Texas started the game in front of seventy(?) thousand enthusiastic fans, a caffeined-up Lowell Galindo and some of the cardboard cutouts from the first season of American Gladiators. But they sang the Eyes in front of a lot more Longhorns than they did last week. Tom Herman notched his first win on the 40 by hanging half a hundred on San Jose State.
There’s no mulligan rule in college football, is there?
I kinda want a mulligan rule.
Q: How do you take a bunch of Spartans from looking like this in the first quarter:
To this in the fourth?
A: You run the fuck out of the football.
409 yards on 59 carries qualifies as running the football until there are absolutely zero fucks left in it, and Tom Herman and Tim Beck gave zero fucks about the notion that Texas needs to go ahead and embrace its identity as a base 10 personnel team.
Don’t like our offense with one tight end? You’ll get TWO tight ends, and like it!
Texas came out in 11 personnel with Garrett Gray...and went punt, punt as some key run game blocks got missed and freshman QB Sam Ehlinger started off slowly from the pocket. But the Longhorns started mixing in some HeardCat, Ehlinger found Chris Warren on a couple of swing throws (including a nifty Leapin’ Sam McGuffie impersonation) and Heard barreled into the end zone to score the game’s winning touchdown.
Fortunately, there were a lot more to come.
As the game wore on, Texas spent a ton of time in a two-TE set with Kendall Moore - who spent last week’s loss on a milk carton - lined up in-line and freshman Cade Brewer set up as an H-back. The run game showed a ton more variety this week with a far greater emphasis on man/gap plays like Power, Counter and Pin N’ Pull, and the primary beneficiary was none other than Chris Warren. The big man benefitted greatly from the chance to get a running start and cut behind a pulling blocker or two. He dusted off some of his 2015 Tech Game magic when he took a 3rd and 1 carry out of the 25-Wheeler Package to paydirt, ripping through San Jose like a California wildfire. Or a California mudslide. Or a California flaming mud avalanche. Game watchers got nervous as Warren reportedly nursed a tweaked knee during the second quarter, but he came back with a vengeance in the third as he keyed two more TD drives. In the fourth he took a well-deserved and well-advised seat on the bench with 189 yards from scrimmage and a pair of scores (the second aided by an absolutely hilarious assist from Patrick Hudson) under his belt. He missed a couple of cutback lanes that would have put him around 280 on the day, but he ran with the kind of purpose and authority that you want to see from your lead back.
Kyle Porter got to flash some niftiness of his own after a slow start, ripping off a couple of nice cutback runs as Texas put the hammer down in the second half. He also deserves recognition for blocking his ass off on multiple occasions, proving that it’s nice to plug in a Katy Tiger when you’re running Wildcat.
Sam Ehlinger acquitted himself nicely in his first start - a stout ground game is a young QB’s best friend, but he helped his own cause in that regard with a few designed runs and some nice scrambles. He’s got great zip on his ball and even though he was a hair off on some of his downfield work, you can see some Chris Simms-caliber danger on the skinny post in his future. He narrowly avoided a couple of Simms-ian INTs with some over-confident throws across his body, but his confidence and poise in the pocket (despite a few more dubious blitz pickups from the OL) were impressive for a guy making his first collegiate start. His highlight throw of the day was a terrific toe-tap sideline grab by Lorenzo Joe, and he also stuck some strong throws to Armanti Foreman and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps over the middle.
Jerrod Heard made some solid contributions at QB - at least on the running side of things. The HeardCat was a welcome addition that helped Texas start rolling downhill, but a couple of flutterballs on a swing pass to Toneil Carter and a fade...ish...thing down the sideline to LoJoe reminded us why he’s a package player.
It’s highly doubtful that Texas can maintain a 12-personnel identity against the bulk of its conference slate, but seeing some imagination and variety in the run game was an extremely welcome change from last week’s shitshow. The OL had a kinda-scrappy first half with too many slipped blocks and misses on the second level, but looked like world-beaters once the Spartan D ran out of gas in the second half. As the bench emptied, we got a look at some purposeful running from freshmen Daniel Young and Toneil Carter...and saw Patrick Hudson limp back to the bench after a weird collision left him grabbing at his knee. Hopefully the big man gets well soon. And while it’s far too early to say that the offense has gotten well - this WAS San Jose State - it was a nice, physical and reasonably well-designed step in the right direction.
Texas came out in the 2-4-5 look that I prayed for yesterday, and immediately looked like a different unit after last week’s tentative, over-complicated and all-around ass-tastic effort. The defensive front was active and aggressive from the jump, slanting and slipping behind blocks to disrupt runs and provide the linebackers with nice lanes to run to the ball. Poona Ford and Chris Nelson were much more as-advertised today (again, with the requisite level-of-competition caveat) and Malcolm Roach had a great game with some backfield disruption and a terrific run stop where he flowed all the way down the line to to snare a Spartan back headed to the boundary.
The Longhorn linebackers looked like new men, thanks in no small part to a new man in the mix. Another Maryland Milk Carton Man, Gary Johnson, got introduced to Longhorn Nation today by introducing himself with requisite violence to a number of ball carriers. The supposed knock on Johnson was that he was “just out there playing on instinct” in practice - turns out that’s a feature, not a bug. He instinctively recognized O-line movement and fired through gaps like he was shot out of a cannon, stopping at least three runs for sub-2 yard gains and enjoying some strong synergy with an energetic defensive front.
Perhaps aided by Johnson’s ability to do Linebacker Things, Malik Jefferson did a lot of Linebacker Things himself en route to his most complete game in a Longhorn uni. He flowed to the ball with energy, he played off blocks with physicality, and brought the wood on a crucial fourth-down stop. He also did some Nickel Things, replacing P.J. Locke split out against twinned receivers on multiple occasions and looking extremely natural in space. With Johnson able to play the traditional Rover role with aplomb, it’s a role and a look that could pay major dividends against plenty of screen and RPO-happy Big XII opponents.
The secondary turned in a nice box score line but still contributed a few scary moments with loose receivers - another Kris Boyd concentration lapse could have proved costly early, DeShon Elliott had some dire footwork in man coverage against a wheel route that almost gave up another big shot and I’m still not convinced that Brandon Jones knows where he his or what he’s doing half the time. Still, you’ll take 4.4 yards per attempt from your opponent all day errday, and it was fun to see Holton Hill Hollywood his way to the end zone for his third career INT taken back to the house.
They - and the entire defense - will face a far sterner test in the Rose Bowl next week, but again this was a massive step in the right direction.
Still waiting for our purported special teams focus to show itself on the field. Our potentially dubious kicker scouting has a lot to do with that - Rowland has been a net negative on par with our Cajun-with-a-tapeworm situation from last season, completely unreliable from 40+ and limp-legging kickoffs that will cost us dearly against the K-States of the world. Mix in a muffed punt from Armanti and you were on your way to a disastrous day, but fortunately Texas weathered the mini-storm with no ill effects this week.
Hopefully we find someone, somewhere on campus that can air out a kickoff while we embrace the notion of four-down territory.
The Bottom Line
You can’t call it a get-right win if the caliber of your opponent can’t tell you much about how right you really are. Even so, it was wildly refreshing to at least see Texas doing many of the right things after everything went wrong against the Terps. O-line, O-identity, O-leadership and plenty of other questions won’t be answered against G5 opposition, but if Texas is done being its own most formidable opponent then we’ve got brighter days ahead.