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October 31, 2010

The grades are in - Baylor report card

Grading scale

A - All-American level
B - All-Conference level
C - Average
D - Below average
F - Complete failure

Quarterback - On a night with few bright spots, the play of Garrett Gilbert might have been the most positive thing to emerge from an otherwise train-wreck of a night. The sophomore completed 22 of 39 passes for 231 yards (zero touchdowns/one interception), while also leading the team with 79 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. When you consider that he suffered numerous drops, including two possible touchdowns, and that his only interception occurred on a … wait for it … dropped pass, he had a 400 yards of offense kind of night there for the taking, but his teammate's inability to pick him up really hurt the offense.

I thought Gilbert took a big step forward in the leadership department on Saturday and if you had seen him work up and down the sidelines to try and lead this team, then you'll know he's making some progress. More than anything else, the kid fought his guts out on the field and whatever plays this offense had in it on Saturday, he made almost all of them. Down by eight with two minutes to go, Gilbert continued to stand tall and make plays and he appeared ready to lead this team 92 yards for a tying touchdown, but a pre-snap penalty by a senior, a dropped pass from a senior and then and a fumble from the team's best receiver on the night doomed them.

As well as he played at times and as much as he we was let down by his own teammates as much as anything else, the bottom line is that he didn't make enough plays and his team lost. When you play quarterback at Texas, winning is all that matters, so it's tough to reward him with a high grade.

Grade: C+/B-

Running backs - An absolute disaster. Against one of the worst run defenses in the Big 12, the Texas running game with the backs turned in one of the worst performances of the season. Season-long mainstays Cody Johnson (39 yards on 10 carries) and Tre' Newton (35 yards on 13 carries) just weren't good enough and it helped cost them a game. The fact that Texas running backs could team up on the night for 27 carries and not muster up a single explosive run (12+ yards of more), while Gilbert produced three in only eight attempts is obvious cause for concern.

Bottom line - 27 rushes for 84 yards, four receptions for 23 yards, zero touchdowns, zero explosive plays and zero impact.

Grade: F

Wide receivers - One week after redeeming themselves for a miserable Nebraska performance, the elevator again came crashing down, except this time it had a mountain full of explosives inside of it like in the movie Die Hard. Drop after drop after drop after drop after drop. James Kirkendoll had a huge one that took points off the scoreboard. John Chiles had one in a key situation. So did Mike Davis. And then there was the offensive pass interference by Malcolm Williams that ended an offensive possession and potentially took points off the scoreboard. Of course, we can't forget the fumble from Marquise Goodwin that ended any potential game-tying drive.

On a week when it faced a defense that was among the worst in the nation in pass defense, this group didn't find the end zone a single time. Frankly, it might be time to turn it over to the young guys for the rest of the season. Williams, Kirkendoll and Chiles have 11 varsity letters between them, but they caught eight passes for 84 yards and zero touchdowns. Each has one touchdown this season through eight games. Bobby Kennedy, Greg Davis and Mack Brown need to look up what Einstein said about the definition of insanity.

Meanwhile, Davis had the handcuffs taken off of him in the third quarter and he responded with three catches, while flashing some playmaking skills. Also, until the fumble to end the game, Goodwin was having his best night of the season (four for 71 yards), but like so much of this team - he's two steps forward, three steps back. It's like that every week with this group.

Bottom line with this group? They botched more plays than they made.

Grade: F

Tight ends- Oh boy. I'm not going to spend too much time here. A dropped touchdown. Another dropped pass that changed the game forever because it was intercepted deep in Texas' territory. A false-start that helped kill another offensive series. Very little contribution in the running game.

On the bright side, they caught a combined four passes for 31 yards.

Grade: F

Offensive line -They weren't awful, they just weren't very good. For instance, there were times when the pass protection was very good, especially when you consider that the guy that the coaches call the best player on the line (Michael Huey) left early with what could be a serious, season-ending injury. On the other hand, this group never established the line of scrimmage and often found itself getting pushed around by one of the worst defenses in the entire conference, which is completely unacceptable, especially from a group that started three seniors and a junior with multiple years of starting experience.

I will give kudos to Thomas Ashcraft for hanging in there at guard after Huey went out. He might not have been great, but the Longhorns didn't lose this game because Ashcraft was a weakness and I came away from the game wondering why he hadn't played more this season because he looked like a guy that might be playing pretty well by week eight if he had ever seen the field.

Grade: D

Offensive game plan - I don't know what to think about what's happening on this side of the ball. I get what the coaches did this week. They took what few things have worked well this season and put them all into one game-plan, while at the same time giving the older players in this program one last chance (you'd hope) to salvage the season. However, the end result was an offense that featured very little explosive pop and when you consider that that they were forced to unveil some incredibly third-grade level of spread-attack football, it gives you an idea of how confused they are about where to go and who to play.

Some other issues I had with this week's production from Greg Davis and the entire offensive coaching staff.

1. Why the heck was the tight end included in the game plan so heavily for four quarters? The decision to involve Greg Smith and Barrett Matthews on a play-by-play basis was a decision that was made during the week that played a huge role in a lot of the bad things that happened in this game. On the pass that Matthews dropped for a touchdown and on the one that Smith dropped on the interception, those were plays that would have featured a wide receivers a few weeks ago against Nebraska.

2. Again, what in the world are you doing with D. J. Monroe? Four carries in four quarters and zero imagination. It is simply inexplicable. If he knows only four plays in the play-book, then that's on the coaches for their development of him in the off-season. Period. That's a staff problem.

3. Speaking of inexplicable, where the heck was DeSean Hales? Five days after Davis sang his praises and swore that he would see increased practice time, he stayed glued to the bench, along with Mike Davis and Darius White.

4. The red-zone play-calling is a disaster and the two runs to Cody Johnson in the fourth quarter with just a few minutes remaining and the team down by 11 were unfathomable decisions, considering the game situation and the state of the running game until that point.

Overall, his offense scored one touchdown against a defense that allowed 40+ to Kansas State and Texas Tech. The worst Texas offense since 1991 continues to take steps backwards and not forwards.

Grade: F

Defensive line - Senior Sam Acho might have been the best player on the field. His team-best 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and a sack was the stuff of an All-America. The rest of the line wasn't nearly as good or effective, as fellow starters Kheeston Randall, Alex Okafor and Eddie Jones combined for five tackles and one tackle for loss. The Bears didn't dominate the line of scrimmage, but they did keep the front four from controlling the game and that was an absolute must heading into the game.

This team badly misses Jackson Jeffcoat and the absence of a true No.2 defensive tackle hurt the team again in terms of defending the inside run. Teams are figuring out that success can be had running right through the heart of the defense if you stick with it.

Grade: C-

Linebackers -I really thought the return of Emmanuel Acho would cure a lot of what ailed the Longhorn run defense against Iowa State, but he struggled inside on Saturday night and for one of the few times all season, he looked like an outside guy playing out of place. Yes, he made nine tackles, but none were of the impact variety and he either got caught up in traffic or missed plays inside too often. What compounded the matter was the fact that Baylor took advantage of his pass coverage responsibilities by creating match-ups in the middle of the field against receivers that he couldn't stay with, which created a holding penalty on the first series of the game and several first-down converting plays throughout the night.

Meanwhile, Keenan Robinson was solid with nine tackles and a sack, but his impact plays were limited and the one that got away from him (a Robert Griffin fumble that he couldn't scoop up) looms larger than anything else. Also, starting strong-side linebacker/Buck Dravannti Johnson had a tough night defending the outside run, as he allowed the Bears to get outside of him and to the corner quite a few times.

It just wasn't a great day at the office all the way around.

Grade: D

Secondary -As was the case with the play of the linebackers, it was the plays that this group didn't make that stand out as much as the ones that they did. First, there was the missed tackle by Blake Gideon that led to a 59-yard touchdown on third and long. That play just cannot happen and the truth of the matter is that the only thing Gideon had to do on that play was make the tackle, first down be damned. That he missed it badly with no protection behind him was a back-breaker that turned the game. On Jay Finley's long touchdown run in the third quarter, both linebackers and safeties were out of position, but Christian Scott was wildly out of position, while Gideon allowed himself to get blocked by a receiver and he couldn't get involved in the play, either. The final dagger occurred in the fourth quarter when Gideon jumped an underneath route and left Scott with no over the top protection in a one-on-one match-up with Kendall Wright.

Outside of those two plays, Scott had his best night of his young career with seven tackles, one interception and another forced fumble. Slowly, but steadily he's improved this season, but the big-plays busts outweigh everything else that he was able to accomplish on this night. Meanwhile, the team keeps waiting on Gideon to emerge, but he appears to be missing Earl Thomas as much as anyone because his numbers are way down this season. Only five tackles with no positive difference making plays on the night and only one interception, one tackle for loss and two pass break-ups all season.

The play of the cornerbacks was pretty good when you consider that most of the damage done in this game in coverage occurred with match-ups against the safeties and linebackers. Baylor was able to nickel and dime Aaron Williams a little bit early in the game, but that's about it.

Grade: D

Defensive game plan -Will Muschamp has had better nights. I thought too often in this game Muschamp forced his defensive personnel into some tough individual assignments that led to some really critical mistakes/plays. Kendall Wright is the kind of weapon that warranted constant shadowing by Aaron Williams or Curtis Brown, but was given match-ups against a linebacker or safety. Time and time again, the Bears found success over the middle with a slot receiver dragging across the middle with a linebacker in coverage. Meanwhile, the Longhorns didn't call for pressure very often, but when they did, the Bears often took advantage of it. In fact, no call haunted the Longhorns more in this game than the decision to bring the house on third and 10 late in the second quarter with a 9-3 lead. With Gideon being the only body between Terrance Williams and the end zone, it was one of those things that looks really sketchy when it doesn't work. Overall, his unit was sloppy and didn't step up with an elite defensive performance. Instead, they let Baylor break them over four quarters with big plays. This side of the ball needed to be in top-form, and it wasn't from the top on down.

Grade: D

Special teams - What in the world can possibly said about this phase of the ball? Let's just not talk about the near-disasters in the punt return game. What could I possibly say about those situations that the actual events from the game didn't say loudly? As excruciating as those plays were, the harmful impact was relegated to the heart rates of the patrons in the stadium. This stuff just cannot continue to happen.

Outside of that, the special teams were solid. Justin Tucker made five of six field goals, but man, the one he missed was a doozy. The coverage teams were very good and walk-on Aaron Smith was one of the few impact players for the Longhorns in this game. The kickoff return teams gave the offense some quality field position at times, which was a rare positive.

Tucker is the MVP of this team.

Grade: C

Overall -Worse than the loss is the fact that I don't know where this team goes from here because Mack has dialed up a little bit of everything this season and his team has yet to respond. He got mad at the players and then he hugged them up. Last week, he called out his coaches and now it seems like he's backed himself into a corner with his staff because nobody is going to allow him to forget the comments about not being able to trust them or the one about not keeping coaches that can't get anyone on the field in a place to contribute. By those measures, every coach on the staff should be refreshing their resumes and now in the face of a 4-4 season with no meaningful ceiling, you just have to wonder where this team goes from here. The worst part about the loss to the Bears is that they didn't even get Art Briles' best shot. The Waco Kids played a B- game and yet it was still enough to run past the Longhorns on the road. Mack Brown just doesn't have a good team right now and forward progress has been far and few between all season.

Grade: F


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