October 19, 2008

The grades are in - Missouri report card

If there was any doubt about who the top team in the nation is heading into Saturday, it likely faded away in the first half of Texas' rout over No.11 Missouri on Saturday night. Showing that the win over Oklahoma last weekend was far from a fluke, the Longhorns suffocated the Tigers in building a 35-0 lead and eventually rolling to an emphatic 56-31 win. As the Longhorns put together one of the most impressive wins in the Mack Brown Era, we take a position-by-position breakdown of the performance.

Grading scale

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

Quarterback - It was just another day at the park for junior quarterback Colt McCoy, who not only overshadowed and outplayed fellow Heisman candidate and good friend Chase Daniel, but put together a performance that would embarrass any video game player. Seriously, who completes 29 of 32 passes in a game, including a school-record 17 consecutive completions? If you're on the Playstation and drop the settings to the easiest level, those numbers can be nearly impossible to match. But, that's where we are with McCoy at this point in the season. His numbers are so good right now that everyone is searching for comparisons and there aren't previous examples that can hold a candle to what McCoy is accomplishing right now. Overall, he managed to complete those 29 of 32 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding two touchdowns on the ground. Just another night at the office, right? As sensational as McCoy was on Saturday, he wasn't the only player at the quarterback position that made some good things happen. Back-up sophomore John Chiles looked as good as he ever has in a Longhorn uniform in mop-up duty, throwing a 51-yard touchdown and rushing for 24 yards on two carries in limited action. Overall, there's only one grade you can give out when the position completes 30 of 33 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns, while adding another 47 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Grade: A+

Running backs - The Texas running game continues to make progress each week and for the first time all season we got a glimpse of what this group can do when it's hitting on all cylinders. Senior Chris Ogbonnaya continues to play at an All-Big 12 level, rushing for 65 yards and two touchdowns, while also catching six passes for 68 yards. Although Ogbonnaya was outstanding, he wasn't the only UT running back that contributed to the win on Saturday. Sophomore Vondrell McGee looked as good as he has at any point this season in rushing for 58 yards on six carries, while Foswhitt Whittaker came in late to chip in 20 yards on two carries. Add a couple of short-yardage conversions and a touchdown from Cody Johnson and you have a group that combined for 160 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries (6.2 yards per rush), while chipping in those yards by Ogbonnaya in the passing game. Overall, that's 228 yards of total offense, three scores and zero turnovers. Yes, that's the kind of production that Texas will take every Saturday the rest of the season.

Grades: A

Wide receivers - Through the first six weeks of the season the Longhorns have been able to get by with outstanding production from Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, but on Saturday night against the Tigers the production from the role players behind Texas' Big Two provided their biggest contribution of the season. Sophomore Brandon Collins had the best game of his young career, catching six passes for 76 yards, including a huge 38-yard catch and run in the first quarter. Another player that emerged on Saturday with the first big play of his career was redshirt freshman Malcolm Williams, whose 32-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter made all of the national highlight shows. Toss in true freshman Dan Buckner's 51-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter and you've got a group of young receivers that are starting to come on. Oh yeah, let's not forget about the fabulous Shipley/Cosby duo, as they combined to grab 15 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. Overall, that's 24 catches from this group for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

Grade: A+

Offensive line/Tight ends - This group is really starting to come together and emerge into the quality line that the entire coaching staff, especially Mack Brown, had expected coming into the season. This group physically dominated the Missouri front four and did a great job of picking up a variety of blitzes and over-stacked defensive formations that were created with the intent of creating confusion and number mismatches, but the Longhorn offensive line did a great job of giving McCoy the time he needed to pick the Tigers apart, while also giving the Longhorn running backs tons of lanes to choose from in the running game. The one guy that continues to elevate his play each week is junior guard Charlie Tanner. After struggling to find his footing in 2007, this kid is playing as well as anyone on the line, and they are all playing well. Tanner's biggest area of improvement has come in the running game, as he has evolved into a very physical player that can contribute as well inside as he can on the move. Really and truly, the entire line played very well in this game and when you at the yards (591), the time of possession (36:26), the third down conversions (10 of 12) and the red-zone efficiency (six of seven tries went for touchdown and the only miss was when the Longhorns ran the clock out at the end of the game), it's obvious that none of this could occur without this group controlling the line of scrimmage. The skill players need to take these guys out to Ruth Chris' Steakhouse this week.

Grade: A+

Offensive game plan - Does anyone still want to push offensive coordinator Greg Davis out the door? The former whipping boy for UT fans and media alike is in the play-calling zone this season and never has that been on full display quite like it was on Saturday night. Five first half possessions, five first half touchdown, with three of the scoring drives covering more than 80 yards. Every time Missouri tried to bring pressure from a variety of blitz packages, the Longhorns seemed to have the perfect play called. As good as the offense was last week against Oklahoma, it might have been even better this weekend.

Grade: A+

Defensive line - This group dominated the line of scrimmage in exactly the kind of way that you would have expected coming into the game. The Tigers learned very early that their running game (30 yards on 19 carries for a 1.6 average) was going to be a total non-factor and that turned the Tigers into a one-dimensional unit that the Longhorns were able to fluster at will while the game's outcome was still in question. Senior Roy Miller was only credited with three tackles, but he was unblockable at times and just gave the Tigers fits throughout the game. The same was true of Henry Melton and Brian Orakpo. You might not have known it from the stat sheet, but those guys harassed Daniel throughout the game and both had a huge impact on Missouri's offense not being able to sustain a drive early on. The difference between these two teams is that the Longhorns played like men and the Tigers played like boys, with that never being more apparent than with the match-up between the front lines.

Grade: A

Linebackers - Before the second half turned into garbage time, this group played really well. The combination of Roddrick Muckelroy (nine tackles), Jared Norton (five tackles and a sack), Sergio Kindle (five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack) and Rashad Bobino (three tackles) all did a great job of stuffing the run and creating pressure on Daniel at various points in the game that helped stop any dreams the Tigers might have had of crossing midfield before the game was all but cemented. Yes, the play got a little sloppy in the second half, but I'm pretty much making the cut-off point on the grades this week for the defense after Texas went up 49-17 in the fourth quarter. Docking this unit points because of garbage time would be about as fair as giving Daniel a really high grade because he eventually led Missouri to 31 points. We all know the truth.

Grade: A

Secondary - Jeremy Macklin was basically a non-factor for the Missouri offense this week. Yes, he caught eight passes for 66 yards, but none of his catches went for more than 16 yards and he was never able to get free in the open field. The only real match-up problem that gave Texas fits was Chase Coffman, but that guy is a Sunday player that just happens to be finishing a brilliant career on Saturdays this season. There were times when Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon were in the right position and Coffman simply went All-America on them. That being said, those guys played a terrific game (combining for 12 tackles and zero coverage busts that went for big plays) and if they are playing well, this defense is going to be playing well. Before he left the game in the second quarter with an injury, sophomore Chykie Brown was playing at an All-Big 12 level on the outside against Macklin and anyone else Missouri threw this way. After he departed, the Longhorns were not as good in their pass defense, but the trio of Ryan Palmer (three tackles and an interception), Deon Beasley and Curtis Brown played very well. As was the case with the linebackers, I'm going to focus on what this group did when the outcome was still in doubt and not when everyone in America had already decided to change the channel to something that didn't resemble my grandmother taking me outside to strike me with a switch.

Grade: A

Defensive game plan - Missouri never knew what hit them in the first half when the Longhorns forced a bevy of three-and-outs and completely took Missouri out of their agenda. Will Muschamp mostly played his unit out of their nickel package and he didn't always do anything tricky out of that personnel grouping. Instead, his team just executed perfectly, with the front four creating pressure and stopping the run, while the back seven played terrific assignment football. Once the Longhorns were able to create favorable down and distance situations for themselves, Muschamp's defense was able to bring speed and pressure from all directions. The coaches can take the first 30 minutes of the game and show it as textbook stuff and he can take the final 30 minutes and remind the players why he is going to be on their butts this week like white on rice. There's a 60 minute performance from this group out there somewhere and Muschamp is determined to find it.

Grade: A

Special teams - The Longhorns didn't win this phase on Saturday night, at least not in all of the areas. As soon as Macklin was able to take the opening kickoff back 39 yards, the Longhorns were spooked by his presence all night and they gave up good field position out of fear and he still finished with 132 yards on five returns. Meanwhile, the Texas return game was pretty average on five returns. The highlight of the night in the kicking game came from punter John Gold, who averaged 47.5 yards per punt and had both of his kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.

Grade: C

Overall - After hearing that the Longhorns had enjoyed their best week of practice this week I figured that the Longhorns would give a sharp performance on Saturday night, but in pistol-whipping the Tigers to the tune of a 35-3 beat-down in the first half, Mack Brown's team completely exceeded my already high expectations for the night. If the Longhorns proved their heart and determination against Oklahoma, then they established the fear-factor in this game because every team that is forced to watch this film will know that that can be them on the receiving end of a Texas butt-kicking. This team deserves a lot of credit for being able to keep their focus after such an emotional win over Oklahoma, but they were dialed in and turned in a performance worthy of a No.1 ranking. Now they get to prove next week that they can do it again.

Grade: A


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