STILLWATER — Some of the many dark thoughts that entered my mind during the second half of that game included such notions as, “I wonder how badly Forewarrened is injured?” “Where did Justice Hill come from?” and “Is there such a thing as a Pyrrhic defeat?”
Just the other day I was telling @shanew21, “if Texas insists on playing the 3-4 against spread sets and if Shane can’t throw deep then they’ll lose this game.” They did, he couldn’t, and so it was that Texas continued its run of road incompetence under Charlie Strong.
Quick thought no. 1: That was a horrible defensive game plan
What were they thinking?
As I noted in my preview, Baylor held OSU to 3.9 yards per carry playing a 3-2-6 dime package. Despite this fact, readily available to anyone with access to a television set and a media guide (or the internet), the Texas defensive staff felt that they needed to play a 3-4 package in order to contend with OSU’s spread offense.
There’s a reason even the Pittsburgh Steelers rarely play base 3-4 personnel anymore and it’s that big, pass-rushing outside linebackers can’t get to the QB before he’s thrown the ball to a wide open slot receiver.
As I noted in my preview, that package against a slot WR requires either that you drop the field safety down over the slot and play cover 3 or else you have to send one of those outside linebackers out over the slot to play cover 2. That’s why Texas’ 3-4 set has been predictable enough for me to dub it the “Hager is coming…” package, because you could be reasonably certain that he was coming on the blitz when the alternative is “Hager is chasing (opposing slot receiver).”
Sometimes Hager came on the blitz, other times he chased. Oklahoma State’s top slot WR Jalen McLeskey had four catches for 109 yards and two TDs. On the day Mason Rudolph threw 28 passes for 392 yards (14 yards per pass), three TDs, and zero INTs. In case you skipped the part in parenthesis, I’m going to go ahead and repeat the fact that Oklahoma State averaged 14 yards every time they threw the ball.
Beating Oklahoma State is all about staying on top of “possession receiver” James Washington (three catches, 91 yards, and a TD before Roach knocked him senseless), flooding the passing lanes, and getting a base pass-rush on Mason Rudolph. Stopping the run is truly secondary in an anti-2016 OSU game plan.
Texas opted to regularly send extra pass-rushers, concede passing lanes, and failed to stay on top of Washington. Normally when coaches do something I don’t expect or understand I assume they probably know something I don’t and try to figure out what it might be. I can’t do that here, this was bafflingly awful.
Quick thought no. 2: That was a truly horrible defensive game plan
Not only did Charlie and his defensive staff borrow a game plan from the 1990’s to stop a modern, spread passing attack, but they didn’t even play the run well either! Justice Hill had 25 carries for 135 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and a TD.
As would have been obvious to anyone with access to Oklahoma State film, they ran a lot of two-back zone concepts with a lead blocker. Stopping those kinds of run requires quick fills at inside linebacker and good overlap play from your secondary. Of course, Texas was all-in on stopping everything with aggressive play from the outside linebackers and the constantly rotating faces in the secondary all failed to provide good support against the run. That’s how you give up five yards per carry to a main back despite playing a run-focused set.
Additionally, I don’t think rotating so many players in the defensive backfield is serving Texas’ efforts to play good fundamentals and to leverage and tackle the ball as a unit. I know everyone wants to jerk starters and stick youngsters in there every time something goes wrong but I think the staff should simplify things and roll with the guys who prove they can do it in practice. Substitute less often and only to spell tired people, stop jerking everyone in and out of the game until communication and cohesiveness are team strengths.
Texas gave up at least seven points due to coverage busts in the secondary, a new weekly tradition.
Quick thought no. 3: Future opponents are going to cheat to stuff the run
Unless I missed one or two (and it couldn’t have been more than that) Shane Buechele never even attempted, much less completed, a deep ball in that game. His one fade to Dorian Leonard was a dead duck that spent so much time in the air it drew a pass interference.
When your freshman quarterback in an offense that’s all about going deep in the passing game, comes to a road game wearing a protective vest and never takes a deep shot, opponents are going to take notice. What’s more, Texas had a RB draw play for this contest that looked designed to punish teams for dropping the linebackers to sit underneath the stop routes. Why do you think they suspected they’d need that play?
Despite this disadvantage, Buechele threw 33 passes for 239 yards (7.2 yards per pass), one TD, and one INT.
The one INT was a bad one but that was a pretty gritty and solid performance on the road for the true freshman. Texas’ offensive staff is clearly doing all they can to set their guys up for success and dropped 31 points on a solid defense on the road.
Future opponents are going to key in on the fact that Texas seems unwilling or unable to take deep shots. Eventually some team is going to load the box while playing press-man and I’m not sure how Texas will respond. Hopefully with well placed deep shots of the variety that Buechele was throwing regularly before he went to the locker room against Cal. It looks like this team is going to have to outscore some good offenses to win games in the Big 12.
Quick thought no. 4: Special teams?
Texas has a ton of natural advantages that come from all of the vast resources and tremendous talent they can bring to the 40 Acres. One of them is on special teams. If your roster is perpetually being reloaded with aggressive young athletes that want to prove they belong on the field then it shouldn’t be hard to field a good special teams unit.
Charlie has completely passed up trying to leverage this advantage and Texas has often been lucky to break even on special teams from week to week. Against the Cowboys, Texas couldn’t even perform at the level you’d expect from a lower-rung Texas high school team on a Friday night.
To miss more than one extra point in a season is pretty embarrassing, to miss three in a single game (as well as a field goal) is frankly remarkable. There may have been some questionable bull-rushing allowed (you’ll notice that Texas later returned the favor against OSU, which is frankly too unlikely to think that there wasn’t something slipping past officiating), but this isn’t the first game where Texas has been incapable of kicking the ball through the uprights from short range.
There was also a long special teams return surrendered to the ‘Pokes and an absence of any game-changing plays that could have turned the game around.
As I quipped on Twitter, “apparently Texas’ special teams don’t work without involving special forces.”
Quick thought no. 5: Charlie can’t afford losses like this
Going 7-5 with a promising freshman quarterback, an exciting new offense, a few big wins, and no bad losses might’ve been enough for Charlie to get another year with the talent he’s assembled in Austin. This was a bad loss and indicative of a staff that doesn’t deserve that extra year.
The offensive staff are doing a great job, credit to Charlie for assembling them in Austin after his initial hires went so poorly, but a lot of coaches could assemble good offensive staffs with Texas’ resources. Charlie needs to be a plus at recruiting, overseeing his trademark defense, and managing a cohesive overall team effort.
The defense is an absolute mess and seems to be regressing in terms of tactics. The overall team effort is poor and the units don’t work well together. This team virtually never looks mentally prepared to play on the road. The recruiting has been great but how long will that last with these results on the field?
Lots of people are going to throw in the towel after this game and I can’t blame them. At this point it looks like Charlie is just bailing water out of a sinking vessel.