The TCU and Kansas State games are essentially the key tests for how close Tom Herman is to realizing his vision for the program. You want to play great defense and be the most physical team on the field every week? That’s great, but that’s what these programs are all about as well and you’re not going to beat them at their own game on accident.
Texas scraped by Kansas State and left some good bruises in that one but K-State’s season was derailed by an injury to their starting QB. That left TCU as maybe the last big chance (West Virginia?) for Texas to secure a signature big win this season.
Herman and his bunch went in looking to lay down the law and be the aggressors.
Quick thought no. 1: This was a bad matchup for the Shane Buechele offense
Shane Buechele thrives throwing RPOs and hitting quick reads and throws in the passing game, in those dimensions he’s actually very good. He does not thrive under pressure (although he protected the ball in this game) and there’s not a ton he can do personally if the defense is dropping back and taking away his bread and butter.
There’s going to be endless questions and consternation, I’m sure, about why Texas didn’t get the ball to their big wideouts more against TCU’s smaller DBs. The answer is simple and sad, the Frogs were playing things really safe on defense and Texas couldn’t punish them. Shane Buechele was facing the plague of frogs in this game every time he dropped back into coverage. TCU was able to manufacture pressure on him with three and four-man rushes which allowed them to play the rest of their defense deep and wide to take away Texas’ passing game.
Here’s the kind of alignment they were using against Texas’ spread sets, for instance:
With Travin Howard (“S” in this diagram) sitting out wide on the quick routes while Ty Summers and the Frog DL handled the Texas run game, there weren’t really any quick hitters to be had. The areas on the field where there was clear leverage for the Texas offense to attack was up front and they couldn’t win the line of scrimmage decisively enough to get downhill on all those little spread out Frog defenders. Instead, they’d all just converge with speed on the ball and clean up whatever survived against the defenders left in the box.
When Texas’ opponents every week are just dropping back and daring Texas to beat them up front there’s not much to say except, “well go beat them then.” Texas couldn’t do it with this personnel, that’s not shocking given what we’ve seen this season.
Quick thought no. 2: Early mistakes on defense were insurmountable
TCU’s initial touchdown drive came in large part because of a pair of 15-yard penalties by overzealous Texas DBs (neither named Kris Boyd, incidentally) and then a trick play on fourth and two that juuuuust cleared a Texas DL. The Frogs were able to punch it in and then had nearly all of the points they were going to need all night.
For the day Kenny Hill was 18-26 but for only 146 yards (5.6 yards per attempt) with zero TDs and zero INTs. Texas wasn’t able to turn him over but he wasn’t really taking chances either. There was no point in doing so. On the ground he finished with 12 carries for 43 yards (before removing sacks) and had a few big runs that were too much for Texas to overcome.
The Frog run game, recognized as the chief threat in this game, finished with 46 carries for 177 yards at 3.8 yards per carry and those numbers were improved by some late runs from Darius Anderson when the defense was whipped and the game effectively over. It was a solid day for the defense overall. They took a few losses here and there but they had zero contextual support in attempting to apply pressure to the TCU offense.
Quick thought no. 3: Some bright spots on offense
Daniel Young didn’t do anything that’s going to stand out in the box score. 12 carries for 31 yards, okay maybe his two catches for 42 yards were kind of impressive. I was impressed with the way he ran the football though, hitting some lanes when they were there and always fighting through contact. The back doesn’t matter for this Texas offense near as much as the blocking and the opponent.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey continues to stand out as one of the better skill players on offense and his six catches for 109 yards were a definite bright spot. Collin Johnson played a solid game and had some chances when TCU’s weak safety was playing as an inside robber rather than a deep 1/2 defender over the top but it was hard for Texas to do much there with the protection they were getting and hard to take a lot of shots when they really needed to move the chains and hold the ball for a while.
It’s hard to make a lot of any of these guys when TCU was swarming all of Texas’ strong points with numbers and speed while thwarting them up front by thoroughly outplaying the Texas OL.
Quick thought no. 4: Another round of applause for Michael Dickson!
Michael Dickson had nine punts for 457 yards, which is 50.8 yards on average. He had one touchback vs three punts that pinned TCU inside the 20 and his long for the day was a 76-yarder. He also made what was likely a touchdown saving tackle against Kavontae Turpin when the game’s outcome was still somewhat in doubt.
There’s no one on this team that is as good or impactful in their respective role as Michael Dickson is at being the punter. He may even be the most positively impactful player on the entire team, the MVP if you will. That’s not really a total downer either, as Texas has some guys playing great football on defense, the dude is just absolutely dominant at punting the football.
As hard as it’s been to watch the offense this season or to endure so many losses in games that were largely within reach, imagine what life might have been like without Michael Dickson flipping the field after every impotent drive. It can always get worse people, as you’ll see on the opposite sideline next week.
Quick thought no. 5: There is some help on the way…
It’s possible that we’ll see Connor Williams on the field next week or the week after against West Virginia, I’d probably bet on the latter given the low stakes in this next contest. Zack Shackelford should also be back soon, two events that could allow Texas to relegate Tristan Nickelson and Terrel Cuney back to the bench. Thanks for you effort guys, go get some rest.
I don’t know where Toneil Carter is in his recovery but presumably he’ll also be back against Kansas or West Virginia, again probably the latter.
Finally there’s Sam Ehlinger, who was fine to travel to this game although he didn’t dress, and will probably be available if the coaches want to call his name against the Jayhawks or Mountaineers. The last two games have shown that Buechele is effective when he can serve as the maestro in a balanced offense, punishing defenses with his accuracy and hitting Texas’ dangerous receivers on the move. They’ve also shown that he’s not up for carrying a bad OL or helping to punish a light box with his own running.
If Texas needs hero to go play some hero-ball in future weeks, they may have one available again. Or they could roll with Buechele behind a solidified OL and improving backfield and simply have more insurance in case he’s dinged up or the offense needs a spark late.
There’s also some help in the form of the opponents. TCU came into this game ranked eight in defensive S&P+ but Kansas came in ranked 107th, West Virginia at 101st, and Texas Tech at 104th. Texas can win out, go 7-5, and then go whip some disinterested team in a bowl game to finish 8-5. It’s not the standard at Texas but it’s a start.