Now, here’s what needs "tweaking" in 2003 (and what arguably cost Texas a shot at the Big 12 Championship this season):
Let’s start with the obvious: Texas' 137.4 ypg on the ground is ranked No. 71 in the NCAA (No. 8 Big 12). Friends, when Texas could not move the piles against North Texas, I knew this was not a national championship season. (Brown later said the running game in the home opener made him want to vomit). And how was Texas to block OU’s Tommie Harris if it could not block Tommie Hilfiger (Fifty-three yards on 25 attempts against the Sooners will get you beat every time in Dallas). There were flashes of promise against Iowa State and North Carolina, but there was no sustained ground game all year.
Perhaps the most telling stat is the one that Big 12 headquarters does not keep, and that is those having to do with blocking. While Texas fans fretted about replacing three linebackers, nary a word was spoken about replacing three offensive linemen.
Senior All-American OT/OG Derrick Dockery did not (according to the coaches) give up a single sack all season but, overall, the unit gave up more sacks (34) than any Brown-coached Texas team. Ever since the North Texas game (eight sacks), Brown said that part of Simms’ maturation was taking a sack rather than risking a costly interception.
Yes, but No. 71 in the country in rushing! Benson’s yard-per-carry average dipped from 4.7 (2001) to 4.3 as the sophomore eclipsed the 100-yard mark but three times all season.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been a lightening rod for criticism all season, prompting Sports Illustrated to describe the wrath of Texas’ fans as the most heated in the nation.
"I’ve coached where nobody cares and I’ve coached where everybody cares," Davis said, "and I’d rather coach where everybody cares. It’s called passion."
Here’s the stat that no one talked about: only two conference teams (Baylor, Oklahoma State) were more penalized this season than Texas. The Horns totaled 740 yards in mark-offs (61.7 ypg) this season.
The turning point in the Texas Tech loss, defensive coordinator Carl Reese said, was Texas’ back-to-back penalties on fourth-and-10 after the Horns had forced a Red Raider punt. Instead of possessing the ball with a 14-0 lead, the Texas blunder breathed new life into what was then a sputtering Tech offense as the home team went on to score on that penalty-extended possession. It was like giving a batter three extra pitches after he had struck out, Reese said.
Later in that game, Texas had to settle for a field goal after a holding penalty nullified a 10-yard RB Cedric Benson’s 10-yard TD run. In a high-flying second half where both teams traded touchdowns, that penalty may have been the difference-maker in a four-point loss.
Take away those penalties, and Texas is likely playing USC or Iowa in the Orange Bowl. (Does an evening in Miami sound better than an early morning in east Dallas?)
Texas is running the ball better than at any time since Ricky Williams was here, Brown proclaimed just before the North Texas game. But, Brown said, he wasn’t sure if the impressive pre-season ground game said more about his offense or his run defense.
Now we know.
While no slouch, Texas was uncharacteristically soft against the run (absolutely abysmal against OU’s Quentin Griffin), yielding an average of 133.8 ypg (No. 4 Big 12; No. 30 NCAA). The fact that DE Cory Redding was the only down lineman to remain healthy all season may have had something to do with it.
I used to say that if I were but one second faster in the 40, I’d have been one helluva football player. The same could be said of senior P Brian Bradford, who’d be one helluva punter if he added but five yards to his average. That’s the difference between being a NCAA Top Five punter, and Bradford’s 40.4 average (No. 9 Big 12, No. 51 NCAA). Thing is, punting used to be such a team superlative for Texas.
What happens if Antwone Savage is tackled inside the 20 after Texas takes a 14-3 late in the second half against OU? How much difference would an 11-point halftime lead make against what is obviously a very beatable Sooner team? When QB Nate Hybl found the overrated TE Trent Smith in the end zone for that 14-11 UT halftime advantage, Texas squandered in 90 seconds all the momentum it had created over two quarters.
The invisible stat (some may call it an intangible) is injuries. To their credit, Texas coaches and players never listed injuries as an excuse for an otherwise solid season but for which expectations were astronomical. (To do so, of course, would be to heap criticism upon second-string players who no doubt tried to fill the void as best they could. There is, of course, a reason why guys like Roy Williams, Kalen Thornton, Marcus Tubbs, Bo Scaife, etc., are first-string.)
But there is no denying that the passing game jumped to the next level after a (relatively) healthy Williams returned in the Nebraska game. There is no denying the fact that the Texas defense was without three down linemen against Texas Tech, and would later lose LB Derrick Johnson and CB/PR Nathan Vasher in that game. (Vasher’s zero yards in punt returns is as telling a stat as any in that game.) And it could be argued that part of the problem with the offensive line had as much to do with injuries to Jonathan Scott, Beau Baker and Tillman Holloway as anything else.
The numbers are in on No. 9 Texas’ 10-2 regular season.
A look at the Horns' statistical weaknesses over the course of the '02 season.