As the Texas Longhorns get ready to face off against new head coach Bob Davie and his New Mexico Lobos, there are several aspects of the game fans should pay attention to when the game gets kicked off on Saturday night.
A more wide-open offensive gameplan. Last week, co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said that he was a bit cautious with the offensive gameplan due to the new defensive coordinator at Wyoming, having had no film to study on tendencies. Related to that, David Ash was holding the ball too long, in part, Harsin said, because he wanted to make sure that he accounted for all available defenders and didn't miss someone moving either right before or after the snap.
There's no one game of defensive film on New Mexico, the Lobos gave up just over 240 passing yards at more than eight yards per attempt. The Jaguars were also quite efficient, completing . By comparison, Ash averaged 5.8 yards per attempt against Wyoming, with few passes thrown downfield.
There was a lot of talk about producing more explosive plays in the passing game this week, with Harsin saying that he wants to take two shots per quarter, a number the 'Horns did not hit against Wyoming. Will it happen this week? One thing that is clear is that Ash needs the game reps to continue working on his accuracy in those situations, which was still lacking in the opener, though he was much closer than he was even in the Holiday Bowl, and several orders of magnitude better than he was against Missouri (which, admittedly, is a low standard).
Will it be junior wide receiver Mike Davis making those plays instead of having them bounce off his hands? Or will senior Marquise Goodwin have a breakout game?
The New Mexico rushing attack on first down. This goes hand in hand with stopping the dive play and controlling the A gaps, an area in which sophomore linebacker Steve Edmond should excel, as he did in high school, in support of the deep defensive tackle rotation, which now has sophomore Desmond Jackson as a starter.
For any team, staying ahead of the chains is extremely important -- the failure to do so was a major reason why the Texas offense struggled so much last season -- so stopping the Lobos on first down is of paramount importance. Otherwise, getting them off the field becomes much more difficult. Interestingly enough, despite running the ball 51 times against Southern last week, New Mexico did not hold a significant advantage in time of possession.
But they won't need to out-possess Texas to shorten the game and reduce the opportunities for the Longhorns to score points. If that happens, it may be difficult for Texas to really blow the Lobos out of the water unless there are touchdowns scored on turnovers, in the kicking game, or on long, explosive plays early in a drive. Adjust expectations accordingly. And no, this is not trying to say that New Mexico is anything close to a good team.
Defensive communication. This week should be more about pre-game communication from the coaches to the players about assignments, as the pre-snap calls may not be as important as they were against Wyoming. Additionally, the problems were in pass coverage, both at the linebacker level and in the secondary, stresses that the Lobos will only put on the Longhorns a few times a game.
But when they do, they will be home-run type of shots that could result in big plays being given up if safeties are once again out of position. Or several Longhorns run into each other to remove themselves from the play. Giving up any significant yardage through the air would be a major disappointment.
Power O execution. The Power game struggled against Wyoming last week to start the season. The initial culprit seemed to be the interior of the line, and while sophomore center Dominic Espinosa was knocked down on one play, taking out offensive guard Mason Walters
The bigger issues were that senior fullback Ryan Roberson had a tough day adjusting his assignments on the move, leaving players coming free through the hole. The other problem was that sophomore running back Joe Bergeron did a poor job of identifying and hitting the cutback lane opened up by the pulling guard.
It's something that has been discussed before in this space regarding Fozzy Whittaker last year in the Wildcat and it applies to the normal Power play with the quarterback handing the ball to the running back as well. It's also doubly important for Bergeron now that he is handling the Wildcat snaps (Johnathan Gray did not see any time in that role against Wyoming).
To improve in the power game, both Roberson (or DLT) and Bergeron need to do a better job.
More young players on the field. The staff was reluctant to put young players on the field last week without film to review, so there were only a handful of true freshmen who played. If Texas can take care of business with a strong start, more young players will see the field.
The one Longhorn fans want to see more of is Johnathan Gray, who had only five carries against Wyoming and gained less than 10 yards. Another possible threat in the running game is Daje Johnson, who was suspended for the opener, but could see time at the H receiver position and on the jet sweep.
On the defensive side, the most likely player to see significant reps is defensive tackle Malcom Brown.