Slow start, fast finish

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By Bill Frisbie, Inside Texas Lead Writer
Posted Sep 9, 2012
Copyright © 2018

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Mike Davis

David Ash threw for a career-high 221 yards while Texas did most of its damage in the second half against outmanned New Mexico, winning 45-0 in Austin Saturday. But there’s little to suggest Ash will establish a downfield passing game any time soon.

Box Score

Bear in mind that 45 of those yards came on a little flip-toss to explosive Daje Johnson.

"It was a good flip," offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin quipped. "It was right on target."

Ash was an efficient 16-of-22 for two TDs and has yet to throw an interception this season. It’s just that most of his completions were on swing passes and dump-offs. Improving the downfield passing game has been a priority since spring training and was a point of emphasis this past week.

"We wanted to throw it more," head coach Mack Brown said. "We knew we were going to win the game. We knew we could run the ball. We wanted get the ball into receivers’ hands and work on protections. We’re not into stats, we’re into winning games."

Texas forced the issue, however, with a deep vertical on its first snap, but Ash overthrew Mike Davis down the left boundary.

"It was there," Davis said. "We had the play. David had pressure. I ran my route. It just went out of bounds."

Two series later, Ash overthrew a wide-open Marquise Goodwin at the 15 yard-line. A promising drive ended when Nick Jordan’s 45-yard field goal attempt was wide-left, negating the momentum of Quandre Diggs’ first interception of the season at the Longhorns 29 yard-line. It was the game’s most disappointing series, according to Harsin.

"We have to capitalize on that," Harsin said. "When we get a momentum change like that we have to go down there and get points on the board."

You hate to nitpick following a 45-point blowout, but play-action will remain hit-and-miss until someone answers Texas’ all-points bulletin for a tight end. Play-action, of course, is predicated upon an effective ground game. And Texas has yet to field a power running game despite boasting its best stable of backs since Ricky Williams and Priest Holmes shared the same sideline. The interior of the offensive line hasn’t consistently pile-drived anybody in recent memory.

Texas netted 168 yards on 31 attempts with Joe Bergeron leading the way with 49 yards on 11 totes. Malcolm Brown was virtually MIA with two rushes for five yards. Brown’s status was dictated by the "flow of the game," according to Harsin.

"When you have two productive backs like that, the way the game goes determines who has the opportunity to go in there," Harsin said. "It was a matter of how the rotation was going. Malcolm had more pass protections tonight. Some games a back will pass-protect more, and other games he’ll have more carries."

Granted, the deficiencies didn’t matter on a night when Texas scored all the points it needed midway through the first quarter and then added 28 more after halftime for good measure. But it could matter real soon as the competition improves incrementally in successive weeks.

To be sure, there were plenty of bright spots:

* Cornerback Quandre Diggs played like a future All-American (one interception, 35-yard punt return), as did defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat (2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one pass broken up and a forced fumble).

* Receivers Mike Davis, Marquise Goodwin and Jaxon Shipley manned-up with big-time grabs, while Goodwin and Shipley were particularly effective in downfield blocking. There was even a John Harris sighting, as his leaping 17-yard reception from Case McCoy set up Texas’ final score.

* Kickoff coverage was outstanding for the second straight game.

* D. J. Monroe continues to run hard in cameo appearances.

* Daje Johnson lived up to his pre-season hype during his collegiate debut. His 45-yard touchdown catch extended the Longhorn lead to 24-0 with 12:12 left in the third quarter.

"Daje has a chance to score every time he touches the ball." Mack Brown said.

Ash’s biggest area of improvement involves managing the huddle, ball security (so far) and he is more efficient when going through progressions. Clearly Ash has taken a cue from Major Applewhite, who once made a living on dump-off passes. A couple of checkdowns to Bergeron netted 27 yards on Texas’ opening drive. Ash had nowhere to throw on fourth-and-one but he had everywhere to run. His 49-yard scramble was a career-best and he hit paydirt behind Malcolm Brown’s clearing block. Texas led 7-0 following the six-play, 80-yard drive.

New Mexico converted a couple of third-and-longs before Jeffcoat put an end to that nonsense with a 10-yard sack, his first of the season. The Lobos took 22 snaps in the opening frame, and Texas did not begin its second series until there was 23 seconds left in the quarter. It began in prime real estate at the Lobo 40 after Mykkele Thompson blocked the first punt of the season for the Horns. It led to a 38-yard Nick Jordan field goal.

Early on, New Mexico’s triple-option moved at will between the 30s and was particularly productive on quarterback keeps. Lobo quarterback B.J. Holbrook was knocked out of the game early in the second quarter; even so, the visitors held the ball for 33:52 and generated 206 yards on 47 rushes.

"We were out there for more snaps than we wanted to be," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, "But we never gave it away. They never got in our red zone."

Texas took one step back for every two steps forward after Diggs’ 35-yard punt return spotted the ball at the Lobo 27. The shenanigans began with a false start from tight end D.J. Grant and included two sacks for 21 yards. Ash stood tall in the pocket, however, on 3rd and 11 with an on-the money, 12-yard strike to Goodwin. Another big play this time on 3rd and 16 with 28 seconds remaining until intermission, came when receiver Mike Davis showed enough shake-and-bake on Ash's 22-yard swing pass to qualify for Dancing With The Stars in what was, arguably, his top touchdown catch-and-run of the past two seasons. It gave Texas a rather unimpressive 17-0 lead at the break.

Texas never quite distanced itself against Wyoming last week, and that kept backups on the bench longer than Brown wanted. Against New Mexico, "We wanted to put the foot on the pedal," Brown said.

Texas did not put its foot down until the second half. It went no-huddle mid-way through the third quarter and boasting a 24-point lead. Shipley’s juke on the roll-out from Ash netted another six yards, setting up first-and-goal from the five. Bergeron cashed in from there, capping an 11-play, 88-yard march against a gassed New Mexico squad.

McCoy replaced Ash on Texas’ first possession of the fourth quarter. It led to Texas’ first punt of the evening.

Kenny Vaccaro’s fumble recovery at the Lobo 17 came courtesy of Jeffcoat’s sack-and-strip. Jeremy Hills’ 10-yard grab in heavy traffic moved the chains on 3rd-and-nine, setting up first-and-goal from the six. From there, Monroe took the handoff from Johnathan Gray out of the wild formation and bulled his way into the end zone for a 38-0 scoreboard.

The final tally resembled the result most expected, although it took Texas a little longer to get there. The team is still looking for a faster start, and that becomes all the more imperative with consecutive road games at Ole Miss and Oklahoma State.

"We look to make a statement every week no matter who the opponent is," said Diggs. "We just want to go out and play our game. If we play our game, we’ll be successful."



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