Texas: Beyond the Box Score Preseason Offensive Preview

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

It's time to take a look at the best team on Missouri's 2009 slate.  Strengths?  Weaknesses?  Statistical red flags?  We've got 'em all in the offensive preview.

2008

Record: 12-1 (7-1 in the Big 12)
S&P+: 270.9 (5th in the country, 2nd in the Big 12)
Scoring Margin: 551-244 (+307)
Conference Scoring Margin: 329-180 (+149)
Wins (S&P+ Ranking in parentheses): #3 Oklahoma, #8 Ohio State, #10 Missouri, #14 Oklahoma State, #20 Kansas, #38 Arkansas, #40 Baylor, #47 Rice, #82 Colorado, #90 Florida Atlantic, #96 UTEP, #98 Texas A&M
Losses: #15 Texas Tech

Just think of all we'd have been deprived of had Blake Gideon just held onto Graham Harrell's pass with nine seconds left in last year's Texas-Texas Tech game.  Crabtree's shining moment, Big 12 Tie-Breaker "controversy" (in quotes because there is no such thing as a good fifth tie-breaker--somebody's going to feel screwed no matter what), 45-35, 62-21, etc.  That play, and the one that followed, defined a good portion of both the last two months of the football season and quite a bit of the offseason that has followed.

Without once again diving into why the tie-breaker wasn't "controversial" at all, and why, really, the correct team was selected for the Big 12 title game (and, therefore, national title game), all of the drama distracted us from one impressive storyline: that Texas arrived a year earlier than expected.  Heading into 2008, I remember reading a post from Burnt Orange Nation (can't find it now) that suggested everybody look at 2008 through the prism of 2009, coaches included.  The Longhorns were young and dangerous, but they were probably still a year away from being a true national title threat.

And then they went and beat OU.  And rocked Missouri.  And crept by a game Oklahoma State.  They showed up in Lubbock on November 1 well ahead of schedule.  And while they definitely suffered a high-level gut punch of a loss there, two months earlier nobody was really expecting them to get quite as far as they did.  Hell, before the season we thought it was a perfect time for Missouri to have to visit Austin, and that Mizzou would have a legitimate chance of knocking off the 'Horns.  Whoops.  The 2008 Texas season, however, does go to show that you truly never know when something special is going to happen--if you try to predict it, you're almost always wrong--and you better not look away, else you might miss it.

So here's the question: can Texas possibly be better than they were in 2008?  I realize they have strong experience in most units, and on paper they probably should be better, but...well, on paper Missouri should have been better in 2008 than 2007.  They weren't.  Near-perfection is hard to duplicate, even with great recruiting classes.  So let's see what we can derive about Texas in 2009.

Coaching

Is this the year Mack Brown adds Title #2 to the resume?

Head Coach: Mack Brown
Career Record: 201-100-1
Record at Texas: 115-26 (conference: 72-16)
Pythagorean Wins since 2002: 70.2 Pythagorean wins versus 77 real wins (+1.0 per year)

As I've played around more with Pythagorean wins, I've learned that top teams will almost certainly have a Pythagorean win total higher than their actual win total for one simple reason: blowout wins skew the projections, and top teams usually have more blowout wins.  So the fact that Texas has actually over-achieved by about one win per year speaks volumes, I think, about the job Mack Brown has done, not only in recruiting (for which he has always received plenty of credit), but also in both game-coaching and staff-building.

Mack Brown has had quite an interesting career, and it stems back much further than just Austin, or even Chapel Hill.  His playing career took him first to Vanderbilt, then to Florida State, and he ended up at Southern Miss for grad school (he was WRs coach while getting his graduate degree).  Naturally, his first coaching job outside of grad school came in...Ames, where he was first WRs coach in 1979 and then Offensive Coordinator in 1980-81 under Donnie Duncan.  In his first year as Cyclone OC, ISU's scoring average improved from 12.5 points per game in 1979 to 22.3 in 1980 (fun fact: ISU was 1-2 versus MU in Brown's time in Ames).  When he left to become QBs coach at LSU in 1982, Iowa State fell slightly to 4-6-1, and Duncan was done.

Ever the mover, Brown stayed in Baton Rouge for just one season before accepting the head coaching job at Appalachian State, which he held for just one season (they went 6-5).  Passed up for the LSU head coaching job, he ended up in Norman, of all places, where he was OU's Offensive Coordinator for (you guessed it) one year.  Finally, he landed in a place long enough to justify buying a house--he was Tulane's head coach for three seasons, leading them to a 6-5 regular season record and a rare bowl bid in 1987 and then immediately jumping to Chapel Hill (he was succeeded at Tulane by his future Offensive Coordinator, Greg Davis).

In Chapel Hill, he inherited a North Carolina squad that had fallen off from Dick Crum's early-1980s heyday, when Lawrence Taylor was becoming one of the most exciting college players ever.  UNC had little talent, and apparently what talent they had didn't mesh well with Brown's system.  The Tar Heels started Brown's tenure with back-to-back 1-10 seasons.  But from there, things picked up.  UNC went from 6, to 7, to 9, to 10 wins from 1990-93, then upped the ante with a 20-3 record in 1996-97.  And then, naturally, Brown hopped to a bigger lily pad, The University of Texas.

Texas won nine games in each of Brown's first three years in Austin (1998-2000)...and they haven't won less than 10 since.  You know the story from here.  Snuffed out by OU for a series of consecutive seasons, Texas broke through with Vince Young in 2005 and has, to a slightly lesser degree, been snuffing OU out since then.

Alright, since we're already almost to 1,000 words, on with the offensive preview.

Offense

Overall Stats

S&P+: 124.6 (#10)
Success Rate+: 117.8 (#12)
PPP+: 134.1 (#9)

Standard Downs S&P+: 114.4 (#24)
Passing Downs S&P+: 152.8 (#2)

Redzone S&P+: 135.6 (#4)

Q1 S&P+: 138.3 (#6)
Q2 S&P+: 129.6 (#9)
Q3 S&P+: 128.1 (#14)
Q4 S&P+: 102.6 (#60)

1st Down S&P+: 120.9 (#14)
2nd Down S&P+: 121.8 (#20)
3rd Down S&P+: 140.6 (#10)

Rushing Stats

Rushing S&P+: 115.4 (#29)
Rushing SR+: 109.5 (#38)
Rushing PPP+: 125.2 (#26)

Standard Downs: 105.6 (#50)
Passing Downs: 138.2 (#11)

Redzone: 130.8 (#11)

Line Yards+: 100.5 (#64)

Passing Stats

Passing S&P+: 133.3 (#9)
Passing SR+: 127.3 (#10)
Passing PPP+: 141.7 (#8)

Standard Downs: 126.4 (#11)
Passing Downs: 163.1 (#3)

Redzone: 151.7 (#7)

Adj. Sack Rate: 5.8% (#59)


A few interesting things to note here.

  • Texas lost or came close to losing three games in 2008--Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Ohio State.  In all three, the offense was relatively iffy early (decent against OU, atrocious against Tech) and came on late for the win or almost-win.  Despite this, the Texas offense got statistically worse in each proceeding quarter in 2008.  Now, the fourth-quarter numbers I can forgive since the starters didn't play in much of the fourth quarter about half the season.  But still, kind of odd.
  • You see some teams with an S&P+ carried by either Success Rate (efficiency) or PPP (explosiveness), but Texas was equally good at both in 2008, especially in the passing game.  Rushing, Texas made up for only-decent Success Rates with slightly-better-than-decent PPP figures.
  • I usually gauge line play with two figures: Line Yards+ and Adjusted Sack Rate.  Texas fared well in neither.  I realize they're stacked with 4-star recruits and all, but...how good was the Texas OL in 2008?
  • Note the crazy disproportionality of success on Standard Downs and Passing Downs.  We'll come back to that below.

Quarterback

Can Colt McCoy possibly be any better than he was in 2008?

2008 Unit Ranking: #5 in the nation (#2 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Colt McCoy (6'3, 210, Sr.)
Sherrod Harris (6'3, 215, Jr.)
John Chiles (6'2, 215, Jr.)

In both of his first two seasons starting for Texas, Colt McCoy completed over 65% of his passes and threw over 20 touchdown passes.  But his decision-making was quite shaky in 2007--his 22 TDs were marred by his 18 INTs, and his QB rating fell from 161.8 in 2006 to 139.2, still a decent mark, but a very clear step backwards in development.  With the typical Texas level of talent, the 'Horns managed only a #26 overall S&P+ ranking.

Heading into the 2008 season, really, not a ton was expected from him, at least not in comparison to other Big 12 QBs.  (In last year's Texas Week roundtable, two unnamed RMN'ers picked UT to go 8-4!  I'd like to pound my chest on my own prediction, however, even though I got the loss wrong.)  Of course, McCoy responded by setting a national record with a 76.7% completion rate in 2008, posting a career-best 34 TDs to only 8 INTs, with a ridiculous 173.8 QB Rating.  Oh yeah, and he led UT in rushing, with 561 yards (4.1 per carry).  He led Texas to a 12-1 record and a victory (45-35!!!!!!1!!!) over OU at the Texas state fair.  He staked about as big a claim to the Heisman Trophy as Sam Bradford did, though Bradford--with a host of more experienced weapons--clearly scored some major voter points when OU went out and scored at least 58 points in six straight games to end the regular season.

Can Colt McCoy possibly approach his 2008 numbers in 2008?  I say no, and I have one major reason why: Texas actually did better on Passing Downs (1.01 S&P) than Standard Downs (0.97 S&P) in 2008.  Think about that.  They were a better offense on 3rd-and-7 than 2nd-and-4.  That makes no sense, and while I don't have enough year-to-year data to show what happens to teams with disproportional success like that, how in the world can you maintain that?

In a lot of ways, this disproportionality reminds me a lot of a baseball measure that has significantly grown in popularity recently: BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play).  Over time, most players and pitchers produce roughly the same BABIP.  It can vary depending on the ratio of ground balls to line drives and fly balls, but over time, most BABIP will regress to the mean of around .290.  When a pitcher gives up a BABIP of .350 or .220 one year, it's probably pretty quickly going to revert back toward .290.  Therefore it can be used to spot flukes, seasons that were particularly good or bad depending on whether ground balls tended to sneak between 3B and SS or go straight at a defender.

To me, disproportional success on Passing Downs might end up being a lot like BABIP in picking up on some amount of fluky success.  Texas certainly had a good offense no matter what in 2008, but I think it may have been a little too good to maintain in 2009.  Especially considering McCoy will be playing without two major third-down bailout options, Chris Ogbonnaya and Quan Cosby, I'm thinking Colt may end up having a year where Texas struggles at times, and there's no clear explanation why (kind of like when you're hitting a ball hard, but right at the shortstop).  A few more 3rd-and-7 passes fall incomplete, and the Texas offense could slow down in a hurry.

(That said, their schedule is so damn easy that they should pretty easily reach 10 wins, struggles or no struggles.)

So in summary, Colt McCoy is a damn good quarterback, but in the end he was probably a little too good in 2008.  I see his numbers regressing a bit in 2009.

Running Backs

If he can stay healthy, Fozzy Whittaker has the highest ceiling of any Texas back.

2008 Unit Ranking: #33 in the nation (#4 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Cody Johnson (5'11, 255, So.)
Vondrell McGee (5'10, 205, Jr.)
Fozzy Whittaker (5'10, 190, So.)

Of course, McCoy's numbers will be allowed to fall a bit in 2009 if Texas running backs can pick up their game a bit.  The Longhorns have a host of talented-yet-flawed athletes in the backfield.  Cody Johnson is an awesome short-yardage back, but can he see every-down success?  Can Fozzy Whitaker stay healthy enough to live up to the massive promise seen by Burnt Orange Nation readers over the last couple of years?  Can Vondrell McGee, UT's most well-rounded overall back, assert himself a bit more in 2009?  Can any number of other highly-recruited options break into the rotation?  Even with the flaws, and even with Chris Ogbonnaya's low (relatively speaking) ceiling, this unit certainly wasn't bad in 2008, ranking 4th in the Big 12 and 33rd overall.  But most see this unit as the Longhorns' most pronounced Achilles Heel heading into 2009, and there's no arguing that the unit could do well in finding a go-to guy.

For reference, here were the Points Over Expected (POE) figures and rankings for UT's 2008 running backs:

  • Cody Johnson +10.2 POE (46th in the country, out of 267 eligible rushers)
  • Chris Ogbonnaya +6.6 POE (73rd)
  • Vondrell McGee -2.1 POE (158th)
  • Fozzy Whittaker -5.5 POE (198th)

Not great.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

Jordan Shipley: Sooner killer.

2008 Unit Ranking: #14 in the nation (#3 in the Big 12)

Projected WR Depth Chart
Jordan Shipley (6'0, 190, Sr.)
Malcolm Williams (6'3, 220, So.)
Brandon Collins (6'0, 185, Jr.)
John Chiles (6'2, 215, Jr.)
Dan Buckner (6'4, 215, So.)
James Kirkendoll (5'11, 180, Jr.)
DeSean Hales (5'11, 175, RSFr.)
Montre Webber (6'3, 215, Jr.)
Philip Payne (6'2, 215, Jr.)

Projected TE Depth Chart
Blaine Irby (6'3, 235, Jr.)
Greg Smith (6'4, 270, Jr.)
Ahmad Howard (6'4, 250, So.)

How important was Quan Cosby?  His longest reception last year was only 40 yards--in comparison, Jordan Shipley's was 68, Malcolm Williams 91, Dan Buckner 51, and Chris Ogbonnaya 65--but he caught more passes than anybody else in the burnt orange jerseys, especially on third downs: Cosby caught 16 passes on third downs last year, and all 16 went for first downs.  If Texas can replace Cosby's reliability (and Brandon Collins--10 of 12 third-down catches moved the chains--looks like he could be up for the challenge), then this receiving corps could be one of the best in the country.  Jordan Shipley returns for his 17th year (what? only his 6th?), and the rest of the depth chart is simply littered with big-time recruits.  Malcolm Williams awed everybody in the country with his 91-yard touchdown catch at a key moment against Texas Tech, but he only caught 19 passes all season.  Dan Buckner passes the eyeball test...but only caught five passes.  With Cosby gone, it is time for at least a couple of these guys to become reliable, every-down receivers.

The wildcard here could be John Chiles.  For two years, Chiles served as Colt McCoy's backup, showing both outstanding running ability and a decent arm.  With McCoy back for one more season, Chiles has been at least temporarily moved to WR.  Not only will this open up the door for some nice double-pass-style trick plays, but it could give UT a nice, shifty option underneath coverage.  I also listed Chiles on the QB list, as I'm just not sure what happens if McCoy were to get hurt or something.

Offensive Line

Chris Hall leads an experienced line that probably needs to do a bit better in 2009.

2008 Unit Ranking: #63 in the nation (#9 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
C Chris Hall (6'4, 300, Sr.) ***
T Adam Ulatoski (6'8, 306, Sr.) ***
G Charlie Tanner (6'4, 305, Sr.) ***
T Kyle Hix (6'7, 320, Jr.) ****
G Michael Huey (6'5, 320, Jr.) ****
T Tray Allen (6'5, 315, Jr.) *****
T Britt Mitchell (6'5, 305, Jr.) ***
C David Snow (6'4, 300, So.) ****
G Steve Moore (6'5, 300, Jr.) ***
G Mark Buchanan (6'6, 310, RSFr.) ****

So here's something interesting: while Texas is known for signing as many four-star recruits as they can stomach, of the four returning starters on the offensive line, three--Hall, Ulatoski, Tanner--were 3-star recruits.  Now, Missouri has proven that there's nothing wrong with loading up on 3-stars, but there isn't quite as much high-end talent here as in most units for the Longhorns, and it possibly showed last year.  While Colt McCoy was one of the nation's best QBs, and the UT receiving corps was Top 15, the line struggled, both in run-blocking (64th in Line Yards+) and pass protection (59th in Adjusted Sack Yards).  For those who follow recruiting rankings, there is a silver lining for the 'Horns, as Michael Huey, Tray Allen, David Snow, and Mark Buchanan were all given at least four stars by Rivals (Allen was a 5-star), so there is decent depth of talent here, and if this unit can do its job a little better, maybe McCoy won't have to come through on nearly as many Passing Down situations.

Something else to note: true freshmen Aundre McGaskey, Thomas Ashcraft, and Mason Walters were all in for the spring and landed on the third string; with three seniors and five juniors on the two-deep, it wouldn't be a surprise to see at least one or two of these guys to break into the rotation and get a little growth for the future.

Summary

In a nutshell, a Top 5 quarterback and a top 15 receiving corps combined with only a decent running back corps and iffy offensive line to produce a Top 10 offense by succeeding at possibly an unsustainably high rate on Passing Downs.  First of all, give massive props to Colt McCoy for everything he did in 2008.  He was an absolute magician.  And if guys like Fozzy Whittaker, Malcolm Williams, any tight end, and a couple of offensive linemen all live up to their potential, then he won't have to pull quite as many rabbits out of quite as many hats in 2009.

Texas fans better hope McCoy has some more help, because it's my opinion that no QB in the country would be able to do what he did last year, for two straight years.  Clearly Texas is likely to win at least ten games again, but there are more holes and unproven areas on this offense than one would expect, and if UT is to go 12-0 instead of 10-2 (certainly a distinct possibility), guys other than McCoy will need to step up.  This is Texas--you know the potential is there; but some of this potential will need to turn into production by the time September turns into October.

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