November 3, 2010

At 4-4, Texas coaches and players discuss, 'What now?'

1. After Mack Brown called out his assistants and players following a loss to Iowa State by saying he didn't know if he could trust them, Brown said his team came closer together last week despite a loss to Baylor.

"I thought it worked in the effort problem," Mack said. "I thought it worked in the attitude. Our team came much closer together. I thought the staff all sat down, and there was no finger-pointing. We had a really hard meeting (last) Tuesday with the team, with each other and made sure everyone knew what we were trying to get accomplished.


"And I said, 'Understand that if you don't play hard, you probably have no chance to win. We've said that, but you haven't been listening.' That hasn't changed. I thought the fact I said coaches are responsible too, I didn't think that was any big news. I think when you're losing people want to make little news into big news.

"I've said that since I've been here. After a loss, I guess it sounds like I'm threatening them. I wasn't. Everybody when you lose in sports, they need something drastic to feel better. 'You should fire players. You should fire coaches. You should burn the building. You gotta change your offense in a week and throw everybody out who made a mistake, and we saw all the mistakes.' That's not the way you win.

"What you do is you get your kids to play better and get them to understand we've played around here with a great attitude for a long time, and we're not going to put up with that.

"And then now they come back to see you've got to force more turnovers and score in the red zone or you would have won that game Saturday. You gave up big plays. You didn't score touchdowns. You kicked field goals.

"We were in the red zone five times. If we score four touchdowns, we win that game. So we're going to go back to the practical things that need to change to win."


2. At 4-4, bowl eligibility is now the goal for a program that had won 10 games a school-record nine straight years with games remaining at Kansas State and home against Oklahoma State, Florida Atlantic and Texas A&M.

"We used to laugh about it because we didn't even think about it," Mack said. "We'd win six and be thinking about winning 13. What I did, we tried to be really honest with our kids, and they need to hear the truth. 'The facts are we're not going to win the Big 12 South, not going to win the Big 12. We're not going to the BCS, so forget those things. If you're worried about where everybody's going, it's not a factor for you.'

"We've got to correct the mistakes we're making and win No. 5 (against Kansas State). That's been a tough place for us to win, and then if you do that, you try to beat a great team in Oklahoma State to get No. 6 and then go to the next one.

"They can still win 9 games. That's still out there for them, and most people would think that's a decent season. So I want them to understand who we are and what we've got. We do need to win and go to a bowl. It gives us 13 extra practices with a lot of young guys."

Added safety Christian Scott, who posted his first career interception against Baylor, "We definitely want to go to a bowl, so we have to fight and do whatever it takes to get there."



3. Mack Brown and Greg Davis think they've found a solution for the offense's red zone woes - Garrett Gilbert's legs and letting it all hang out.

Against Baylor, Texas had all kinds of problems near the goal line, and when Gilbert did use a run-pass option on a bootleg option pass, TE Barrett Matthews dropped a TD pass right in his hands.

"A couple of the runs on the goal line were reads, and we were hoping that they would take the running back and Garrett would have a chance to get on the end," Mack said. "But we probably need a lead back more on the goal line in some cases.

"We need to throw it more and we probably need to get the quarterback moving more. Those are all things we've done in the past to be successful that we're not doing right now. And we have to challenge the kids to quit being uptight and catch the ball. It's a game. It's a game."

Of Justin Tucker's 18 made field goals this season, 10 have come from 28 yards or less, which tells you a ton about the team's red zone offense this year.

Greg Davis said the team has been in the red zone only two fewer times than at the same point last year, on a team that played for a national title. The difference is last year, the offense was scoring touchdowns 70 percent of the time in the red zone (40 of 57) and this year only 42 percent of the time (15 of 36).

I asked Greg Davis if Garrett Gilbert needed to be rolled out more for run-pass option plays in the red zone considering the success of those plays against Nebraska and Baylor (the two games Gilbert has been the team's leading rusher).

"When you look at the number of red zone trips this year and last year, it's surprisingly close," Davis said. "The difference is the amount of touchdowns. And that begs the question: What's the difference?

"And I think there's a couple things. One, we were playing with a fifth-year senior quarterback, so we never considered what we were calling. We just called it and executed. We had a phenomenal guy in the slot (Jordan Shipley), and he knew spacing and how to get open.

"And just that alone creates space for other things. Sometimes, that gets unnoticed. Just those two guys create space for other things. So some of the things we've figured we need to do better: we need to be looser in that area. I've been trying to make sure we secure points instead of sometimes attacking. That would be play selection in that area.

"Secondly, Garrett has done a great job on the move and has shown through eight games he can make plays with his feet. I'm not sure why. Sometimes, he looks like Ichabod Crane. But the first guy never tackles him, and that's a good thing.

"And I told him that, so I'm not talking behind his back. But he's done a great job. I think he had two explosive runs the other night or maybe three. So that's an area we can keep improving.

"And then I'm looking at do we need a lead back in there when the box gets tight. Do we need someone else to lead the back in on various plays, even though the numbers can still be tough. At least you can put a hat on the primary support guy.

"And then we've got to make some plays, too. We had a couple opportunities the first series against Baylor that we didn't get it in. That's surprising numbers. That's what we've kind of looked at that could help us be more productive in that area."


4. Trey Hopkins takes over at left guard for Michael Huey, who will miss the rest of the regular season with a right knee injury suffered in the Baylor game.

Huey will not be operated on as of right now. It's a sprain that should heal without surgery. But he will not play against Texas A&M. He will not be released to practice until after four weeks, and that will put him out until after the A&M game.

The good news is Aaron Williams appears to be fine after his collision with Blake Gideon against Baylor and will play against Kansas State. And Jackson Jeffcoat (ankle) is expected back this week.

Greg Davis has compared Hopkins to a young Justin Blalock.

"Extremely athletic. Great wingspan. Very bright for a true freshman. I guess he's worked at every spot except center," Davis said. "He's never complained. He's never said, 'Coach just put me somewhere and leave me. I'm overwhelmed.'

"So I've been very impressed with Trey Hopkins as an athlete. And he's just going to get better and better as he gets stronger in the weight room and gets more reps. A lot of what he's seeing is for the first time.

"You can walk through a cross-blitz, and you can give it to him on the practice field or in scrimmages. But when it happens live it's the first time, but I've been very impressed with Trey."

Garrett Gilbert said Hopkins is, "Very smart. Great feet. He's a great player now and will be a great player in the future."

Foswhitt Whittaker said Hopkins is a quiet kid (which has been a problem on the offensive line since the losses of guys like Kasey Studdard and Tony Hills). But Whittaker also marveled at Hopkins' athletic ability.

"He's very mobile, very agile for a big guy," Whittaker said. "He can roll out of his hips like I've never seen. He's real athletic and can move around. Losing Michael Huey is a bad thing, but Trey Hopkins is going to get a chance to gain some valuable experience.

"He's kind of quiet. He doesn't talk a whole bunch. We're both from Houston, so I'll talk to him some."

Greg Davis said he sees more playing time for the young guys on the offensive line who will have to take over next year for guys like Kyle Hix, Michael Huey and Britt Mitchell.

"Thomas Ashcraft got in (against Baylor)," Davis said. "Trey Hopkins got in at offensive guard. Garrett Porter is another guy we'll work at offensive guard. Paden Kelley had a really good week of practice. Those guys are going to have to step up and be considered starters now."


5. Fozzy Whittaker, who didn't have a single carry and only one pass reception against Baylor, said he re-aggravated a stinger in practice last week that's plagued him all season.

"In practice, I had re-aggravated my stinger on Wednesday," he said. "So they wanted to take precautions in case I was to hold the ball in that hand and if I got the stinger back, they wanted to protect the football. So they just limited me and put me down mostly in passing situations.

"It goes all the way back to two-a-days. I initially injured it there. Whenever it gets hit in a certain way, it kind of re-aggravates it. It hasn't had enough time to get calm. It's one of those deals where I have to keep protecting it and strengthen up the muscles around it so that if I do get hit, it's not as severe."


6. With Texas leading Baylor 6-3 in the second quarter, Eddie Jones sacked Robert Griffin and caused a fumble that Keenan Robinson had a chance to recover. But he tried to pick up the ball and run instead of falling on it. He missed and Baylor recovered.

Robinson said he wouldn't do anything differently.

"I would have still tried to scoop and score," he said. "We're taught to pick up the ball, palms up and hopefully bat the ball forward. That's what I did. You saw the ball go forward. One of our players was running to the ball, but a Baylor player was able to get on it first.

"You're supposed to fall on the ball in a pile of players. That's when you fall on it. Whenever you see opposing players around, you just want to fall on it get possession. But in the open field, we're taught to try to make a play, scoop and score."


7. Garrett Gilbert still doesn't see Texas as his team.

"The seniors are the guys. We go as far as they go," Gilbert said. "As a leader, I've gotten much more comfortable and more vocal each and every week. That's important and as the quarterback. It's something you have to do. But the seniors are our guys."

I think it's time for Gilbert to start seeing this team as his. He's making more and more plays, and he needs to make these receivers accountable to him. There were five drops in the Baylor game, two of which would have been touchdowns.

The coaches felt like the Baylor game was Gilbert's best of the season from a decision-making standpoint. And that said a lot about him, considering how everyone got on him for such a poor game against Iowa State.

I asked him about bouncing back after that Iowa State performance.

"It was a matter of pressing and trying to make too many plays when the best option was just dropping it down and letting a receiver or running back make a play after they catch it," Gilbert said. "That was something I focused on in practice, not forcing the ball in there and just taking what the defense gives me and good things will happen from there."

That showed a lot of maturity to make that kind of progress in one week. I've said it over and over: Gilbert is part of the solution, not part of the problem. When he takes over this offense and starts demanding better results from guys like Marquise Goodwin, James Kirkendoll and Malcolm Williams, this offense will be better off.


8. With Gilbert once again being the leading rusher for Texas in the Baylor game (8 carries for 79 yards), I asked Greg Davis if he's going to need the pro-style quarterbacks he's been recruiting - Gilbert, Connor Wood and David Ash - all to be running threats for his offense to work.

"We would like our quarterbacks to be able to make plays with their feet. It's just invaluable," Davis said. "Like I told them in the meetings, we're talking about eight or nine plays a game. We're not talking about going back to the zone read and it being the feature play that defenses have to stop and then everything comes off that play.

"We ran zone read the other night for 25, he scrambled for 20 and a touchdown. We ran quarterback draw for 13. Those are the kind of things we'd like our quarterbacks to be able to do."

I asked Davis if he wants all his quarterbacks to be able to run it 8 or 9 times a game, why it took so long (the Nebraska game in Game 6) for Gilbert's legs to become a part of the offense?

"Everyone understands the learning curve a quarterback goes through in the passing game," Davis said. "There's also a learning curve in the run game.

"I remember the first time Colt rushed for 70 or 80 yards. He said, 'I wasn't sure I could do that at this level.' Then, when he did it, it became part of his game. Garrett's in that same learning curve with his feet.

"I got after him pretty good during the (Baylor) ballgame, when he ran a nude into our bench off a tempo play and he flipped the ball to John Chiles and number 14 (Baylor safety Byron Landor) got his hand on it, and that was a gimme 8 or 9 yard run ahead of the chains.

"I think he's gaining more confidence in making plays with his feet. Even on the touchdown run, they brought a linebacker blitz in zero coverage. He had James Kirkendoll open, but he said on the headset, 'I knew I had James open, but I thought I could run for the first down.'"

Gilbert, who said two weeks ago he thought his running the ball was only part of the Nebraska game plan, now realizes he's going to have to run more and more.

"Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll do it," Gilbert said.


9. Because of his desire to have his quarterbacks be able to run it 8 or 9 times a game, I asked Davis if it was a mistake to move away from recruiting quarterbacks who were more equipped to run the zone read than guys like Gilbert, Connor Wood and David Ash.

"You always shift towards the skills of your players," Davis said. "Going back to Vince and his sophomore year, one of the plays we ran a bunch was counter read or quarterback counter. We didn't run that near as much his junior year. He said, 'Coach, there's a lot of action in there on that counter.' As he developed as a quarterback, we wanted to be smart.

"There were ballgames as a junior he carried the ball eight or nine times. And a lot of times going into the game, I'd say, 'This is what I see. We're going to have to ride you both ways in this one.' I wanted him in tune to the plan.

"We did the same thing with Colt. He ran the ball much more his first two years as a starter than we did the last two years. Not that he didn't run it later on and have some plays. But he was so productive throwing the ball at over 70 percent. We were trying to be smart. We're going to continue to try to do that with Garrett.

"As I mentioned, if we can get eight to 10 plays a game that are not all scripted. It may just be leaving the pocket. But we need 8-10 plays with the feet there. That's where we'll try to hold it for right now."


10. Mack Brown had an interesting take on his receivers.

"John Chiles the last two weeks has played really well," Mack said. "He's well. He's coming on and doing a better job. Malcolm is always Malcolm. He fights his guts out every week. We know he struggles some catching, but he's going to give you 100 percent effort.

"Mike Davis came back and did some good things. Everyone seems like they divide it up and all drop one ball. And since we're struggling, it's critical. In the past, we might not think about it. But right now, every drop matters. So we're just working to get better."


BONUS NUGGET: I asked Mack Brown if he would have done anything differently as it pertains to this season.

"To me, when you go back and say, 'I wish,' that's you all's job. I did everything at the time it happened that I thought I should do.

"It's really easy when things haven't worked as well for me to go back and say I should have changed everything. I think what happens when you're winning, people give you credit for things you didn't do because they worked.

"When you're losing, people make up things you should have done because they're not working. We've worked just as hard. We've challenged kids just as hard.

"I thought spring was good and from listening to Jeff Madden, I thought summer workouts were good. I don't know what we could have done differently.

"I felt like we were worried about the defensive tackle spot inside against the running game and that's been a problem. That was an identifiable problem to start with.

"Our offensive line and running backs have been banged up, and that's hurt us. Our receivers have dropped the ball, and we didn't plan on that. We didn't think that would be an issue.

"And because people have been able to run the ball in the UCLA and Iowa State games, we got behind. We are not a team right now that can throw it like we did last year every play. We're not built for that.

"And when we got behind in those games, I thought there was some panic and frustration, and we got away from the running game. We said in preseason we need to be balanced, and we do. So that's hurt us. But I think we're human and make mistakes, too."

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