Football

Texas 27, Baylor 16: Longhorns show improvement where Herman wanted it most

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Following Texas’ loss to Oklahoma, Longhorns head coach Tom Herman identified four specific problem areas he wanted to address before playing Baylor: rushing offense, rushing defense, red zone defense, and beating man coverage. In the Longhorns’ 27-16 win over the Bears, his team made progress not only in the areas he identified, but in other areas as well.

Herman identified rushing offense as an issue after Texas running backs amassed 29 yards versus Oklahoma. He said last Monday the rushing offense made strides during bye week practices. The emphasis was clear in the first portion of the game. Nine of UT’s 11 plays in the first quarter were runs. Texas tallied 38 yards on the ground and would continue to utilize the rushing attack as the game went on. Two of the three Texas touchdowns came via the run, both by way of Sam Ehlinger.

“We challenged the offensive line,” Herman said. “We challenged the tailbacks. We challenged everybody on offense because the perimeter blocking is a key part of that as well. Last week, we practiced Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and it was run period, run period, run period, run period. Both sides of the ball improved because of it.”

Though Herman’s team emphasized the run, the offense was not productive on the scoreboard in the first quarter. Ehlinger completed just one pass in the first 15 minutes for -1 yards. The Longhorns ran 11 plays in the opening quarter and amassed 38 yards.

Things improved in the second quarter in both facets of the offense. Texas ran 13 times for 49 yards and used success running the ball to create downfield pass plays. Ehlinger found Tarik Black for a 72-yard gain early in the second quarter, and Texas added a 23-yard Cameron Dicker field goal as a result.

Successful rushing, including from Ehlinger himself, created a chance for Texas to show improvement in another area Herman identified: getting receivers open against man coverage. Following a 19-yard run late in the half, Ehlinger looked deep to Joshua Moore in single coverage. Moore used his elite vertical jumping ability to grab the ball and was rewarded two plays later with a touchdown reception to give Texas a 13-3 lead. Several receivers, including Black, Brennan Eagles, and Jake Smith, found ways to get open against man coverage via routes where they could outrun their defenders.

Ehlinger recorded both Longhorn rushing touchdowns, but Texas’ running backs were heavily involved in the game. Keaontay Ingram had 16 carries for 57 yards but did so in a second-string role. True freshman Bijan Robinson received his first career start and added 12 carries for 55 yards. Ehlinger was effective with 51 yards on the ground, and with as many rushes as completions with 15.

“It’s really important to run the ball because you can control the game with your run offense,” Ehlinger said. “We knew that, and we just stayed at it and continued to chip away. We knew that they were going to come out swinging. We had to weather that and continue to press on.”

The Longhorns ran the ball 47 times compared to 23 pass attempts, so opportunities to show progress against man coverage were limited. But Black’s 72-yard reception, and several big plays to tight end Jared Wiley offered Herman other methods of beating coverage outside of asking Moore to leap over defenders. Still, the play made by Moore gave him confidence Texas hopes carries over into its next few games.

“I like our chances against press coverage,” Moore said. “I would say that against any team in the Big 12.”

Rushing defense was also a point of emphasis for Texas during the bye and the results showed on the stats sheet. The Bears rushed 21 times for a total of 64 yards and no touchdowns. Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer began to air it out more and more as the need to come back became more important than balance for Baylor, but there were few yards to be found on the ground the entire game for Baylor. Their longest rush was 11 yards, and Baylor averaged just three yards per carry.

“We ran the ball effectively, which opened up some downfield throws, and we stopped the run,” Herman said.

Herman noted red zone defense as a problem area following Oklahoma, and Texas performed decently in the area despite allowing Baylor to score on 3-of-4 trips inside the 20. The Bears’ first red zone attempt ended with a 22-yard field goal after Texas held the Bears out of the end zone on a first-and-goal opportunity.

Baylor’s second red zone opportunity didn’t occur until midway through the third quarter. Using a combination of the running game and short-to-medium passing from an obviously limited Brewer, BU marched inside the red zone. However, the Longhorns forced two consecutive negative plays, and John Mayers missed a 43-yard field goal to keep the game 20-3.

Two more red zone opportunities for the Bears took place in the fourth quarter. Trailing 27-3 after Ehlinger’s second touchdown rush, Baylor ended a nine-play, 75-yard drive with a pass from Brewer to John Lovett. BU head coach Dave Aranda decided to go for two to make it a two-possession game, but the attempt failed.

The final red zone opportunity took place thanks to a short field following an Ehlinger interception. Baylor only had to travel 25 yards for the score, but it would be their final time in the end zone.

There was improvement in other areas. Texas committed only five penalties for 50 yards, and one of those was a delay of game where fault could be placed on the coaches. Derek Kerstetter did commit another silly personal foul, but Texas was mostly mistake free penalty-wise and kept the laundry off the field.

“Winning does cover up a lot of mistakes that we have to get cleaned up if we want to continue to get better,” Ehlinger said. “It’s a lot better to be talking about mistakes when you win than when you lose.”

Texas even added a touchdown in the third quarter, something they were unable to do against Oklahoma.

UT received a standout performance from Wiley, who still is yet to start a game at tight end this year. He made a case for the role with two catches for 70 yards, both in the second half.

“We have some athletic tight ends as well, the most athletic that I’ve been around,” Moore said. “Us (receivers) doing our job will help them. Them doing their job will help us.”

After allowing six sacks and 10 tackles for loss to Oklahoma, Texas’ offensive line made a marked statistical improvement. Ehlinger was sacked just once, and Baylor totaled six tackles for loss, keeping Texas mostly on schedule on offense.

Texas travels to Stillwater next weekend to battle the undefeated Oklahoma State Cowboys. Texas hasn’t won in T. Boone Pickens Stadium since 2014 and is relishing the opportunity against a Big 12 contender.

“I think it was important to get our confidence back with a win this week,” Ehlinger said. “We get back to work tomorrow so we can play mistake-free and play against a really good opponent next Saturday.”

Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics