For the *counts on both hands* time in the last several years, the Texas football team put up a performance that makes me really not have much fun putting this together. As you expect, the numbers were about as bad as the game was to watch live. But, we press on, and maybe find something valuable to take away from an ugly night in South Bend.
9 - 2.5: Malik Jefferson tackles - tackles for loss
As. Advertised. The freshman phenom and bellcow of Charlie Strong's first recruiting class enrolled early, immediately became a team leader, bulked up to play middle linebacker, and was one of the few that answered the call in Texas's 2015 opener. His 9 tackles were second only to senior linebacker Peter Jinkens, and 2.5 tackles for loss led the team. Attacking the backfield, he was everything his scouting report and high school tape showed: fast through gaps and explosive on contact. He held up as well as anyone taking on blockers in his first career game at middle linebacker.
The biggest point of emphasis for the young backer moving forward will be translating his remarkable athleticism to pass coverage. He was admittedly a little uncomfortable dropping back, and it showed in his lack of depth in coverage on several occasions. Considering how infrequently he did that in high school, and the need to help the defensive front against the dominant Notre Dame OL, the performance was understandable. At least he gave the coaches something for the film room.
6 - 45: Daje Johnson receptions - receiving yards
112: Daje Johnson receiving, rushing, punt return, and kick return yards
One of the few positive offseason reports that held true on opening night was Daje Johnson and his new lease on life. The now senior WR accounted for 6 of the team's 8 receptions, primarily on making something of nothing in the screen game. He added a 9 yard rush, but went back 5 his other carry, and was the first guy out for both the punt and kick return units.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, Daje has put himself in position to be a reliable asset for the offense.
1 - 48: John Burt receptions - receiving yards
One of the primary pieces of Texas's youth movement, the Tallahassee wide receiver provided one of the lone highlights for the offense. His size and speed on the outside was put to use on a deep bomb from Tyrone Swoopes, and if the offensive line can buy the quarterbacks time, he could find become an important piece for opening up the Texas offense.
8 - 40: Johnathan Gray rushes - rushing yards
As a senior leader for the offense, and former 5-star running back recruit that has struggled throughout his career, Johnathan Gray becoming a bellcow for Texas is likely the top priority on offense in 2015. And in his 8 carries, Gray acquitted himself well, making use of what little space was available and getting every yard available. The 8 carries are frustratingly low, but not surprising given how quickly things got out of hand.
If Texas is to get its first thousand yard rusher since Jamaal Charles, Gray will need a lot more than 8 carries a game.
1 - 2: Nick Rose official field goal conversions - attempts
3 - 4: Nick Rose actual field goal conversions - attempts
52 yard field goal is good. Timeout. 52 yard field goal is good. Timeout. 52 yard field goal is no good. That sequence before the half nearly led me to march on South Bend and stick a Nike in Brian Kelly's backside. Despite the unfortunate result, the two successes showed a steadied Nick Rose, who was able to redeem himself on a 41 yarder later in the game.
0: Texas offensive turnovers
Looking for a silver lining on offense? 0 turnovers. No interceptions from a panicked QB. No fumbles from a careless ballcarrier.
I'm trying people. Work with me.
Now it gets ugly.
29 - 60 (2.1): Texas offense rushes - rushing yards (yards per carry)
8 - 23 (34.8), 103 (4.5): Texas offense completions - attempts (completion percentage), passing yards (yards per attempt)
The Texas run game was two steps forward, one step back throughout the night. John Gray had a few opportunities. Chris Warren and D'Onta Foreman got a few looks. Daje Johnson and Armanti Foreman had a few chances outside. But the bulk of the Texas run game was Tyrone Swoopes dodging free pass rushers on drop-backs and trying to pick up anything.
The passing game was exactly 6/8ths screen passes to Daje Johnson, 1/8th deep pass to John Burt, and 1/8th dumpoff to Andrew Beck. It was as diverse as my dinners this weekend (cheeseburgers....lots of cheeseburgers).
If you had your money on the 2015 Texas offense being the 2014 Texas offense except with faster 3 and outs, you are so far correct. 8 of 12 Texas drives went three and out, and only 2 of 11 third downs were converted. And while the raw numbers are improved over what Texas put out against Arkansas in last year's Texas Bowl, the results are the same.
52 - 214 (4.1) - 2: Notre Dame rushes - rushing yards (yards per carry) - rushing TDs
19 - 22 (86.4), 313 (14.2), 3-0: Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire completions - attempts (comp%), passing yards (YPA), TDs-INTs
Operating behind a large and veteran offensive line, the Notre Dame offense had 50+ rush attempts at better than 4 yards per carry. Despite losing starting RB Tarean Folston early to a season ending knee injury, the ND rush attack was paced by WR/RB CJ Prosise stepping in and taking 20 carries for 98 yards. Backup RB Josh Adams contributed 5 carries and 49 yards and the two ND rushing TDs.
Facing little pressure, Malik Zaire showed very well in his opening start. Connecting on 86% of his passes for 14 yards per attempt, Zaire was steady throughout the night. His favorite target was star WR Will Fuller, who broke open for 7 receptions, 142 yards, and 2 TDs. The Texas defense did little to make his night more difficult, failing to get pressure and drop-backs and frequently blowing coverage in the secondary. Vance Bedford's charges have little to hide behind on the evening as the route was on from the second drive.
Onward and upward to Rice, where I hope the performance makes this exercise much more enjoyable.