September 12, 2010

The grades are in - Wyoming report card

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - You guys are so spoiled that you don't even know it. Years of life with Vince Young and Colt McCoy as your quarterback has ruined all senses of reality for some in the Texas fan base. If I had told you going into the game that sophomore Garrett Gilbert would lose arguably his top two receivers to injury for much of the game, have a limited running game throughout and would need to live and die in the passing game with the youngest player on the offense, you'd probably take a turnover-free 22 of 35 for 222 yards and a touchdown in a heartbeat.

No, Gilbert is not ready for the NFL Draft, but he's clearly the best thing the offense has going for it right now. Did he miss a few receivers? Yes. Did he leave a few plays on the field? Yes. Does he occasionally lock onto a receiver early? Yes. I got news for you - every quarterback in the country does.

Check out these box scores from a random selection of "elite" quarterbacks yesterday:

Matt Barkley - 20 of 35 for 202 yards and two touchdowns
Andy Dalton - 15 of 21 for 182 yards and a touchdown
Jacorey Harris - 22 of 39 for 232 yards and a touchdown and four interceptions
Andrew Luck - 11 of 24 for 151 yards and two touchdowns
Christian Ponder - 11 of 28 for 113 yards and two interceptions
Terrelle Pryor - 12 of 27 for 233 yards and a touchdown

The truth of the matter is that he's doing a great job of managing the offense, despite the penalties from other players that killed the unit in down and distance situations. On top of game-managing, he's making plays with his feet, as two scrambles to avoid sacks led to off-schedule explosive plays that led to touchdowns. For all of the teeth-grinding over his modest flaws, he kept the offense out of trouble throughout the night. This kid can play better and he will - in case some have forgotten… he's started two games - but he's the least of this team's worries.

Grade: B-

Running backs -I'm not sure what to make of this position after another starter crashed and burnd, while another back-up seems to emerge as a possible front-runner. Foswhitt Whittaker averaged 8.9 carries on seven carries and there's no question that his 39-yard touchdown run was one of the best plays by a back since Jamaal Charles departed, but two things concern me - the 23 yards on six carries outside of the big run and the fact we've seen flashes from him in the past. For this game, he gets a B+ as an individual grade, but I don't know what to make of his role moving forward. This is a position that's going to live week-to-week for a while like a single mom just trying to make ends meet. Starter Tre' Newton was limited to 23 carries on eight carries, while Cody Johnson rushed for 46 yards on nine carries as the closer in the fourth quarter. Overall, the position generated 131 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries (5.5 ypc) on the ground, while adding five catches for 11 yards in the passing game. Overall, that's solid work when you look at the overall numbers, but this is still a group that must improve its consistency.

Grade: B

Wide receivers - Considering that John Chiles and Marquise Goodwin missed quite a bit of the game with injuries and Malcolm Williams caught two passes for 14 yards, it's a great thing that freshman Mike Davis had a breakout seven catch/104-yard/one touchdown game because it was sorely needed. Although Chiles finished with four early catches for 47 yards, the rest of the group simply didn't contribute much in the passing game and the dropped touchdown by Goodwin, along with the illegal block by Williams, cost the team two touchdowns. Overall, the Texas wide receivers caught 18 passes for 192 yards and a score.

Grade: C+

Tight ends- For a group that has someone on the field for much of the game, it was a pretty uneventful night for this group. Barrett Matthews and Greg Smith were solid in the running game, but not great, and outside of Matthews' off-schedule 19-yard reception, the position wasn't targeted in the passing game once.

Grade: C-

Offensive line -Let's start with the good news. I thought the group played pretty well overall as a unit and Kyle Hix seems to be growing into his role at left tackle, as he really played well with the exception of his false start penalty that helped end a drive. Overall, this group was solid in the running game against an active Wyoming front that stacked the box more than Rice did. As individuals, I didn't think any of the five starters played poorly. If anything, this group probably made the most progress from week one to week two of any position group on the offense. The mental mistakes are the issues that this group has to eliminate. The false starts ended a couple of drives and completely knocked the offense out of favorable down and distance situations.

Grade: B-

Offensive game plan -The offense did a 180-degree turn from last week, which has me a little confused as to what the offense wants to be and I'm not sure that Greg Davis has any bread and butter plays. That being said, the game plan mixed in some wrinkles and was certainly more diverse than anything they did last week. Frankly, Davis called a pretty good game and he did a good job of not forcing the running game against a Wyoming defense that stacked the box and probably rooted for a little stubbornness. His side of the ball's issue is on the mental side, especially the pre-snap penalties. If this group could have eliminated the mental mistakes, the offense would have scored 40+ points. Still, I'm not sure this group knows who they are as they head into week three, which is an issue.

Grade: B-

Defensive line -Wyoming conceded the running game from the moment they walked into the stadium and the only proof you need is the series of third and short-yardage situations where the Cowboys refused to try and run for the first downs. The biggest issue for this group on Saturday is that they were asked to create a pass rush by themselves and they weren't always able to do it against a better-than-expected Wyoming offensive line. Sam Acho (five tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack) continues to play at an All-American level and Eddie Jones hasn't been far behind. In fact, Jones led the team with eight tackles and had his own sack, so maybe he shouldn't be playing second fiddle to anyone. The same is true of Jackson Jeffcoat - he's really close. Kheeston Randall continues to play well inside, but I'm still not sure we're any closer to finding a true No.2 defensive tackle, although Tyrell Higgins played much better than last week. The pass rush could have been better, but this group recorded seven tackles for loss, two sacks and limited the Wyoming running game to 1.9 yards per carry.

Grade: A-

Linebackers -Keenan Robinson continues to play very well, as he recorded six tackles and a sack, but more than anything else, he just seemed to be in the right place at the right time when this team needed him. Emmanuel Acho was solid, but really didn't show up in the explosive play department. Starting SAM Dravannti Johnson was better this week, but is still adjusting to the speed of the game. Overall, this group had 13 tackles, but not enough difference-making type plays.

Grade: B-

Secondary -The bar is extremely high for this group - higher than just about anyone in the nation and they didn't really meet it today. There were too many missed tackles, too many mental mistakes and not enough big plays. Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown were good in coverage, but weren't involved much in the action, which means they did their jobs. Chykie Brown was solid, but he gave up another big plays this week, which helped lead to Wyoming's only touchdown. Blake Gideon played very well throughout and delivered the lumber to a number of Wyoming players. Junior Christian Scott still seems to be getting his feet wet and hasn't yet caught up fully to the speed of the game. Also, it was a pretty quiet day for sophomore Kenny Vaccaro, who had been the star last week. Overall, the sloppy fourth quarter play wouldn't have been nearly as big of a deal had there been a few big plays mixed in, but there were no interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks, recovered fumbles or any other big play - there was just good, solid play for the most part.

Grade: B-

Defensive game plan -It was another day of basic defense for the Longhorn defense, as they tried to create a pass rush with four rushers without having to use a lot of exotic blitzes. For the most part, the defense dominated the game and only a sequence of penalties allowed the Cowboys to put together a sequence of plays that allowed them to move the ball down the field. Outside of the sloppy play in the fourth quarter, this was a unit that controlled the game.

Grade: B

Special teams -This group took a nice step forward in just about every area, but the punting game. Justin Tucker knocked down both of his field goals and his kickoffs, along with the kickoff coverage was better, with the exception of one return. Meanwhile, both Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown continue to scare the hell out of teams in the punt return game and it's only a matter of time before they break a big one. The Longhorns need more from the pairing of John Gold/Tucker in the punting game because the corner kick attempts inside the 20-yard line just were not executed well and it allowed the Cowboys breathing room to work.

Grade: C

Overall -This is a team that didn't make as much progress from week one to week two as you would have expected and the sloppy play in all three phases is keeping this team from really realizing its potential. The fact that so many of the mistakes are coming from veteran players is mystifying and it will need to be rectified or this team is going to struggle next week. Right now, the Longhorns aren't playing to the standard that Mack Brown and the staff have established and talked about at length, but they aren't a million miles away, either. That being said, progress better start coming faster or the mistakes will eventually start catching up to them.

Grade: C+/B- (I can't decide)

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