Five Quick Thoughts: Texas’ seniors take it out on TTU

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Early on it appeared as though Texas hadn’t really come into this game with any heart or interest in finishing the year strong. Then Sam Ehlinger hit Malcolm Epps for a 36-yard gain and finished with a 10-yard TD run of his own to put Texas back in the game at 14-6 (they missed the XP). The Texas offense started to come alive and after they found the on switch they kept going and poured it on for a 49-24 win.

The story around the Forty Acres these days relates largely to the offseason adjustments that will take place as a result of a 7-5 season when the expectation was to win a Big 12 title. Who will be the new offensive coordinator? What will happen to Todd Orlando? Will Tom Herman assign special teams different with the staff shakeup?

So early on when Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead while picking on all the typical weak spots in the Texas defense, it looked like a blowout may be in the brewing. Ultimately the game wasn’t close, but it was when the Texas offense finally lived up to their potential that the game really rounded into its ultimate form.

Quick thought No. 1: An ode to Roschon Johnson

Texas’ power-spread offense is geared around running the ball between the tackles on the tight zone run play, a scheme which depends on a physical blocking TE and a power back. The Longhorns have been missing the former ingredient but they could have also been missing the latter ingredient in spectacular fashion this season if not for Johnson’s switch to RB late in fall camp.

In this game, Ingram got the start but he didn’t look as twitchy as he does when he’s healthy. Roschon essentially took over by the third drive (which really kickstarted the offense) and finished with 23 carries, 105 yards, and three touchdowns. He’s an excellent goal line runner who’s a part of the reason for the decline in Ehlinger’s rushing TD total from 16 in 2018 to six (thus far) in 2019.

Of course Roschon was the feature power back in the Port Neches-Groves offense for three years and that skill has translated pretty cleanly to Texas’ run game despite a few different schemes. Johnson’s top speed is probably in the 4.7 range, if that, so you wonder what his game might look like after another offseason of S&C work. He probably has additional upside from gaining some weight and improving his understanding of how to find creases in Texas’ preferred run schemes. Since he’s a load currently at 220, at 230 or more with increased understanding and perhaps a little more burst and confidence he might be a real problem for Big 12 defenses.

Moving him back to QB seems like a waste of time at this point, he’s the most dependable back on the roster before spending an offseason specializing in the role.

Here’s how the rushing numbers finished in the regular season:

Keaontay Ingram: 131 carries, 745 yards, 5.7 ypc, six TDs.
Sam Ehlinger: 152 carries, 590 yards, 3.9 ypc, six TDs.
Roschon Johnson: 117 carries, 600 yards, 5.1 ypc, seven TDs.

Quick thought No. 2: Again, it’s remarkable how Texas wasted this Ehlinger season

This was a pretty big season by Sam Ehlinger. He threw for 348 yards at 12.9 ypa in this game, despite a bad early sack in which he held the ball too long and then a misfire on the trick play in which Texas had open receivers streaking towards the end zone. He also added 83 rushing yards and a rushing score, doing a lot of his damage on QB draw RPOs.

The QB draw RPO should have been a major feature to this offense for the last two years. Herman has one more year to get this right. The best QB draw RPOs spread the opponent out in a 3×1 set and give Ehlinger a read based on a single defender whether to get into a passing progression or keep the ball late behind a lead block by the RB. It’s a downhill, between the tackles run scheme of the sort where Ehlinger is at his best but also involves options and misdirection.

Ehlinger had a particularly good run on a draw in which Tech was so thrown off that Texas had three lead blockers that got free ahead of their QB. Ehlinger was able to slow down, set up his blocks, and burst ahead just when defenders were close to catching him from behind for a nice gain.

Other highlights included a nice flag route TD pass to Jake Smith that made up for missing Roschon Johnson on the trick play and another flag route thrown to Devin Duvernay on a play where Ehlinger was rolling to his left and dropped the ball perfectly over Duve’s shoulder.

It was a nice game for Ehlinger, it’s unbelievable that a player with this talent who ran for almost 600 yards including sack yardage and threw for almost 3500 yards was at the helm of a 7-5 team that couldn’t make it to the Big 12 title game.

Quick thought No. 3: Jared Wiley flashed some promise, hence the stronger game on offense

Texas has definitely been a better team at home than on the road this year, they went 1-3 on the road in the Big 12 this season and lost at the “neutral” Cotton Bowl. A significant factor though in their success today was that the blocking TE was not overmatched by the physicality of the opposing front.

Wiley had a very solid game and helped Texas get good connection on their zone plays, didn’t allow DEs and OLBs to reset the line of scrimmage, and freed up Sam Cosmi and Derek Kerstetter to get down the field and open up creases for the run game. It surely helped that NFL-bound linebacker Jordyn Brooks wasn’t around to highlight the matchup, but it was still a promising day for Wiley.

Assuming Texas doesn’t completely abandon their current offensive program next season, Wiley’s offseason is going to be immensely important. He’s listed at 6-7, 255 right now and has room on his frame to get to 270 or 280 without it really harming his ability to move around. Wiley may even end up becoming a star left tackle at some point. We’ll see where things go with his body and development, but short of adding a transfer he’s probably Texas’ best hope for fielding the kind of physical TE in 2020 that they need in this offense.

Quick thought No. 4: Marqez Bimage could be an asset as a true DE

Texas played with their DEs on the edge like proper DEs a lot more in this game, as opposed to playing in the 4i-technique which is really an alignment for a hybrid sort of player or a mobile DT. Using the 4i-technique is immensely useful in this league for getting more off ball defenders involved and getting more speed on the field and flexibility in the playbook. However, Bimage is clearly much more effective and at home when he’s on the edge and can use his speed and power at an angle.

At 6-2 it’s pretty tough battling with OL when you have one on either shoulder, that’s something that requires either some length or a lot of burst off the ball. At any rate, Texas keeps experimenting with some 5-technique alignments and Bimage shined in that role today with a sack (pulled poor Jett Duffey down by his dreadlocks), a forced fumble, and a few other big plays.

As a senior to be that’s played a lot of football for this team, Bimage could end up playing a pretty big role next season. Like many other components to this Texas defense, he’d probably be at his best with either a tweaked defensive approach or a full-blown adaptation of some kind of four-down concept.

Quick thought No. 5: Salute to the seniors

You have to be glad that Texas was able to put together a winning effort on behalf of the seniors playing their final games in DKR. These guys were recruited by Charlie Strong only to quickly see the program change hands. They’ve seen a lot of things go down on the 40 Acres and really gave some pretty game efforts over the years.

Here’s the list:

Parker Braun: Some late penalties recently and a few spotty moments in pass protection have obscured a great season of run blocking from a fellow that had to adapt to this offense quickly after playing in the flexbone at Georgia Tech for three years.

John Burt: Great athlete with a few wow plays now and again over his four years.

Devin Duvernay: Finally made good on the promise that was apparent from as soon as he arrived on campus as a late defector from the Baylor mess after moving to slot. Fantastic season in the slot, he’ll own a place in the Texas record books for some amount of time, honestly I hope his place doesn’t last too long. It’s about time that 1000-yard receivers became a constant in Austin.

Collin Johnson: Texas REALLY missed Johnson this season when he was out. No one else on the roster could command double teams at the X position, which Johnson did even when facing LSU with their NFL-bound press corners.

Kirk Johnson: Glad he was able to get healthy and finish his degree.

Zach Shackelford: A solid season from the four-year starter, Shack really maxed out by his junior year and this season was mostly more of the same. He was a good player that helped stabilize the Texas OL as an underclassman and pave the way for D’Onta Foreman’s big season before making a leap and anchoring the 2018 unit that won 10 games.

Jamari Chisholm: Haven’t seen him as much recently but he generally plays some snaps in most games spelling the starters to save their legs against tempo teams.

Brandon Jones: Texas didn’t really do right by Brandon. He played a few different positions, starting his career and spending much of his time as a field safety not because he excelled patrolling the deep field but because no one else could. Had he been able to play closer to the action more often as a Longhorn, Jones would go down as a legend. Instead he served the team for three years either playing out of position as a deep safety or else moving all over the place to shore up holes in a beat up secondary.

Jeff McCulloch: A brilliant student that maximized his off field opportunities as a Texas football player but a guy that the Longhorn staff struggled to maximize on the field. He never had much of a knack for playing ILB and Texas’ scheme and roster didn’t leave much room for him to specialize at OLB. I wonder in another timeline if he might have been able to move and serve as the physical, versatile TE that the Longhorns desperately needed this season. I bet yes.

Gerald Wilbon: Really sturdy player that ended up in a role similar to Chisholm’s, eating snaps while spelling more talented players that took his role. Texas got some good years out of Wilbon.

Malcolm Roach: Heart and soul of this team who managed a sack on senior day thanks to a gameplan that included more four-man rush while allowing him to play in a more natural position as a 5-technique. There’s a very good chance that Roach goes on to have the kind of NFL career that makes Longhorns fans scratch their heads and wonder why they didn’t see more from him in Austin.

On to silly season and the bowl game.

History major, football theorist.