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November 23, 2012
Texas still in search of answers to key questions
1. This game raises questions about where Texas is at the quarterback position, and that's the toughest thing to face coming out of this 20-13 loss.
We can talk about the defense expecting TCU to come out in no backs and a one-back offense only to surprise UT by playing a ton of two-back early in the game and averaging 5.7 ypc in the first half as the Horned Frogs took a 14-3 lead.
We can talk about Texas giving up kick returns of 23 and 57 yards before resorting to squib kicks.
But this game turned on the turnovers of David Ash - two interceptions in TCU's red zone and a fumble in Texas' red zone. Plain and simple.
On just his second pass attempt of the night, he was intercepted at the TCU 6-yard-line.
On UT's second possession, Ash couldn't connect with fullback Ryan Roberson (the ball went off his finger tips) on third-and-4 from the TCU 8, and Texas settled for a field goal.
On UT's third possession, it looked like Ash had finally settled into a rhythm, mixing the run and pass from the Texas 20 to the TCU 18 before being intercepted again at the TCU 2.
The defense held TCU to a three-and-out after that second pick. But then the wheels came off. After a Johnathan Gray run over right end for a loss of 3 yards, Ash dropped back to pass and simply lost control of the ball while trying to cock his arm.
TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga recovered at the UT 16, and three plays later, the Horned Frogs scored a TD on a Matthew Tucker run. That put TCU up 14-3 and led the coaches to bring in Case McCoy for the final drive of the half. That drive went nowhere.
So Harsin talked to Ash at halftime, felt like he could settle down and sent him back out for the second half.
"I told him to calm down, just relax, just get back out there and play the rest of the game," Harsin said. "Just talking to David, I felt like we had regrouped.
"We were moving the ball, and we just turned the ball over. It wasn't poor rhythm. We were moving the ball, but we were turning the ball over in the red zone. That is what it was.
"We talked about some things where I could help him with some play calls down there once we got to the red zone, but just keep moving the ball. And then as the game went on, it just got to be too much for him there at the end, and we needed something.
"We needed a spark. We needed to get something going."
Added Mack Brown, "The coaches felt like, and I agreed with them, that we were going to have to do some one-minute offense in the second half, and he'd done that more than Case (McCoy)."
MY TAKE: Ash has had three clunker performances this year. Oklahoma, Kansas and now TCU.
You could blame a monstrous atmosphere in the Cotton Bowl as still being too big for the sophomore in the loss to OU. You could blame a totally flat atmosphere in a half-empty stadium in the near-loss to Kansas, when he was benched in favor of Case McCoy in the fourth quarter.
But Thursday night was a showcase game on Thanksgiving at home on Senior Night. And Ash self-destructed at the most inopportune times - in the red zone.
The interceptions came after he had helped drive the ball down the field and put Texas in scoring position. The fumble was one of the strangest plays you'll ever see as Ash tried to rush a throwing motion and the ball just slipped backward out of his hand.
"David was trying to get the job done, threw those interceptions and kind of got down on himself, and it kind of went downhill from there," said Gray, who averaged 4.6 yards on his first 7 carries and 1.9 yards on his next 8 carries.
"But we'll pick those guys up for next week and get ready for K-State."
When Ash makes a mistake, he has a tendency to get down on himself, get frustrated and have a bad game. He did that against OU, Kansas and TCU. When he's good, he's good. When he's bad, he can take himself right out of the game.
You can attribute that to being a young quarterback. And TCU's defense is the best Texas has seen since OU. But, again, Texas wasn't having trouble moving the ball down the field on the drives where Ash threw interceptions. He just made poor decisions when it mattered most, and that's the hardest part to swallow about this loss.
This was Ash's first real clunker this year at home. And after his strong performances against Texas Tech and Iowa State, this one's a real puzzler. And that's why there will be questions about the QB position until Ash can eliminate the unforced errors in a game like Thursday night or shake them off and bounce back in a game like Thursday night.
When Ash is good, he's been good. But when he gets off to a rough start, he tends to get stuck in the rut. He should be able to overcome a slow start as he gains more experience. But right now, it remains a question.
2. The Texas defense wasn't prepared for TCU to come out in a two-back offense, and it showed.
TCU came into the Texas game averaging 155 yards rushing, and finished with 217 yards on the ground against the Longhorns.
"They changed their mentality," Diaz said. "They went from a team that's predominantly an empty team, a one-back team, to a team that was predominantly a two-back team. And we didn't adjust to that as fast as we needed to.
"The credit goes to them. They blocked us better. They were able to possess the football and keep our offense out of rhythm with their running game."
TCU QB Trevone Boykin ended up as the Horned Frogs' leading rusher (10 carries for 77 yards), including a 7-yard run in third-and-6 in the third quarter of a drive to a field goal for a 17-6 lead.
Boykin ran for 3 yards on third-and-1 from the Texas 26 on a drive that resulted in a FG, putting TCU up 20-6 early in the fourth quarter.
Boykin also completed a 4-yard pass on fourth-and-3 in the first quarter on a TD drive that put TCU up 7-0.
"We didn't play the run very well, especially in the first half," Diaz said. "They had about 200 yards rushing, which allowed them to control the clock. It allowed them to protect their quarterback.
"I thought the quarterback's running was the difference in the game. I thought the drives that he extended on third down runs on plays that were called pass plays were as decisive as anything in the outcome of the game. The rest of their backs, they got better as the game went on."
MY TAKE: It could have been much, much worse for the Texas defense Thursday. TCU settled for field goals when it probably could have gone for it on fourth down in the Texas red zone.
Based on other teams' success on fourth down against Texas (see the West Virginia game), Gary Patterson seemed conservative kicking an 18-yard field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the third quarter and missing a 33-yard FG from the Texas 16 on fourth-and-2 in the second quarter (when the holder's right hand seemed to block the kick).
The D's failures against the run were back, and that doesn't bode well for UT's game next week with Kansas State, which will find different ways to run the ball against Texas, forcing Manny Diaz to adjust.
And now LB Demarco Cobbs (knee) is hurt. Those 10 quarters of progress for Texas since halftime of the Kansas game came to an end Thursday night. Like Kansas, TCU only attempted 10 passes all night and instead relied on a rushing attack that averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
3. Texas lost a great opportunity to back-door its way into the mix for a share of the Big 12 title and a possible BCS bowl berth.
"Obviously, we can't go to the BCS," said senior S Kenny Vaccaro, who led Texas with 10 tackles. "There's still a lot more ahead of us. We can still go to the Cotton Bowl, and that's what we want to do."
A possible Cotton Bowl berth would require a win at Kansas State on Dec. 1 against a team with a four-game winning streak against the Longhorns. Mack Brown is 2-6 against the Wildcats, who were No. 1 in the BCS until a 52-24 loss at Baylor last week.
"They've got a lot of pride," Mack Brown said. "They know there's still some stuff out there to play for. They'll play hard at Kansas State."
MY TAKE: Right now, UT's victory at Oklahoma State is the Longhorns' crowning achievement this season, followed by wins over bowl-eligible Texas Tech and Iowa State.
A victory at Kansas State would be impressive for several reasons: 1) It would mean the QB position probably bounced back; 2) it would get Texas to 9 wins so Mack Brown could point to improvement over 2011 (8-5); and 3) it could get the Longhorns in the mix for a Cotton Bowl berth.
A loss to K-State means Texas probably landing in either the Alamo Bowl or Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (formerly the Insight Bowl) and hard sell for progress over last year. And TCU will be back next year with only 1 senior on its defense and some promising, young skill talent on offense.
4. Case McCoy had a chance to be a hero on Thanksgiving for the second straight year for Texas.
But he missed Jaxon Shipley on fourth-and-3 midway through the fourth quarter and made a terrible decision, throwing a ball that was intercepted on a potential game-tying drive at the end of the game.
"On the final drive, if you go back and watch, Cayleb Jones ripped upfield on a scramble move," McCoy said. "If I just throw the ball, who knows what he does with the ball once it gets in his hands.
"The ball slipped and floated up in the air. We didn't take care of the ball when we needed to, and we've talked about it all year. We didn't do what we needed to do in the turnover ratio, and the score showed it."
MY TAKE: McCoy was doing a nice job of extending plays, at times, and he certainly should have just run upfield on that last interception. He had a lane of about 10 to 15 yards and could have run out of bounds around the 50 with 1:22 left.
Instead, he threw the ball into a crowd, and TCU was able to pick it off and ruin Texas' Senior Night and any title hopes. Just another poor decision from the QB position on a night full of them.
5. OTHER NUGGETS:
****Texas entered the game No. 3 in the nation in fewest turnovers committed with 8. But Texas suffered 4 turnovers in the game (3 by David Ash and 1 by Case McCoy).
****The Longhorns had won 28 of 29 in the series with TCU before Thursday. The Horned Frogs hadn't won in Austin since 1967.
****Adrian Phillips posted his first INT of the season and third of his career in the third quarter, which set up a Texas field goal.
****Jaxon Shipley had a game-high six receptions for 80 yards.
****Sophomore DE Cedric Reed has been playing really well and posted 3 tackles behind the line of scrimmage among his 7 tackles.
****Sophomore LB Tevin Jackson has become a big part of UT's pass-rush package and posted the Longhorns' only sack as well as another TFL.
****Texas had 17 seniors, including nine scholarship players, play their final home game Thursday night. Ten members of the senior class combined to play in 408 games and start in 110 contests, including WR Marquise Goodwin (48 games, 21 starts), TE D.J. Grant (24 games, 6 starts), RB Jeremy Hills (41 games), P Alex King (11 games), TE Barrett Matthews (49 games, 10 starts), RB D.J. Monroe (47 games, 5 starts), DE Alex Okafor (50 games, 31 starts), OT Luke Poehlmann (39 games, 3 starts), FB Ryan Roberson (50 games, 3 starts) and S Kenny Vaccaro (49 games, 30 starts).
FINAL ANALYSIS: Gary Patterson and his staff totally outcoached Texas on Thursday night, especially on defense.
The Horned Frogs seemed to be one step ahead of everything Bryan Harsin and David Ash were trying to do. And considering Trevone Boykin was getting snaps at RB when QB Casey Pachall left the football team after a DWI arrest, TCU got a ton more playmaking from its QB position than Texas did.
The setback at the QB position for Texas Thursday night was the most troubling aspect of the 20-13 loss. And for that to happen at home on Thanksgiving on Senior Night was a wowzer. It's clear as David Ash struggled, Bryan Harsin's ability to trust Ash in calling plays complicated things.
No matter how you say it, this was a troubling performance from Ash and sends a bit of a chill through this offense and this team.
When you consider Oklahoma State has won games with three different QBs this season (and won them convincingly), for Texas to be thinking of grand ambition in 2013, UT can't have any more performances like this one from the QB position.