’t proven they can handle contain.

Piggy slipped up a crease in the middle and split the safeties (who were in man coverage) for a 19 yard gain. Then he hit a 46 yard pass over a trailing DB for the score. Texas was just gifting yardage and points early on. Having the most athletic team doesn’t mean much if guys aren’t running to the right places.

There were also some strange calls that featured backside press-man coverage with no safety (Elliott was rolled over to the opposite field) and they were soundly punished for their unsound nature.

Took a little longer than I would have liked but Orlando started calling base defense with cloud/2-read coverage to the field and sky/robber on the boundary, which made DeShon Elliott the first responder to support the run. The Kraken played the role well and the consistent calls made it much easier for Texas to get the right hats in the right spots against Maryland’s run game.

TexMary

That’s your base D for much of the rest of the season. From this look Texas can get the stops against the run game to allow the more exotic stuff to pay off on third down. They’ve already demonstrated that ability, now they just need the chance to prove it for a full game.

Quick thought no. 3: It was always going to take time to get this offense together.

Texas ran the veer and shoot last year, which meant they were run blocking on the vast percentage of plays. They were good at it, also. However that meant that unless the 2017 offense was built around running the ball, there were going to be some growing pains in nailing down pass protection.

The 2017 offense can’t be built around running the ball because the QB is an accurate passer but not much of a runner, the receivers are good and need to be heavily involved, the RBs are question marks, and there’s very little on the TE depth chart. That means the offense has to be geared around flinging it around and an efficient passing game is the most time-intensive style of offensive football to master.

The first article I wrote when Tom Herman was hired detailed how this offense could work for Shane Buechele if they could find a good “hammer-back” at TE to even out the numbers for the run game and create easy opportunities for play-action. They didn’t find one, understandably, but there need to be some adjustments made in order for this offense to work properly.

10 personnel is one obvious solution, both Chris Warren and Kyle Porter were solid in blitz pickup and Herman/Beck need to be ready to gameplan around the assumption that even passing down calls are often going to need to come from 6-man protection.

Texas also needs to show a little more commitment to the run game between the 20s and, if that Ehlinger package is there, goal line offense could really use the boost. Things really aren’t too far off track here, we would be far less concerned if D and ST hadn’t wet the bed early in this one.

Quick thought no. 4: Situational play-calls were rather iffy

That said…some of the situational play calls on offense were curious. They insisted on play 11 personnel despite regularly flexing Garrett Gray out wide and going empty. That helps with pace since you don’t have to substitute, but it wasn’t obvious that this provided more of an advantage than getting another WR on the field. Especially with as deep and effectively as Texas looked at that position today.

The QB OZ call on third and two for Shane Buechele was also curious, but mostly just because they ran it to the right side rather than to the left behind Connor Williams. If you need two yards badly, you want to go behind Connor Williams unless you have something really, really clever cooked up.

That fourth and two call at the 45 that set up Maryland’s revitalizing drive to make it 44-34 that came over the alternative, pinning a freshman down inside the 20 with your All-American punter, was also a curious call. That one arguably drove the nail in the coffin.

I firmly believe in this coaching staff but some of this Houston/underdog mentality needs to die down just a little. You’re at Texas now, coaching an athletic but lost football team against a physically overmatched opponent. Let them play some ball and build up some confidence.

Chris Warren. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Chris Warren. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Quick thought no. 5: There’s good reason to believe this season won’t be terrible.

The offense is going to be much better later in the year than early, barring major injuries. They have a deep stable of receivers, the TEs they insist on using are only going to get better, and the OL is going to get better in pass protection.

Collin Johnson was as good as advertised, Reggie Hemphill-Mapps was terrific, Armanti “the gamer” Foreman showed up with some nice plays, and the WR position was well stocked with effective athletes.

Some of the early, game-costing miscues on special teams will be easier to clean up. I think special teams can be a game-changing strength for this team if/when the coaches take advantage of Michael Dickson and don’t ask as much of the place-kicker.

The defense is much, much better than they showed and that was apparent with their very solid execution of base schemes. The vast majority of Maryland’s yardage came against exotic looks and assignment errors. The D I illustrated above was very solid and can be a foundational identity for the team. Lots of teams around the Big 12 would love to be able to execute that call as well as this Texas bunch is capable of doing.

Maryland’s offense was the perfect design to abuse the weaknesses the Texas defense has shown over recent years. Outside zone blocking, two-back runs, option plays with the QB, and ballcarriers at both the QB and RB spots that can take a generous crease to the house. If the Longhorns had opened against a passing-oriented spread team we might all be crowing about how legendary this defense was going to be in 2017, clueless as to the issues that would inevitably surface later in the year. Now we know, things are better but there’s still some work to be done.

It’s also not as bad as it looks.