Texas Tech received the ball to start their game against Texas last weekend and proceeded to move down the field with precision. The Red Raiders ate up almost eight minutes of time, running 16 plays covering 71 yards and scoring a field goal to take the lead 3-0. If we left the story right there one might get the impression Texas had a rough start. You’d be wrong.
On the 10th play of the drive Texas Tech was first and goal at the 2 yard-line. The Texas defense forced Tech to run 6 more plays—they held. Tech had to be satisfied with three points rather than seven.
That series set the tone for a blowout and, if the Longhorns were paying attention, taught this team how to win. Great defense and a strong running game win football games.
The Longhorns go on the road for the first time since the OU game in Dallas. The Missouri Tigers are classic underperformers this year. They must win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. They are better than their 4-5 record would suggest.
“[We go] back on the road for the first time since our OU game, and we've grown up a lot,” said Head coach Mack Brown in his weekly press conference. “We feel like we've made a lot of progress, but now we've got to see how we'll do going back on the road against a good team that is a hungry team.”
Missouri might be hungry, but Texas is turning into a monster. Beating Kansas 43-0 is one thing; beating Texas Tech, the team that defeated mighty OU 52-20 (and lost pathetically to Iowa State, I know) is something else.
Texas will not run for 400 yards Saturday, Missouri is too good. David Ash’s throwing arm had the equivilent of a week off against Texas Tech. He threw only seven passes. He will throw more against the Tigers—he’ll have to. But the Longhorn offensive line should be brimming with confidence after back-to-back 400 yard rushing games (the first time for that since Earl Campbell was running in 1977). That confidence should flow into pass protection, too. If we’ve learned anything about the freshman quarterback, it’s that he needs time to see the field.
“We do not want to just run,” said Brown. “We have got to throw the ball better, and we have got to throw it downfield. David [Ash] missed two passes that were open, one to Marquise [Goodwin] and one to Mike Davis. The one to Mike probably would have been a score, too. So he's just got to keep growing.”
Texas defense is also feeling the love—holding opposing offenses to less than 100 yards rushing per game. When a defense can do that, they turn the opposition one-dimensional, daring them to pass.
Here’s what I’m looking for Saturday morning against Missouri:
Shut down Missouri’s running attack: The Tigers have a great offense and they can score points. “The number one challenge, though, like it is every week, is we have to make them one-dimensional,” said Texas Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “We have to do our best to try to slow down the run game. I don't know that it's completely stoppable from what's been put on film, but we have to stand up to that challenge.” If Texas can force the pass, they create opportunities for interceptions.
Speaking of turnovers… get some: Texas has given up 15 turnovers and they’ve picked up 15. Being even won’t get you a Top 10 ranking. The Horns defense must force more turnovers to be successful against good teams on the road.
Throw more: Yeah, I know, strange coming from the guy who’s been preaching “run, Malcolm, run.” Well the new three amigos—Malcolm, Joe and Fozzy—are running over people like monster trucks. When the run game is this good, the pass game gets even better. Run well, throw deep, run well again. David Ash threw four deep balls against Texas Tech and hit on a couple of them. The receivers are hungry. It would be great to see David Ash toss at least 12 passes against the Tigers. If that number stays low it obviously means Texas is running the ball well, but Ash has a great arm and some superior receivers, the deep pass can open a lead and loosen up a defense intent on stopping the run. Texas cannot be afraid to air it out on the road.
“I think just from the pass game, there'll be opportunities there, said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin this week. “There will be opportunities down the road that we've got to take advantage of. We had a few throws in there that were some big play opportunities that we've got to capitalize on and hopefully get those in the end zone.”
The Texas Longhorn football team has upside to burn. No one would have guessed 400 yards rushing was anything but impossible when this team started. Give this coaching staff and the players credit. They have adjusted the game plan to suit what works, and they are not afraid to change mid-course. That issue haunted Mack Brown for 10 years—the inability to adjust when the plan didn't work out. He seems to have come to terms with it. The players, for their part, look like they're having fun, and the team stayed positive despite the back-to-back losses. This season won't end in a BCS bowl game, maybe not even in a top tier bowl, but it may be remembered as a scene-setter. The year Mack Brown learned how good a coach he could be, and how good a team he could build, even if he isn't sure about any of that right now.
“Right now we need to do whatever it takes to win, and right now our best chance is to run the football and be physical and try to get some deep shots off of a trick play or some deep pass off play action. And I'm really proud that the players and the offensive staff have said, ‘Hey, this isn't who we want to be, but it is who we are right now.’ We've got to grow, we've got to develop, but at least we're doing something now that everybody understands.”
Yeah, we understand winning.