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In the Big 12 conference, coaching staffs are pretty ruthless about game planning to personnel. The nature of a spread league is such that if teams can find a weak spot on your depth chart, they can expose it in high stakes situations. There were a number of matchups in this game that needed to be game planned by either side to avoid problems and then a few matchups that offered opportunities.
Baylor’s gameplan properly mitigated and incorporated the various matchup issues in this contest, Texas’ did not. That created a dozen advantages for Baylor that took their toll over the course of the game and resulted in a lopsided margin. Before the game Tom Herman was caught on camera getting into the pre-game circle and banging his head on Malcolm Roach’s helmet to pump up his team, but it ultimately just served as a metaphor for what Texas tried to do in this game. Namely, bang an uncovered head against a blunt object hoping that sheer force of will would make the difference.
Texas slips to 6-5 on the year and 4-4 in conference play in what has been one of the least impressive seasons in a long, unimpressive decade.
Quick thought No. 1: Texas played 9 on 11 on offense
It’s baffling why Texas’ solution to losing a guard on offense is to insert Denzel Okafor to RT and slide Derek Kerstetter inside. Kerstetter is a pretty good offensive tackle that can be trusted to hold up now and again against a good edge rusher. Okafor routinely struggles to hold up when teams come after him off the edge. Texas’ slavish devotion to playing what they seem to think is the “best five” left them pretty vulnerable against the best defensive player (player period?) in the Big 12.
Baylor lined up James Lynch over Okafor and were rewarded with several sacks and a great deal of disruption in Texas’ ability to get much from their spread passing sets.
Beyond that, Texas also maintained their emphasis on 11 personnel and subbed in true freshman Jared Wiley for Reese Leitao as the starter. That’s right, the underweight freshman who played QB last year for Temple HS was asked to help Texas win the point of attack against the best DL and overall defense in the Big 12. That didn’t go particularly well, although it went better than perhaps a reasonable person would have suspected.
Texas also mixed in a 10 personnel package that played both Devin Duvernay and Jake Smith in the slot positions rather than using a big body with questionable ability to get open underneath. They ran that on a few third downs early in the game, most of which were thwarted because Okafor couldn’t block Lynch, before finally turning to that package just before the fourth quarter while asking Sam Ehlinger to dig them out of the hole. Things looked promising until Ehlinger short-armed a deep shot to Eagles in the end zone and was picked. Another somewhat promising drive, albeit in a desperate period of the game, included the same set. It also included consistent double teams on Lynch thwarted by some penalties on the offensive line.
Quick thought No. 2: Texas ignored the scouting report on Charlie Brewer
Heading into this contest there were two obvious Brewer strengths that anyone could see with minimal scouting. The first is that he’s a very capable runner and Baylor has used him heavily in that role on read plays, designed runs like QB power or draw, and also as a scrambler to bail them out of tough looks.
Brewer ended up with 18 carries for 75 yards and a score before taking Chris Brown’s helmet off his own and heading into the concussion protocol, but the damage was done. Baylor picked up a few key third downs on two different touchdown drives and handed the back-up a safe lead after the gritty Austinite was knocked out of the game.
The other scouting point was that Brewer has looked dinged up of late and his already iffy arm strength can be particularly exposed if he’s not throwing into the boundary and not working with room to step into his throws. This was evident on multiple occasions when Brewer opted to scramble under pressure or one-hopped throws to the field. Nevertheless, Texas failed to bracket Denzel Mims in the boundary and instead asked Jalen Green to cover the most dangerous Bear in the most accessible area of the field in press-man without either a 1/2 safety or even a cheating deep middle safety.
Mims had seven catches for 125 yards and a score.
Quick thought No. 3: The offense is undergoing an epic collapse
It’s remarkable how bad this unit has been since the LSU game. All season long they’ve sought to maintain the 2018 identity as a two-back, downhill squad that can mix in play-action before using spread passing sets to hunt matchups on third down. The problems have included the lack of a blocking Y-back, an OL that isn’t control the line of scrimmage as expected, and then there was a rash of injuries to the RB position that would have thwarted this entire design if not for freshman QB Roschon Johnson proving a stunningly capable No. 2 ballcarrier.
Without some of these key ingredients, Texas has actually resembled a Mark Dantonio Michigan State offense. Running the ball for minimal gains on standard downs before finally turning to the good spread passing stuff on third down while asking the QB to bail them out of trouble. It’s gone about as well for Herman’s Texas as it has for Dantonio’s Spartans. This team gives itself no margin for error because they can’t actually control the line of scrimmage.
Ehlinger ended up with 19 carries for 79 yards, including some of the numerous Baylor sacks. The offense did next to nothing for the entire game save for the long, 68-yard run by Keaontay Ingram before the end of the half when Baylor missed a run fit against 12 personnel. The other positive gains had similar origins, generally related to Ehlinger improbably escaping a sack before hitting a desperate heave down the field.
Next season Texas will likely have improved play at TE and perhaps RB as well, but this approach to offense doesn’t make much sense for this league. Texas is trying to carefully control games with narrow margins when they should be using their access to the state’s best recruiting talents to attack opponents and blow them away with high paced scoring.
Quick thought No. 4: The late timeout and TD by Tom Herman was weak
If you didn’t watch the end of the game, Ehlinger scrambled for a big gain down to the Baylor four while down 24-3 and rather than letting the clock expire, Herman called a timeout. Then Texas ran one of their only create plays of the game, lining up in the touchdown formation before using Duvernay motion to confuse the assignments for the Bears and powering Danny Young downhill for a TD.
24-10, take that Bears!
It reeked of an attempt to narrow the margin, save face, or otherwise refuse to accept the extent of the beating they endured. There was nothing to be gained save for an injury to someone, although at least Texas didn’t punch it in with Ehlinger ducking his head into the line one more time while risking injury. I imagine Tom Herman will be asked about it and give a lame answer related to the competitive spirit of his team.
This was identified by Herman as a “pride” game beforehand and Texas indeed played like a team to prideful to accept the reality about this team.
Quick thought No. 5: A .500 finish is in question for this team
The Longhorns are basically in a free-fall now and Texas Tech will not fail to gameplan them and throw their best shot at all of Texas’ proven weak spots. Pending their contest with Kansas State tonight, they may be playing for bowl eligibility (they’re currently 4-6). Watching it coming on after this game and I just saw Jett Duffey pick up 16 yards on first and 20 so I’d say it’s pretty feasible.
Texas is guaranteed to go to a bowl game but if they were to lose out, which isn’t unthinkable, they’d be 6-7. Shades of the 2014 season.
A particularly poetic ending would be to lose to Shane Buechele and the Air Raid SMU Mustangs. After a season in which Texas fought into contention in the Big 12 and appeared ready to make another step, they instead totally ceded that place to the rebuilt Baylor Bears before getting absolutely ripped by said team to conclude the season. A fitting conclusion really, that put the season in stark relief.
It should be clear to Tom Herman that the entire vision for the program needs to be rethought, although there were some things that were clear about the Baylor game that Texas still failed to realize.