Five Quick Thoughts: UT 48, Rice 13

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.

Perhaps the most meaningful event of the game was Zach Shackleford going down with a foot injury (same foot as his preseason injury). As of this writing the severity is unknown but while Texas may be able to get by without him due to Derek Kerstetter’s versatility, losing Shack for any period of time leaves Texas fairly thin. It could hurt them in a few games even without further injuries if Texas isn’t able to replace Kerstetter’s very solid blocking out at right tackle.

A more pleasant event was Tom Herman asking Cameron Dicker to put a 57-yard attempt on film for opponents to mull over. Dicker the kicker nailed it, as well as a 46-yarder, and Texas clearly has a very potent weapon in their quiver for any potential close games or late drives before the half or end of games. Opponents will have to consider Dicker’s when considering end of game strategies against Texas and Herman will have a nice way to steal some cheap points in big games on drives that stall after midfield. There was also a late kick return and an overall strong game from special teams.

Quick thought no. 1: The Texas DL was too good for this game to get very interesting

Rice is ostensibly an old school, Power-I football team but their OL is small and they repeatedly lost the line of scrimmage against the Texas DL. Nose tackle Keondre Coburn completely owned the interior and Malcolm Roach kept QB Tom Stewart (the Rice QB) from getting comfortable enough to test the Texas secondary much.

There was one occasion in which Texas brought a big blitz and Rice’s star slot Austin Trammell showed nickel Josh Thompson an outside move before winning inside on a post for 45 yards. It was an overload blitz that had bad timing, the exact same play that has often driven Texas fans nuts since it left a DB on an island without applying the sort of instant pressure to avoid getting beat on a double move as Thompson was. That drive was later ended when Texas brought an excellent 4-man pressure on a stunt that got Jeffrey McCulloch free inside (Ayodele Adeoye helped clean up).

The goal for the Owls was to run the ball, move the chains, shorten the game, and keep the score within a manageable margin. There wasn’t really a gameplan available to Rice that was going to be particularly good but this plan completely failed when the Owls couldn’t handle Texas’ speed and power up front.

They could have tried more spread passing sets to pick on the Longhorn secondary but that’s not their way. Notably, when they did mix in some of those sets they found receivers. The 4th quarter TD drive by the Owls included their QB finding a man open in the middle of the field against a drop 8 zone and narrowly missing an open post on another dig-post combination.

Texas’ defense is hardly cured, Rice just wasn’t at all up to the task of trying to attack some of the vulnerabilities that the Longhorns have shown.

Quick thought no. 2: Texas’ spread passing attack is special

Sam Ehlinger’s final line on the game: 23-27 for 279 yards at 10.3 ypa with three TDs and zero turnovers of any kind. He also added five scrambles for 27 yards, typically avoiding contact and employing the slide or finding the sideline.

The slot receivers Devin Duvernay and Jake Smith led the targets with six catches apiece. Duvernay continued to show his value as a chain mover both in hunting space over the middle on third down or breaking tackles in the perimeter screen game. Jake Smith torched the Owls on a 4-verticals play where he beat them up the seam and then on a rollout play. The seam route was a 53-yard gain, if you didn’t notice, the concerns about explosive gains don’t really exist for this team although they still have a ball control mindset much of the time.

A dominant spread passing attack is the hardest thing to defend in football and the most valuable thing you can have in pursuit of championships. Alabama typically comes up short in their annual pursuit for more rings when they have to face a complete team spearheaded by a top flight spread passing attack.

The Longhorns are able to get into their four and five-wide sets from 11 personnel, which is truly devastating. Defenses typically don’t have a lot of answers for empty formations and they certainly don’t have many answers when they’re in a defense designed to defend 11 personnel. Texas’ ability to spread opponents out from the same personnel package that can execute the full gamut of their power-spread plays is a nasty component to their team. They had this last year to an extent but the passing attack wasn’t as deadly because Ehlinger wasn’t quite as good as he is now and they didn’t have the same firepower from their different receiving positions.

Speaking of power-spread plays…

Quick thought no. 3: Roschon Johnson is a terrific power runner

Keaontay Ingram had a nice transition to the Texas offense after running zone a million times with the Carthage Bulldogs. He makes excellent cuts and regularly hits the “Ingram cut” where he sets the LBs up to hit the backside of the tight zone play before cutting play side for nice gains.

Roschon Johnson, besides playing QB rather than RB, operated a different offensive system at Port Neches-Groves. The Indians had a power run game and would run gap schemes in a million different fashions for their star QB to win big games. With Johnson at RB, Texas has been mixing in some gap schemes more often and the freshman has demonstrated a high affinity for maximizing those runs.

Where he shined against Rice was on the Y-counter play, in which a guard pulls to kick out the unblocked edge player and the TE (or Y-back) comes over to lead inside of the guard. Johnson regularly threatened to bounce the run outside of the guard to lure the linebackers outside before cutting back into the intended path behind the TE lead block:

Keaontay had a really nice game but Roschon Johnson really flashed again with 11 carries for 59 yards at 5.4 ypc and then three catches for 30 yards and a score on Texas’ throwback play to the RB. Johnson also had a nice block on a Sam Ehlinger scramble after running a check down route into the flat. A healthy Keaontay Ingram is a beast that Texas should feed regularly but Texas certainly has some quality depth at RB still even after all the injuries.

Quick thought no. 4: A nod to the touchdown play

Keaontay Ingram had two touchdowns himself, both coming on the “touchdown play.” When Texas has an explosive play that puts them on the goal line for first and goal, they regularly hurry to the line and just run this play. It’s also a common go to for picking up third and short, again, particularly at tempo.

The play is tight zone with a bubble screen attached from a 4×1, unbalanced formation.

It’s really a triple option play, Ehlinger can punish a nosy nickel with the bubble screen to Duvernay and a blitzing nickel with a QB keeper like on a zone-read play. Texas scored twice on this play, the first time Ingram ran through that play side B-gap for a 26-yard touchdown on fourth-and-three. The second time came on a cutback behind the Y-back and Cosmi from 14 out on third-and-two.

What makes this play so devastating is the unbalanced nature of it. For Texas it’s a very simple scheme and easy to line up in this formation at tempo, but opponents have to recognize that it’s unbalanced (by placing the TE on the line of scrimmage to the same side as the Z he’s made an ineligible receiver), understand the ramifications, and then fit the gaps. Texas’ QB stretch play is often devastating for similar reasons, they can get into it at tempo from 11 personnel and the defense has to be able to get into their special “here’s how we stop Ehlinger on this!!!” play-call at tempo.

The touchdown play also has a lot of options, as noted above. The first touchdown of the season came throwing a bubble screen to Duvernay on this play against Louisiana Tech and Casey Thompson scored another in that game on the QB keeper. Then there’s the range of potential gaps that the basic inside zone run can hit, and Ingram hit two different potential creases in this game.

That’s four touchdowns on the year for the “touchdown play.” One of a dozen highly potent weapons in Texas’ HUNH spread system they can execute this season.

Quick thought no. 5: Time for the Big 12 slate

The Big 12 is an interesting conference this season and we’ve now seen more from all of the teams across the league. Like most of Oklahoma State’s other opponents this season, Tulsa wasn’t able to do much against the Cowboy rushing attack. The ‘Pokes have a very solid OL with a ton of experience on the interior and then well above average runners at RB (Chuba Hubbard) and QB (Spencer Sanders). However, the Golden Hurricane did cause problems for Sanders in the passing game. He’s a bit slow through his progressions IF an opponent can take away his ability to make an easy read and then maximize his excellent arm throwing dimes to star receiver Tylan Wallace.

Kansas State proved that they still have some scrappy guys and powerful OL around on campus, they bested the power-spread Mississippi State Bulldogs on their own turf today while running A-gap power from the I-formation and slipping TEs down the field wide open on play-action. This is much better team than most expected. Oklahoma blew away a bad UCLA team with Jalen Hurts turning 14 carries into 150 yards, it’s clear what the Longhorns will need to do in that contest.

Matt Campbell is now 0-4 against Iowa and the Hawkeyes have yet to commit a turnover in any of the four games. The Cyclones had their chances but ultimately blew it with one of their punt return blockers running into their return man and causing a fumble with 1:20 left that handed the game to the Hawkeyes, 18-17. The Cyclones still look like a team that can contend for the Big 12 title though with their bend don’t break defense and an offense that is solid at ball control and will likely improve down the stretch.

TCU’s freshman QB Max Duggan went only 7-18 for 70 yards and a score against Purdue, but both Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua ran for over 100 yards and Gary Patterson erased Rondale Moore in a 34-13 Frog victory.

Overall the landscape is of a league that is quite a bit stronger in the run game than normal and not as effective in the passing game. While all of these teams have young passing attacks that will improve and certainly aim to test the Longhorns, this plays spectacularly into Texas’ hands. If the Longhorns can stop the run and continue to execute this murderous spread passing attack, they should be the class of the league.  

History major, football theorist.