Against the Rice Owls on Saturday night, a halftime adjustment helped the Texas Longhorns produce the team's longest play of the season and perhaps even beginning reversing a troubling trend of third-quarter malaise from 2014.
The Owls used two touchdowns to close a three-touchdown deficit to 21-14 heading into the break, but the Longhorns responded, needing only one play to dial up the 69-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard to true freshman wide receiver John Burt.
Like Notre Dame last week, Rice tried to use blitzes to overload the Texas offensive line in the hopes of creating pressure on Heard. When the coaches noticed that tendency after the first two quarters that created one-on-one coverage on the outside, the staff added a wrinkle to the playbook to open the second half.
"We actually put that play in at half and we because we knew that they were going to come with some type of pressure," said head coach Charlie Strong. "And then they had been coming with the nickel from the field and playing man coverage and when the guy squatted on Burt, I told Burt, hey, run a good route and just beat him and Jerrod just laid it out there and let him run and go get it. And it was a good throw and catch and they executed the play very well."
Heard said during post-game interviews that even being able to complete that throw is a new development for him, as it stretched his arm strength by traveling nearly 50 yards in the air to hit Burt dead in stride.
"Probably two or three years ago I couldn't throw that [touchdown pass to John Burt]," Heard said ($). "With the training, and being with coach Watson, who is a great coach, he got me right to be able to make throws, progression read, and stuff like that."
Other than the 68-yard reception by John Harris last year in Lubbock, Texas didn't create any similar plays last season. Heard did it within his first 10 college throws.
And if the offensive brain trust now led by play caller Jay Norvell can continue making good second-half adjustments that lead to big plays, the Horns maybe be able to pull out some of those needed swing games that will define the season.