For the first time in the Mack Brown era, the Longhorns lost the week following the Texas-Oklahoma game.
The Longhorns (4-2, 1-2) were impressive at times, but costly errors and an inability to execute when it mattered most told the story in the 38-26 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys (6-0, 3-0).
The Longhorns defense had a much better game than they did against Oklahoma a week ago. However, they slipped on two particular rushing plays that shot down any chance for a Texas victory. Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith scored two touchdowns, one for 30 yards on a fourth down and one and the other a 74 yard dash. On both touchdowns, Smith jolted to the endzone untouched. He finished with 140 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns.
“They're killer, said Texas head Coach Mack Brown regarding the two touchdown runs by Smith. “A 64-yard run last week. A 74-yard run this week untouched. And the other was a fourth - and - one. So those are game-changing plays. That's what is disappointing.”
“It's frustrating. It's correctable, but we didn’t give ourselves a chance on that play,” said Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Along with the two big touchdown runs, the Texas defense had many missed opportunities including a few dropped interceptions.
“When you have a team like this, they [Oklahoma State] will only give you so many chances, and you have to capitalize,” said Diaz. “Our trouble defensively is going from good to great.”
On the other side of the ball, the Longhorns made a big switch at quarterback. Over the past several weeks, Bryan Harsin ran a two quarterback system with Case McCoy and David Ash. On Saturday, Ash took every snap for Texas.
We are obviously better at running it than passing it, and Malcolm [Brown] is a big part of that.
“We felt like he did a good job in the Oklahoma game. He made some plays with his feet. He did that again today,” said Coach Brown. “Those are part of the reasons why we felt that he would give us a better chance today.”
“In this particular game from how we felt in practice, we thought David had a nice week of practice [and] threw the ball well,” said Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.
“He has his ability to run the ball and do those things that he has done for us in previous games. In that position, it comes down to decision-making. It comes down to toughness and accuracy."
“I was told I was going to start earlier in the week,” said Ash. “I worked in practice and felt mentally prepared. I knew I would have to make some critical passes and decisions.”
Ash showed promise, but there were many moments that showed the inexperience of the young quarterback. Ash finished 22-of-40 for 139 through the air and had 15 carries for 21 yards on the ground. He was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.
“He is still a young guy,” said Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker. “You can't expect him to come in here and play lights out and be a super person.”
Ash had a few nice runs and showed that he has playmaking ability. He seemed comfortable with sophomore wide receiver Mike Davis, and was 8 of 19 on third down conversions. However, he made some bad decisions. On one interception, Ash threw over the middle of the field into double coverage. Most importantly, he couldn’t provide the spark to get the Texas offense into the endzone.
“We were better on third down conversions this game,” said Harsin. “We just need to finish. If we convert those third downs, it gets to a point where we are in the red zone or past the fifty. Now we have to find ways to finish our drives.”
Even though Ash couldn’t find a groove, the running game carried the load to keep the Longhorns within striking distance throughout the game.
Malcolm Brown had another good game carrying the ball 19 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
“We are obviously better at running it than passing it, and Malcolm is a big part of that,” said Coach Brown.
Fozzy Whittaker carried the ball 9 times for 36 yards and D.J. Monroe only had four touches, but averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
Fozzy Whittaker ran a kickoff back for a touchdown moments after Justin Gilbert did the same for the Cowboys to start the third quarter.
“Fozzy has done a tremendous job returning it,” said Coach Brown. “We're going to have to score some points with our kicking game and our defense until we can pick our offense up.”
It’s not often you see back-to-back kickoff returns for over 100 yards. However, this is the second week in a row Fozzy Whittaker took one for a touchdown to lift his team. After last year’s struggles in the kickoff return game, Fozzy has really stepped up as a big threat on special teams.
Game Grade: C+
The Negatives - The lack of efficiency on offense, particularly in the passing game and two big defensive mishaps kept the Longhorns out of the win column on Saturday and ultimately earned a C+ grade. However, Ash is a long term move. He needs to see reps, and he got plenty of them. His decision making is unimpressive at times, but that should improve with experience. Despite the loss, Ash learned a lot from this game.
While most might want to focus on the struggles, there were many positives:
Stopping the Cowboys – The 38 points scored by Oklahoma State is the most ever by the Cowboys in Austin. Even then, the defense looked good. There were two bad plays, but as Manny Diaz said, their problem is “going from good to great.” They held Brandon Weedon and Justin Blackmon to 2-of-12 on third downs. For one of the best offensives in the country, that’s not too shabby.
Also, the secondary played at a higher level than against Oklahoma last week. Specifically, Carrington Byndom played a great game against one of, if not the best wide receiver in the country.
“He was fearless,” said Diaz of Byndom’s performance. “He did what we expect him to do as a player. He has a great future and did a great job holding Blackmon to seven receptions for 74 yards. Sometimes we gave him help and sometimes we didn't give him help, and he really responded and I think it gives him a lot of confidence going forward. We've played an all-star team at wide receiver the last two weeks, and Carrington Byndom has really stepped up.”
Overall, this defense did better than expected against one of the top offensives in the nation.
Ground & Pound - The power running game is back in Austin. D.J. Monroe brings unbelievable speed. Fozzy Whittaker has improved during every offseason since his start at Texas, and it’s noticeable. Also, he’s looking more and more like the offensive leader for this Texas team.
Then there is Malcolm Brown. That’s all I should have to say. Five months ago, he was at his high school prom. Now, he’s the leading rusher for the Texas Longhorns. He has solidified his spot as the top back for Texas and he’s only getting better. He has the best game of the season every time he steps on the field. Can that trend continue after a 135 yard, two touchdown performance?
Up Next - The last two weeks are by far the toughest games on the schedule for the Longhorns. Looking forward, this Texas team can put a big dent in the Big 12 and get back to a bowl game.
“I think you're still with the same goal,” said coach Brown. “You don't have the [Big 12] South anymore, which used to be a part of it. But your next goal is to get to a bowl game. We didn't do that last year. That's something we didn't talk about around here for a long time. But when you miss it for a year it's just as important to get your six [wins]. And then what you want to do is - obviously, the motto is "step by step, brick by brick" - and you want to get better each week and you'd like to have a chance to win the rest of the games.”
This is a young and inexperienced Texas team, but the climb is behind them and they really need to step it up down the stretch.
A 10-win season is not out of the question. However, the Longhorns would have to run the table to accomplish that, or suffer one loss and win a bowl game. They run the ball effectively, and they should stick to it. Long drives that eat up the clock and end with a score has been a success story many times. With many questions regarding the passing game, the Longhorns need to stick to the run and fight their way back to a good bowl game in 2011.
Final regular-season record projection: 9-3