Longhorn domination? When 45-0 isn't enough
Great teams dominate lesser opponents and 45-0 should be a score that defines domination. And yet, very few in Longhorn Nation are satisfied.
How can a 45-0 shut-out be unsatisfying? Shut-outs are hard even against poor teams. In fact, the Texas defense never allowed New Mexico inside the 20-yard line. Quarterback David Ash once again performed safely and efficiently with no turnovers and a brilliant 49-yard scrambling touchdown run; the Horns ran up over 400 yards of offense while limiting New Mexico to 241. Daje Johnson and D.J. Monroe showed flashes of speedy brilliance with great runs. And New Mexico is clearly a better team than they were last season. What's not to like?
"Now next week we won't be able to do that. We have to go into Ole Miss to win the game. And we won't be able to try this out and try that out." — Mack Brown
Well, here's the thing:
- Another slow start — with 30 seconds left in the first half, Texas led 10-0 after holding the ball on offense for only 10 minutes of the 30-minute half. Yes, they scored again with about 20 seconds left, making the halftime score 17-0 but it was hardly a dominant first half and the second slow start this season against a mediocre opponent. "We only had the ball six plays the first quarter," said head coach Mack Brown after the game. "It really lulls you to sleep. Takes the crowd out of it. Your guys struggling a little bit. But I thought the score before half was key."
- Texas was out-rushed 206 to 146 yards. When your team has the best running back corps in the country and can only manage 50 yards in the first half — against New Mexico — something is wrong. No Longhorn running back gained over 49 yards. Malcolm Brown touched the ball only twice. Johnathan Gray, who the Texas coaches promised would get some extra reps, got the ball only seven times. Mack Brown explained the plan after the game. "We wanted to throw it more. Like we said, we knew we were going to win the game. We know we can run the ball. We're trying to get more balance. We wanted to get the ball in receivers' hands and work on our protections and do things that we needed to do and not beat our backs up so much. We're not into stats, we're into winning the game, and everybody knew that."
- The offensive line remains a concern. The rushing issues listed above are one thing and the line must take responsibility for them, but they also allowed two sacks — against New Mexico — unacceptable.
- David Ash may be efficient, but the coaching staff is really letting him off easy, at least in public, by discussing his "good decision-making." After watching two games now, one must consider that either Ash's arm strength is suspect or he has little faith in his receivers. He again badly under threw the couple of deep passes he tried. The running game will go nowhere if the Longhorns cannot keep defenses honest by throwing the ball deep. Very little is needed from Ash if Texas commits to the run, but at the very least, he must get the ball down the field occasionally.
Shut-outs are hard, so let's celebrate that spectacular defensive achievement. At the same time, don't let the score fool you. Fans in the stands were not dancing in the streets after this game. In fact, they spent a lot of time worrying about what a very good West Virginia team (coming to town in three weeks) could do to this Texas team.
Again, Mack Brown offered some words of encouragement. "I think you're feeling your way early to see who can do this and who can do that, but we haven't shown everything for sure at this point because we haven't needed to. Now next week we won't be able to do that. We have to go into Ole Miss to win the game. And we won't be able to try this out and try that out. Like we said, we got some things in practice you hold. And if you need to use them in the Wyoming game or you need to use them in the New Mexico game, you use them. You just hope you don't need to. And so far we haven't needed to."
The New Mexico Lobos will never be mistaken for a good football team, but for a full half of football, the Lobos gave the Longhorns fits, whether or not they actually scored any points.
Perhaps Longhorn Nation is being too tough on this team — the expectations are very high. When a team like Texas plays a team like New Mexico, they get an opportunity to try some new things and some new players. OK, we can buy that. But while we saw a few new players, we did not see much else new and the fans certainly wanted to see some of the issues identified last week fixed this week.
Mack Brown is certainly positive and said exactly that after the game. "We're still working to get more speed on the field, and make sure we get speed in space, and get some explosive plays. That's our key right now. Tonight was a night where we had the best team, and it was never in question, and we were able to look at a lot of different guys and a lot of different things. Glad that Case [McCoy] got to play a quarter and some, glad that M.J. McFarland caught a touchdown pass, glad that Daje Johnson caught a touchdown pass. Johnathan Gray carried it more than Malcolm Brown. It was a night to work on things, and I thought we got a lot of guys looked at that needed to get a look."
Let's hope the coaches took a good look, because their time for "looking" is running out.
Next week: Ole Miss on the road in Oxford, Mississippi.