Game Observations

A well-coached defense, the lines proving they’ll be the key to the OU game, an explosive running back emerging and more. Inside Texas’ Ross Lucksinger gives his observations from Texas’ conference-opening win over Colorado.
-One of the reasons Texas fans can hope for good things on defense is because this looks like a really well-coached football team. There’s improvement every week as players become more and more comfortable in Will Muschamp’s system. What’s especially impressive is the improvement amongst the defensive backs. Texas may be giving up a ton of receiving yards (244 per game, 96th in the nation), but opponents have been staying out of the end zone. Yes, there are a few mental mistakes here and there and Deon Beasley still has trouble wrapping up and Ryan Palmer still doesn’t always look back for the ball and so on and so fourth, but each week they’re looking better.

This was not the case last season, when there seemed to be little real improvement until the bowl game. Where the change is most evident, though, is up front. Linebackers are hitting the right gaps, a lot of balls are getting batted down and players are flying to the football. The best example on Saturday was when DT Lamarr Houston ran through the line and had a wide-open shot at Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins…and stopped. He stopped because he’d been let through the line on a screen pass. He could have barreled down on QB and bit on the screen, but he, and the rest of the linemen, started immediately backpedaling and sniffed out the screen. This defense is a well-coached.

-Texas is also continuing to get a consistent pass rush from its defensive line, which will be huge for this coming weekend’s game up in Dallas against the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s been said many times before that the Texas-OU game would be decided in the trenches, but it’s especially true this season because of how much each team’s success is based on the play of its spectacular quarterback.

It breaks down like this: If Sam Bradford stays clean, Texas loses. If the Longhorn offensive line can’t stop OU’s pass rush, Texas loses. And vice-versa on each.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Texas O-line had some moments where they let a little too much through against Colorado. It was still a strong game, overall, for the offensive line, but the performance at the Cotton Bowl will need to be even better for the Horns to come out with a victory.

-Yeah, I know. I know I said last week that Texas needs to start Cody Johnson at running back. Well, I’m changing my opinion (and I reserve the right to change it throughout the season): Chris Ogbonnaya needs to start at running back.

But I’m not saying this based on one impressive game from Ogbonnaya (and my, it was impressive), but rather based on how his skill set fits perfectly with what Texas is doing. There were zero deep balls thrown, but instead a lot of short stuff that included six catches for Ogbonnaya. He has by far the best hands amongst the running backs, he’s the best pass blocker and he showed Saturday that he’s got the necessary breakaway speed. It’s possible that Johnson or Vondrell McGee are better pure “running backs”, but Ogbonnaya just fits perfectly with what Texas is doing on offense. Obviously, Johnson should still get plenty of playing time because he’s a monster around the goal line, which is why he scored two touchdowns in the win, but it’s time for Ogbonnaya to emerge as the starter.

Of course, once Fozzy Whittaker is healthy, we’ll start this all over again…

-It’s a pretty good sign when your “weakest” performance of the year is a 23-for-30, 262-yard, two-touchdown blowout win. Colt McCoy is continuing to look calm, in-control and exceptionally accurate. He did have a couple of interceptions, but that takes his total to only three on the year, compared to 16 passing touchdowns. His completion percentage only dropped 0.8 percent and sits at a ridiculous 79.2 percent this season (103-of-130). I’m still waiting for that number to drop below 75, for him to at least return to reasonable, expected levels of production, but that didn’t happen against Colorado. Next weekend will tell us a lot about McCoy, though, and this Texas team in general.

-The current crop of tight ends just aren’t real threats in the passing game. They have proven to be maulers in the run game and both Greg Smith and Peter Ullman have done well in that regard, but I’m still going to maintain my stance that Texas needs to start mixing in some four-wide sets.

-Apparent when Texas gets near the goal line, McCoy loves to look for Jordan Shipley. The Longhorn receiver is actually trailing fellow senior Quan Cosby in receptions (32 to 24) and yards (416 to 368), but in touchdowns Shipley is way out in front with seven to Cosby’s three. Time and time again this year Shipley has gone up and yanked the ball away from a defender in the endzone. It’s gotten to the point that McCoy is now willing to just chuck it up and trust Shipley to get it, as evidenced by Texas’ second touchdown, but apparently it’s working. ‘Ship’ is becoming the deep threat Texas fans have been waiting for him to be.

-It’s time we see Sherrod Harris.

Because of all of his potential as game-breaker, and because of his two fumbles this season, I was actually quite excited when John Chiles took the field against Colorado late in the game. Clearly something big was going to happen, whether or not it would be good for Texas. Instead, we saw a young quarterback who still looks lost.

On his last play, Chiles dropped too far back and then turned into the rush. As soon as the drive ended, Major Applewhite took off his headset and went straight over to Chiles with a determined look on his face and began talking with him. At this point, the generally accepted concern is that if McCoy goes down, Texas’ season goes with him because there isn’t a backup quarterback on the team that can run the system anywhere close as effectively as the junior signal-caller.

Or is there? Is Sherrod Harris good enough? Is he developed enough as a passer? The problem is we’ve seen so little of Harris, it’s hard to know if he really deserves to be out there.

He’s looked ok throwing the ball in practice (nowhere near McCoy’s level, but solid), he’s looked good and very confident in Texas’ scrimmages, but can he get it done on game day? We don’t know because we haven’t seen him.

Partially it’s for the selfish reason that I just want to find out whether or not Harris has what it takes, and I doubt the coaching staff will be convinced to put him out there because people ‘just want to see’, but, I don’t know, it may be time to see.