I wondered why I set the alarm clock for 2:00am to watch the game in a hospital lounge after the first quarter and half of play. 7-0, New Mexico State at home? Really. Were we withstanding their surge? Thankfully, I stuck with it and the Longhorns rewarded us all with an exciting display of the potential of the new offense and a competent display of defense. Albeit all against a fairly miserable New Mexico State team that I've got winning three games this year.
This is a quick react - I'm sure my fellow writers will dig much deeper soon.
The awful early start - featuring three first half turnovers, penalties, David Ash getting the ball out too slowly, and Mike Davis looking like a player who hadn't seen contact since the Spring - finally found a groove when Ash hit John Harris on a line against a flat-footed NMSU safety in cover 2 for an easy score and then followed it with a backyard pitch and catch that Daje Johnson made look all-too-easy. By the way, Daje makes everything look easy. He seems to glide, disdainful that defenders are even attempting to touch him.
Suddenly, the offense was in sync, our players found tempo and confidence, and the Longhorns compiled 56 unanswered points in three quarters while amassing a school record 715 yards on only 72 plays. Welcome to the hurry-up, no huddle spread. Holy shit.
David Ash struggled early with tentative early play that didn't match game speed, but didn't experience an existential crisis (aided with no fear of a short hook) and he smoothly proceeded to compile 343 yards passing on 20 of 28 with 4 tds to take the edge off of his opening 2 interceptions (the safety read interception was solely on him and quite horrible, the other was of the shit happens in football variety).
Ash also showed his ability to bail out the offense on 3rd down with timely scrambles and even housed a 55 yarder down the sideline against a NMSU LB and safety corps that isn't breaking 4.7 in the 40 anytime soon. We'll chalk that up as a 10 yard gain against BYU next week. Ash compiled 434 yards and 5 TDs and, most encouragingly, in his post-game interview I saw a joyful, confident QB.
Honestly, Daje Johnson is postion-less. And also the best player on the team. There's not much else to say. If he continues to expand his ability to get the ball downfield - particularly operating as a zone buster and slot weapon - he'll be the X Factor that opens up the entire offense. He touched the ball 9 times and had 129 yards and two scores.
Mike Davis' early rust was irritating - a careless fumble, a couple of bad route reads - but his gorgeous one foot-in touchdown catch while being interfered was classic Magic Mike body control. I expect him to show up as the season progresses and he gets into game speed. I do worry about an injury as his conditioning catches up to game action though.
Jaxon Shipley was appropriately possession-y and he's improved as a blocker. Both in willingness and effectiveness.
It was great to see John Harris uncork one. I hope the big guy can keep it up, because we need a credible #3 big body who can feast on safeties.
Swaim is our starter and he's a game blocker. Still a weakness overall, but we're trying to integrate MJ.
Four Longhorn teammates out-rushed our top two RBs - Gray and Brown - but that's a good thing. Jalen Overstreet cleaned up on tired scrubs (9-92-2tds), but there were some gorgeous cutbacks in there. He has real vision and very sweet feet. I'm beyond intrigued. Reminded me a lot of another converted East Texas QB named Joseph Addai...
Joe Bergeron running against a tired defense is very unfair.
I'm not worried about Gray or Brown and it was nice to see Malcolm house some easy candy on that screen. Johnathan's time will come. He really blocked well, BTW.
Good overall protection for Ash and the running game opened up quite well once we stopped respecting New Mexico State's DBs and slitting our own throats with turnovers, penalties, and over-thinking at the QB position. Impressed by our 2nd team OL - these guys are actually more talented than the starters - just less blooded by competition. Desmond Harrison is clearly being groomed for bigger things. How quickly do we bring him along? Some of our bye weeks are really going to be crucial in that respect.
Bergeron and Overstreet really showed what can be done off of the inside zone when the back has some breathing room and the chance to cut back hard against the grain. Hopkins played at an All-Big 12 level.
A competent effort. I was really irritated by some of our bad habits from last year showing up early - a failure to account for obvious play calls on 3rd and short, not lining up in time for the snap, missed tackles, not realizing the QB is run eligible on the read play - but once we adjusted I was OK with the overall play and our ability to create some pressure without allowing anything deep.
NMSU gained 356 yards, but needing 84 plays to do it and 7 points on the scoreboard sits just fine with me. 7 of 21 on 3rd and 4th down is also getting the job done. As always, this is a defense that will thrive best when it has the chance to play with a lead and a more predictable set of play calls from the offense. I also think this game proved very little that's projectable to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, or Ole Miss.
Cedric Reed is my player of the game on defense. He physically dominated against the run and was a solid pass rusher. He has a different body from when he first arrived and he's really coming into his own. Jeffcoat looked like himself and had some nice hits on the QB. He's just such a sound football player. He'll better show his wares when some teams try deeper drops and some stuff downfield.
Malcom Brown really locked down the interior running game and is responsible for a lot of NMSU's struggles to establish any conventional running game. There was just nothing available inside.
I liked what I saw from the 2nd team defense. Our depth is vastly improved.
Dalton Santos has improved considerably. He's so much more mobile and instinctive than last year and Edmond will have his hands full keeping his starting gig. He had some big hits, played with energy from sideline-to-sideline and generally exudes the lunatic personality a defense needs. I thought Jinkens had some early struggles, particularly losing the TE/H-Backs on 3rd down, but played through it. He's not going anywhere. Hicks is a rock of stability. He'll lead us in tackles.
Love Quandre at the nickel. Adrian Phillips was very concerning, whiffing on two open field tackles and his interception can't make me forget that. Byndom also blew one in the open field, but his coverage was lockdown. Sheroid Evans is pretty much a starter and showed well, though recognition on 3rd down was lacking at times. Let's not be surprised by a 5 yard hitch on 3rd and 3, shall we? Thompson was solid, though never truly tested. Overall, NMSU had zero ability to threaten us downfield so the DBs experienced very little challenge beyond formational recognition. We also played to keep everything in front of us and were more than happy to concede 4-6 yard routes.
You may not like the slow bleed at times, but it's fundamentally pretty good defense at the college level if you can tackle reliably. That remains to be seen.
Fera has a leg. The 68 yarder was a thing of beauty. Some of his other punts were not. Consistentcy. Quandre Diggs appears to be our "safe catch" punt returner while Daje Johnson is the "try to score" returner. Wasn't particularly impressed with blocking or coverage on either punts or kickoffs, despite solid kicking from Rose. A real shame - we have too many good players and too much depth not to press a major advantage here.
NMSU is quite bad (though their coaches, to their credit, ran the only logical game plan they could) and it took us a quarter and a half to getting around to demonstrating that. Once we spat the bit, I was pretty impressed with the weapons at our disposal. And I liked seeing Ash struggle early and then right himself. Though only in retrospect.
BYU's defense is very sound and should give us a very solid picture of where we are on offense. The defense has every opportunity to make a statement in Provo if we can stop the run. We'll see on special teams.
Great to see some Longhorn football, amigos y amigas. Hook 'em!