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Monday, April 4, 2011
Extra thoughts/notes on UT's spring game

By David Ubben

AUSTIN, Texas -- Taking a big-picture look at Texas' spring game on Sunday, I can't say it was much better or worse than I expected. Our postgame coverage can only say so much, but there was plenty more leftover after Sunday. Here's a few thoughts and notes:

First things first: Texas, to me, looks like a seven- to eight-win team. The defense in 2010 was better than it gets credit for, but the truth is the talent on offense isn't there, and unless Malcolm Brown is quite literally the reincarnation of Adrian Peterson, I don't see it happening right away. Maybe Texas proves some people wrong and exceeds expectations to win 9-10 games. Maybe not. If so, they're going to have to do it as the season goes along. Though the offensive and defensive playbooks were limited, Texas didn't show a ton of potential offensively that makes me believe they can put up the points necessary to return to double-digit wins or anything close. A month of fall camp and improving over the summer isn't going to give the Longhorns enough offense to compete for a title in a league that should be as high-scoring as ever next season.

That said, when fall comes around, Texas will get votes in the preseason poll. Big 12 fans, just be ready for it. Those that do put Texas in their preseason top 25 though, simply aren't paying attention to anything more than the name on the front of the jersey. Texas could certainly improve over the course of the season and play their way pretty quickly into the top 25 with BYU and UCLA on the nonconference schedule along with a likely early-season conference game on the slate. But to start the season, the only teams in the Big 12 that Texas looks markedly better than are Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and ... well for now, that's it. To beat anyone else (i.e., Missouri, Baylor, Texas Tech) they'll have to overachieve a bit and improve rapidly, especially on offense. It's really, really hard to envision the team I watched on Sunday knocking off Oklahoma, Texas A&M or Oklahoma State next season.

Texas isn't far off. I believe Mack Brown when he says turnover ratio (-12 in 2010, ranking 116th nationally) is the biggest thing they have to fix. But fixing that will only get them to 7-8 wins. The talent level across the board on offense, quarterback, running back, receiver and offensive line, just isn't what it was in past years. Bringing in more guys like Mike Davis or perhaps Darius White and Malcolm Brown can help change that, but looking back, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley carried the Longhorns offense perhaps even more than any of us knew.

I really liked both coordinator hires. Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz were exactly what Texas needed, and they'll pay off in the long run. But in the immediate future, there's still some rough times ahead for Texas.

So, that's where I see the Longhorns right now. That's not to say there weren't plenty of positives on Sunday.
I'd caution fans not to put a ton of stock in Case McCoy's performance on Sunday for two reasons:
I was really impressed with McCoy's ability to keep the chains moving and make completions, which is definitely important. But he still looked uncomfortable in the pocket, unwilling to set his feet and throw despite no threat of taking any big hits in a spring game that protected Texas' quarterbacks. He threw off his back foot often, and mechanics like that will have to be fixed if he's going to have consistent success and put up the kind of numbers he did on Sunday throughout next year.

It was a nice step for the quarterback, but when Texas' coaches insist there's no real leader in this competition, I don't believe they're slow playing anyone and trying not to show their hand. I do believe the coaches really have no idea who's going to start next season and need someone to step up and play. With this new system being as complex for quarterbacks as Brown says it is, I don't see last season's experience for Garrett Gilbert being a huge advantage.

Finding a quarterback will be a good test for offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who found a freshman named Kellen Moore in 2008 and got to the Fiesta Bowl the last time he had one of these competitions. In practices, Harsin will let his quarterbacks throw until they have an incompletion in pass skeleton drills, a move to make separation more obvious and one Brown called "genius."