The Longhorn offense came out like a scythe coated in baby oil sharpened to a keen edge on Mark Mangino's kidney stones. ISU wanted to test our willingness to go downfield and Swoopes responded with completions for 45, 32 and 28 yards in the first quarter alone mixed in with an effective short passing game and an opportunistic running game that set up play action shots repeatedly. It's very clear that our offensive coaches had anticipated exactly how the Cyclones would try to attack us early.
The first three drives:
The first 18 Longhorn plays went for 215 yards of offense. The touchdown party was spoiled on that 3rd drive when Swoopes violated one of the Ten Commandments of Young QBs - Thou Shalt Not Throw Across Thy Body (Late, Over The Middle) which resulted in a goal line interception, thwarting what should have been a 21 point first quarter.
On the next series, John Harris contributed his obligatory one horrible play per game with a fumble that was scooped for an Iowa State touchdown and the next drive was a three and out.
This offense has impressive range.
That's where the Texas offense is right now - careening wildly between good and awful from play to play, drive to drive and quarter to quarter. We're all trying to assign retrospective narratives to account for the variation, but given our mix of players and experience I see a group maximizing what they have and getting better each week.
This is a vast improvement from the early part of the season where awful was our consistent baseline. While Iowa State has a fairly bad defense, our offensive coaches have done a good job coaching this unit up. 512 yards, 6.8 yards per play and 41 offensive points was unthinkable even two weeks ago.
We had a great game plan early and then found rhythm again late. We feature a much more aggressive and effective play action game, a much more effective zone read game and even added a designed QB lead. I may find fault from play to play with a play call here and there, but given that we don't possess a base identity or core competency to build around and a QB/OL combo with limited experience, I'm actually impressed with how aggressive we're able to be.
Most of our wounds were of the self-inflicted variety with the added bonus of starting yet another OL combination when Darius James sat out Saturday and allowed Camrhon Hughes the start at RT.
Swoopes finished 24 of 36 for 321 yards and ran 14 times for 95 yards. Pretty exciting stuff. Beyond 416 yards of output, his decision-making in the running game has improved markedly, he was lights out in the 1st and 4th quarters throwing the ball and has gone from panicky to somewhat poised in the pocket. He also hit several deep shots - passes he was incapable of completing just weeks ago.
Yes, he threw a dumb interception. Yes, he threw two other balls that might have been picked. Yes, it's ISU.
This is a young QB rapidly getting better. I have no idea what his ceiling is, but I'm confident this staff will find it.
ISU brought a lot of pressure and this group largely held up. They did allow a couple of free inside blitzers, but Swoopes rarely faced significant pressure and the running game had cracks. Camrhon Hughes got the start at RT replacing Darius James because Joe Wickline is contractually forbidden from starting the same unit twice. Nicknamed NCAA (No Contact At All) for his penchant for missing blocks, Hughes was shaky as a pass protector (a hold, two pressures on Swoopes by a JAG DE), but actually proved decent in the running game for long stretches.
Hutchins got beat noticeably once, but mostly held up. I'm actually blown away that he's able to perform as he has.
Perkins, Flowers and Doyle did nice work inside for the most part.
The Longhorns ran for a season high 191 yards, largely because involving Swoopes allows our OL to simplify assignments, to block at advantage and simplify their assignments off of the option defender. We've got something there and a return of Darius James to the line up against KSU gives us a legitimate shot at finding a running game.
This is a vastly improved unit now flirting with actual mediocrity.
A continuation of the OU game, the Longhorn WRs demonstrated again why they're the best unit on the offense. John Harris went 9-147-1 td with some big-time grabs downfield, Shipley went 6-92 including a key 22 yard slip screen on 3rd and 8 and the 39 yard wheel route that set up Harris for his grab and Marcus Johnson had a nice play action touchdown. He flashed open on that same route twice more at least, but no dice.
Geoff Swaim is an absolute pleasure to watch as a blocker. Effective no matter where he lines up and a high effort guy on every snap. We'll miss him. MJ McFarland has some 3rd down and red zone value, but I'm not sure he wins a foot race with Hassan Ridgeway.
The Texas offense needed to experience success and we saw what its best looks like in the 1st and 4th quarters on Saturday. Expecting a consistent, clean effort from this group just isn't realistic, but as long as Swoopes continues to grow, the unit's ability to exhibit real explosiveness in stretches may be enough to set up an interesting second half of the season.
KSU's D - though hardly talented - will present a very different challenge this Saturday. Swoopes will be tested on some information he hasn't had much chance to study - not turning it over against their opportunistic zone holds the key to any chance for a Longhorn upset in Manhattan.