Texas gets a spark from unexpected source

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
12:20
AM ET
AUSTIN, Texas -- Before he took the field, Jaxon Shipley had a decision to make.

Gloves or no gloves?

Facing a third-down near midfield with just under three minutes to play, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin dug inside the most famous bag of tricks in college football.

This wasn't Boise -- Texas still has a ways to climb before it's back on the big stage -- but it looked like it.

[+] EnlargeTexas' David Ash
AP Photo/Eric GayQuarterback David Ash makes a key fourth-quarter catch thrown from receiver Jaxon Shipley.
A running back handed the ball to a streaking Shipley who tossed it downfield to dual-threat, zone-read specialist quarterback David Ash.

BYU didn't touch the ball again. Texas wins, 17-16, after trailing 13-0 at half.

"That was something we tried to set up," said offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "Their third-down defense was pretty good, and we needed to get some kind of spark there. It was an opportunity -- we felt it would work in that situation."

That word -- spark -- seemed to come up a lot after Saturday's win. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert struggled early. Texas' offense needed a "spark." It won't be the last time that word comes up, but most often, it'll be aimed at the revolving door behind center that replaced Gilbert, filled by Ash and Case McCoy.

But on Saturday night, with Texas trailing 16-10, it was the true freshman receiver who provided it to help "spark" a go-ahead touchdown drive with two plays before the Boise-influenced razzle dazzle took over Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

His first catch of the night? He made it in traffic for 14 yards -- and hurdled two defenders as he caught it. Not after he caught it.

As he caught it. Once his feet hit the ground -- and it was after awhile -- he looked up and ran upfield for a 14-yard gain.

"When he threw me that ball, I just thought, 'I'm not going to worry about my body right here,'" Shipley said. "I'm going to make a play no matter what."

He did, and people noticed.

"That was amazing. That was clean," said running back D.J. Monroe. "That looked like something Jordan would do. We're kind of used to it, but we didn't think it was time for him to do it yet."

It is. The comparisons to Jordan are inevitable and unavoidable. For all the talk of "The Return of McCoy to Shipley," the comparisons are far from forced.

"Jaxon made some clutch catches at the end. He does it every day in practice," Case McCoy said. "We know where he's going to be because he practices like that every day. ... On third down, he's a big target for us."

And for Jaxon Shipley, his brother Jordan isn't a bad guy to be compared with. He left Texas as the all-time leader in receptions (248) and second all-time in touchdown catches (33) and receiving yards (3,191).

But already, with a touchdown in his first game ever last week, Jaxon has done at least one thing Jordan never did.

"Coach Brown tells us all the time age doesn't matter," Shipley said. "If you don't have the mindset that you're a freshman, you're not going to play like a freshman."

Brown told a room of microphones on Saturday what he hasn't been shy about admitting. Texas isn't a great football team.

"We're probably even with every team we play from here on out, or more of an underdog," he said. "Our games are going to be 17-16 if we win, and 20-17, and that's what I thought we'd have last year, but we didn't do them in that fashion."

Games like those are decided on one or two plays. This year, Shipley is showing he can make them.

And Texas, at 2-0, is enjoying the warmth of a spotless start.

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