Red zone ineptitude, dropped passes plague UT offense in familiar fashion

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Hatred for offensive coordinator Greg Davis and growing unrest with young quarterback Garrett Gilbert loomed around Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium before the Longhorns took on Baylor.

But fast-forward to the scene after the game — a party in Baylor’s locker room and a morgue in Texas’ — and it’s hard to blame the 30-22 loss on either of the usual suspects. With his predecessor Colt McCoy present for a jersey retirement, Gilbert showed some growth against Baylor’s defense. His arm was relatively accurate and strong, going 22-of-39 for 231 yards. His legs moved the offense on eight carries for 79 yards and one big touchdown.

“He’s getting better with the offense,” said senior left tackle Kyle Hix. “He’s feeling more comfortable, he’s making more throws that he probably wouldn’t have made at the beginning of the season and he has progressed well.”

But in this game, another facet of Texas’ offense cost the Longhorns big. The receivers dropped pass after pass, and when they did catch them, they often turned them into disasters. Marquise Goodwin’s fumble at the end of the game sealed Texas’ fate, and head coach Mack Brown remains mystified by his team’s struggles.

“When you get in the situation where we are at Texas — and we haven’t been in this situation since I’ve been here — guys try too hard and they get frustrated,” Brown said. “When they’re flat, they’re bad.”

Punter/kicker Justin Tucker continued to be Texas’ biggest and most productive threat on offense. His five field goals tied a school record set in 1985, but aware of the overarching offensive demise, there’s no celebrating the accomplishment for Tucker. He’s forced to be the most miserable top scorer in the Big 12 because every Longhorn supporter in the stadium would rather see a touchdown than Tucker.

“We’re kicking entirely too many field goals and not scoring touchdowns,” Brown said. “It’s frustrating because we’ve always been able to score down there.”

Tucker’s success was the result of Texas’ failures inside the 20-yard line. The Longhorns made it to the red zone five times, failing to score a touchdown every time. Over and over, they saw a chance for seven points turn into three. Probably the toughest thing about the game for Texas (4-4, 1-3) was the fact that it couldn’t get enough offense against the nation’s 78th-ranked defense.

“We fought hard and we tried, but Baylor was just the better team today,” said running back Tre’ Newton.

The running game also struggled, but the disheartening truth is that Gilbert’s glimpse of optimism and hints of success came against a truly bad Baylor secondary. The Bears’ pass defense ranks 87th in the nation, and before playing Texas, they had allowed a passing touchdown in every game since September.

But looking on the bright side, two of the few pass defenses that are actually worse than Baylor are on Texas’ schedule ahead — Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. And on Saturday, Gilbert finally received a blessing from someone other than Davis — someone who might have a credible opinion on the matter.

“Garrett is a tremendous quarterback, and he’s going to do great things here,” McCoy said. “I told him this is only going to make him stronger, and it’s going to make the guys around him stronger.”