Five Reasons Garrett Gilbert Will Fail to Lead Texas on a 2010 BCS Run
Coming in as the most decorated high school quarterback the University of Texas has ever seen, Garrett Gilbert has some of the Longhorn faithful hoping for another title run. Even more have penned in UT for at least a BCS game.
I say the chances are slim, if any.
While the Texas defense will, as usual, be a formidable bunch—a bunch that will be the driving force behind many wins—at some point first-year starter Gilbert will have to take command of a contest.
Can he decipher a Oklahoma or Nebraska defense when Texas needs to grind out a score?
Can he gunsling with Texas Tech or TAMU when they start lighting up the boards like the Vegas strip?
I try to answer these questions and more in an attempt to show why I believe Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert is at least one year away from the heights of BCS glory.
Reason No. 1: History Speaks For Itself
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Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young, and Colt McCoy: In the past decade, Texas has boasted some of the best quarterbacks in college football.
What do all of these four have in common?
None led the Longhorns to a BCS bowl in their first year. So why will Gilbert?
Like Gilbert, a young Colt McCoy took the reins after a national title. But unlike Gilbert, McCoy stepped into an in-place system that leaned heavily towards his strengths. We all remember those accurate short slants and that oh-so deadly zone read, not to mention plenty of scrambling ability.
Still, with all those positives, his first year ended in a close win against a struggling Iowa squad 26-24 in the 2006 Alamo Bowl, far from a BCS-caliber ending.
As great as Vince Young was, he ended his first stint as a signal caller with a 28-20 Holiday Bowl loss to a tough Washington State team. Once again, far from a BCS bowl chase.
While you can argue the difference in the caliber of offenses they each played for or defenses they faced, one constant remains: No matter how highly heralded or versed in the offensive playbook, a BCS run will take until year two.
In fact, the only Big 12 quarterback that was able to pull off a BCS run in his first try was OU's Sam Bradford, losing badly to a hungry Pat White-led West Virginia. He did have the help of arguably the best line to suit up for the Sooners, along with two 1,000-yard rushers and a top-10 defense, among many other positives.
Garrett Gilbert will not have such an awesome combination to rely on. So, you can see what kind of history the young quarterback is up against—and the first reason I believe a BCS bowl will have to wait until 2011.
Reason No. 2: Lack of a Viable Running Threat
For some time now, the Texas Longhorns have relied heavily on the scrambling ability of their quarterbacks.
Who can forget the supernova that was Vince Young, rushing for as many as a staggering 1,189 yards in a single season (2005)? But he still had a guy behind him go for a thousand in Jamaal Charles.
For the last few years under the McCoy regime, though, the quality of play out of the running backs has gone from average to flat-out bad—going from being ranked 17th (207 ypg) in 2007 to falling to 41st (167 ypg) in 2008, and ending last year ranked 61st (147 ypg).
"Last year, I didn't think we ran the ball well at all, and I thought we got worse as the year went on," said head coach Mack Brown. But why?
Some say lack of top-tier backs; others say that the top-tier guys haven't been healthy (like Fozzy Whittaker). I'm sure that the always underrated speed and vision of Colt McCoy had something to do with it.
Whatever the word coming out of camp or fans' wishes, the fact remains that 2009's second-leading rusher (and QB) is gone. Nobody rushed for 1,000 yards, and nobody averaged more than 50 yards a game. In fact, after Tre' Newton (46 yards a game), no other back could even grind out more than 25 yards a game.
Unless a running back steps up real fast, or a nice rotation, this offense may struggle. Because Gilbert may be able to run, but he's not able to run like the previous two under center—not even close.
Reason No. 3: Inexperienced Receiving Corps
With only 48 receptions last year netting just 461 yards, senior James Kirkendoll is the most experienced wideout Texas has. That's not good.
Junior Malcolm Williams will likely be the go-to guy for Gilbert. Coming off a 550-yard 2009 campaign, Williams is a big, physical receiver that had back-to-back 100-yard games late last year.
Then when his team needed his services, he got shut down in the championship game with only a single grab.
After that, which by itself is questionable, it is a complete toss-up.
Converted quarterback John Chiles (34 catches in '09) will battle newcomers DeSean Hales and Mike Davis. The fact that a significant battle still rages could point to spirited competition, or more likely because no one can separate from the bunch with solid play.
There are others, like D.J. Monroe and Cody Johnson, that could come out of obscurity, but that's all just conjecture as of right now.
Tight end is even shakier, and with the new duties called upon them in a power running set, with heavy ace, wing, and I-formations, this may be a major flaw in the passing game.
Senior Greg Smith, with as many starts as receptions (10), will likely give way to sophomore Barrett Matthews. Matthews is a converted H-back that had a good showing during the spring. Not very promising, is it?
With the new sets, it's likely both will have to get on the field in tandem. Now you can see where the problems could start to stack up.
Reason No. 4: Offensive Line Adjusting to New Blocking Scheme
Without a lane to run through, the most talented of backs don't stand a chance. Texas rival Oklahoma found that out last year.
With the new emphasis on the run game, this offensive line will have a lot of work to do. Usually a great pass-blocking squad, they fell apart late, allowing 10 sacks in the last two games and only helping the UT backs to a combined 99 yards in the process.
What's worse is that only two starters return from '09, totaling 47 career starts, in LT Kyle Hix and LG Michael Huey. But both of those guys will be switching from the right side, where they played last year. First round draft pick Trent Williams (OU) had a difficult time doing that, so it would be reasonable to see some struggle for these two linemen.
Center will see another convert in former RG David Snow. Seniors RG Tray Allen and RT Britt Mitchell will get their shots at holding down the right side.
The fact that four seniors will start for the Longhorns is the one thing going for them. That says little about the rotation, but it still may not all be good.
The seniors came up in the spread offense with its quick-step blocking schemes. Within that style, a lineman is all about topping out, recognizing the blitz, holding your zone, and that familiar slap-fight blocking somewhere around five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Power schemes are a different animal by far: Drive at the knees and back, something big linemen struggle with when used to spread blocking (again I reference OU, this time the 2008 NCG). Plus getting your pad level underneath a defender, instead of just level with him, coupled with the loss of vision from the close quarters of the downhill style.
It all is a lot to ask a line to accomplish in just one offseason.
Reason No. 5: No More Texas Two-Step (Changes of Offensive Philosophy)
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Remember that killer zone read play? That split-second decision based on the way the defensive end steps—in and you hand it off, out and you take off? You know, the one Vince Young perfected and Colt McCoy executed nicely?
How about that laser-point accuracy McCoy showed time and again on those slant and hook routes that made Jordan Shipley a star?
Doesn't matter if you do or don't, because plays like that are relics of the past for Longhorn football.
So now Mack Brown and the offensive staff have set out to reshape the familiar and turn the 2010 Longhorns into a run first, run second, and then play action from center third type of unit.
Talk about your Texas-sized tasks.
Offensive schemes like this one are as much a mindset as they are X's and O's in a playbook. From the line sets (which we talked about already), to the use of a fullback, to wide receivers that will get to figure out how to block down on Big 12-caliber linebackers, this is no easy task.
It's a task that better get going quick, because early season games feature teams like Texas Tech and UCLA, followed up by hated rivals Oklahoma and Nebraska. The last two will likely bring the best defenses this burgeoning offense will face.
Can offensive coordinator Greg Davis get this new scheme going so Garret Gilbert can find his comfort level—a comfort level that will allow the young signal caller to guide his team to BCS glory?
With all the factors weighed in, I say no.
If Texas is able to continue its current 10-game winning season streak, which now sits at nine years, they should be happy with that. Because the line between winning and losing in this game can come down to one play, one loss of composure.
When it's all said and done, I believe that Garrett Gilbert will have a good year, but a few timely mistakes will cost his team a chance at a run at a 2010 BCS game.
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