This college football day profiled as a series of seal clubbings, but saw plenty of fluffy-coated, doe-eyed darlings rising up to clamp down on their oppressors’ Achilles' tendons and leave them limping along the ice floe.
It was refreshing, then, to watch Texas calmly Anton Chigurh its baby seal and proudly present its coat to Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Let’s do this thing before my battery dies.
Tonight was, and wasn't, about what you would have expected heading into this one. Texas didn't operate with the well-oiled efficiency that they demonstrated against Notre Dame - particularly in the run game - but The Trebuechele was sighted in along its preferred sideline fade axis, and that will cause major problems for better secondaries than the Miners’ in an offense that all but eliminates safety help up the sideline.
The run game carried plenty of moments of frustration despite converting a number of key short yardage situations. This was partly due to Chris Warren being miscast as a short shotgun flat-foot runner, partly due to a mildly underrated and senior-laden UTEP DL and significantly due to a MASH unit along the offensive front. It was largely a mish-mash from Section 31 with a giant marketing vector that shows no replays (but plenty of Match The Emoji moments,) but it looked like McMillon struggled in relief of Zach Shackelford while Elijah Rodriguez was consistently ownt by whichever former 2* the Miners chose to line up across from him. Neither a recruiting ranking nor a jersey make a legitimate P5 athlete, and right now Rodriguez is not one. Get well soon, Connor.
Warren has some giddyup when he hits the open field, but those moments were few and far between. Even when you allow for the fact that he needs to be aligned and used differently (I can haz outside zone?) he had a few second-level moments where he needed to put a foot in the ground and make a guy miss and he couldn't manage it. There's a role for him to be a big part of this offense, but for right now...D’Onta, get well and/or back in the coaches’ good graces soon. It was nice to see some burstiness from Kyle Porter late in the game - if Foreman isn't back next week, we need to see a lot more of him at Cal.
It’s easier to analyze the pass game when you're at the game and have no replay, so here's the short version - we be good. There were a few hiccups when we tried to throw hitches into press coverage and we gave up our first sacks of the season (>72% on 72), but Buechele was by and large dialed in and dropping it on the dot. We added a critical component of the O that was largely missing against Notre Dame, namely the willingness to punish dishonest numbers and alignments outside with the screen game. Jacorey Warrick and Jerrod Heard were the main beneficiaries, and it was very encouraging to see some robust blocking out wide (with special recognition going to Jake Oliver, who looked like Moose Johnston on more than one play out wide.) Warrick played a hell of a game after nearly turning this column into Cursing From the Hip with a goal line fumble, and offers a testament to the ways that a coherent offensive scheme can unlock previously overlooked talent. I've fought the ‘Petey’ designation as I have clear memories of Peter Warrick, but for now...I’ll call him Petey.
I'll also call Jerrod Heard ‘a monster in the making’ after another slot showcase. The PA switch so lovingly detailed in Thinking Texas Football is the ideal route to get a slot loose against tight man coverage - particularly when you have one of CFB’s five best fade-route toasters under center. Autocorrect turned tossers into toasters, but it still works so hell with it. Heard got one of those, showed elusiveness on screen receptions and then hit the trifecta when he slipped out on a fake screen for a sexy short wheel TD. I'd lavish more praise on him for his savvy position switch, but his NFL contract will be plenty of additional reward.
Dorian Leonard showed well up the sideline, and Game One stars John Burt and Armanti Foreman got to have quiet nights and still watch Texas rock out in the pass game. Devin the Duve had a sweet Slot Shot toss from Swoopes go aglimmering thanks to an over-officious dipwad of a back judge, but his time is coming.
The 18 Wheeler had a bit of a flat (72 72 72) but we’ll hold off worries on that score.
Texas will need to be more high-octane and mistake free to ensure a win on the California coast, but if they can line up with at least nine of the eleven guys that started against ND (and Connor Williams is one of those nine) then I'm not sweating that too much.
Nervousness about the Longhorns handling a 31-point Vegas number largely centered around the prospects of some lackadaisical run D and press clipping placidity from the Longhorn defense.
So much for that.
Texas gave up over a hundred to a future NFL fourth-round steal in Aaron Jones, but 50 of that came about when Tim Cole drifted inside for zero reason or purpose and let Jones rocket through the gap when he should have slammed him as a totally free hitter. Aside from that the Longhorns kept Jones largely in check and were never remotely threatened by the passing threat of UTEP’s zone read-or-bust backup QB.
The 300-pounders on the DL did their jobs pretty well, even on an opponent adjusted basis - UTEP isn't sporting any Mike McGlincheys, but they're a big and senior-laden bunch who've been getting years of tutelage from former OL coach Sean Kugler. Paul Boyette and Chris Nelson both had plenty of solid stack-and-shed moments and didn't get washed out by the double team while The Poonatrator knifed into the backfield on multiple occasions. The young ‘uns got some late run as Elliott, Wilbon and Christmas all saw action and held up well against the Miners’ late game Surrender Cobra run game (did Kugler have UTEP teased to +36 or something?)
The 260-70 pounders showed well, as Bryce Cottrell made a spry return to action to rotate with Charles Omenihu at SDE, and Omenihu himself showed some nice pass rush moments when he wasn't shackled at a 4i spot against a pair of NFL linemen.
And the 250 pounder...good Lawd.
Malcolm Roach had some flashes against Notre Dame, but he enjoyed some megawatt moments tonight. 250+ pound true freshmen aren’t supposed to drop fluidly into space and then fly to the ball the way he did tonight - or if they do, they're supposed to have come in as highly fought over high four star dudes. If he magically holds his current weight, he could turn into Strong’s Texas equivalent of Louisvile Fox first-rounder Marcus Smith. If (and, let’s face it, when) he keeps growing, he could follow Cory Redding’s path to - and through - a lengthy NFL career.
Charlie might be able to evaluate a lil’ bit.
The backers had solid games as they got to play off of solid work up front. Malik is Malik despite losing the handle on Jones on one outside run, and Wheeler continues to show physicality and instincts that were totally absent as a frosh. Even Cole got to redeem his early-game run bust with a couple of nice plays in space. With health and continued strong play from the boys up front, Texas should be just fine against most run games.
The secondary was hardly tested tonight, but they got a few moments to shine. Sheroid Evans had another nice pass breakup, and Davante got to atone for last week’s nightmare outing with a handy forced fumble. DeShon Elliott had a nifty sack on the same safety blitz that yielded Kevin Vaccaro’s Panther Fuckleap on Malik Zaire, and The Fuckleaper himself got into the act again as he and The Omen had a confluence at the quarterback. Kris Boyd continues to be the Headless Thorougbred as he undermined his elite athleticism with a needless penalty to go along with his brace of special teams flags.
The predicted run game annoyance took place, but all in all this unit balled out and dominated an overmatched foe.
Kris Boyd gaveth and tooketh away with some fly-down-the field moments and some mindless penalties, low lighted by an absurd tackle of the personal protector on a punt that negated a partial block. Brandon Jones showed what it looks like when one of the team’s top five athletes DOESN’T check his brain at the door, as he was all but unblock able on kick coverage while drawing a flag and (I think) got himself a block as well. Domingue drilled a 40 yard field goal, Mitchell Becker showed a stout leg when he's not chronically undercutting the ball and Michael Dickson brought the Thunder From Down Under on punts.
Clean up the silly penalties, and Jeff Traylor may have a plus unit on his hands.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This one felt line it was going to have something of a ‘"Hey, a win’s a win’ denouement coming in, but Texas turned in the kind of all around (missing starters adjusted) effort that you want to see from a young and talented bunch that wants to accomplish shit ahead of schedule. They'll need better health and continued focus next week to knock off Charlie’s knock that his teams can’t bring it on the road, but two games in they're right where you'd want them to be.