The Texas Longhorns football team turned in their most complete performance of the year against a competitive opponent, burying Texas Tech 52-20 behind 439 yards on the ground, while limiting the Red Raiders to just 30 rushing yards of their own. The Longhorns offense got huge contributions rushing the ball from Joe Bergeron (29 carries for 191 yards, 4 TDs), Fozzy Whittaker (10-83-2), David Ash (4-59), and Marquise Goodwin (2-45) and did not punt the ball throughout their blow out win over the Red Raiders.
Although Tech quarterback Seth Doege amassed 381 yards through the air, it took him 55 attempts to do so and he was shut out of the end zone until the third quarter, after Texas had already opened up a 38-6 lead. The disparity between the two teams' average yards per play told the tale of the game: the Red Raiders needed 82 plays to pick up their 411 yards of total offense (5.0 yards per play), while the Longhorns racked up 595 yards of total offense on just 63 plays, a whopping 9.4 average gain on every down.
The improvement continues. I wrote last week about how important and encouraging it was to see this Texas team steadily improving as the season progressed, and that trend most certainly continued against Texas Tech. This team has an identity, we know what we're capable of doing well, and we're executing those things better and better each week. Our offense had a very clear advantage and path to success against Texas Tech and we took advantage to the fullest extent imaginable. Midway through the third quarter it felt like Texas was averaging 10 yards a run. On defense, we're getting more and more pressure on the quarterback with our front four, our linebackers are flowing to the ball and finishing plays, and our secondary has a much better grasp of where to be; as everyone grows more and more comfortable with our scheme and where they're supposed to be, rather than think they're increasingly able to react and make plays on the football.
We are at this point in the season a good football team. Not a great one, but a legitimately good one that's getting better week to week and just walloped Tech with our leading receiver and rusher on the year sidelined with injuries.
Bergeron's big day. I chose freshman tailback Joe Bergeron as one of My Guys for 2011 so I'm not exactly surprised by what he's done the last two weeks, but I'm even more impressed following his performance Saturday. Texas Tech certainly didn't provide a ton of resistance, but Bergeron did more than run straight through wide open holes in picking up his 191 yards on the ground. He looked terrific running our Power, Inside Zone, and Outside Zone base rushing plays -- showing both the appropriate amount of patience to let blocks develop, good vision in identifying holes, and impressive burst in accelerating through rushing lanes.
Bergeron has a powerful build, obviously, but he also possesses excellent balance, runs low behind his pads, and has quick feet that help him hit his top speed quickly, all of which make him incredibly difficult to bring down with anything less than a square blow. Joe Bergeron actually is the back people were fantasizing Cody Johnson might become, and it's pretty clear that we're talking about Cerberus in the Texas backfield for the forseeable future, with a three-headed monster of Bergeron, Brown and Whittaker the remainder of this year, and subbing in Gray for Whittaker in 2012.
Stacy Searels earning his paycheck. I was higher than some on the Searels hire when it was announced, primarily because of the impressions a friend of mine who's an LSU insider had based on Searels tenure under Saban in Baton Rouge. Although Searels was scapegoated a bit by Georgia fans when the real culprit was injuries, I was actually impressed with the work he did salvaging respectable play from a depleted group. I liked the hire of Searels both because I was convinced he's a good communicator and teacher, and also because it seemed like his fiery personality was something this team and program could really use in this turnaround project.
The early returns are most encouraging: not only has the offensive line steadily improved throughout the season, but the entire team has adopted the personality of Searels. This young team is taking pride in being a physical, assertive football team, even as it learns and grows. The insertions of Luke Poehlmann at blocking tight end and Josh Cochran at left tackle have shored up our issues holding the edge, our linemen are winning more and more battles at the point of attack, and continually improving getting to and blocking well at the second level. It's going to take some time yet to build the kind of quality program depth that is the ultimate goal, but the work Searels has done this year provides ample reason to be confident we can and will.
David Ash goes downfield. Mack Brown said during his pre-game interview with Craig Way that it was important for David Ash to complete some passes downfield against Tech, and though Texas prudently limited him to about 10 passing plays on the day, Ash made the most of them, averaging 31 yards on his 4 completions. Texas' freshman QB connected with Mike Davis for 24 yards early in the game, rebounded from an overthrow to hit Davis deep down the middle for 48 yards, and delivered a strike to Marquis Goodwin down the left sideline for a 37-yard gain. Ash wasn't perfect throwing the ball, but he generally made the right reads and looked comfortable taking shots down the field; as that ability continues to improve, Texas' offense will be awfully difficult to defend.
Along with passing the ball downfield, Ash did a great job putting his feet to productive use, picking up 18 yards on a designed draw and 47 yards on a brilliant third-down scramble when he had no open receivers to throw to. Harsin's been working with Ash on when to tuck it and run, telling him, "When everyone is covered, you're not." Ash took just one sack on the day, made a nice play throwing it away under pressure, and taking everything together the freshman had his best day of all-around decision-making and quarterbacking of his young career.
Kudos, as well, to Case McCoy, who also made the most of his limited opportunities, making a nice throw to Darius White for a 31-yard touchdown late in the game.
Diaz's defense shines. Manny Diaz's defensive strategy is to force teams to score touchdowns across long, sustained drives. Diaz calculates that so long as his defense doesn't allow the offense to score via big plays, he can inflict more damage on negative plays than the offense can overcome to sustain the drive and get to the end zone. The strategy is less concerned about whether an offense can get into the red zone and highly focused on making them work hard to get into the end zone.
The Longhorns defense executed that strategy to perfection against Texas Tech on Saturday. Texas allowed the Red Raiders just a single play over 20 yards and held Tech to field goals on 2 of their 4 trips into the red zone, including the one set up by the 49-yard completion off a blown coverage assignment. The Red Raiders were able to pick up some yardage, but Texas' defense dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting Tech to 30 yards total rushing, sacking Doege 3 times, and racking up 13 total tackles-for-loss.
Doege was under pressure throughout the game and though the Tech quarterback performed pretty well all things considered, he and his offense were thoroughly outmatched.
Defensive line dominates. Key to the Longhorns' defensive success was the fantastic play delivered by the defensive line, which continues to improve and turned in its strongest performance of the season. Alex Okafor was again effective rushing the passer, recording a sack for the third straight game, while Jeffcoat has shrugged off his lackluster start to come on strong across the last four, during which he has made 8 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. Kheeston Randall was a force in the middle, destroying any hope Tech had of running the ball effectively, while there were more encouraging signs from Texas' other interior lineman. After a quiet spell during the middle stretch of the season, Ashton Dorsey broke out with a highly impressive performance, registering 4 total tackles, 3 QB hurries, a tipped ball, and a tackle-for-loss. True freshman Cedric Reed played more again this week and gave Texas a handful of quality snaps, and though he didn't register a tackle Chris Whaley made a wonderfully impressive play sniffing out and taking away a screen pass Tech wanted to throw.
Rounding into form. This Longhorns defense isn't as complete and dominant as the two high-elite units we saw last night in Tuscaloosa, but it's a damn solid unit that's executing Manny Diaz's scheme better and better each week. Following Saturday's performance, the Texas defense is allowing just 5.6 yards per pass attempt (4th nationally) and 4.7 yards per play overall (9th best in the country). The first half meltdown in Dallas and two busts for long touchdown runs by Oklahoma State were costly, but otherwise there's been a lot to like and be excited about.
The light seems to have come on for Emmanuel Acho in terms of playing in Diaz's scheme and it will be a great sign for our defense against the remaining four opponents if he can maintain his recent level of play. Keenan Robinson was active and delivered a solid performance, but Jordan Hicks still seems a little bit lost right now, still playing tentatively and a bit slow to react. Overall, there's still some concern about our linebackers against teams that can pound the ball with power running, but our front seven is playing at a high level overall right now and they were instrumental in keeping Tech in check.
The secondary wasn't perfect on Saturday and our young DBs are still honing their abilities, but they delivered a good performance overall, tackling surely, avoiding mistakes, and making some plays on the ball. Kenny Vaccaro remained hot and very nearly had yet another turnover, Blake Gideon played his role solidly, and our corners battled hard through a tough assignment to give us what we needed from them overall. Byndom got beat a few times and showed some areas where he can still learn and improve, while the true freshman Diggs continued to separate from his difficult day in Dallas, turning in another strong and encouraging effort.
Final thoughts. After last season, much has been made of Texas becoming bowl eligible, and while that's certainly a positive, the most important thing remains the steady improvement and development we're seeing from this team and the staff that's coaching them. Mack Brown said after the game, "Let's not talk about 6 wins. Let's talk about 10." Although the remaining schedule will be challenging, if the team maintain and build upon its recent level of play, four more wins is absolutely possible.
It would have been easy for this team to derail following the OU debacle, but they immediately rebounded to compete hard with Oklahoma State and have shown continued improvement in two dominant wins over Kansas and Texas Tech. We're a physical football team with an offensive identity that's steadily developing, and a defense that looks increasingly comfortable executing Manny Diaz's scheme. We'll learn a lot about this year's team from the four remaining games, but at the very least it's great to feel confident about the state of the program and the direction we're headed.
Onwards and upwards. Hook 'em.