It may not have been pretty, but the Texas Longhorns were able to gut out a last-minute 41-36 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The win pushed the Longhorns' record to 4-0 and moved them up to No. 11 in the AP poll, but not without exposing some glaring holes on this Texas team.
A couple of months ago Texas fans probably never thought that they would read this words, but quarterback David Ash bailed out the defense and run game in delivering his signature moment of the season. Missed tackles were still a major issue with the absence of Jordan Hicks, and the offensive line had trouble creating push throughout the night.
Here are the grades for the Longhorn starters and where they need to improve before next weekend's showdown with Geno Smith and the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Thought to be a liability heading into the season, sophomore quarterback David Ash has been the star of the offensive show these past two games, and his improvement is really starting to turn some heads.
Not only did Ash lead his team on a game-winning drive, he showed impressive resilience and toughness throughout the entire game despite the odds being stacked against him. Ash overcame the raucous OSU crowd and a defense that struggled to finish plays, and responded in kind every time the Cowboys scored in the face of immense pressure.
And then there was the game-winning drive.
Texas got the ball with 2:34 remaining in the game after a Cowboys field goal put them up 36-34, and Ash went to work. He converted a 4th-and-6 with the crowd roaring with a 29-yard completion to a streaking D.J. Grant. Two plays later, Ash heaved a 32-yard rainbow to Mike Davis that would set up Joe Bergeron's game-winning touchdown.
There is a lot to love about the way Ash has played so far this season, but this performance was his most impressive because he showed that he can handle the big-game environment. This grade would be an A were it not for Ash's interception.
After establishing himself as the team's top rusher against Ole Miss, sophomore running back Malcolm Brown was almost nonexistent against the Cowboys after being limited by an ankle injury.
Not really a whole lot to go off of here, as Brown only had three carries for seven yards before the injury knocked him out of the game. At least he was not just ignored as he was against New Mexico, and his absence gave freshman Johnathan Gray a chance to prove himself on the big stage.
Let's hope for a speedy return for Brown, as he has been the team's best runner so far, and Texas will need all the help it can get against West Virginia. But as far as this game goes, there is just not enough to give him a fair evaluation.
Moss is a pretty surprising start here for the 'Horns, considering there was a chance he was not even going to be on the team this season.
Moss did not record anything in the box score and his blocking clearly did not make much of a difference since the Longhorns averaged 3.2 yards per carry. If this were Ryan Roberson, the grade would be much higher, but it's not.
Technical hybrid player D.J. Monroe started over Shipley at receiver, but Shipley's career night and clear status as the starter earn him that treatment here.
Following Joseph Randle's back-breaking 69-yard run on Oklahoma State's opening drive, Shipley got free downfield and gave his quarterback an easy score that put Texas right back in the game. Shipley would add two more scores over the course of the game for what was easily his best game of the season.
Shipley's savvy was a welcomed asset on Saturday against two of the best corners in the conference, and his effort was a major reason the Longhorns were able to sneak out of Stillwater with the win. Could he be fixing to break out?
Junior wideout Mike Davis' re-emergence this season has been one of the most interesting storylines this season for the Longhorns, as he continues to churn out big play after big play.
Davis was fairly quiet for most of the night with the Cowboys obviously keying on him after his performance against Ole Miss (124 yards, 1 TD), his main highlight being a dropped 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
But Davis was there for his team when it mattered most, hauling in an impossible 32-yarder from David Ash over future NFL talent Justin Gilbert. The catch put Texas within five yards of the end zone and set up Joe Bergeron's game-winning two-yard plunge.
After slumping through most of his sophomore year, Davis has emerged as a reliable big-play receiver for quarterback David Ash, and his ability to take the top off of the defense has been unexpected surprise for this team. His ability to be a deep threat will be necessary for Texas to beat West Virginia this week.
Out of a desire to get more blockers on the field to establish the power running game, the Longhorns continue to insert sophomore tight end Greg Daniels into the starting lineup. But that could change very soon.
The blocking was not there for most of the night, as only Johnathan Gray was able to find any real running room, and Daniels was subbed out in favor of backup lineman Luke Poehlmann.
As far as tight ends go, D.J. Grant was the only one that had any success in this game with his crucial 29-yard fourth-down reception on the Longhorns final drive. Grant's blocking is a liability, but he can make plays and would help spread out opposing defenses.
Stay tuned there, but Daniels is the starter until he is not.
After dominating the first three games of the season, the Texas offensive line was humbled to a certain degree last night by the first legitimate defensive front they have faced this year.
The offensive line struggled both in protecting David Ash and in opening up holes for the Texas running backs. As previously mentioned, the 'Horns averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and had to bring in an extra lineman to help out along the front lines. The big uglies also gave up two sacks in this contest, which equalled their total from the previous three games.
To the line's credit, it did show some serious heart in pushing Joe Bergeron to the finish on both of his crucial short-yardage touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Other than that, these guys did not look like a group that can anchor the power running game that the Longhorns so desperately crave.
Easily the most consistent player on the defensive side of the ball this season, junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat overcame some early struggles and turned in a very nice game for the Longhorns.
Jeffcoat's left side of the line was victimized over and over again by the Cowboys and Joseph Randle in the first half. The Longhorns shored up the left side in the second half, and Jeffcoat was up to his normal tricks for a majority of the game.
The dynamic bookend tied for the team lead with seven tackles, four for a loss, and added a forced fumble-sack on the Cowboys' final drive.
Jeffcoat was victimized in the first half, but he usually has Jordan Hicks backing him up and Hicks' replacements were inadequate on Saturday. So far, Jeffcoat looks like the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Though he did not have quite the performance that his counterpart Jeffcoat turned in, senior Alex Okafor had another good game for the 'Horns from the defensive-end position.
The Cowboys did not try Okafor as often as they tried Jeffcoat, so he had fewer chances to make plays. He still recorded three tackles and added a momentum sack in the second quarter.
Pretty good effort overall from Okafor, and the tandem he forms with Jeffcoat is going to be a terror for offensive lines in the Big 12 all year long. These two need to have a big game against Geno Smith's Mountaineers.
Making his second consecutive start of the season, junior tackle Ashton Dorsey had a much tougher go of it Saturday against the Cowboys' up-tempo offensive attack.
Dorsey's stat line is decent with two tackles, one for a loss on Joseph Randle, but the Longhorn defensive tackles were victimized for much of the night. The Cowboys ran the ball for 275 net yards at almost seven yards a clip, wearing down the defensive line with their no-huddle offense.
Depth was certainly an issue here, since Brandon Moore had to miss the trip to Stillwater with an illness and Desmond Jackson went down with an injury. Combine that with the loss of Jordan Hicks, and these linemen were given a very tough task for the night in holding their ground in the trenches.
Alongside Dorsey was converted running back Chris Whaley, who produced an almost identical performance at the tackle position.
Dorsey recorded two tackles in the contest, including one for a loss on Randle, but also struggled because of the lack of depth on the line and the absence of Jordan Hicks.
This line needs Moore and/or Jackson to return to the lineup next weekend if this team has any hope of getting pressure in Geno Smith's face. Otherwise, he will stand in the pocket like a statue again and put up video-game numbers for a second consecutive week.
Probably the only positive of this game from the linebacker position, sophomore Steve Edmond continues to impress with his game-to-game improvement.
Edmond tied for the team lead once again with seven tackles, including one for a loss, and continues to hold his own in the middle of the defense.
Still, this defense gave up way too many yards on the ground to the Cowboys, and Edmond has to shoulder some of the blame for that.
Well, it seems like for better or worse, the Longhorns are going to stick with sophomore Demarco Cobbs at linebacker, if for no other reason than they simply have no other option.
Cobbs has just not found any sort of rhythm this season, and you have to wonder if it is starting to affect his psyche. The first-year starter recorded only two tackles in Saturday's game and continues to struggle with his assignments.
There is no doubting Cobbs' potential with all of the speed and athleticism he possesses, but he is just not getting it done this season.
In making his first start as a Longhorn, freshman linebacker Dalton Santos put on a solid performance for his team despite the struggles of this unit as a whole.
Santos, already a fan favorite, recorded three tackles including one for a loss, and held his own filling in for the injured Jordan Hicks.
Expect to see more from Santos, as he played better than fellow backups Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson. His maturation will be interesting to watch as the season progresses.
After struggling with giving up big plays for the first three games of the season, junior corner Carrington Byndom picked up his play on Saturday and turned in a pretty nice game.
He got beat a couple of times by OSU receiver Tracy Moore, but did a much better job of wrapping up on his three tackles, a major issue for him so far this season.
Byndom's true worth is in his ability to man up on the opposing team's best receiver, which is something we have yet to see him do this season. He will get his chance next weekend against West Virginia receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. He will need to be up to the task for the 'Horns to have a shot.
Very courageous effort on Saturday by sophomore corner Quandre Diggs, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the premier cornerbacks in the conference.
Diggs absolutely went to war against the Cowboys. The undersized cover man recorded five tackles and broke up two passes, one of which should be placed on tutorial videos on how to play through the whistle.
You have to love the attitude Diggs bring to this secondary that has been criticized heavily for inconsistent play to start the season. If Byndom can bring his play up to Diggs' level, these two may end up living up to the hype after all.
For the second time this season, it was senior Kenny Vaccaro to the rescue when this defense needed a momentum swing following the surrendering of a big play.
You could almost hear the groans of distressed Longhorn fans everywhere when Joseph Randle broke free on the second play from scrimmage for a 69-yard touchdown. Then on the Cowboys' next possession, Vaccaro came up big with an interception that set up another touchdown reception by Jaxon Shipley.
Vaccaro performed this same act against Wyoming with a spectacular interception of their quarterback Brett Smith and has been there with big plays when the 'Horns have needed him. Vaccaro also added five tackles, including one for a loss, and was the rock he always is for this team.
Vaccaro will need to come up even bigger against West Virginia this weekend, but his performance against OSU showed that he is ready for conference play.
Another member of this secondary who has had a rocky start to the season, junior safety Adrian Phillips struggled to wrap on two first-half plays that led to long Oklahoma State touchdowns.
Phillips had a shot at Joseph Randle on his first touchdown run on OSU's opening drive at their own 48, but could not hold on as Randle rumbled the next 52 yards. Phillips then had a similar gaffe on a Josh Stewart 44-yard touchdown reception.
This is unacceptable from an experienced player like Phillips, and he has to be better against those talented West Virginia receivers. Period.