We're half way into the 2011 season, and the Texas Longhorns look like they've come a long way since last year's misery—at least, for now! After a shaky start, and a few key changes in their ranks, the 'Horns gathered some momentum. This was crucial, especially against unpredictable, albeit lesser, opponents like BYU and UCLA.
While the Longhorns seemed to have regained lost form after thumping Iowa State in its own backyard, they were at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's mercy the last two weekends. Of course, these are Top 10 teams, and one should not read too much into these losses.
However, the road ahead can get a little bumpy for the 24th-ranked Texas team. The 'Horns schedule includes two higher-ranked opponents and a Baylor team that's out to prove that last year's win was no fluke.
Only time will tell if the Longhorns are ready to set the record straight this time around. Having said that, it's time to take a closer look at how the Longhorns have fared so far. This will give us a better idea of what to expect in the next couple of months.
After the Garrett Gilbert's struggles were highlighted in the BYU game, Texas switched to a QB tandem with sophomore Case McCoy leading the charge along with freshman David Ash. This worked against the likes of UCLA and Iowa State, but Mack Brown and his staff knew they had to pick one signal-caller.
Soon, the inexperienced, yet bigger and more promising Ash took over the reins. Although the 'Horns have lost both the games he's started, one must realize that Ash is slowly coming into his own. Texas needs a long term solution, and he seems to be the answer—or so we hope!
Ash also has receivers like sophomore Mike Davis and freshman Jaxon Shipley, who have come through for the 'Horns in several routine—and a few Bryan Harsin-style not-so-routine—plays.
To add to this, Texas also has a great ground attack. Fozzy Whittaker and D.J. Monroe have helped pile on some tough yards so far this year. However, the star of Texas' offense is freshman sensation Malcolm Brown, who's already rushed for over 500 yards this year. He's definitely got a big future ahead of him, and will figure in the Longhorns' plans prominently during the rest of the season.
The offensive unit still needs a lot more tuning before its true potential is realized. There still seems to be a lot of confusion and uncertainty on offense, which is currently ranked 86th in the nation.
Texas' defense has had a much better year so far than its offense—save the Oklahoma game!
The duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs have been gradually improving with every passing week. But Texas' key player in the secondary is Kenny Vaccaro, who's had quite an impact on every game he's played so far.
However, there were still quite a few mistakes made on some big plays over the last two weeks that have raised some questions. A lot will depend on how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz uses the likes of Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson up front.
Meanwhile, the highly-recruited Jackson Jeffcoat is yet to live up to all the hype. His performance—good or bad—will be a huge factor on defense over the remainder of the schedule.
Kickoff returns is one area where Texas has shown great improvement compared to last season. The 'Horns are currently 13th in the nation and third in the Big 12 in this area. On the other hand, punt returns have been a big worry for the Longhorns this year. They have managed to cover only 10 yards per punt returns so far.
Meanwhile, Texas' field goal unit has also performed exceptionally well—on the rare occasions when the struggling offense has managed to bring the ball in field goal range. Justin Tucker has scored on eight out of nine attempts, with his long being a 46-yarder.
Given the uncertainty on offense, special teams could be the difference between a trip to a decent bowl game and another losing season.
After his worst season at the Forty Acres, Mack Brown made several changes in his coaching staff. These changes seem to be paying off, as the new coaches are slowly, but surely getting one of the most successful programs in college football back on track.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has shown exactly why he was handpicked from Mississippi State to fill in Will Muschamp's shoes. His aggressive approach has worked well for the 'Horns so far this year.
Meanwhile, co-offensive coordinators Major Applewhite and Bryan Harsin have had to make a lot of revisions to their original lineup. There still seems to be a lot of confusion on offense. Perhaps it's time to pick one coordinator—just like they did with the quarterbacks. We will have to wait and see how the rest of the season unfolds to determine if any such changes are in store.
There's no doubt that Brown's a great coach, and he's been consistent all these years. Given that this is essentially a rebuilding year, there will be a few trials and errors as the season progresses. The first half has seen almost an equal amount of errors as there were trials. However, this ratio is likely to go down with every passing game.
So far, the Longhorns have played much better in almost all areas than they did last year. This overall grade reflects this relative improvement and the fact that many pieces of the puzzle are falling into place now. While the offense still needs some mending, the defense and special teams are coming together.
After the Sooners handed them their first loss of the season, this Texas team did what no Mack Brown team has done in the previous 13 seasons—they lost the next weekend as well! Fans will be hoping that this is not the beginning of another slide. And, from what we've seen so far, it doesn't look like one either.
Despite their struggles, the Longhorns have looked much more confident on both sides of the football. They've also played with a lot more heart than they did last year. Hopefully, this should translate to a winning season, and a Top 25 ranking at the end of the year.