March 29, 2008

Breakdown: A closer look at the spring game

The North topped the South 14-10 on Saturday in the revised version of the Texas spring game. Third-string quarterback Sherrod Harris scored on a 17-yard scramble with seconds remaining in the contest to provide the winning points for the North squad, which was comprised of the first-team units for most of the day.

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of Saturday's game.

Quarterback - Colt McCoy led the starters down the field on the opening possession of the game, but after that drive he struggled to move the offense consistently. McCoy finished four of nine for 20 yards and just missed a long touchdown throw to Jordan Shipley when overthrew him by the slimmest of margins. Although the stat sheet might not suggest it, McCoy performed ok and didn't turn the ball over, which is an obvious focal point this year.

Back-up John Chiles brought a mixed bag of tricks to the game this afternoon. As a runner, Chiles was flat out electrifying, as he ran with ease all over the field and racked up 75 yards on nine carries. On the other side of the coin, Chiles struggled as a passer, completing only one of six passes for 22 yards. Overall, Chiles alternated between flashing both his strongest assets and his biggest weaknesses on a play-by-play basis. The good news is that Chiles has reportedly excelled in the passing game in other scrimmages this spring, so it might be hard to take too much from today, but it certainly registers as a sign that he should still be viewed as a work in progress.

Third-stringer Sherrod Harris might have been the best looking quarterback on the field today, as made plays with his feet to pick up yards in the passing and running games. Overall, he was one of two for 17 yards through the air and he added 25 yards on two carries, including 17 on the game-winning scamper. Redshirt freshman G.J. Kinne was two of two for 40 yards in limited action.

Quotable

Chiles: "I feel a lot more comfortable, everything is starting to slow down for me. I'm becoming a better quarterback, I feel like. My passing's coming along, I just have to keep working at it."

Running backs

Senior Chris Ogbonnaya didn't take many snaps on Saturday, but Vondrell McGee and Foswhitt Whittaker showed why they are both heavily in the mix for the starting running back spot. McGee rushed for 26 yards and scored a touchdown on eight carries and showed the ability to run downhill effectively. Meanwhile, Whittaker is a little bundle of quickness, knifing through traffic with ease and showing the ability to finish his runs with a strong downhill lean. His 43 yards on eight carries led all running backs.


True freshmen Jeremy Hills and Tre Newton saw very limited action, but they combined for 25 yards on four carries and showed a nice blend of quickness and skill.

Quotable

McCoy: "They are all playing great and they are all getting a lot of carries. There is a big difference between going against the first team defense and the second team defense. But, I thought today that Fozzy [Whittaker] ran the ball really well and Chris [Ogbonnaya] and Vondrell [McGee] were getting in the holes."

Wide receivers

There really weren't a lot of big plays from the wide receiver position, outside of Jordan Shipley's 29-yard run on a reverse and a pair of solid catches by young receivers James Kirkendoll (22 yards) and Dan Buckner (39 yards). Outside of Shipley's near touchdown catch early on, there weren't many shots taken down the field. With the established starters Cosby and Shipley taking it easy for much of the game, this was a chance for some of the younger receivers to establish themselves, but nobody was able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Quotable

Cosby: "We got a lot out of the scrimmage. For one, going out there and competing always helps. We have a really great defense and a really great offense, so the guys going out there and getting a small sense of how it's going to be in August and September is great.

Tight ends

The entire group was a non-factor for the first three quarters of the game, but Blaine Irby caught a 17-yard pass in the fourth quarter to give the group something to hang their hat on. Overall, there's probably not a position on the team that would appear to be missing a player as much as this unit is missing Jermichael Finley from last year's team. It's possible that the coaches just didn't want to show much in this scrimmage and the tight ends weren't supposed to be a major part of the day, but three quarters passed without anyone even showing up in sight.

Offensive line

There was some good news and bad news with this group's performance today. The starting line-up of left tackle Tray Allen, left guard Charlie Tanner, center Chris Hall, right guard Cedric Dockery and right tackle Kyle Hix did an outstanding job on the opening series of the game, as the offense marched straight down the field for a touchdown. This group was solid in the running game and at times was able to get a nice downhill push. Their effectiveness really started to slip as the game went on, as the Texas defensive linemen beat one-on-one blocks to record several sacks and in general they were able to disrupt the offenses on both teams.

Dockery and Tanner both had solid days, but there were a couple of times when both players just didn't work hard enough to finish their block and it kept plays from materializing. Allen is another player that started really strong, but after he was flagged for a false start, his pass protection suffered in the face of a constant assault from Brian Orakpo.

Of the back-up players, second-year players Michael Huey and Aundre McGaskey both did some nice things in the running game.

Defensive tackles

Although they didn't establish themselves on the first drive, the combination of Lamarr Houston and Roy Miller was more than the Texas starting offensive line could handle at times. Both players have elite first-steps and when they are charging upfield they can be almost unblockable. The two were only officially credited with three tackles, but their impact on what was happening in the game was much more profound. Once you get past those two players, nobody really showed up in a big way, although Ben Alexander was credited with two tackles.

Quotable

Miller: "Obviously, Lamarr (Houston) stepping into the defensive tackle spot, he's been doing a great job all spring. With the (defensive ends), we've got so much athleticism on the field. We've been getting a lot more pressure on the quarterback. They're helping me out, we're all working together, so I'm really liking that."

Defensive ends

Senior Brian Orakpo was probably the best player on the field today, as he beat Allen for what would have been several sacks in live action. Sophomore Sam Acho was terrific throughout the day and made a number of outstanding plays in space after staying home and snuffing out action that went against the flow of the rest of the play. Redshirt freshman Russell Carter also flashed some talent and showed why many think he's a future star at the position. As good as this group was at times today, it would have been a positive to see Henry Melton have an impact performance, but that did not happen.

Quotable

Orakpo: "I really think that having a good pass rush is the key to a great defense, getting after the quarterback, and we finally have guys that can do it and we have consistency. I'm back healthy, Lamarr Houston is inside and can play dual roles, we have Henry (Melton) on the other side and he can get after it as well. Then, there's Roy Miller and he's just a beast inside."

Linebackers - With only Rashad Bobino, Roddrick Muckelroy, Keenan Robinson and Dustin Earnest available today, the team ran a lot of nickel packages and very few three linebacker sets. Muckelroy was active with six tackles and Bobino chipped in three tackles, and seemed to look much more comfortable today than I've seen him in a while. Robinson forced the game's only turnover when he stripped Hills late in the game. The vanilla game plan on this side of the ball really kept this group from being able to be more aggressive and create more havoc.

Secondary - With Ben Wells out of the line-up, the Longhorns went with Christian Scott, Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas at the safety spots on both teams. All three players played a lot of snaps and Thomas (six tackles) probably had the most impressive outing because of his active play. There were few plays that were executed without him being in the middle of it while he was on the field. Over at cornerback, Ryan Palmer and Deon Beasley ran with the first-team group, and both players played very well in helping shut down the Longhorns passing attack. Sophomore Chykie Brown led all cornerbacks with four tackles and he also had a pass break-up.

Quotable

Palmer: "I think we did a really good job. We played just man-to-man, bump and as a secondary I think me, Deon (Beasley) and the rest of the corners did a good job."

Special teams - Freshman kicker Justin Tucker missed a 50-yard field goal attempt, but Ryan Bailey made good on a 26-yard effort John Gold was the best punter on the field with a 46.0-yard average on two punts, while Trevor Gerland averaged 40.5 yards on two kicks. Malcolm Williams had the big return of the day with a 39-yard kickoff return.


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