The Longhorn offense racked up an efficient 56 points with 525 yards of offense on 75 plays (7 yards per play), exploiting a feeble Baylor defense with a balanced Longhorn attack (251 rushing, 274 passing) that signaled the continuing maturation of David Ash, the return of Joe Bergeron to good health, and the full unveiling of Weapon X - the explosive Daje Johnson.
The HarsinWhite offense was all but unstoppable in the first half, scoring touchdowns on 6 of its first 8 possessions, and though Texas slowed down a bit in the 2nd half with only 14 points, that was largely because the offense only ran 28 plays (yielding 188 yards, 6.7 yards per play) as the Baylor offense played an effective game of keep away and the Longhorns were plagued by 3rd down execution errors that would have continued drives. Texas scored 2 touchdowns in their five legitimate second half drives (the last possession was a clock running exercise).
What encouraged me most about our game plan was its cognizance in setting up the run with the pass, the willingness to take our shots downfield when required, and several specific play calls (like MJ McFarland down the seam, which hit once for 29 and should have hit again for 35 if not for a bad throw) that showed Harsin knew exactly what to dial in against certain looks. When our offense is read neutral between run and pass and our backs can get a little room to breathe, it's a lot of fun to watch.
Let's talk positional breakdowns:
Daje announced his presence on the first play of the game, ripping Baylor for a 84 yard touchdown run, with MJ McFarland sealing the edge beautifully and the Longhorn receivers doing a nice job of downfield blocking. He has Jamaal Charles level explosiveness and it's not just about raw speed. Daje's other 6 carries went for 6 yards and though I appreciate the inevitable clamoring for for 30 carries a game that Longhorn fans demand after any player shows a spark, his best use remains as a change of pace back and as a threat in the passing game. Get him 10-12 touches and expect at least one of them to flip the field. Let the young man grow into his body.
Joe Bergeron was much healthier in this game than he has been in the last two and he benefitted immensely from a high level OL performance that kept him clean in the backfield and allowed him to attack decisively. Bottle up Joe early and there's not much there. But if he can break the line with some steam, you're in a lot of trouble on defense. Bergeron ran 19 times for 117 yards and an amazing five touchdowns (now 14 on the year) and he didn't have a single negative run. Additionally, his longest run of the game was only 15 yards. That means he was consistently gouging Baylor for between 4-10 yards per pop and that's the well spring of good offense.
Johnathan Gray continues to impress, with 8 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown. His hesitation move on a Baylor defender on his 25 yard touchdown run was so subtle that Chris Spielman attributed the defender's whiff to awful tackling, but somewhere Walter Payton was smiling. Watch it again.
Ryan Roberson isn't going to be the answer at FB and we're trying our best to minimize traditional two back looks now. Unfortunate.
All in all, really pleased with the backs and Harsin's ability to enrich the running game beyond inside zone.
Props to this group for a really nice performance. I counted the number of busts on one hand and I was particularly impressed that Josh Cochran held up well at LT to compensate for an injured Donald Hawkins, allowing Luke Poehlmann to draw the easier RT assignment. That's not an easy thing to do - all of your steps and balance are thrown out of wack - and props to Cochran for competing so hard. The interior OL was dominant, particularly Trey Hopkins, and Baylor had no answers for their overall play.
The OL surrendered no sacks, 3 legitimate tackles for loss, and competed hard for four quarters. A nice bounce back after the trauma of OU. But that's what playingfor Mack Brown, isn't it?
Teams continue to shade Jordan Shipley as our best receiver (Baylor assigned their better cover guy, Morton, to him on most snaps with a little deep safety shade) and Mike Davis continues to make defenses pay, this time with 6 catches, 148 yards, 1 touchdown. Mike had two drops - one of them egregious - but he's competing hard and has become a consistent every week performer. Props to Davis for turning it around. This is the Mike Davis we were promised.
Jaxon Shipley was a decoy for most of the game (1-15 receiving, 2-13 rushing) but the respect teams have for him is opening up opportunities for Davis and for our TEs. Which is why we're seeing more stubbornness in trying to get MJ McFarland (1-29) on, and down, the football field. Marquise Goodwin chipped in with 3-27 and Bryant Jackson added his obligatory one nice intermediate catch per game.
I saw more reps for Jackson and Sanders than in games previous, which may mean something, or it's just a concerted effort to get Shipley and Davis a little more rest.
David Ash has become such a good, productive player that I'm now evaluating him by standards I wouldn't have dreamed of even five games ago. Ash was 19 of 31 for 274 yards with one touchdown and also appeared to be under fairly strict orders not to run unnecessarily. Which I heartily approve of. Continue that against Kansas, please. From a nitpicking perspective, he was short or low on a couple of intermediate balls and screens, missed McFarland in the seam on a gimme, but he also had two balls dropped, threw a solid 67 yard connection to Mike Davis, hit Davis on another gorgeous sideline route on a 3rd and 6, and generally operated the offense like the cool customer he is.
Ash is currently a Top 20 FBS QB by Passing Efficiency Measures with 198 attempts, 139 completions, a 70.2% completion percentage, 1663 yards, a 8.4 YPA average, and a 12-3 TD:INT ratio. With a bowl game, he's very much on pace for a 3,000 yard, 22 TD season performance. Amazing. He's far from a complete QB at this stage, but he's tough as nails, hard-working, has talent, and his 6-3, 220+ frame isn't that easy for defenders to put on the ground when a play breaks down.
He's being asked to run a low risk, turnover free offense, and outside of the OU game, he has delivered maximum productivity with very little downside. Clearly our Offensive MVP so far.
The Texas offense is averaging 44 points per game with little downside risk (6 turnovers on the season, tied for 7th nationally in offensive turnovers) and that's why we're 5-2. Although our play calling and some of our bigger constructs can seem a tad conservative at times, it's important to remember that this is an offense nowhere near it's experiential peak, led by a sophomore QB, operating with the implicit understanding that turnovers on our side of the field with our defense means instant opponent scores. 3 and outs are also amplified in our minds by the fact that the defense is going to show its belly to most offenses - so we impose our anxiety in the form of asymmetric standards (if we need 49 points to win, then only 45 is a failure).
Outside of the OU game - which has its own bugbears that stem from the head man downward - it's hard not to be happy with the strides this group has made and the play style they've embraced to allow us to be a winning football team. This is a good, not great offense, that will continue to improve.
Onward to Kansas and a 6-2 record. The backstretch of the season will tell the tale of our 2012.