October 5, 2008

The grades are in - CU report card

Complete domination. In their final tune-up before the biggest game of the season, the No.5 Texas Longhorns continued their evolvement from the inconsistent unit of 2007 to an intimidating bully in 2008, as they ran roughshod over Colorado 38-14 in Boulder. Here's a position-by-position breakdown of UT's win over the Buffalos that moved their record to a perfect 5-0.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - We were reminded of two things on Saturday - Colt McCoy really is human and even when he's not perfect, he's still the straw that stirs this team's drink on offense. Although he threw two interceptions in the game, he did manage to complete 23 of 30 passes for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while 39 net yards on the ground. The key to his performance was that he really came out smoking in the first quarter, which allowed the team to jump up on the Buffs by two scores. Both first quarter touchdown passes were the stuff of All-Americans. Yes, he's played better games this season, but the bar has been raised pretty high here though the first five games of this season.

Grade: B

Running backs - On a night when many thought we'd see the coronation of Cody Johnson as the starting running back for this team for the rest of the season, something completely unexpected occurred - fifth-year senior Chris Ogbonnaya enjoyed his greatest night as a Longhorn. The senior running back from Houston Strake Jesuit opened the night with a 65-yard touchdown catch, added a 51-yard run and another touchdown to boot, while racking up 187 total yards. On a night when the rest of the backs on the roster combined for 68 yards on 22 carries (3.09 yards per carry), Ogbonnaya was a breath of fresh air and provided some hope that this position will possess a playmaking element this season. Overall, the running back position produced 130 yards on 35 carries on the ground, while adding seven catches for 125 yards through the air. That's 255 total yards and, oh yeah, four touchdowns to boot. The staff will take that kind of production every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Grades: B+

Wide receivers - Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley had solid nights, combining for 13 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, but they were not the difference makers at the wide receiver position that they've been all season. With the Buffalos doing a nice job of the Texas' top two receivers, the intermediate and deep passing games never got rolling. In fact, the Longhorns didn't take a deep shot all night long and the there was only one play from the receivers all night that the coaches will count as an explosive play (16 yards or more) and that one barely qualified (16 yards). The biggest fear for this team on offense is that there won't be anyone to step up and fill the void on a night when the top two receivers are being somewhat marginalized. The good news for Texas was that when they faced that situation on Saturday, Ogbonnaya stepped up and had a breakout performance. The bad news is that the third best receiver on Saturday was Dan Buckner with one catch for ten yards. Ouch. At some point, someone has to emerge… or else…

Grade: C

Tight ends - The Longhorns missed Blaine Irby in a big way on Saturday night. Before the injury to Irby, this might have been the kind of game where this position would have contributed a half-dozen catches and a valuable outlet receiver for McCoy. Those options just are not there right now and it hurts - no question. Senior Peter Ullman played quite a bit, but he only caught one pass for six yards and McCoy's second-half interception was caused when the pass bounded off of Ullman's hands. That play was a seven-point mistake could have proved costlier on a different night. Also, I thought the blocking from the position was solid.

Grade: C-

Offensive line - When watching the game for a second time, I was more impressed with the job the offensive line did than I thought I would. Although the rushing numbers might suggest that there weren't a lot of holes for the running backs to run through, the truth is that there were some huge holes opened up at times by this group and the backs often times were not quick enough in hitting the holes. Also, this team misses not having a true fullback because there were times when the running game's biggest problem was being outnumbered. It sure seemed like the Buffs had one more guy trying to stop the run than the Longhorns had trying to block for it, which often was the difference between the run netting two yards instead of 10. Yes, this team can do a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage, but they were pretty good upon further inspection. The bigger concern in retrospect is the trouble the Longhorn offensive line had in the passing game. This unit has been very good all season in pass protection, but they really had some problems on Saturday night, allowing three sacks. Both tackles were beaten once and Cedric Dockery got cut off by traffic on another play, which allowed for McCoy to be sacked after the CU defensive tackle ran a twist with the end. That has to be shored up next week because Oklahoma will present better athletes and better players than the Longhorns faced last night.

Grade: B-

Offensive game plan - This offense misses not having a true tight end or fullback, and any time we talk about what the offense is missing from now until the end of the season, everyone needs to understand that Texas is playing with one hand tied behind their back. The Longhorns came out in the first half and looked crisp in the first quarter, as McCoy spread the ball around on a variety of underneath passes. The one thing we never saw from the offense was any attempt to stretch the field with vertical, downfield routes. Seriously, the Longhorns are not even trying to throw deep this year. Also, the final numbers in the running game ended up being respectable, but for most of the game the ground game was completely ineffective, despite playing against one of the Big 12's worst run defenses. Before Ogbonnaya broke his long run in the third quarter, this part of the offense was failing. Despite the flaws, Greg Davis' group produced 431 yards and did enough, especially early in the game, to give the defense what it needed, which was simply a two-score lead. It wasn't Davis' best night, it was plenty good enough on this night.

Grade: C

Defensive line - Beastly. This team knew coming into this game that they should dominate because of Colorado's offensive line issues, but they made sure that what looked like an obscene mismatch on paper turned out to be even more lopsided in reality. Leading the way was senior defensive tackle Roy Miller, who had eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, two pass break-ups and two quarterback hits. Miller was everywhere. Actually, that seemed to be the case everywhere, as Brian Orakpo, Henry Melton, Lamarr Houston, Aaron Lewis and the rest of the gang just overwhelmed the Colorado offensive line and if you want to know the biggest reason why CU's Cody Hawkins was limited to completing 13 of 33 passes, just watch what was happening around him. As far as the run defense is concerned, the Longhorns finished the game by only allowing 49 yards and 1.8 yards per carry. That's getting it done.

Grade: A+

Linebackers - I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the performance from the linebackers on Saturday was as complete from player to player as any the Longhorns have had in years. Junior Roddrick Muckelroy was everywhere, registering a team-best 10 tackles. It was as violent as I've ever seen him play. Meanwhile, Sergio Kindle was once again a difference maker all over the field, especially off the edge as a pass rusher. In addition to those two, I thought Jared Norton and Rashad Bobino played as well as they have all season. Even Dustin Earnest showed some nice things late in the game. Overall, this group was great against the run and they played a huge role (in a lot of ways) in disrupting the CU passing attack. Perhaps there could have been a few more big plays, but this was a very impressive performance.

Grade: A

Secondary - There wasn't a single dominant performance from the group on Saturday night, but as a unit they played terrifically together and really did a number on the Buffalos passing game. The corner trio of Ryan Palmer, Chykie Brown and Deon Beasley all had their best nights of the season and both true freshmen safeties played well. When this game was still a game, this group pitched a shutout for all intents and purposes. Duane Akina had this group playing at a very high level on Saturday night. Now if they can just get their hands on a football every now and then.

Grade: B+

Defensive game plan - I'm not sure what else can be said other than Will Muschamp had these guys in positions to make plays all night and had the offense not given the Buffalos a short field in the third quarter, this group might have pitched a shutout. Muschamp did a great job of mixing his fronts and coverages, which simply confused the hell out of Hawkins, who usually was forced to throw the ball away in the face of extreme pressure. It looked like the Texas defense was playing chess and the Colorado offense was trying to play checkers.

Grade: A+

Special teams - Justin Tucker, John Gold and Hunter Lawrence have emerged as quite the powerful trio this season. Tucker was good on kickoffs again, Lawrence easily made a 46-yard field goal and Gold had two of his three punts downed inside the Colorado 20-yard line. Even Trevor Gerland came in and had a nice 38-yard punt that was downed at the Colorado 10-yard line. The only return all night was Shipley's 28-yard kickoff return.

Grade: B-

Overall - I think it's time to give Mack Brown a lot of credit for getting this team into the position it finds itself in right now, which is legitimately calling itself a top five team that will be playing in college football's next game of the year in the Cotton Bowl. The offense didn't hit on all cylinders, but the overall performance from his team was befitting of an upper-echelon team. They went on the road in front of a frenzied crowd and just beat the Buffalos into submission. The performance evoked memories of those two great Texas teams from 2004-05, when the program would show up and oppress teams with their sheer volume of talent and focus. The Longhorns had a little piece of that on Saturday night and if this team isn't ready for the Sooners, then they never will be. The staff has the team in the perfect place heading into next week.

Grade: A

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