November 8, 2009

The grades are in - UCF report card

With the most difficult stretch of the schedule out of the way, the No.2 Texas Longhorns took a solid step first one in their final four-step process leading up to a possible Big 12 Championship match-up in Dallas. In a 35-3 win over Central Florida, the Longhorns enjoyed success with two of their three phases and saw some very positive signs of growth throughout the team on a day when quite a few of the nation's ranked teams were falling on their faces. Yes, the Longhorns were tired, but the dead legs did not translate into failure on the field. Here's a position-by-position breakdown.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - Senior quarterback Colt McCoy hasn't enjoyed many air-it-out days this season… you know… the kind that blow the minds of Heisman voters, but that all changed on Saturday when he dropped a 470-yard bomb on the Central Florida defense. With the Texas offense struggling to run the ball, McCoy picked the Knights defense apart by completing 33 of 42 passes. There were times in this game when McCoy managed the game and the offense as well as he has at any point this season. On a day when he really spread the ball around quite a bit, the only real negative for McCoy were a few under-thrown passes and a couple more passes that were thrown into a little too much traffic. Other than that, he was pretty flawless for most of the day and the posted the kind of numbers that will cause Heisman voters to drool.

Grade: A

Running backs - The Longhorns have some problems in the running game right now. Sophomore Cody Johnson (44 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries) is their best running back, but his limited abilities in the passing game create a real problem when he's on the field because the Longhorns simply have not been comfortable throwing the ball when he's been in the game, especially when the team goes into their preferred 11-personnel with a tight end. That's allowing opposing defenses to over-pursue against the run when Johnson is in the game and until they can keep teams honest, it's going to make running the ball much harder than it needs/has to be. The inability to keep the UCF defense honest in the first half played a big part in Johnson's inability to get into any kind of a rhythm for most of the game. The good news is that Greg Davis made a point to work some if this out in the second half (see the final touchdown drive), but the ground game remains a work in progress heading into next week's game against Waco. The rest of the Texas running backs combined for 10 yards on seven carries, while adding two receptions for 11 yards. All told, the Texas running backs carried the ball 17 times for 54 yards (3.0 average) and two touchdowns, along with four catches for 21 yards.

Grade: C-

Wide receivers - It's almost time for Jordan Shipley to pack his bags and head on to the NFL. It's getting to the point where he's simply too good for most college defensive backs to deal with. In catching 11 passes for a school-record 273 yards and a touchdown, Shipley reminded Central Florida that if you don't get a handle on him, he's going to run up and down the field at will. The Knights never came close to handling him on Saturday, as his quickness and sharp route-running left defensive players befuddled all over the field. Tony Jones' long-standing receiving record found a worthy successor.

While Shipley was rewriting the record book, sophomore Malcolm Williams continued his ascent in the passing game and has emerged as a serious No.2 option for McCoy. His five receptions for 67 yards could have easily been a lot more and he served as a constant reminder of what was waiting for the defense if they paid too much attention to Shipley.

Even the next wave of receivers on the Texas roster - James Kirkendoll, Dan Buckner, Marquise Goodwin and John Chiles - teamed to make several first down catches and a touchdown. The wide receiver unit posted 28 catches for 437 yards and two touchdowns. That'll get the group a solid grade.

Grade: A+

Tight ends

Greg Smith not only played pretty solidly in the running game for the Longhorns, but he also mixed in a rare catch and run that produced a first down in the passing game. This is a kid that's getting better each week.

Grade: B- (little bit of a curve)

Offensive line - In re-watching the game, I was surprised at how well I thought the Texas offensive line played for most of the game. Yes, the running game was not very successful, but those issues can hardly be dropped completely on this group's feet because there are many layers to that phase of the offense. With that the run game neutralized, the Longhorns went to the air attack for much of the game and the line did a great job of protecting McCoy.

Every player on the line outside of Charlie Tanner had a glaring ugly play in the game and a few had a couple, but for the most part I thought the line played very well and as technically sound as they have all season. Tanner deserves a game ball and there's little question at this point that he's been this team's best interior player this year.

Grade: B

Offensive game plan - From a game plan standpoint, Greg Davis came into the game wanting to control down and distance with his "11 personnel", but the inability to establish the run early on led to some down and distance problems, which led to a lack of points. To Davis' credit, when the moment of truth for this offense arrived in the second quarter with the team down by three points, he stuck with his preferred personnel group (one tight end/one running back) and the offense marched down the field in the blink of an eye on four plays to take control of the game.

From the moment that Texas scored to go up 7-3 in the second quarter, David did a great job of mixing in play-action, while mixing up his personnel packages, especially in the third and early fourth quarters. When it was all said and done, Davis refused to bang his head into the wall with regards to the team's personnel issues and I thought he did a great job of working throughout the game. Once he got cooking with the play-calling, the only thing that stopped Texas was a McCoy interception in the second quarter.

Grade: B

Defensive line - Seniors Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston showed up on Saturday determined to use this one game as an NFL Draft showcase. Both players dominated throughout the game and rendered anything UCF attempted offensively. Frankly, I'm not so sure that Kindle's performance in the first half (nine tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack) isn't the best I've seen in a decade-plus of covering this team. He made play after play after play on Saturday, doing so in a variety of fashions. Meanwhile, Houston (seven tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack) was left with one-on-one blocks throughout the game and he simply devoured the Knights offense time and time again.

While those players played at All-America levels, the rest of the defensive line, led by Sam Acho, Kheeston Randall, Eddie Jones and Ben Alexander, played at pretty high levels themselves in helping limit the Knights to 75 total rushing yards on 2.0 yards per carry. Overall, the defensive line combined for 26 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks and numerous quarterback pressures.

Grade: A+

Linebackers - The trio of Roddrick Muckelroy, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho was strong for much of the game, but there were more icases of sloppy tackling and poor angle-taking than we've seen at times this season. Of the three, Acho and Robinson might have played at the highest levels, as Acho led the group with five tackles and a sack, while Robinson was a key component of the run defense in the first half. When it was all said and done, there weren't a ton of big plays, but they played great assignment football for most of the game.

Grade: B

Secondary - I'm not sure what you can even say about this group because UCF refused to attack them. Outside of a ball caught on Deon Beasley for a couple of yards and one caught on Curtis Brown for a loss of a couple, there weren't many opportunities for this group to get involved in pass defense. The coverage was sensational and their reputations clearly scared the hell out of George O'Leary because the UCF receivers were an afterthought from the first play. I can't remember the last time I saw a team refuse to challenge a secondary for an entire game, but that's what happened in this game. This group basically pitched a shutout, with the exception of a few passes completed against the second-team defense in the final minutes. Give the entire unit a gold star.

Grade: A+

Defensive game plan - With a back-up quarterback taking the field for Central Florida and their No.1 running back out of the game as well, you might think that Will Muschamp would take it easy and call a vanilla game with a lot of base looks. Wrong. Muschamp came out from the opening snap and never seemed to show the same defensive look in any series, despite using the same personnel, which left Central Florida quarterback Rob Calabrese without much hope. Muschamp practically dared UCF to take some shots down the field, but the Knights refused to let themselves be put in situations where big defensive plays could occur. If that meant that UCF wasn't going to score, so be it. Muschamp's unit had its fingerprints all over this game.

Grade: A+

Special teams - Mack Brown has such high hopes for this group, so any time they don't create any big plays in the third phase, there's a level of disappointment. In this particular game, not only did the Longhorns not create any big plays, but they were beaten in the punting game and Hunter Lawrence actually missed a field goal.

The best thing to come out of this game were the kickoffs from Justin Tucker in the second half and some of the coverage work, especially from Antwan Cobb.

Grade: C-

Overall - After going through the gauntlet stretch of their schedule, the Longhorns looked like a team with some tired legs and a lack of energy early on, but they deserve a lot of credit for fighting through everything and delivering the goods in a dominant 32-point win. When it was all said and done, two of three phases dominated the Knights and helped turn the game into a complete competitive mismatch by the third quarter. Did the team accomplish everything they would have liked? No. Did they perform at a high enough level to walk out of the game feeling good about their play? Absolutely.

Grade: B+

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