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Editor-in-chief at hookemreport
Randy Maltz is a die-hard sports fan, with passion for the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Longhorns. He is Founder & Editor of Silver and Blue Report and Hook 'em Report. He still idolizes Roger Staubach and Tom Landry.
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Texas’ offensive woes? You have to go deep to find the problem
Column by CHUCK CARLTON / The Dallas Morning News

Just when it seemed like every topic regarding Jerrod Johnson and his turnovers had been exhausted, Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman got a question from a different angle this week:

Why was quarterback at Texas A&M and every place else different from any other position when it came to turnovers and/or mistakes? A running back with four fumbles probably would be on the bench. Johnson, with four turnovers against Oklahoma State, was still in the game to commit No. 5 just when it looked like A&M might be driving for a winning score.

“I think you have to look at every fumble, every interception and every turnover indiscriminately,” Sherman said.

In other words, the quarterback situation is different in his analysis. Running back fumbles are usually the result of a breakdown in fundamentals, Sherman said. Meanwhile, the quarterback touches the ball every single play.

“He’s evaluated on his decision-making, his fundamentals and his technique,” Sherman said. Sherman’s answer was fine, if generic. From the standpoint of Sherman’s team, it’s a little more complicated. Another early turnover or two by Johnson against Arkansas on Saturday might generate even more sentiment to give backup Ryan Tannehill a shot.

So far, Sherman has made the right move in staying with Johnson. Yeah, a lot of fans are wincing over some of his throws, wondering if he’s really 100 percent from spring arthroscopic surgery. (See below).

At other times, he has displayed plenty of zip and accuracy. It’s hard to be remarkable and gosh-awful in the same game, something Johnson achieved against Oklahoma State.

Plus, a change at quarterback goes beyond on-the-field performance. As a three-year starter, Johnson has developed into a critical team leader along with Von Miller. Senior quarterbacks at A&M don’t have the best track record (See: “McNeal, Reggie” and “McGee, Stephen”).

Johnson deserves a better fate. And at 3-1 in a Big 12 South without overwhelmingly dominant teams, major goals remain alive. He also understands what he has to do.

“You play the hand you are dealt, and I take compete blame for all the interceptions. I’m the quarterback,” Johnson said. “Whenever the ball leaves my hand and goes to the other team, it’s my fault.

“I will go back to drawing board and try to figure out a way to not let that happen. I think I’ve been playing pretty well, I just have to find a way to keep us out of those desperate situations as far as giving the other team the ball.”

BIG 12 SOUTH Q&A

Q: It appears from the games that I have watched that [Texas offensive coordinator] Greg Davis is “protecting” the quarterback and has installed a plain vanilla offense to provide protection for Mr. Gilbert. When will Texas unleash Mr. Gilbert and allow him to play and succeed or fail, as the case may be?

Q: Is Garrett Gilbert going through growing pains or is he going to be a flop like Chris Simms? Comes in with all these awards and never turns into a good quarterback? Why doesn’t Mack get rid of Greg Davis and hire a better offensive coordinator?

Q: Why does Texas not play more vertical in the passing game and throw downfield? Can Garrett Gilbert not read defenses?

CARLTON: Believe it or not, there’s plenty more of those questions in my inbox.

If this newsletter was Twitter, Greg Davis and Garrett Gilbert would be trending topics, right behind Jerrod Johnson. A lot of fans have concerns if they haven’t already made judgments about the two.

In reality, the offense from a scheme standpoint isn’t that different from 2009 or 2008. Really. Mack Brown acknowledged that the attempt to install a power-running game went on hold with the ankle injury to Cody Johnson in the first half of the Rice game.

The problem now isn’t really Greg Davis’ play-calling or Garrett Gilbert’s reads, it’s the lack of wide receivers to stretch defenses and get open on vertical routs – with the notable exception of freshman Mike Davis, now injured.

Remember, Colt McCoy had options like Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. That meant his third option was James Kirkendoll or Malcolm Williams, if he got that far. At that point, especially earlier in his career, McCoy was just as likely to tuck the ball and run.

If anything, Gilbert may be more advanced than McCoy at reads at the same point in their careers. But his third options aren’t really making plays. Not to pick on hard-working tight end Greg Smith, but Gilbert went through a quick series of reads against Oklahoma and found Smith in the flat with a decent cushion. Smith still wasn’t able to pick up a first down. Gilbert and Davis did nothing wrong on the play. It just wasn’t there.

Oh, and about those receiver screens, the east-west plays which have people going crazy. They remain part of the offense, but John Chiles is the team’s best receiver at running the play and he’s battling a nagging groin injury aggravated against UCLA.

•   •   •

Q: Do you know what happened to the tall UT wide receiver named Buckner, I think. He was one of their go-to guys last year. I thought he looked good, but he was not on the current roster.

CARLTON: Dan Buckner, an Allen product, decided to transfer from Texas in January after being arrested on charges of criminal trespass and resisting arrest in College Station. After sitting out this season, he will have two years of eligibility remaining at Arizona. He was especially good on short routes over the middle, although consistency was a problem.

•   •   •

Q: Will Texas A&M fare better at Cowboys Stadium that it did a year ago in that 47-19 loss to Arkansas?

CARLTON: The Aggies should be able to give Arkansas a much better game. Here’s a stat for you, courtesy of A&M athletic director Bill Byrne on his blog: A&M, Alabama and Boise State are the only teams in the top 20 in both offense and defense. Some of that may be a product of A&M’s early schedule, but it’s still a fairly impressive achievement.

Plus, coach Mike Sherman believes a familiarity with the surroundings should help.

“We were so young last year, with 18 freshmen playing, it was a little bit maybe intimidating and there was a distraction maybe with the stadium and the whole event,” Sherman said. “I’m not saying that’s why we didn’t play well, but they did have some big eyes in that ballgame. So having played there already before, I think that does help us.”

•   •   •

Q: Was Tech simply unprepared? Is Iowa State better than people thought? Was there not as much talent left by Mike Leach as previously thought? Did Tommy Tuberville change things up too much? It pains me to think that Tech will experience its first losing season in a very, very long time. However, after watching the debacle Saturday, this may certainly be the case.

CARLTON: The transition from Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville has all of a sudden hit a very large pothole.

Losing to Texas at home was one thing. Falling at Iowa State and allowing the Cyclones 52 points after a bye week was simply inexcusable. Some people are questioning the talent and suggesting that Leach was disingenuous when he praised Tech’s prospects for this season. But Leach was saying the same thing last season, before the world discovered Adam James and his concussion. The offensive talent is there.

For whatever reason, all that good feeling hasn’t translated onto the field.

Maybe Tommy Tuberville really isn’t at home with the spread. Maybe first-year coordinators Neal Brown and James Willis still haven’t found a comfort zone. Maybe it’s too early to judge.

We may know a lot more about Tech’s prospects for keeping its bowl streak intact after Saturday’s game against Baylor. A Tech loss, which would be its first against Baylor since 1995, would be telling.

•   •   •

Q: Jerrod Johnson does not seem like the quarterback of prior years. In previous seasons, he would effortlessly flip the long ball, dead on target. This year, his throwing motion looks long and slow. Has the shoulder surgery changed his throwing motion, affecting his release and accuracy?

CARLTON: We opened the newsletter with Johnson. Now, we close with him. The most widely heard theories about Johnson’s turnover struggles involve the spring surgery, described at the time as a routine clean-up. But even in late August, A&M quarterback coach Tom Rossley said Johnson wasn’t quite 100 percent. Mike Sherman says he’s quizzed Johnson and the team doctors who have told him there isn’t a problem. So that’s where things stand.

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