Texas Football: Midseason Grades for Players and Coaches
Half the season is in the books for the Texas Longhorns, and their 4-2 start has been anything but predictable.
After Texas followed its implosion against BYU with another unforgiving defensive effort against Ole Miss, the Longhorns were staring at a 1-2 mark heading into Big 12 play.
Easy was hardly the adjective used to describe Texas' victories over Kansas State and Iowa State. Escaped is the more accurate description.
But in the face of uncertainty and doubt coming from all over the Texas fan base, the Longhorns have started conference play with an unblemished 3-0 record and their Big 12 Title aspirations still intact.
Credit deserves to be given where due, but how much does Texas' win over Oklahoma change the outlook of the first half of the 2013 season?
Here are is the midseason report card for the Longhorns' players and staff.
Texas' performance against the Sooners provided a much-needed boost to the coaches' report card.
For the first time since 2009, the Longhorns actually looked prepared and armed with a game-plan against their northern rivals. They executed those plans very effectively, and the results showed.
But that hardly excuses the eggs laid against BYU and Ole Miss, where the Texas defense allowed more than 800 rushing yards over those two games.
Injuries are unavoidable, for the most part, but bad preparation and poor discipline come from the top. And aside from the Oklahoma game, the Longhorns have had far too many slip-ups in those departments.
Greg Robinson has come in to replace Manny Diaz as defensive coordinator, and right now, that move has seemingly given the Longhorns' defense the kick-start it has needed to raise its level of play.
Midseason Grade: C-
This is a position that is extremely hard to grade accurately and completely because of certain limitations and injuries.
On the one hand, both David Ash and Case McCoy have been extremely careful about turnovers. Combined, the two have thrown just three interceptions to 11 touchdowns.
On the other hand, the Texas offense has looked extremely limited with McCoy running the show while Ash is sidelined, although his rather excellent performance against Oklahoma tells otherwise.
Neither quarterback for Texas has elite-level promise, at least from what has been shown so far, so the necessity for both to perform at a good level while taking care of the football is absolutely paramount. Despite any other shortcomings, the Longhorns' signal-callers have done just that.
Midseason Grade: B-
Johnathan Gray is on pace to crack the 1,000-yard mark on the ground, and that will be something the Longhorns will really lean on throughout the second half of the season.
Malcolm Brown just turned in his game of the season with a 120-yard performance against the Sooners. With Brown and Gray likely serving as the two feature backs in this offense, the Longhorns will go as far as their running backs will take them.
Joe Bergeron may have fallen a couple of rungs down the ladder with some ball security issues of late, but with Daje Johnson looking every bit as healthy as he was to start the season, there is no reason to not believe that the 'Horns will field one of the best running back corps in the Big 12.
The Longhorns have averaged just over 202 rushing yards per game, and if they become as effective as they were against Oklahoma, the final season numbers for the 'Horns may be pretty gaudy. Keep in mind that Texas has achieved some good balance offensively, and with 12 rushing touchdowns to 11 passing, Texas is right there with it.
Midseason Grade: B-
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Texas receivers corps came into this season with some big question marks.
Outside of Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, who would emerge as a consistent option? At tight end, was this finally the year for M.J. McFarland to shine, or would the Longhorns find gold in the junior college ranks with Geoff Swaim?
Halfway through the year, two new names have emerged for the Longhorns at wide receiver. Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders are a couple of young talents who have splashed the scene with some good elusiveness and reliable hands.
Davis, Shipley and Sanders have combined to haul in 84 of Texas' 128 receptions. That's nearly 67 percent of the catches, for those counting at home.
While the increase in household names is a nice welcome, the improved blocking abilities from virtually every player in the group has stood out in an offense that needs more selfless plays.
On a final note, let's think deep ball. Six Texas receivers have touchdown longs of 57, 63, 74, 54, 59 and 66.
Midseason Grade: B-
Consistency is the name of the game, and the Texas offensive line simply has not come to play on a weekly basis.
The group performed nicely in the first half against BYU, but there were far too many blanks in the second half of that game and into the Ole Miss game.
Finally, we saw what a physically imposing game could do for the running game against Oklahoma, and those are the kinds of results that Texas needs to challenge for a Big 12 Title.
We have seen injuries, perhaps unfortunate blessings in disguise, to Mason Walters and Josh Cochran, which has helped along the depth with guys like Sedrick Flowers and Kennedy Estelle taking their spots.
With Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins still holding their own and Dom Espinosa getting better at the point of attack, the Texas front five have to be confident moving into the second half of the season.
Oh, and Desmond Harrison? Where is that guy?
Midseason Grade: C
If there has been strength to Texas' defense, it is its defensive line.
With Cedric Reed emerging alongside and already proven playmaker at defensive end in Jackson Jeffcoat, the Longhorns may have the best pass rush in the Big 12. Reed's team-high 42 tackles and eight tackles for loss are no fluke.
Malcom Brown has slowly been turning things on at defensive tackle and is tied for second on the team with six tackles for loss. Alongside the seemingly improved awareness from senior Chris Whaley and the always physical Desmond Jackson, Texas no longer sports the glaring weakness up the gut.
Midseason Grade: B-
The linebackers were a terrible weak point for the Longhorns last season, and the thought was that getting Jordan Hicks back from injury would serve as a near cure-all for Texas' problems.
Not only has Hicks' return failed to patch up a defense that has given up tremendous yardage on the ground, the junior Hicks is done for the season yet again.
The rest of the group has still been plagued by poor discipline and positioning, although there are signs of improvement with Greg Robinson's persona soaking into the Texas defense.
Nevertheless, this group is failed miserably to uphold any good standard of play.
Midseason Grade: F
In truth, DBU has stunk this season in comparison to previous years, but there is room for improvement, of course.
There is no one defensive back playing particularly bad, but the sheer lack of good plays coming from an experienced group is a little unnerving.
Quandre Diggs had his best game of the season by far against the Sooners, and that is reason enough to calm heads when talking about Texas' secondary.
The back end was the center of attention coming into the season, with some reasonable question marks surrounding Adrian Phillips and Mykkele Thompson. Their play has been better than what we saw from them last season, but there are still too many times when they are out of position. And in the prevention of the big play, those occurrences will need to shrink in number.
Midseason Grade: C+
Largely a concern for some or all of last season, the situation on special teams has improved from a year ago.
It has been hard to replace the sure-footedness of Alex King at punter, but senior Anthony Fera has looked healthier than he has ever been while at Texas, and that has meant good news for the Longhorns on two fronts.
Fera is converting field goals at a great clip, knocking through eight of his nine attempts so far this season. Fera is also averaging a comfortable 42.4 yards per punt.
The return game is lead by the electrifying Daje Johnson who posted his first return touchdown of the season with an 85-yard take back against the Sooners.
The coverage team has been wobbly, at best, and Texas simply has to hold its lines and improve its tackling.
Midseason Grade: A-
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