This young Texas Longhorns team must find ways to overcome adversity.
The truly horrendous officiating in Saturday’s 30-27 loss to Oklahoma State will give Longhorn fans an outlet to affix blame for another disappointing loss for the Longhorns. For coach Charlie Strong and his staff that is a good thing, because it hides the obvious. They failed. Again.
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The fact is, the Longhorns shot themselves in the foot, again. They were outcoached, again. They were lucky, again. And they still found a way to lose the game. Again.
In the end, poor officiating didn’t cost the Longhorns the game. No, it didn’t help and there were a handful of mind boggling calls, but the Longhorns lost this game. The officials didn’t drop passes, blow protections, take sacks, miss tackles or blow coverages. The officials didn’t derp a gimme special teams play for a second week in a row. The Longhorns did that.
Truth be told, they probably shouldn’t have been in a position to win it anyway. If Oklahoma State hadn’t been so stubborn in trying to run the ball, 46 times to be exact, even when it was clear that Texas’ run defense was up to the task, then this probably isn’t a game.
If Mason Rudolph can hold on to a ball, this probably isn’t a game. I don’t know enough about Rudolph to make any long term judgment about him, but he clearly had a problem gripping the ball against Texas. His fumble that Hassan Ridgeway turned into a scoop-and-score wasn’t a great defensive play, Rudolph just flat dropped the ball.
He had two ugly passes that fluttered out of his hand, one of which was the interception by Kris Boyd that was wiped out by penalty. The pick-six to Holton Hill and the Dylan Haines pick in the fourth were overthrows. Rudolph struggled enough that Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy all but abandoned the passing game in the fourth quarter.
That was a lucky break for Texas, because a quality college quarterback would have carved Texas up on Saturday. Much like Cal went into a shell in the fourth quarter and allowed Texas to claw their way back into the game, OSU got conservative and abandoned the intermediate passing game that Texas had no answer for early. The yards were there all game, and they routinely picked up easy third down completions to sustain drives, but never aggressively attacked the Texas secondary, even after it was apparent that the Texas offensive was no threat to score.
Give credit to the Texas coaching staff, though. They at least made adjustments to tighten up that coverage. They finally sent John Bonney to the bench and turned it over to the freshmen Boyd, Hill and Davante Davis. That’s more than the offensive coaching staff is able to do.
Everyone will point to Kent Perkins’ injury as the moment when the Texas offense went south, but that’s wrong. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer schooled Jay Norvell Saturday. It took the Cowboys a few possessions to adjust, but by the middle of the second quarter they were beginning to lock down the Texas offense. Spencer forced Heard to beat them with his arm and he proved unable to meet the challenge.
Of course, having receivers who can catch a pass would help. Daje Johnson proved why two coaching staffs have failed to fully utilize him. He has butterfingers. Why Marcus Johnson is in the lineup if beyond me. Honestly, other than those two wheel route touchdowns in 2013, what has Johnson ever done to warrant playing time? His tip of an easily catchable ball resulted in the only Texas turnover of the game.
Yet Norvell was unable to come up with any answers as the Texas offense bogged down. The offense didn’t show up after halftime. The inability to make halftime or in game adjustments is something that has haunted this staff from the beginning. The book to beat Texas is simple, once you figure out how to stop what their basic offense you just keep on. Neither Shawn Watson nor Norvell have shown the ability to adjust and adapt once you take away their base offense.
Then there are the simple, stupid mistakes that well coached teams don’t make. When you get flagged 16 times, you can’t blame the officials for it all. Texas is undisciplined and displays a frightening lack of basic understanding. They make simple things difficult.
The excuse of youth and inexperience is wearing thin quickly, especially since many of the unforced errors that are hurting this team are being made by upperclassmen. The inability to tackle is not about youth and inexpeience. The first OSU touchdown never should have happened. Mason Rudolph is not Vince Young, yet three different Longhorns failed to get him to the ground prior to his touchdown pass.
Holton HIll’s pick six was the only Texas score in the second half Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Well coached teams don’t lose games because they can’t execute a simple PAT or field a perfect long snap on a punt. Can you see a Nick Saban coached team losing one game like that, much less back-to-back games? What about Urban Meyer or Gary Patterson or Bob Stoops? Inexperience doesn’t excuse the inability to execute basic football plays or being foolish and undisciplined. Strong and his staff are failing at a fundamental level.
Worse yet, recruiting is slipping and Strong seems to be losing the momentum that his strong 2015 class brought in. You know that every coach that Strong recruits against is going to be showing kids the end of the Cal and OSU games and asking them, “do you want to play for a team that can’t kick a PAT?” How can Strong, who claims that his staff is a teaching staff, continue to use that pitch when every week puts numerous failures of development into sharp focus.
This is a Texas team that is now looking squarely at a 3-9 season and you can’t even confidently pencil in wins against Iowa State and Kansas (ok, maybe Kansas). There is little reason to believe that Texas will seriously challenge for a bowl berth this year and bad losses are likely on the agenda for the next two weeks.
Yes, there is young talent on campus and yes that talent is flashing some signs early. Yet the overall team continues to disappoint and bewilder in new ways every week. I lose confidence in Strong and his staff more with each week and the frustration continues to grow. I want to see the positives in this team, but more and more I believe that it is all smoke and mirrors, that what I am seeing is talent flashing in spite of, not because of, their staff.
There is still hope that the Longhorns will turn it around. I will continue to tune in each week, hoping that this is week that everything finally clicks. I’m just not counting on it anymore.