Now that I've concluded my trek back and forth across the Mississippi, I was able to back track and chart the Texas run game against both Rice and Oklahoma State. We'll start with the results against the Owls, who employed a similar defensive design as the Cowboys but were actually much more aggressive with it, for better or worse.
Oklahoma State’s road trip to Austin last Saturday coincided with my own road trip down to the state capital from my abode in Michigan. It’s the first time I’d been in DKR Memorial Stadium since Collin Klein unsurprisingly gritted out a 17-13 victory over the heavily favored Longhorns back in 2011. @wethorn was able to get me into some fantastic seats and I took in the game from a new observation post that offered some new angles on Herman’s Horns than my sofa.
Mike Gundy is the one problem in the Big 12 that Tom Herman has yet to solve. In 2017 the Longhorns caught Oklahoma State with a surprise haymaker, unveiling the 3-2-6 “lightning” package as a base defense and combining it with Michael Dickson’s punting to shut down the Cowboy offense. However, the Texas offense came up with next to nothing and the ‘Horns went down 13-10 in overtime when a dazed Sam Ehlinger threw an interception into the end zone.
Texas secured a good victory that included some nice stats for star Sam Ehlinger and a lot of snaps for freshman and back-ups. Several players that will likely redshirt this season got in on the action in this contest.
There’s no turning back from third-and-17. That was a decisive moment in history for Tom Herman’s time at Texas when it became clear that Todd Orlando is not “getting it” in the way that it appeared he did in 2017. The Longhorns had a fantastic chance on that down to play respectable defense, receive a punt, and then allow Sam Ehlinger to go win the football game against a worn down LSU defense. Instead he called that fateful zero blitz that played man coverage on all four wideouts while asking safety Chris Brown to hang shallow to play hot routes or the QB scramble.
The real story of the LSU game and potentially this season was Texas' spread passing attack. The Longhorns torched the Tigers from empty formations in a fashion reminiscent of the 2008 or 2009 Longhorns under Colt McCoy. A really good empty passing attack led by a mobile QB that can read defenses and react quickly can be truly nightmarish for opponents.
Texas gave that game to LSU. There's no question that LSU played outstanding football, clearly hiring assistant offensive coach Joe Brady was a great decision and he was able to join forces with Joe Burrow and Steven Ensminger to build a phenomenal spread passing attack. The Tigers came in and won that game with a great effort and a truly potent offensive system.
LSU’s visit to Austin will probably go down as the biggest national game that Texas has played under Tom Herman to date, aside from the 2018 battles with Oklahoma. For better or worse, Texas and Oklahoma will always be the ultimate measure of each other, but this LSU team represents a different sort of challenge. There's no ignoring the “SEC!!!” angle, which adds a few different important dimensions to this game. The first is the impact on Texas' reputation on the recruiting scene. A win in this game is a win on the recruiting trail against the “Texas doesn’t send players to the NFL” club that regional rivals love to throw at the Longhorns as well as the "come to the SEC and play the best" mythos.
Last year we tracked Texas' burgeoning run game under Herb Hand with the weekly run game report where I broke down the concepts and results of the Longhorn rushing attack. Although part of me wonders if the emphasis this year might be more on the passing game, we're still bringing it back for another go round.