Now taking applications: Longhorn football needs offensive “playmaker” forreturn to greatness
Editor's Note: Ahmad Brooks played for the Texas Longhorns 1998 - 2001. In 2001, he served as Team Captain and received an All-Big 12 mention and University of Texas Outstanding Student Award. He signed to the Buffalo Bills in 2002 and retired from the NFL in 2005. Currently, he can be seen as a television football analyst on ESPN's Longhorn Network.
The Texas Longhorns during college football’s second longest consecutive 10-win season streak, from 2001 - 2009, had nationally prominent and productive playmakers on offense.
Go back with me to the good ‘ole glory days on offense at Texas when scoring touchdowns came with ease. Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Roy Williams, Cedric Benson, Vince Young, Jamal Charles, Jordan Shipley and Colt McCoy are the more notable names in the last decade. One thing all of these “playmakers” had in common was an instinctual feel to find the end zone and produce points.
For Texas to have a shot at winning a conference championship in a scoring league like the Big 12, Texas must find its next offensive star.
Perhaps it’s the biggest question facing the Horns headed into “new-look” Big XII. Who’ll be the playmaker on offense in 2012? No matter who it is, history shows the Longhorns will need a running back, quarterback and/or wide receiver with a unique knack to score touchdowns.
During Texas’ dominant consecutive 10-win season streak, touchdowns were being scored at a rate Olympic Gold Medalist Usain Bolt would have trouble keeping up with. The Horns averaged nearly 50 offensive touchdowns per season during that stretch.
Compare it to the 69 combined touchdowns scored in the last two seasons to illustrate the significant drop in production with skill position players at Texas. Moreover, several of the aforementioned playmakers had single seasons more productive than all players at their position in either both or at least one of the last two seasons.
In 2004, Cedric Benson scored 21 rushing TDs, two more than the entire Texas team in 2010 and only three short of the 24 rushing touchdowns this past season. Jordan Shipley’s 15 total touchdowns in 2009 were more than the entire receiving corps accounted for in 2010.
In the past two seasons, no Texas quarterback has thrown more than 10 TDs, no running back has scored more than 6 rushing TDs, and no pass-catcher has caught more than 3 TDs.
In case you thought the 2011 wide receivers were any better in terms of touchdown production, they only accounted for 16 TDs. While Texas scored 40 touchdowns last season and a meager 29 in the disappointing 2010 season, Colt McCoy accounted for 45 total touchdowns in 2008. That’s a playmaker.
In the past two seasons, no Texas quarterback has thrown more than 10 TDs, no running back has scored more than 6 rushing TDs, and no pass-catcher has caught more than 3 TDs. These numbers by skill position players — QBs, RBs and WRs — are the lowest leading touchdown totals of any school in the Big 12 for the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Yes, that’s even worse than the last place finishing Kansas JayHawks. That’s bad.
The Horns squeezed out the worst offensive scoring numbers of the Mack Brown era in the last two seasons. In 2011, Co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite helped re-establish a power running attack at Texas. Injuries prevented coaches from completely integrating two bruising, true freshman backs into the mix. Starting running back Malcolm Brown and backup Joe Bergeron both were injured last season and missed three games apiece. Additionally, Jaxson Shipley missed three games in the middle of the season with a knee injury.
Former All-Pro FB Larry Centers affectionately told me my rookie season, “You can’t make the club in the tub.” I still chuckle when thinking about the Longview, TX native saying it in a strong southern drawl. Truth is, you’ll never be a reliable superstar in this game plopped next to the athletic trainer in jeans and a jersey during the season. Watching from the sidelines isn’t fun, but could prove to be a valuable lesson of durability for Shipley, Brown and Bergeron early in their careers. While they were injured, Texas needed their scoring abilities.
Former All-Pro FB Larry Centers affectionately told me my rookie season, “You can’t make the club in the tub.”
For example, Texas didn’t have a rushing touchdown in the Missouri and Baylor losses while Bergeron and Brown were sidelined. Shipley was injured for the Mizzou and Kansas State losses, and no Texas wide receiver had a receiving touchdown in either of those games.
The Longhorns were beat like a drum by Oklahoma and Baylor, but the Oklahoma State, Mizzou and Kansas State losses were winnable games with Texas losing by fewer than two touchdowns in each game. In close games like these, playmakers have an uncanny knack to score points and change their team’s fate.
You could make a case: Texas was a playmaker away from getting 10 wins last season.
Scanning the 2012 Texas football roster, four standouts from the 2011 recruiting class could be the touchdown makers Texas has been searching for since Colt McCoy.
WR Jaxson Shipley has the skill-set to expose secondaries, the hands to make the tough catches with consistency and the diversity of doing damage in a number of ways on offense that will give defenses in the Big 12 fits.
Shipley led the Texas wide receivers with 3 TDs and a 13.8 yards average per catch, but also carried the ball 11 times for a 3.5 yard average per attempt on jet sweeps and reverses. He was arguably the best passer on the team last season, completing all four of his pass attempts with three passing touchdowns. Shipley’s skillful and savvy play will earn the respect of opponents.
You could make a case: Texas was a playmaker away from getting 10 wins last season.
RB Malcolm Brown had 175 touches on offense last season, ranking second on the team in total touches, but only accounted for 5 TDs. Brown’s game isn’t flashy, he appears to rely on vision to pick his spots, cut on a dime and pick up tough yardage. His performance against Oklahoma State, 19 carries, 135 yards, 2 TDs, was brilliant and kept Texas in the game. Getting more touchdowns per touch on the football will bring him closer to a breakout year. Brown has some special qualities so this could be the season his instinctive scoring lifts Texas to a 10-win season.
RB Joe Bergeron burst onto the college football scene replacing the injured Brown versus Texas Tech rushing for 191 yards on 29 attempts with 3 TDs. Bergeron is the biggest RB for the Horns combined with a bruising style of running, topped off with athleticism and burst. His five touchdowns in back to back weeks, was the best consecutive game TD total all season long for any player. Cody Johnson led Texas with 6 rushing TDs each of the last two seasons as the goal line back. Bergeron will be the short yardage back this season and should find pay dirt often pounding the pill.
QB David Ash was named the starting quarterback before the Holiday Bowl, and the Offensive MVP after he accounted for two touchdowns with one passing and one receiving. Ash’s play at times was horrendous, but he finished the season off strong by manufacturing points. Developing as a dual-threat quarterback, learning to run and use his athleticism when the play breaks down will make Ash a touchdown waiting to happen in the red-zone. He showed improvement with his touch, timing and accuracy this spring, but will need to make serious strides with decision making to play big.
The Longhorns return to the front of the line in the Big XII and college football will depend upon finding a scoring superstar on the offensive side of the ball. Texas has the high school 2011 - 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year and career touchdowns leader, RB Jonathan Gray officially on campus and enrolled in summer classes. Gray is a touchdown machine hoping to make his mark on the Horns record books.
Offensive Playmakers Wanted: The Texas Longhorns are taking applications.
The glaring difference between the last two seasons and the upcoming season is that Texas has plenty of potential playmakers to choose from. Watch for one of these young contributors to join a growing list of touchdown producers. Texas fans hope so.