Dallas Colleges: Daje Johnson
10. McCoy’s no-look TD pass at Baylor: The epitome of Case McCoy’s moxie magic. On 4th-and-goal down big in Waco, McCoy faked a handoff but the pass was well-covered so he scrambled to his left, but the run was blown up quickly. McCoy turned back and, amid good pressure, fired off a long pass to a wide-open Malcolm Brown for the score. It’s about as a tough a 2-yard touchdown as you’ll find, and McCoy probably had no business making the throw. But it worked.
8. Justin Gilbert pick-sixes McCoy: The phrase “slim margin for error” came up a lot in the final weeks of Texas’ season. This play was certainly indicative. Down 21-10 to Oklahoma State, Texas was driving to trim the deficit before halftime, but Gilbert baited McCoy into forcing a pass to Kendall Sanders along the sideline, then picked it off and ran it back 43 yards. There would be no coming back from 28-10 against Oklahoma State.
7. Jeffcoat finishes off the Sooners: We had to get one of Jackson Jeffcoat’s 12 sacks on the list. This one came on 4th-and-13 late in the fourth quarter against OU. Blake Bell, in the red zone and threatening to possibly cut Texas’ lead to 36-28, dropped back but had no chance. Cedric Reed’s rush forced Bell to his left, where Jeffcoat dropped him for a sack and a 12-yard loss to kill the Sooners’ last-ditch rally. One of many times Texas’ defensive end duo made a big play.
6. Taysom Hill’s first touchdown run: A sign of big, bad things to come for Texas’ defense. Hill faked a handoff on 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter and darted around his left tackle. Adrian Phillips took a bad angle and missed. Sheroid Evans and Josh Turner both dove for Hill’s legs and missed. He scooted 68 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns. It was the beginning of the end for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
5. “Score pass” to beat West Virginia: Arguably Major Applewhite’s best play call of the season. The Longhorns’ first possession of overtime against West Virginia could’ve stalled after Brown was twice stopped on goal-line runs. But they caught WVU by surprise on 3rd-and-goal. McCoy faked a handoff and tossed a short pass to fullback Alex De La Torre for the 2-yard touchdown. The go-ahead score was DLT’s first career catch, and McCoy had missed on this exact same play vs. OU.
4. Ash goes down at BYU: We don’t know for certain when Ash suffered his concussion against BYU. But one play stands out: With less than nine minutes left in Provo, Ash scrambled out of the pocket and was hit hard from behind by end Bronson Kaufusi as another defender wrapped up his legs. Ash was helped up, went back down, knelt and put his head down as trainers rushed out. He missed the rest of the game and nearly the entire rest of the season.
3. McCoy’s Red River dime: In another example of McCoy’s infinite irrational confidence, he chucked a 30-yard pass down the sideline and perfectly hit Marcus Johnson in stride off a wheel route. Johnson burned his defender for a 59-yard score to put Texas ahead 17-3. It was a real game-changer both for momentum and for the confidence of the Longhorn offense.
2. The near-fumble at Iowa State: Paul Rhoads and his legion of Cyclone fans had a hard time getting over this one. It’s entirely possible Johnathan Gray lost a fumble at the goal line with less than four minutes left, but no camera angle could confirm this to game officials. and McCoy would later score. Imagine where this season would’ve headed had ISU won the review and the game, sending Texas to a 2-3 record.
1. Chris Whaley’s INT for a TD against Oklahoma: No play better sums up Texas’ six-game Big 12 win streak. Whaley, the 295-pound defensive tackle, slipped back into coverage in a heavy blitz front. Adrian Phillips got to Blake Bell, whose pass sailed wide and right into Whaley’s hands. He rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown that gave Texas a stunning 10-3 lead. Just a crazy, inexplicable play that led to an unexpected rout.
Jake (Dallas) OK I have a problem with the fact that Baylor can get beat (demolished) the same as A&M and Oregon and Bryce Petty becomes a ghost on the Heisman Watch list. With Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota still on there!! Yeah he had a tough (terrible) day but still put up 300+ yards 2 TDs and no interceptions. He posted an 80 QBR. He now has a better TD to INT ratio than both of those QBs, a better RECORD than both of those QBs and has not lost to an unranked opponent (Oregon). Please enlighten me with a logical answer that makes sense to a Baylor fan.
Brandon Chatmon I don't think he should be out of it because outside of Jameis Winston there is no clear favorites right now. However, he has to have great games against TCU and Texas. If he returns back to his normal, record-breaking self in the last two games, he deserves consideration in my opinion. And you're right his numbers weren't horrible against OSU.
James Johnson (Hong Kong) Brandon, you called the OSU-Stillwater game as Baylor's toughest game this year over a month ago (even before OSU was getting hot) in answering one of my questions. OSU played lights out, and Baylor played poorly. Both were related. How much of that was OSU vs. Baylor performance that night (e.g., 70/30)? Who was better: 2011 OSU team or the OSU team last Saturday night?
Brandon Chatmon I think a lot of it was OSU. They played an amazing game. But, I'd still take 2011 OSU over this year's squad.
Mike P (Greater KC) Which is more likely to happen Oklahoma beats Okie State or Texas Beats Baylor?
Brandon Chatmon Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State.
Pete (Kansas City) How impressed have you been with K-State's season? Do you think the Wildcats will end up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Holiday Bowl or Texas Bowl?
Brandon Chatmon I've been pretty impressed although I don't understand why they abandoned the run against OU. That said it's been a solid season overall for the Wildcats. I have them Holiday Bowl bound.
Daje Johnson (Austin, Texas) How badly did I mess up this game for us tomorrow by getting suspended?
Brandon Chatmon Bad move, Daje. And now you're missing the stadiums you're supposed to be running for punishment too?!?! I understand my chats are entertaining but do you ever want to play again?
No. 1: Minus-12
That’s Texas Tech’s turnover margin this season. The Red Raiders have 28 turnovers, 16 takeaways and are minus-10 in Big 12 play. They’ve lost nine of their 11 fumbles. They’ve played only one game (Kansas, plus 3) with a positive turnover margin, and that number has been negative in each of Tech’s last six games.
You just can’t beat good teams with those kinds of numbers, and that has played a role in Texas Tech dropping four games in a row. There’s no doubt freshman quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb have contributed to this bug; they’re responsible for 23 of the 28 turnovers.
But they’re not solely to blame, because turnovers have become a long-term issue for this program. Texas Tech has a minus-35 turnover margin in the last five years, which ranks fourth-worst nationally and dead last among BCS conference schools. What’s remarkable is they’ve still won 37 games during that span.
Another glaring weakness that has developed during Texas Tech’s four-game slide: Run defense. Tech is giving up 297.25 rushing yards per game in its last four, with no team gaining less than 277.
Those four opponents -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor -- have combined for 18 rushing touchdowns and 32 rushes of 10-plus yards. Good luck beating the best teams in the Big 12 when you give up 5.74 yards per carry and first downs on nearly 29 percent of your opponents’ rushes.
Texas will try to exploit that porous run D without its two most explosive rushers, Johnathan Gray and Daje Johnson. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron ran relatively well against Oklahoma State, but they quickly became non-factors once Texas fell behind big. The key this week? Time of possession and turnovers. The run should be there for the taking if the Longhorns can hold onto the ball.
No. 3: Zero
The zero signifies two Texas stats worth noting going into this game. First, the Longhorns have recorded zero sacks in their three losses this season. That’s a problem. Texas has 26 sacks in its seven wins this season, and its defense line has played at a consistently high level in those games. Their pass rush can’t disappear again against a Tech team with young quarterbacks who turn the ball over.
Another zero: Since 2010, Texas is 11-1 in games when its offense doesn’t turn the ball over. Texas players insist the blowout loss to Oklahoma State could’ve been a much more even affair if not for three costly turnovers.
Three more to remember
7-0: Texas’ record against Texas Tech in games played in Austin under Mack Brown
18.7: Points per game Texas Tech has allowed in its seven wins.
50.5: Points per game Texas Tech has allowed in its four losses.
“How does it feel if you tear your Achilles?”
The answer? It feels like somebody has kicked you from behind, like they’ve stuck a knife just below your calf.
Gray isn’t making up that anecdote. He says he asked the question. He got a much more definite answer a week later.
“I felt like I kind of jinxed myself,” Gray said Monday.
The sophomore running back’s season is over. He had surgery on Wednesday to repair the torn Achilles he suffered against West Virginia last Saturday, and by all accounts the operation went well. Now he’s in for a long road to recovery, carrying the hope he’ll be back in time for the start of the 2014 season.
“God puts us here in weird positions and we have to overcome them and get through adversity,” Gray said. “That’s what I plan on doing.”
And Texas, with three high-stakes games and a bowl left, must find a way to keep its run-heavy offense rolling without the third-leading rusher in the Big 12.
When he turned after hauling in a third-quarter pass from Case McCoy at West Virginia, Gray felt the pop. He’s seen the slow-motion TV replays that show a ripple in his right leg after trying to plant his foot. He skidded to the ground.
“Sure enough, I looked behind me and nobody was behind me. It felt like somebody kicked me,” Gray said. “I knew right then when I went down I’d tore it. It sucks, but you have to get through it.”
He’d notched more than 330 touches in two seasons and proved to be Texas’ most durable running back. Gray didn’t have much of an injury history in his time in Austin. That’s why his teammates were stunned.
“I was shocked. Like, damn,” tackle Donald Hawkins said. “It’s Johnathan, you know? The guy who's always smiling, always encouraging people. To see him on crutches was surprising.”
What didn’t shock fullback Alex De La Torre was the way Gray reacted. When he went down near the sideline, he unbuckled his chinstrap, took off his helmet and asked for some help.
“I don’t think he even yelled when he got hurt,” De La Torre said. “He was just like, ‘Hey, I’m hurt.’”
If the former five-star recruit is hurting right now, he’s hiding it well. Gray was all smiles on Monday, in his boot and crutches, and is staying overwhelmingly positive about the setback.
He believes in juniors Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. He’s confident they can handle the workload and get the job done against No. 12 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
That duo is now responsible for powering an offense that has averaged more than 49 carries per game in the past month. And Gray will be with them throughout, barking out orders as a volunteer running backs coach in practice and offering his in-game encouragement when he returns to the sidelines.
“We've got a good thing going for us: defense playing well, offense playing well, special teams playing well. Anyone can step up and play any position on this team,” Gray said. “We have talent on this team. I told the guys to keep going forward and keep my goal in mind, and that’s to win out and make it to a good BCS bowl and win that.”
Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said Gray has always been one to choose optimism. His running back had the same smile when Texas was 1-2 as he did after beating Oklahoma. The attitude is infectious, and Gray will have a presence in the locker room no matter his health.
And just as Gray will tell you, Texas isn’t necessarily sunk without him. The four backs left -- Brown, Bergeron, Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet -- have combined for 3,130 career rushing yards and 45 touchdowns.
Applewhite spent the last five years coaching Texas running backs. He knows what he’s working with. When it comes to Brown and Bergeron, the coaching staff will ride the hot hand on Saturday.
“The carries and the rotation, except for certain situations, is kind of handled by how they’re playing and how they’re taking care of the ball,” Applewhite said. “Both those guys will play a whole bunch.”
Gray wants to be there for them. He can't be on the sideline Saturday afternoon, but coach Mack Brown made sure Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley join everyone else at the team hotel this weekend. He wants them to miss out on as little as possible.
Teammates say they’ll miss Gray as much off the field as on it, but the ever-faithful back says he’ll be fine. He’s keeping his head up. He wants a Big 12 title more than ever now, and he believes his fellow Longhorns can deliver.
“Those guys have nothing but victory in their eyes,” Gray said. “I know they’ll get the job done.”
1. Can Oklahoma State make this a race? The stakes for Oklahoma State this weekend are obvious: Beat Texas and we're looking at a three-team Big 12 title race. Lose, and the Cowboys join Oklahoma on the outside looking in, making the Dec. 7 Bedlam game irrelevant to the conference-title picture. We haven't said that in a long time, have we? The Cowboys have won five straight and face a Texas team missing several key cogs. They've won their last two games in Austin. Do it again and they just might sneak into the top 10.
2. Texas Tech goes for the big upset: The Red Raiders have plenty of motivation this week as the 27-point David to the conference's undefeated green-and-gold Goliath. The team that was once as hyped as any in college football at 7-0 is now staring down the real possibility of ending the season 7-5. Maybe being backed into a corner and underestimated is just what coach Kliff Kingsbury's squad needs this week to end a three-game slide and stun Baylor.
3. Texas offense without Johnathan Gray: One of the best running backs in the Big 12 is done for the season. How will the Longhorns' offense regroup? Expect a heavy workload for the junior duo of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and perhaps a few more creative ways to put the ball in the hands of the speedy Daje Johnson. If OSU loads the box to stop the Gray-less run game, can Case McCoy make the throws to beat the Pokes' talented secondary?
4. Baylor's defense tries to do it again: Shutting down Oklahoma in a 41-12 victory last Thursday might've done wonders for the national perception of Baylor's much-improved defense. But there will always be detractors who say Oklahoma was flat-out inept in Waco and that the Bears' performance wasn't conclusive enough. Maybe shutting down Jace Amaro and the rest of the Tech attack in front of a national primetime audience at AT&T Stadium would quiet a few of those remaining doubters.
5. K-State goes for four in a row: Winners of three straight, all by convincing or impressive margins, the Wildcats are enjoying the fruits of their weekly improvement after a tough 2-4 start to the season. A win over TCU makes Kansas State bowl eligible, a feat that seemed unlikely one month ago. Don't sleep on this KSU team -- it might be the Big 12's fourth- or fifth-best squad by year's end.
6. Does West Virginia have gas left in the tank? The Mountaineers have gone to overtime in each of the past two weeks, one a win at TCU and the other a shootout home loss to Texas in which they came up just short. This West Virginia defense is as beat up from an injury standpoint as any in the league. Can the Mountaineers get up for a road game against a Kansas team that plays most foes close? Knowing they need to win out to reach a bowl should be sufficient motivation.
7. Oklahoma offense must answer criticism: As usual, Bob Stoops faced another week full of criticism and second-guessing following a Sooners loss. This time, the public's focus was on quarterback Blake Bell, play-caller Josh Heupel and the sputtering offense that duo is held responsible for, fair or not. This might be a good week to pound the rock and rediscover the run game that was less than impactful against Baylor.
8. TCU trying to keep its bowl hopes alive: If there are two teams nobody in this conference wants to play right now, it might be Kansas State and Baylor. That's all the Horned Frogs have left in 2013, and all they have to play for right now at 4-6 is a puncher's chance at bowl eligibility. The only time Gary Patterson hasn't taken his team bowling was 2004.
9. Is this the week Kansas finally wins? You might've noticed my colleague Jake Trotter boldly went out on a limb and predicted Kansas would pull off a victory over West Virginia on Saturday. The Jayhawks, you might have heard, have lost 27 consecutive Big 12 games and are 0-15 in conference games under Charlie Weis. Will KU reward the bravery of Trotter and its remaining fans and finally notch that elusive victory? If this isn't the week, don't worry, there’s still a game against Iowa State left.
10. Bring it on, Grant Rohach: We're trying to find reason to get excited about an Iowa State offense that just hasn't been able to figure things out this season. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson is still dealing with a thumb injury, so Rohach will get a chance to shake off the jitters from his first career start and give it a go on the road against Oklahoma. Not an ideal situation by any means, but perhaps he can give ISU a spark.
1. No game, no problem
Think back to Sept. 7, when Texas got a late kickoff in Provo, Utah, due to a severe weather delay of 1:50. The defense played flat, Daje Johnson got hurt immediately, David Ash got hurt later, and BYU was flat-out more physical than Texas. This time, Mack Brown, his staff and players faced a game delay of more than three hours and were perfectly fine with the setback. Texas held onto and built upon its lead entering that long break, without giving up any more TCU scores. Players killed time with meetings, listening to music and eating, but once the game resumed it was same old Texas.
2. Front seven setting the tone
To heap all the praise on the defensive line wouldn't be too fair when you recognize how well these Texas linebackers are playing and how far they've come. Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond were both treated like scapegoats for the rest of the defense's troubles but are playing some great football right now. Together, they made life difficult for Casey Pachall in only the second career Big 12 start he's made. That Texas defensive line is playing lights out right now, and that'll need to continue over the final stretch.
3. Here comes Swoopes
Well, here we go. Texas burned the redshirt of the former four-star recruit with less than 5 minutes left against TCU. The results were more than modest -- 29 total yards on the eight plays he ran -- but what this means for the future is significant. We'll delve more into this on Monday, but just believe they wouldn't be taking this step if they didn't think he could help, and that he could use all the bonus snaps he can get. What does this mean for David Ash's long-term health? Brown isn't going into it other than to say Ash won't play against Kansas next week. But one thing is for sure: If that's the only time we see Tyrone Swoopes this season, it's a real shame for all involved, especially those who wholeheartedly believed Swoopes should redshirt.
The Longhorns love to go deep to Davis. He has 30 receptions of 20-plus yards in his career. Shipley is the guy who makes his hay over the middle and on critical downs.
The Horned Frogs could have a harder time on Saturday when it comes to accounting for the new wild cards of this Longhorn offense -- Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson.
The sophomore wideouts are starting to emerge as dangerous options. Shipley, for one, is not at all surprised to see them thriving this fall.
“It’s crazy because a lot of people don’t think they have much experience because they didn’t play last year,” Shipley said. “We’ve seen them, ever since they’ve been here, gradually every day they've gotten better and improved. Those guys are making huge plays during camp. We already knew they were going to do big things.
“Everybody outside hadn't seen it, so they didn't know. We had all the confidence in the world in putting them in.”
Johnson enjoyed his breakout moment against Oklahoma, beating his defender on a wheel route and hauling in a 59-yard touchdown. That score, the first of his young career, put Texas up 17-3 in the second quarter.
“[Chris] Whaley's touchdown and that great shot from Case [McCoy] to Marcus Johnson -- those were some big plays for us and I believe those two shifted the momentum for us,” Texas running back Malcolm Brown said after the game.
Johnson first broke onto the scene in September against Kansas State when he picked up big first downs on catches of 14 and 21 yards along the sideline. He’s now averaging 19.5 yards per reception on his seven catches.
It’s a nice start for a wideout who saw action in eight games last season but caught no passes. Sanders didn’t have much of a role either, recording two catches in 11 games. Both entered the season with high expectations, especially with Texas’ need to replace NFL draft pick Marquise Goodwin in the slot.
Sanders rose to the challenge and becoming the clear No. 3 option among Longhorns receivers. In fact, he has nearly just as many targets (43) as Shipley (46) and Davis (45) do this season, and has turned that into 25 catches for 240 yards.
He seems to have found a good rapport with new starter Case McCoy, too. Sanders has a team-high 18 receptions in the three games McCoy has started, though his best play this season came on a pass from Ash.
On a play that’s usually Davis’ specialty, Sanders snuck behind Kansas State’s defense to haul in a 63-yard bomb for his first career score.
Add in the early-season exploits of the explosive Daje Johnson, who despite injury problems already has a rushing, receiving and return touchdown, and 2013 has been a good one for Texas’ trio of sophomore wideouts.
“They’re taking an extra step to get better and starting to put their names out in college football,” running back Johnathan Gray said. “They’re doing a great job for us right now and they’re hard workers. The sky’s the limit for those guys.”
TCU has the No. 1 run defense in the Big 12. It also has the league’s best cornerback in Jason Verrett, who will no doubt be dedicating his attention to Davis and Shipley.
That could potentially make for a big day for Sanders and Johnson. It’s never quite that simple, of course, and TCU has more talent in its secondary, but either could be the X-factor that Texas’ offense seeks.
While Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite likes what he’s seen from the duo in practice and games, he’s careful to give too much praise. Sanders and Johnson are not done developing.
“That’s the biggest thing. The road to the championship is always under construction,” Applewhite said. “You've got to keep working. You’re never there, you’ve never arrived.”
But when the Longhorns find themselves in need of a momentum-changing play this weekend, don’t be surprised if one of the sophomores gets a chance to build on the breakout seasons they've begun.
Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.
Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.
The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.
In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).
Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.
Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.
Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.
Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.
Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.
Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.
West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.
Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.
Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.
Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown
Here's a look at five stats that defined UT's win in the Red River Rivalry.
Quarterback QBR on third down. Oklahoma’s Blake Bell had a 0.1 raw QBR on third down against the Longhorns while UT quarterback Case McCoy had a 99 raw QBR on third down. It can’t get much clearer which team had the best quarterback on Saturday. McCoy finished 8 of 10 pass attempts for 131 yards, 13.1 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. Bell was 1 of 8 pass attempts for 12 yards, 1.5 yards per attempt, three sacks and two interceptions.
Yard per play on third down. It wasn’t just the quarterbacks who deserve the praise or the blame for Texas’ overall dominance on third down. The Sooners averaged minus-0.31 yards per play on third down while the Longhorns averaged 9.45 yards per play on third down. OU lost four yards on 13 third-down plays, UT gained 189 yards on 20 third-down plays. UT continually made key plays on third down while OU could do little to stop it.
Geneo Grissom’s 54 all-purpose yards. Anytime a defensive end with an interception finishes the game with the fourth-most all-purpose yards on the team, your offense struggled to find playmakers. No Sooner finished with more than 34 rushing yards or 70 receiving yards. The Longhorns defense tackled well in one-on-one situations and made OU's offense uncomfortable. Meanwhile Johnathan Gray, Mike Davis, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson each had plays of 38 yards or more for the Longhorns.
Texas rush attempts. The Longhorns ran the ball 60 times on their way to victory. UT has had at least 60 rush attempts on seven occasions since 2004, winning all seven games. Led by 123 rushing yards from Gray and 120 rushing yards from Malcolm Brown, UT had 60 carries for 255 yards, 4.25 yards per carry, yet didn’t have a rushing touchdown. The Longhorns finally turned to their bevy of quality running backs to shoulder the offense and it paid off.
Bell’s rush attempts. The Sooners quarterback had seven carries for minus-27 yards against the Longhorns. UT entered the game allowing 105 rushing yards per game to the opposing quarterback yet the Sooners did not have a significant portion of their game plan based around Bell running the ball. When he did try to make plays outside the pocket, the Longhorns did a terrific job of corralling and tackling Bell.
To the ‘bag:
Andrew in NYC writes: As exciting as the Baylor offense has been, why haven't there been any comparisons to the WVU team last year? We all saw where they went once they started playing real teams. Any chance we see a similar meltdown this year with the Bears?
Jake Trotter: The difference is that last year’s West Virginia team was really a three-man show with Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. From the offensive line to the depth of the receiving corps, this Baylor offense is way more complete. Baylor’s defense is also far superior to West Virginia’s 2012 unit. I get the comparison. But this Baylor team has more staying power.
rtXC1 in Denison, Texas, writes: Hey, love the work you are putting in! Am I the only person left that believes playing Tyrone Swoopes against OU is unnecessary? If Major Applewhite can create a good gameplan -- getting the 5 RBs 50+ total touches, including Daje Johnson and Jalen Overstreet -- AND STICK TO IT, then Case McCoy CAN win this game and many more. Playing Swoopes, with his current state of poor mechanics (thanks a lot Whitewright coaches), could be as counterproductive as playing Ash was in 2011, and potentially hurt his confidence. The only thing he'd really add is the zone-read element, which Gray and Overstreet could run just as well. What's best for Texas is to follow the gameplan. Thoughts?
Jake Trotter: I enjoy insightful mailbag submissions like this. Texas fans who believe Swoopes is the answer are just not being realistic. There’s a reason he hasn’t stepped on the field yet. He’s just not ready. For all their issues, the Longhorns still have enough offensive playmakers to stay in the game Saturday. It’s about putting them in good positions to make plays -- something Applewhite has struggled to do.
Andy in Austin, Texas, writes: Jake, I was wondering if you could investigate as to why Overstreet hasn't seen more on the field time in the "Wild Horn" formation. Since McCoy seems to lack serious mobility, why hasn't this package been seen more? Will OU be seeing it Saturday?
Jake Trotter: The Longhorns should be pulling out all the stops in this game. Fake field goals, double reverse passes -- whatever is still in the holster. I would give the Overstreet package (if the Horns still have it in the playbook) a shot early, as well, just to test how OU defends it and see if there’s something that can be exploited.
Larry in Austin, Texas, writes: Hi, Jake. When Mack Brown leaves at the end of the season, do Applewhite and (Greg) Robinson get shown the door as well?
Jake Trotter: Yes. As Hawk Harrelson would put it, they gone.
Blake Bell in Norman, Okla., writes: I think I need a new nickname. I've heard "Bellthrowzer" and “Bellicopter.” But what about the “Bellista?” On the other hand, the "Wrecking Bell" sign at the last game was pretty good. So what do you recommend?
Jake Trotter: You have a great nickname. Why do you need another?
Darrell in Huntsville, Ala., writes: This week you said Art Briles would be an excellent hire for Texas. Wouldn't Briles be an excellent hire for any program?
Jake Trotter: Probably, but I feel like he would be an especially good fit for Texas. Briles knows the state. Because of his background, he has relationships with virtually every high school coach in the state. And I think Briles would do a better job of getting the right players to Austin than the Mack Brown regime has done in recent years.
Sic ‘em in Birmingham, Ala., writes: I had a Twitter conversation with a USC fan the other day. He wanted USC to pursue Briles with everything they had, and was convinced Briles would leave if they offered him enough. Thoughts?
Jake Trotter: If Briles were going to leave, I think he’d leave for Texas ahead of USC.
Big Ferm in San Diego writes: Jake, welcome aboard the Baylor Bandwagon. Like Lache Seastrunk, it’s moving at breakneck speeds and pancaking haters like Cyril Richardson does defenders. Most talking heads in the media believe OU is the conference favorite because of its victory over the Irish. Too bad the Bears didn't schedule Notre Dame. They would've hung 70 on them.
Jake Trotter: I’ve been talking up the Bears since the preseason, but so far they have exceeded even my expectations. If I had to pick the Baylor-OU game today, I would pick the Bears.
Jack in Waco, Texas, writes: I am a little confused how OU can be ahead of Baylor in your power rankings. That being said, I'm still a big fan of the blog since you guys took over, great job!
Jake Trotter: Thanks, Jack. The answer is simple. OU has two wins that are better than any Baylor victory. The Sooners have also won away from home. That gives them the edge at the moment, even though Baylor has looked unstoppable through four games. But if the Bears are just as impressive in Manhattan as they have been in Waco, I’ll have to rethink my rankings.
Prescott in The Woodlands, Texas, writes: I know Baylor is planning to take off the tarp for the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium. Would they consider removing it for Oklahoma in November?
Jake Trotter: Sure, if they sell enough tickets.
Mo in Dallas writes: There has been a lot of hate on Baylor’s schedule. Why doesn't Alabama receive the same hate?
Jake Trotter: Come again? Alabama has beaten Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Alabama has also won three national titles in four years. I’m assuming those might be reasons why.
Alex in Austin, Texas, writes: Which do you think is more explosive, the ‘05 Texas offense or this Baylor offense?
Jake Trotter: I’m placing a moratorium on questions like this until after Baylor plays Oklahoma.
Travis the Tech fan in Houston writes: Mr. Trotter, I don't know why there has been so much bickering among Tech and Baylor fans on the Bears’ legitimacy. Tech and Baylor have a lot more in common than what you would think. If anything we should be finding a way to work together to vanquish all who challenge us. Go Bears (not on Nov. 16, though).
Jake Trotter: Get your guns up, Baylor fans.
Casey Parkhurst in Fort Worth, Texas, writes: Do you think Texas Tech is a contender in the Big 12?
Jake Trotter: Sure, the Red Raiders are a contender. The defining game will be at Oklahoma in two weeks. If Tech wins that game, then the Red Raiders could be playing for a Big 12 title in Arlington. Remember, Tech has had OU’s number lately, too. Dating back to 2005, the Red Raiders are 4-4 against the Sooners.
Clint in Houston writes: Tech is currently ranked 32nd in recruiting per ESPN, which is interesting. On one side, we have a new coach. On the other, we have an extremely energetic and passionate staff, and the team is rolling. Do you see us climbing the recruiting rankings before the end of the season?
Jake Trotter: The Red Raiders already have 21 commitments, so there’s not much room to rise. That said, this has been an excellent recruiting effort by Kliff Kingsbury and his staff. Tech fans should be very excited.
Mike writes: Let me say, I really like this season’s version of the Big 12 coverage! It's a major upgrade to what was already an excellent read. Do you think that, given the right upsets, an undefeated Big 12 champion could leap over ALL the one-loss teams to make the title game?
Jake Trotter: Given the absolute right upsets, maybe. But a one-loss Oregon or Alabama would be tough to unseat.
Greg in Richardson, Texas, writes: Jake, now that we are six weeks in, can you compare the Big 12 to the Big Ten? Will an undefeated Big 12 team be more deserving of a title shot than an undefeated Big Ten team?
Jake Trotter: I give the Big 12 a slight edge over the Big Ten. But deserving or not, an undefeated Ohio State would get in over an undefeated Big 12 team. An undefeated Michigan, however, would not.
Alex in Ames, Iowa, writes: Hey, Jake. You've been doing a great job on the blog so far (except those ISU picks... yikes). Anyway, after the gut-wrenching, anger-inducing controversial loss to Texas, we saw anger, confusion, and a TON of passion not only from Paul Rhoads, but fans and players, as well. Does this loss energize the team the rest of the year? Or did it drain them?
Jake Trotter: Thanks, Alex, and sorry about the weekly Iowa State jinx. This really could go either way. But knowing what kind of coach Rhoads is and knowing how his players respond to him, my guess is they’ll play with some energy Saturday.
Bullet in Stillwater, Okla., writes: Since our offense hasn't scored much this year, I've been getting out of shape. Do you think we'll have a new coordinator next year? Mike Gundy needs to get me back in game shape.
Jake Trotter: I would give Clint Chelf a shot and see if that changes anything first.
Matt in Wamego, Kan., writes: As a diehard KU fan I am a believer in always supporting and backing your team. However, I am starting to get very frustrated. Especially seeing teams like Baylor, Louisville and Northwestern, who were once the laughing stock of college football, now building winning programs. Please help me. I am tired of being ready for basketball season in mid-September. What will take to at least make my Jayhawks relevant again?
Jake Trotter: The right coach. Not saying Charlie Weis isn’t the right coach. He’s been there less than two years. But what do the three undefeated teams in the league all have common? The right coach. Mark Mangino proved you can have success at Kansas. But it starts with the head man.
John in San Jose, Calif., writes: TCU's three losses are to three top 20 teams that are a combined 15-1. TCU has been in all three games, too. Is an 8-4 finish in reach, considering four remaining games are at home and TCU has shown it can play well on the road?
Jake Trotter: It’s not out of reach, but it’s going to be pretty tough. The Frogs still have to go to Oklahoma State and face Baylor. The obviously would have to win one of those two games and then run the table. Not impossible. But not likely, either, given how inconsistent the offense has been.
Joe in Gauley Bridge, W.V., writes: Is it totally unreasonable for me as a fan to expect West Virginia to win at least nine or 10 games a year and compete for the Big 12 title yearly? I don't want to be mediocre, I want to be the best.
Jake Trotter: That was probably reasonable in the Big East. It’s not reasonable in the Big 12. What you’re suggesting is what Oklahoma has basically accomplished in the Bob Stoops era. West Virginia’s program is just not on that level.
Here are some storylines, players to watch and a prediction.
Will OU continue its dominance? The Sooners are coming off back-to-back blowout victories over the Longhorns, winning 63-21 in 2012 and 55-17 in 2011. OU’s offense has averaged 7.02 yards per play during the two games while holding UT to 3.89 yards per play. Expect OU to lean on its defense again as the Sooners hope to continue its win streak.
Can Texas get it together? The Longhorns have the talent to cause problems for OU. A big play here from Johnathan Gray, a big play there from Daje Johnson and things could get real interesting at the Cotton Bowl. Add in a turnover or two and the Longhorns could pull a shocker on Saturday. Lack of talent is not the issue in Austin.
Which quarterback will spark a win? OU quarterback Blake Bell and UT quarterback Case McCoy each have experience in the Red River Rivalry, so they shouldn’t be completely bug-eyed on Saturday. Bell is looking to rebound after throwing just 152 yards against TCU; McCoy wants to prove the Longhorns still have a chance with him under center.
Players to watch
OU quarterback Blake Bell: The Sooners quarterback has played well while leading his squad to a 3-0 record during his time as a starter. Bell’s third-down efficiency has been outstanding as a starter; he’s 17 of 28 for 324 yards and three touchdowns on third down. If the Sooners expect to win their fourth Red River Rivalry in a row, Bell will need to play well.
Texas running back Johnathan Gray: The Longhorns running back can be a game-changing playmaker if he gets the ball. Gray has carried the ball at least 20 times twice during his career and the Longhorns won both games (at Texas Tech in 2012, vs Kansas State in 2013). Feeding Gray the ball should be the game plan, as he makes things happen for a UT offense void of playmakers.
OU linebacker Frank Shannon: A lot of eyes will be on Dominique Alexander as the Sooners look to replace Corey Nelson. Yet Shannon will shoulder a good portion of the burden. The sophomore will need to take on a more vocal role with Nelson out while continuing to make plays all over the field.
Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Texas 24. The Sooners take a early lead and play with a double-digit advantage for the majority of the game. UT starts to find a rhythm on offense late in the second half to score some late points, but this one is never really in doubt after three quarters.
AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is a two-touchdown underdog against a No. 12 Oklahoma outfit with a hard-earned undefeated record and a three-game winning streak in the Red River Rivalry. What must the Longhorns do to change all that?
This is hardly a comprehensive blueprint of what they must achieve on Saturday. It’s sorted more by chronology than priority. There’s plenty that has been left out -- like the coaching matchup, special teams, the possibility of some McCoy magic – and this checklist might mean almost nothing after the clock strikes 11 a.m. at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
But if you’re throwing the rivalry’s recent history out the window and are feeling truly optimistic about Texas’ chances, here are 10 things that probably have to happen for this team to emerge victorious.
1. Wake up and start fast
Texas went three-and-out on all three of its first-quarter drives in 2012 and did not have a possession of more than four plays in the first half. It’s easy to fall behind 34 points before halftime when your offense is that inept. The Longhorns have taken 10-0 leads to start each of their games in the last two weeks. Can Texas overcome the fact it hasn’t played a single morning or afternoon game this season and actually begin this one with momentum on its side?
2. Be the physical team
Oklahoma has been the more physical team in its three consecutive Red River victories. Mack Brown admits that. This should start with the Longhorns offensive line, an inconsistent group that needs its finest performance yet on Saturday. This is also about the Texas defensive line, which has NFL-caliber talent and must force the OU offense to go off schedule. It’s going to be a long day if Blake Bell feels no pressure.
3. Run Gray all day
4. Second down and short
The problem isn’t just three-and-outs. It’s putting Case McCoy in third-and-long situations that handcuff Major Applewhite’s play-calling ability. This season, the Longhorns are getting 6 or more yards on 40 percent of their first-down plays. Against OU last year that number was a little more than 20 percent.
5. Minimize mistakes in space
Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond better be ready. Starting two bulkier middle linebacker-types is risky against this stable Oklahoma backs, and gap responsibility is a must. This goes for the entire defense, though. Greg Robinson says the key is minimizing missed tackles. Texas learned the hard way last year -- Damien Williams’ 95-yard run, Trey Millard’s 164 total yards -- that bad things happen when the first tackle gets missed.
6. Win (or survive) the second quarter
Texas’ offense hasn’t produced a second-quarter touchdown against Oklahoma since … 2008. The Sooners won the second quarter 23-0 last year and 28-7 in 2011, all but ensuring victory by halftime. In those quarters, Texas had a combined five first downs and -17 rushing yards (seriously). Dig a hole that deep once again and the results won’t be any different in 2013.
7. Contain Bell, respect his WRs
Texas’ defensive line needs to be smart when playing Bell or he’ll turn well-covered pass plays into first-down scrambles, just as Sam Richardson did for Iowa State a week ago. The more time Bell can buy with his feet, the more dangerous his collection of fast receivers gets. Texas’ safeties must step up.
8. Swing the momentum
There’s not a better indicator of success for the Longhorns in recent years than when they win the turnover battle. They’ve lost that battle against OU by a combined margin of -6 the past two years. To keep this game close, Texas must to create momentum-changing opportunities and capitalize.
9. The wild cards
Expect Applewhite to play every card in his hand this week. That means a lot more Daje Johnson, who can score any time he touches the ball and is healthy again. Don’t overlook Kendall Sanders, either, considering the attention Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will draw. A defender due for a big game -- perhaps Quandre Diggs or Cedric Reed -- will need to rise to the occasion as well.
10. Play pissed
This is self-explanatory. Embrace the underdog role, take chances and don’t fold when this game gets tough. There’s no question the Sooners have the mental edge in this rivalry right now. The Longhorns will need to do whatever they can to get their groove back.
Do all these things and it will at least be a four-quarter ballgame, which hasn’t been the case the past two years. It’s possible Mack Brown would only have a few of these bullet points on his own version of a top-10 list. But it’s a start.
It’s safe to say the most glaring omission, the No. 11, would be obvious considering how this team has been ravaged by injuries and misfortune through five games. Texas also needs some old fashioned good luck on Saturday.
Here’s what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 7.
How will Bryce Petty fair in its first road test? Petty has never stepped on the field as Baylor's starting quarterback on any turf outside of Floyd Casey Stadium. The BU quarterback has been exceptional, but nobody knows how he will respond in an uncomfortable conference road environment at Kansas State. Odds are it won’t matter since Petty has been the best and most efficient quarterback in the league thus far, but there’s no way to know how the junior will handle his first road start.
Can Texas Tech continue its undefeated start? Even with quarterback Baker Mayfield hobbled, there’s no reason to think it won’t. The Red Raiders’ defense is holding teams to 4.5 yards per play, second in the Big 12 and 16th nationally, helping to offset the unrest at the quarterback position. No matter who is under center for Tech against Iowa State, it might not matter because its defense has played at an extremely high level through the first five games.
Iowa State looks to rebound after the disappointing loss to UT. The Cyclones have been insistent that they are moving forward after feeling robbed during their 31-30 loss to Texas. Nonetheless, it is hard to believe a loss like that will not have ill effects in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday. How will they respond if a call goes the opposite way? Could an early deficit take away the Cyclones’ resolve?
Will Oklahoma’s offense get back on track with Blake Bell under center? The Sooners' passing game struggled against TCU, passing for 152 yards against the Horned Frogs. Bell couldn’t seem to get on track after two stellar performances against Tulsa and Notre Dame. OU needs the junior quarterback to respond to his worst performance of the season with a strong outing against the Longhorns.
Will the Longhorns start to lean in their playmakers more? For some reason the Longhorns aren’t leaning on running back Johnathan Gray and receiver Daje Johnson to make game-changing plays for their offense. Gray’s exceptional feet and vision along with Johnson’s acceleration and speed could change games for UT. If the Longhorns make it a point to put the ball in those guys' hands against OU, it will make the Red River Rivalry much more interesting.
Daniel Sams in the Wildcats’ backfield. The Kansas State quarterback showed he has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in his squad’s 33-29 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. Sams could be the Big 12’s most dynamic running quarterback, and the Wildcats are starting to lean on him to spark their offense. If they continue to do so against Baylor, their chances of keeping up with the Bears increase.
The impact of Devonte Fields' season-ending surgery. It’s probably the best move for Fields, who was struggling through his sophomore season. Yet it’s bad news for the Horned Frogs, as the hope of him returning at some point this season to be a healthy, productive terror on the edge is now gone. And that makes TCU’s goal of getting its season back on track just that much harder.
How will Kansas handle the loss of Tony Pierson? Just as he was starting to take his game to another level the Jayhawks’ multipurpose threat suffered a head injury against Texas Tech and is listed as day-to-day. KU will turn to Brandon Bourbon to shoulder a portion of the load with Pierson out, but the Jayhawks need someone to step up on offense if they hope to have any success against a stout TCU defense.
Who will step up and become a legend on the Cotton Bowl field? OU fullback Trey Millard had the play of the day with his highlight-reel catch and run against Texas in 2012. Memories are made on the Cotton Bowl turf, and great plays become legendary in rivalries such as these. Expect someone to step up and announce themselves to the world. Can't wait to see who it will be.
These Longhorns are, quite frankly, banged up. David Ash is certainly not the only injured player whose absence has ailed Texas in its 3-2 start to the season.
The quarterback's lingering concussion symptoms will keep him sidelined against Oklahoma, and if he returns to the lineup for the team's next game at TCU on Oct. 26, he will have missed more than full month of starts. But he's just one name on a long list of Longhorns who have dealt with injuries since fall camp began.
That long list includes top linebacker Jordan Hicks, whose season is over after he suffered a ruptured Achilles against Kansas State last month. Texas lost another defender for the season last Thursday at Iowa State, when cornerback Sheroid Evans' potential breakout season was cut short by a torn ACL.
Then there are two of the most important cogs in the Texas offense: Receiver Mike Davis and receiver/running back Daje Johnson. Both gave it a go at ISU despite ankle injuries. The one Johnson suffered had kept him sidelined for nearly three full games.
Let's run down the list of players who've dealt with injuries since August, a list that may well be missing a name or two:
- QB David Ash, concussion
- QB Tyrone Swoopes, hamstring
- RB/WR Daje Johnson, ankle
- WR Mike Davis, ankle
- WR Jaxon Shipley, hip
- WR Bryant Jackson, foot
- WR Marcus Johnson, knee
- WR Kendall Sanders, ankle
- TE Greg Daniels, foot
- TE Miles Onyegbule, leg
- OG Mason Walters, knee
- OT Josh Cochran, shoulder
- LB Jordan Hicks, ruptured Achilles, out for season
- LB Dalton Santos, leg
- CB Quandre Diggs, hip
- CB Sheroid Evans, torn ACL, out for season
- S Josh Turner, hip
- S Kevin Vaccaro, ankle
That doesn't include players with lingering injuries coming into the season. Former starting linebacker Demarco Cobbs and freshmen Deoundrei Davis and Erik Huhn continue to recover from knee injuries suffered a year ago, for example.
The list likely grows much longer, too, once you include players, such as running back Malcolm Brown, who are banged up but continue to play. Many of the aforementioned players have not missed games despite their ailments. But this does give a better indication of just how many Longhorns have recovered from injuries in the past two months or are still dealing with them.
To Texas' credit, its coaching staff and trainers have been transparent throughout these struggles. The school typically releases an injury report on the evening before game days and before kickoff. Many college coaches stubbornly treat this kind of information as classified, but Brown doesn't avoid questions about who's injured or how long a player will be sidelined.
What he can't answer is why this keeps happening to Texas. This offseason, he tried to dig up some possible explanations and solutions. But Texas doesn't practice any differently than its peers. There's nothing controversial about how the Longhorns train and lift. Often times, it's simply a matter of bad luck.
"We had a little bit of an injury bug early in the season," Walters said last week. "Hopefully that doesn't continue. I really think it gives some young guys an opportunity to step up and earn some trust from the coaches."
The burden has fallen primarily on second-year players. Sophomore Kennedy Estelle has filled in for Cochran at right tackle. Three members of his class are trying to fill the void left by Hicks at linebacker. Sanders and Johnson have stepped up at receiver, and Evans going down could mean more even work for sophomore starting corner Duke Thomas.
Brown talked up the amount of quality depth Texas has in the preseason. Now that talk is being put to the test, and Texas won't stand a chance against Oklahoma unless several of the fill-ins make major contributions.
While Brown has acknowledged the "perfect storm" of adversity that's shaken up his depth chart, he's not wasting any time griping about it. He knows that one thing hasn't changed: This is still a no-excuses season for the Longhorns, no matter who's on the mend.
Here are five things we’ve learned about Texas’ offense after four games:
1. There’s a question mark at quarterback.
David Ash is Texas’ No. 1 quarterback, and nobody doubts that. He gets more than a week to recover from the concussion-related symptoms that forced him out of the Kansas State game, and there’s optimism that he’ll be fine and cleared in time to play Iowa State next Thursday. There’s still a chance, though, that Texas coaches will use the wild card up their sleeve and play freshman Tyrone Swoopes, at least in a limited capacity. Protecting Ash is an absolute necessity, and if he has more issues going forward we’ll see more Case McCoy and more opportunity for Swoopes to contribute.
Mack Brown’s ambitious goal in the preseason was 84 plays per game. Texas is doing OK on that front, having surpassed 80 twice this season with an average of 77 per game. The Longhorns struggled early in the season to put the foot on the gas pedal and get off to fast starts, though jumping ahead 10-0 against Kansas State was promising. When the Longhorns are really moving the ball, they can play at a blistering pace and wear down a defense, especially with the run game. Now that the Big 12 slate has begun, expect to see this become more of a factor.
3. Johnathan Gray is taking the next step
The lion’s share of the run game is being entrusted to the former five-star recruit, and against K-State he showed just what he’s capable of when he gets a big workload. At 350 yards he’s the No. 2 rusher in the Big 12, and the mix of agility, vision and power he brings to the table are beginning to set him apart. Gray is getting 60 percent of Texas’ carries in 2013, with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron splitting the remaining 40 percent evenly. No matter what happens at quarterback, Gray is the guy Texas can lean on.
4. Texas has depth to deal with its pileup of injuries
If you’d told Texas fans in August that Ash, Mike Davis, Daje Johnson, Josh Cochran and several other starters would get injured during the first quarter of the season, they might be a bit more understanding of a 2-2 start. But a handful of second-year players, including Marcus Johnson, Kennedy Estelle and Kendall Sanders, rose to the occasion last Saturday when replacing those key cogs. That depth needs to keep providing for Texas if it hopes to survive (and thrive) in conference play.
5. We don’t know how good this offense can be
If the season opener taught us anything, it’s that Texas can maximize its tempo, speed and versatility when Daje Johnson is on the field. The running back/receiver can hit the home run on any play and creates lots of problems for opposing defenses. The Longhorns offense can start playing up to its potential when its X-factor returns to the lineup from an ankle injury, possibly next week against Iowa State. Unless more injuries derail this unit, its best days and performances are still ahead.
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