Let’s get to it:
Assignment Soundness/Handling Run-Pass Conflict.
The Longhorn defense has to show that it can demonstrate assignment soundness and the run/pass decision making that Kansas State’s option and QB lead power running game demands. Proficient option football is jiu jitsu. It can rob a defense of its athletic advantages by turning dumb aggression against itself. But your defense will also get mounted and pounded if you allow it to become a bystander. Each player has to do their job, trust their teammates and know that the ball will find them.
Like Maryland, the Wildcats will put pressure on Longhorn edge defenders and the interior linebackers to not overrun or get sucked up into the line of scrimmage chasing ghosts. Have we evolved or has Texas just faced offenses that suit our schemes and personnel? This is a proving game for PJ Locke, Brandon Jones, Kris Boyd and all of the linebackers (I expect to see plenty of Gary Johnson if KSU goes to heavy sets).
Locke exhibited little understanding that he’s the edge containment against Maryland, either running too far upfield with foolish aggression or getting lost inside for no apparent reason at all. Brandon Jones became a passive bystander and a useless third level. Kris Boyd showed his near trademark inability to focus. All of the Longhorn defensive backs, save Deshon Elliott, proved helpless against exterior cut blocking. The Longhorn linebackers have thrived cleaning up the mayhem and clean looks created by the Longhorn DL shutting down conventional running attacks with penetration. Clean up is easy. Can they show the ability to diagnose, maintain the depth to scrape laterally and not chase ghosts?
Still Let It Go. Todd Orlando regrets not letting his defensive line penetrate and attack against Maryland and he won’t make that mistake against the Wildcats. Poona Ford has been massively disruptive at the point of attack and his ability to pursue laterally is like having an extra linebacker. Omenihu and Roach are also a real problem from the backside and Chris Nelson has proven immovable at the point of attack. Kansas State can’t mash our DL – they’ll try to invite them upfield and screen while Ertz takes a delay step, elongates the defense to create gaps, waits and then plants upfield hard. Its important that the defensive line understand what’s being done to them while not sacrificing aggression. Penetrate, beat your guy, get flat to pursue laterally. A big negative play against the Wildcats renders their offense almost as helpless as ours. Being assignment sound doesn’t mean being a bystander.
Ertz Wants 25 carries. The D has to understand that clear passing downs for KSU aren’t. Snyder is a total game manager. He knows that his defense should be successful against our offense and that he might gain some hidden yards on special teams. Job #1 for Ertz is to not turn the ball over. 3rd and 8 may seem like a passing down, but I’d make sure the defense is using Malik Jefferson to spy the QB draw and that Longhorn outside rushers aren’t sprinting past the QB in the pocket.
Stick With What’s Working Until They Stop It. As I’ve explained in my offensive post-mortems, Beck has exhibited a propensity for fleeing any semblance of a working running game for a random grab bag of calls that bear no relation to whatever success was experienced previously. That’s a luxury one can indulge when an offense is good. But a bad offense should covet every 5+ yard run. Then recreate those conditions. Then stubbornly dwell there until the defense stops it with an extra man, a different call or something that will allow us to engage the next phase of offense. Just calling grab bag formations and plays in an effort to be unpredictable misses the point.
Competent personnel use. Kyle Porter is a good lead blocker and pass protector. Carter has good hands and edge speed. Chris Warren can run on light boxes downhill. We have several WRs who are good in the screen game against off coverage. Kerstetter is agile. Nickelson is not. The idea that we’re scheming Armanti Foreman as the player we most want in space with the ball in his hands or using him as an adjunct in the running game (he had two ugly carries from a split back formation against ISU) is off putting. Try using LJH or Heard again in the Wildcat WITHOUT substituting and telegraphing the package. And perhaps run something other than an off tackle QB power – like an honest to goodness zone read? Further, the idea that Collin Johnson can be completely removed from a game plan because a defense doubles him – even when we’re in 4 or 5 wide – suggests a profound lack of creativity.
Avoid Bright Ideas. The special plays that Tim Beck drew up in the off week against Iowa State failed miserably. Specifically, the screen pass where Warren was asked to pick off the outside CB and the Warren-Foreman fumble reverse. The conventional wrinkles that he simply copied and implemented – the RB draw and QB draw, the proper angle screen passes to Heard and RHM against off coverage – were successful. Beck should stick to replicating what other people do conventionally against dishonest defenses and avoid further bright ideas.
Don’t Lose The Game, Create Some Cushion For the Defense. A rare Michael Dickson shank set up Iowa State’s only score against the Longhorns. While Rowland showed better leg on his kickoffs (touchbacks!) and avoided Cyclone returns and nailed a 49 yard field goal, it remains to be seen whether those kickoffs were a result of cool October air adding length or if he’s been able to do this all along. If the latter, WTF were we doing?
As for his field goal, the down, distance and and game situation dictated that Iowa State play the fake. They didn’t rush or attempt penetration. This was a good thing for Rowland as his line drive field goal attempt would have been blocked with any interior pressure. I’m not ready to pronounce us healed here yet.
As for punt returns, we continue to have Armanti Foreman back there. He has the acceleration of a jellyfish, so I can only surmise that our coaches think he’s more coachable than RHM or they’ve all been subject to a Shallow Hal type hypnotherapy that makes them see Foreman as Antonio Brown. Given his involvement in our offense as the “edge threatening” option in our run game, I’m going with Shallow Hal.
If the Texas offense focuses on doing what it can do, not turning it over and reacting appropriately to whatever overplay KSU does (and frankly, there are a lot of defensive plans that could work against us), that’ll be good enough to win the game and, perhaps more importantly, not lose it for our defense. I’m comfortable putting this game on the Texas Longhorn defense and hoping that the massive material improvements we’ve shown since Maryland were a function of a larger overall growth.