Five Quick Thoughts: Spring is in the air

Chris Brown and Toneil Carter (Will Gallagher/IT)
Chris Brown and Toneil Carter (Will Gallagher/IT)

It’s fun to watch Texas play football again, isn’t it? There was a lot to take in with this game, normally there are 11 guys to try and eyeball on a given play for your team but in the spring game there are 22. Like most everyone else, my eyes mostly watched the ball and the play of the QBs so there will be some things I’ll wait to evaluate until I can watch more carefully.

For instance…

Quick thought no. 1: Don’t panic on the OL yet

The OL was often a sieve in this game but it wasn’t always as bad as it looked. Well, it was, but it wasn’t always as clear a negative omen as it sometimes seemed. Denzel Okafor and J.P. Urquidez couldn’t hold up in matchups against Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager and that’s more of a positive indicator for the 2018 season than a negative one.

We saw Okafor go up against top edge players last year and get whipped, if he’s still not up for that challenge that hardly means that Texas is in trouble since he’s probably not playing tackle next year anyways. Ditto Urquidez, who didn’t even see the field last season.

The OL also didn’t get a ton of action blocking inside zone on the defense, which is likely what they do better than anything else in the playbook. Then there’s Calvin Anderson, who will be facing high expectations but is a three-year starter that has protected the blindside of a college QB in a lot of football games over the last few years.

This group reminds me of some of the old Joe Wickline units he had at Oklahoma State. They’d often have only seven guys that they felt like could be trusted to take the field in a college game in a given year and they’d make do, even winning the Big 12 title that way in 2011, and they just had to trust in having some good luck. Texas needs to hope they don’t suffer injuries at OT like last year but even in that event they’re still in better shape than they were at this time in 2017.

Quick thought no. 2: Texas’ pass-rush is elite

Texas has three, maybe four pass-rushers on this team that can be a problem for teams that have an iffy tackle on the field between Charles Omenihu, Breckyn Hager, Malcolm Roach, and Jeff McCulloch. Technically Roach did his work today on inside blitzes from the Rover position, which are far and away the most deadly Rover insert blitzes that Texas has had from ANYONE since Todd Orlando took over the defense.

McCulloch, Hager, and Omenihu were devastating the overmatched Texas offensive tackles and killing multiple drives with the negative plays they were inflicting. That level of depth and quality on the edge is very promising and should allow Texas to overmatch most every offense on the schedule. The Longhorns are no exception around the league in terms of hoping to find at least one tackle in a given year that can hold up in isolation, if the defense can require that you have two AND excel at attacking inside with disguise and blitzes then you get into serious trouble as an offense.

Shane Buechele and Charles Omenihu (Will Gallagher/IT)
Shane Buechele and Charles Omenihu (Will Gallagher/IT)

Texas showed some more even fronts in this game to allow these guys to work in space against the tackles and I’m sure we’ll see more of these even fronts that the coaches have discussed in obvious passing situations next season.

And again, Roach is really devastating as an inside blitzer. Can he do all the things he needs to be able to do in order to play from down to down as an inside-backer? I don’t know, but if nothing else Texas is going to have to package some ways for him to be involved as an inside rusher. It might just be a passing down tactic, Wisconsin would regularly get TJ Watt lined up as a Mike LB on 3rd down so they could blitz him at isolated guards rather than tackles.

Quick thought no. 3: Lil’Jordan Humphrey is primed for a big year

That was the topic of my last gameplan and it was fairly obvious given what he flashed in 2017 and the fact that his primary competition inside at the slot (Reggie Hemphill-Mapps) transferred. Still, he’s a special player and Sam Ehlinger went to him early and often over the middle of the field.

Then, quite interestingly, they inserted him at RB in order to run power on the goal line. I don’t know if it was more shocking and encouraging to see Texas’ TEs execute straight ahead, kick out blocks on power or that Humphrey was the ballcarrier plunging ahead through the traffic for a pair of scores on the play.

Motioning the slot in to be the ballcarrier behind lead blocks from the TE and traditional RB should be a useful trick for Texas next season both for the purpose of getting big and running downhill behind multiple blockers at tempo as well as making sure that Humphrey never lacks for touches from week to week. I bet there’s a wrinkle in there where Ehlinger motions out or runs a route and Humphrey takes a direct snap and throws to him on a pop pass. Obviously he’ll get some Wildcat looks as well and Herman is admitting as much even now in the post-game presser.

Hopefully the reason that Breckyn Hager bubble screen was such a terrible play was that those trick play reps are going towards other, more worthy efforts. I’d love to hear the story behind that play call.

Collin Johnson had a pretty solid game today but Humphrey will probably be the lead man next season and Johnson will likely benefit regardless. If Herman is worried about Collin not getting enough opportunities at beating man coverage then Humphrey is likely the solution to that problem.

Quick thought no. 4: This team is tackling really well

I noticed multiple occasions where Texas made quick and immediate tackles on ballcarriers in space. John Bonney made an excellent tackle from a two-deep alignment, every Lil’Jordan Humphrey catch featured him instinctively getting small because he knew a big hit was coming, and every toss in the flat seemed to do very limited damage against the open field tackling from this team.

Walk-on JarMarquis Durst made a lot of tackles and even an INT, I don’t know if his coverage is good enough or not for him to play in a Big 12 game (not a doubt, I’m pleading ignorance) but at the least that guy seems emblematic of a culture where everyone plays hard. DeMarco Boyd took that notable opportunity to flatten Duvernay on a pass attempt on a trick play. I imagine that a more careful viewing of the game will reveal more details on this but it was obvious that good tackling is something that is cultural and taking place at every level of the roster and not just from the top players.

Cam Rising (Will Gallagher/IT)
Cam Rising (Will Gallagher/IT)

Quick thought no. 5: Texas has a very talented QB room

Sam Ehlinger was probably the most aggressive QB tonight, taking multiple deep shots and working the post route in the flood concept on multiple occasions. That may have been because of superior pocket presence, or perhaps because he didn’t face Malcolm Roach in his face on insert blitzes like Shane Buechele did.

Ehlinger missed a few deep shots, including one painful throw that was a touch late and a likely TD otherwise, but also landed a few nice throws over the middle. Buechele just barely missed on multiple throws, either because of the pressure or lack of sync with the receivers on his team (Herman even suggested the skill players probably had tired legs). Buechele’s work on quick hitters was as sharp as ever and he hit Collin Johnson on some impressive plays and also hit Heard up the seam (another nice catch).

Cam Rising has the best arm on campus and Casey Thompson might have the best legs. Rising could end up being supremely skilled in time, it’s just really easy for him to throw the football. Casey Thompson had me concerned early when he made some shaky throws that recalled bad throws I’d seen him make in HS but then he settled in and shot off some really impressive lasers. I don’t know how much time Rising will need to put it all together but Thompson will probably need a few years, but they’ll be years he’ll get and then look out.

Texas will probably want to play only Buechele and Ehlinger next season so that the freshmen can redshirt and get some separation from the former two but it’s not hard to see Rising or even Thompson getting to the point where they could go in and execute some plays to help Texas win in 2018. Things are really looking up here.

Texas running power as well as they did tonight was very encouraging. They didn’t even really attempt it a year ago because it’s a hard block for the TE, but tonight it was a staple

History major, football theorist.