September 28, 2009

Three Things: We go inside the numbers on Texas

Mack Brown is concerned about complacency.

Now that his team has put together the closest thing the Longhorns have come to a complete game, the second-ranked team in the nation has a week off.

Just enough time, in Brown's mind, for his team to feel good about itself, listen to all the praise and taste what Bill Parcells calls the "poison cheese."

"Complacency kills," Brown said. "Honestly, we play better when people are critical of us. We will have to be really hard on this team and every little thing we need to work on."

We're about to find out what this team's leadership is made of. If Brown is really concerned about complacency, it's time for the leaders on the Texas team to take over. On defense, there seemed to be no doubt Texas would take a lunchpail attitude into the bye week.

"Gotta keep working and stay hungry," said Lamarr Houston, who had a big fumble recovery after Sergio Kindle's sack/fumble on UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe in the first quarter. "We're blue collar, and that's how we'll stay."

Senior linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy also sounded convinced complacency won't creep into the locker room as Texas prepares to resume Big 12 play against Colorado (1-2) on Oct. 10.

"We've got a lot of football to go and a lot of great teams still on our schedule," Muckelroy said. "We've got seniors on this team who will step up and make sure that doesn't happen."

Senior receiver Jordan Shipley said the off-week comes at a good time.
"We love playing and we'd play every single week of the year if we could," said Shipley, who is fourth nationally in receptions per game (9.0) and 12th in yards per game (109 ypg).

"But it's nice to get a week to get some guys healed up and take a little break mentally."

Brown gets paid $3 million per year to keep his team on edge. All he needs to do is look around the college football landscape to know how difficult it is to keep the attention span of kids.

In today's world, everything is immediate - whether it's video games, text messaging or Twitter. No one has to wait for much anymore. But the college football season is a four-month journey, and it will be on the players to take over if they want 2009 to be special.

Much of the leadership on offense will come from Colt McCoy, who overcame a pick-six to start looking like the McCoy everyone has come to expect. McCoy threw his fifth interception of the season Saturday. Four of those have come in the first half, when McCoy has completed 63 of 98 passes (64.3 percent) with five TDs and four INTs.

McCoy, one of the great finishers in college football, continues to be money in the second half. He was 4 of 5 passing in the second half Saturday and is now 37 of 47 passing in the second half of games (78.7 percent) with four TD passes and one INT.

THREE THINGS …

… THAT GOT BETTER

1. Vondrell McGee - McGee picked the right time to have a career day, rushing for his first 100-yard game (104 yards) as a Longhorn with a couple jaw droppers of 51 and 23 yards (the 23-yarder for a touchdown).

Just when it looked like the train might be leaving the station without McGee, he made sure he got a seat. The coaches were trying to pare down how the backs would be used.

But with Foswhitt Whittaker rushing for his first career touchdown at UT against UTEP and also joining McGee and Newton as viable every-down options, the coaches will have work to do in the bye.

"We've got a good problem," Mack Brown said.
McGee didn't get his first carry until late in the second quarter, when the heat and humidity had already started taking a toll on UTEP's thin, undermanned defense. But McGee made the most of it. His first carry was for 7, and his second came on the next play - for 23 yards and a touchdown - with 2:38 left in the half.

Right after McGee had runs of 3 and 0 yards, he blasted off right guard for 51 yards in the third quarter. After Colt McCoy was replaced by Garrett Gilbert in the third, McGee picked up three more runs of 10, 5 and 5 yards.

"When I get my chance I have to prove that I can do it still," said McGee, adding that his left ankle is still not 100 percent. "I made the statement that I still can run, and when I get my chance, I can go out there and make yards."

2. Defense - This should have been the D's second shutout of the season. But just like Wyoming, when special teams snafus directly contributed to the 10 points Texas gave up, Colt McCoy's pick-six against UTEP put the only score on the board for the Miners.

Texas, which allowed UTEP to convert only one of 12 third downs, is No. 4 nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert only 21 percent of the time.

That is way ahead of last season's 35 percent average. Texas is No. 5 in turnovers gained (12) after gaining only 16 turnovers ALL OF LAST SEASON. UT had just six interceptions ALL OF LAST SEASON and picked off four against UTEP and has six already through four games in 2009.

Just as we thought, the second year of the defense is paying off huge for young players like Earl Thomas (three interceptions) and linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who leads the Big 12 with three forced fumbles.

Texas is No. 12 nationally in sacks with 12. Last season, UT had 16 sacks through four games after collecting seven each against Rice and Arkansas in Games 3 and 4.

"We had great front play last year and led the nation in sacks, but we weren't able to finish on a lot of plays," said Blake Gideon, who logged his first career interception. "I think it's just a year of maturity and knowing great defenses will finish plays like that and learn to flip the field for the offense."

3. Penalties - After averaging nearly 10 penalties per game in the first three contests, Texas had five flags for 49 yards against UTEP.

The penalties on offense were (1) false start on Michael Huey; (2) holding on Ahmard Howard; (3) intentional delay of game in the fourth quarter to run clock. The penalties on defense were (4) a facemask penalty, but it was unclear who it was on, and (5) a pass interference on Deon Beasley. None of the penalties on offense killed a drive for Texas, and the flags on defense came on drives that did not result in points for UTEP.

… STAYED THE SAME

1. Jordan Shipley - Continues to be brilliant. Here are some telling numbers about why the Texas offense is starting to round into shape. Forget Shipley's 10 catches for 122 yards against UTEP. Focus on his third-down catches.

McCoy threw to Shipley three times on third-down and converted two of them, including a third-and-goal from the 16 for a touchdown in the second quarter.

After failing to convert on third down in their first five pass attempts of the season (spanning the ULM, Wyoming and Tech games), McCoy and Shipley have converted five of their last seven.

McCoy has thrown to Shipley on third down 12 times this season, more than any other receiver, showing the confidence and chemistry on the field.

If anything, McCoy might have been locked on Shipley too much at times. Three of McCoy's five interceptions this season came on passes intended for Shipley in which McCoy stared him down.

2. The Acho Brothers - Sam Acho's streak of three straight games with a fumble recovery may have come to an end against UTEP, but Sam recorded his third sack of the season and logged two QB hurries. Meanwhile, younger brother Emmanuel now has forced three fumbles in the last two games.

3. Special teams scoring - Folks, Texas has scored a special teams touchdown in three of the past four games. This is getting to be a regular thing thanks to D.J. Monroe and Jordan Shipley.

Texas leads the Big 12 in kick return average (37.2 ypr) and has two returns for TDs by Monroe.

Let this sink in for a minute, when Mack Brown arrived at Texas in 1998, Texas had not returned a kick for a touchdown since 1978. Victor Ike finally snapped that drought with a 93-yard kick return for a score in the 2000 Holiday Bowl.

Three seasons later, Selvin Young returned a kick for a score in 2003. Four seasons after that, Quan Cosby got one against Texas A&M, and in 2008 Shipley got one against OU.

So you see how difficult it's been for the burnt orange to score on kick returns and why Monroe is the first Longhorn to return to two kicks for TDs in career, let alone a season.

… THAT GOT WORSE (we're nitpicking here people)

1. Offensive line -
Upon further review, Tre' Newton's inability to average 4 yards per carry against UTEP was because of some breakdowns up front. It's been a steady problem for UT in the run game.

Without naming names, two of Newton's negative yards runs (a minus-3 and a minus-4) were the result of whiffs up front.
Texas will not have the kind of success it wants in January if this offensive line can't eliminate some of these mental mistakes.

The biggest reason Oklahoma is getting back in the national title picture is the Sooners have the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, giving up an average of 4.7 points per game (and that includes games against BYU and Tulsa, teams that are currently averaging 34.5 and 34.3 points per game).

2. Red zone offense - This is a total nitpick considering Texas is No. 1 nationally in red zone offense, having scored 23 of 23 times inside the opponent's 20. But Texas had three trips inside the UTEP 10-yard-line that resulted in field goals.

One trip stalled on the whiffed block that led to Tre' Newton getting dropped for a 3-yard loss. The two other stalled trips in the 10 both involved some ineffective plays in the Q Package and a couple incomplete passes to James Kirkendoll.

3. Run defense/zone pass coverage - Again, folks, hard to nitpick a defense that holds a team to 1 of 12 third-down conversions and picks off four passes and creates five turnovers total.

But Will Muschamp said his group needs to work on defending two-back runs and getting better at its zone pass coverage, so we'll go with that.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

Hard to believe Colt McCoy would lock onto his receivers with his eyes, but after looking at all five of his interceptions on tape, that's exactly what he appears to be doing. (Granted two passes intercepted against Texas Tech were high.)

McCoy did a better job last year of looking off defensive backs before going to his receivers. Again, most of the passes McCoy is throwing, he's not making that mistake. But the ones he's getting picked off appear to show McCoy locking onto his targets.


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