Football

Five Quick Thoughts: Recall the Alamo Bowl

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Colorado wasn’t a great team this season. The Pac-12 is really approaching a sad state of affairs these days. Last year’s 10-win league runner-up was squashed by Texas. This year’s 5-1 Colorado drew a Texas putting three new starters on the offensive line and still got smoked. Make no mistake, Colorado was quite bad this year despite their relative success in the Pac-12. Texas handled them like a Longhorn squad should handle an opponent of this caliber by burying them 55-23.

This was perhaps the last time we’ll see either Sam Ehlinger or Tom Herman for Texas, which likely stirs a wide variety of emotions for Texas fans. For the most part though this game was fascinating for the future of Longhorn football. Texas played new starters across both sides of the ball and the youngsters looked terrific.

Quick thought No. 1: Bijan Robinson goes off

In the first half, Bijan had five carries for 91 yards at 18.2 ypc with a rushing touchdown and a catch for another touchdown. The big question was why he wasn’t touching the ball more, particularly given Roschon Johnson’s 0.5 ypc on seven carries while looking slowed up. Later in the game, Roschon would get his chance, breaking tackles to find a cutback lane on an outside zone run for a 21-yard touchdown.

Bijan finished the game with 10 carries for 183 yards with a touchdown and two catches for 37 yards and two more touchdowns. During the broadcast they revealed his absurd 17 ypc totals last year in high school out in Arizona, but Bijan must be feeling like the supposed step-up in competition isn’t coming after absolutely obliterating old Big 12 North squads Kansas State and Colorado in succession.

It’s obvious to everyone Texas will need to build the offense around Robinson next season. He’s the most talented back to come through Austin since Jamaal Charles.

Quick thought No. 2: Jake Majors

Late in the first half the announcers shared an anecdote from their time with Sam Ehlinger in preparation for this game. They quoted Ehlinger as saying that Majors was pretty good about getting the line calls right and he normally let it go but occasionally would come up and help him out. This begged for an obvious question, if Sam Ehlinger can make sure all the line calls are right than why didn’t Majors play earlier??

The kid’s knack for reaching defensive tackles in Texas’ outside zone scheme is unlike anything we’ve seen at the position in quite some time. So what was he doing all season while Derek Kerstetter was leaving the right tackle position dangerously manned by Christian Jones? For that matter, Andrej Karic has been good in every snap he’s played now this season. Where was he when Texas was struggling to protect the right side at offensive tackle?

It really looks like Texas went into the year coming off a pandemic with some new blocking schemes the younger players were better equipped for and Sam Ehlinger could have helped guide them through but neglected to use those players.

On the bright side, Majors’ knack for outside zone clearly pairs well with the skill set of star offensive player Bijan Robinson.

Quick thought No. 3: Casey Thompson guarantees a real quarterback battle

Texas played four quarterbacks against the Buffaloes and will have at least three of them back next season to compete for the starting job. Personally I was intrigued by that nifty quarterback draw from Ben Ballard late in the game but others may have found the play of Hudson Card or perhaps Casey Thompson to be more inspiring.

This throw was frankly shocking:

The big question with Thompson is his ability to reset while going through progressions in order to deliver accurate throws. He’s always been pretty dangerous throwing to the first read, dating back to his days at Newcastle High School in Oklahoma. On this throw he doesn’t have to get through progressions but the way he evaded that pass-rusher, reset, and then fired off that dime was truly eye-opening.

He’ll be looking to make Hudson Card fight and overcome his years of experience now in Austin in order to seize the scepter Sam Ehlinger is likely to pass on in the coming weeks. You don’t want to make too much of some (mostly) garbage time snaps in a bowl game against an overmatched opponent, but Thompson was definitely terrific and threw a few really good balls.

Hudson Card wasn’t asked to do much but he did fire off a beautiful looking fade to a defender that appeared to have the receiver beat until a flag revealed the tricks of his success. You can see why they call him “the natural” seeing how smooth the ball comes out of his hand. Card also mixed in a highly impressive and perhaps ill-advised option pitch just before falling to the turf. Texas has a pair of skinny but very talented athletes in the quarterback room. The playbook for the run game should change, perhaps give Bijan those carries Ehlinger was taking, but these guys can spin it.

Quick thought No. 4: Errbody is coming back

DeMarvion Overshown showed off a few things in this game, snagging an interception on a deep drop (and bad read by Buffalo quarterback Sam Noyer) and later finding a fumble in his lap. His athleticism is a game changer around the box and in coverage. The more he works out how to play the position, the more he’s going to look like a potential star. Younger linebackers Jaylan Ford and David Gbenda flashed as well. Both made some scrapes and tackles on power-option schemes of the sort you want to see from a modern linebacker.

It took Texas an awfully long time to change their linebacker room to reflect the realities of defending the Big 12 so it’s worth Texas fans taking some time to celebrate the gradual evolution of the unit into a potential team strength in 2021.

Speaking of 2021, Alfred Collins is different.

Schools like Texas often have an advantage over others for their ability to recruit and maintain a pipeline of guys that are legitimate, coordinated athletes at 300 pounds to play on the defensive line. Being able to trot out good defensive tackles every year is a major advantage, but Collins is something different. This kid is another level of athlete. It’s imperative that his injury in this game not be serious and that Texas can pair him with another dangerous threat up front in 2021. Pair Collins with great nose play and Texas will be nearly impossible to run on. Pair him with a good edge-rusher coming off his outside hip and this defense will struggle to be less than very good.

Andrej Karic, Jake Majors, and Tyler Johnson all looked promising in their first (or second with Majors) starts. These guys are good athletes who are a great fit for the outside zone scheme. It appears the situation on the offensive line isn’t quite so dire as feared. The Longhorns have quicker linemen than we’ve seen in Austin in a while. The outside zone scheme is a good fit for their skill sets, particularly for Majors.

Texas has a lot of talent coming back next year, an awful lot. The only question is whether the head coach can get everyone in the right positions to maximize. This game cemented how the 2021 roster has not been maximized. The departing players were not badly missed, youngsters stepping in for struggling veterans who opted out flashed, and the team has an obvious identity point for 2021. A new head coach should find the situation attractive and fairly intuitive to quickly weaponize.

Quick thought No. 5: Farewell to Sam Ehlinger

Ehlinger hurt his shoulder in the first half and after getting checked out in the locker room at halftime, and was done for the day. It seems likely he could have kept playing were it necessary, but given it was a bowl game and Texas had a nice lead while only giving Bijan the ball six times, the senior was finally able to make a selfish decision and sit the rest of the game out. Casey Thompson and Bijan Robinson quickly made it safe with a terrific touchdown drive coming out of the half.

The big question will be whether Ehlinger comes back or not. I suspect he will not. Texas is ready to enter a new era and dinging his shoulder in a bowl game like this is one more reason for Ehlinger to consider hanging it up after a bruising and exhausting four years in burnt orange for the local hero. Texas had him carrying the ball downhill on inside zone in this game. There was no need to endure any more.

He quietly went 10-for-16 for 160 yards at 10 ypa with a score before the half and will graduate just short of some of the records and marks left by Colt McCoy, a fitting place for him to end on given the lack of breakthrough success for Texas under Ehlinger comparable to what McCoy achieved. If this is the last time we’ll see him, it’s hard to know exactly how to feel about such a finish. We could at least say this, he left Texas in a much better place than he found it and fought hard to restore the winning tradition for the Longhorns.

2020 is over, time for a wild offseason.

Cover photo courtesy of Texas Athletics

History major, football theorist.