Let’s face it – we have a young, inexperienced but talented team at the University of Texas. How many more games could they possibly win-your guess is as good as mine. The problem now is the Longhorn defense. The secondary is a mess and the defensive line plays in spurts. No lead is safe and all the pressure is on the Texas offense. They must score lots of points against any opponent to win.
Having said the above – isn’t it exciting to finally have a real, live threat at the QB position? On their last offensive play, the Longhorns had redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard get the snap, look downfield at his receivers and take off racing into the California secondary, take a hitch step and then he made one of the most exciting and thrilling runs for a 45-yard touchdown I have ever seen in DKR – Memorial Stadium. It ended with him sprinting into the left side of the North End zone with an avalanche of noise filling up the air. It was an explosion of joy from the Texas offense in the 4th quarter.
I thought the extra point attempt was rushed by Texas and the miss was ridiculous. Nick Rose has been solid on his non-returning kickoffs, field goals, and extra point attempts, but just like a 3 1/2 foot putt to win a golf match, he sliced the kick just to the right beyond the goalpost. No overtime, game over. Texas goes to 1-2.
But long before the missed extra point, the Texas defense got carved up by Cal QB Jared Goff and running back Khlanfi Muhammad. Actually, the Texas defensive line played better than they did against Rice but got very little help from the linebackers and secondary. Desmond Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, and particularly Shiro Davis made some outstanding defensive plays as well as Malik Jefferson – but behind them in the wide open zone coverage the Longhorn secondary plays, it was men (Cal) against boys (Texas).
The ridiculous targeting call on Dylan Haines in the 1st quarter was not correct because the junior safety clearly hit the Cal receiver with a shoulder blow, not with his helmet. It took an experienced playmaker out of a clearly outmanned Texas secondary. Junior Kevin Vaccaro replaced Haines and he did make one great hit on the Texas goal line which caused a crucial fumble but he doesn’t look to have much closing speed which is critical at the safety position.
Daje Johnson is a game breaker. Cal kicked off short most of the game and used its QB to pooch kick the ball out of Johnson’s hands. As I thought, the new OC at Texas, Jay Norvell, got Daje much more involved in scrimmage plays with the jet sweep action. Even a most unusual direct snap to Johnson, which Charlie Strong later laughingly admitted was a mistake in “Longhorn Rewind.” His pass receiving was exceptional and Heard seems to find him at the most crucial times.
Johnathan Gray had his best game so far this season. One questionable decision he made was trying to run a deep kickoff in the end zone out, which put the Longhorns in bad field position but the rest of his play, including clutch pass-catching out of the backfield was excellent.
Running back D’Onta Foreman didn’t play well early but woke up and stormed into the Cal defensive line in the 4th quarter and broke for a thrilling touchdown to bring the game down to a 7-point deficit for the Longhorns.
It is too much of a stretch to compare Trevone Boykin to Heard but there are similarities. You have to understand that Heard helped Denton Guyer high school with his running and throwing ability. He didn’t waiver when Mack Brown was let go at Texas. He accepted his redshirt watching coach Shawn Watson try to turn Tyrone Swoopes into Teddy Bridgewater. His time has come, but selfishly I wonder what he could have done supported by the Texas defense of 2014, which was exceptional to say the least.
Heard’s performance Saturday night was remarkable. He did throw an interception and the Texas offense was shutdown as Cal scored 21 points in the span of several minutes in the last of the second quarter and the third quarter. Lots of Texas fans left on the west side of DKR and their punishment was missing the explosion by Heard and the Longhorn offense late.
Perhaps they won’t leave this Saturday versus Oklahoma State so early. Like Cal, T. Boone Pickens boys are a veteran team with a top notch QB in Mason Rudolph. While Texas was getting drilled by Notre Dame, the Cowboys from Stillwater beat Central Michigan 24-12 and then defeated Central Arkansas, 22-8. UTSA surrendered in Stillwater to the tune of 69-14. Besides Rudolph, the Cowboys have a veteran defense.
For sure Oklahoma State will be favored but this is its first test against a team in an FBS conference and it is on the road.
Last week was a circus in Austin with the dismissal of AD Steve Patterson. It caused a chorus of doom and gloom – a sign of things to come for the Longhorns by those who hate burnt orange.
Believe me, the Texas football program will survive. Coach Charlie Strong has recruited well and now that there is a threat at the QB position, the Horns have a real chance in the future. Players like Malik Jefferson, John Burt, Connor Williams, Kris Boyd, Patrick Vahe, and D’Onta Foreman will not go quietly into the night. For sure there are more and they will follow Strong wherever he leads.
I think that Texas will defeat Oklahoma State. Call me a “homer” and I know the Longhorn defense is for sure a work in progress – but I saw something late at DKR – Texas Memorial stadium that made me have confidence for this coming game.
That Longhorn comeback from three touchdowns down showed me a lot. The Texas defense did step up and we are beginning to see the spread offense that Texas runs take shape. Good threats downfield, hard inside running by two good tailbacks – except freshman Chris Warren doesn’t run tough enough and a true running threat by a QB that is also an extremely accurate passer. WATCH OUT…..
Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.