With heavy rain moving into the area and a lack overall depth, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong cancelled the Orange & White game after the first half, but not before early enrollee quarterback Shane Buechele cemented his claim to the starting role with an impressive performance that included two touchdowns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Buechele finished with 22-for-41 for 299 yards and zero interceptions in the half to complement those two touchdowns and showed some scrambling ability, as well. The touchdown passes were the highlights, including a 65-yard catch-and-run by sophomore wide receiver John Burt that hit him dead in stride and a 27-yard touch pass to the front pylon to junior wide receiver Armanti Foreman.
The touchdown to Foreman came right after Buechele put junior defensive end Naashon Hughes on spin cycle in the open field. The officials blew the play dead, but in truly live action, Buechele would have broken that tackle. He also had a spectacular incomplete pass when he spun left away from a blindside pass rusher that he merely anticipated, then threw a strike that early enrollee wide receiver Collin Johnson was not quite able to bring down in the end zone in wet conditions and with a defensive back there to get a hand on the ball.
In the first quarter, Buechele completed 12-of-19 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown to start out his Texas career in truly impressive fashion. And it's worth noting that a lot of his completions, including the touchdown and another nice gain to Foreman, came against sophomore cornerback Holton Hill. Context matters.
Throughout the first half, Buechele showed a remarkable command of the offense, making quick reads, delivering accurate passes, and running the offense at a tempo that is at least close to what new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert wants -- in 64 plays, Buechele averaged only 11.1 seconds between snaps. By contrast, senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes took an average of 13 seconds between his 46 plays.
The offensive line was a little bit sloppy early on the opening drive -- and throughout the entire first half -- committing a false start and a holding penalty on junior left guard Brandon Hodges that helped to stall the first drive. There were numerous other false-start penalties throughout the half, indicating that the line still isn't quite comfortable with the fast pace. That's something that offensive line coach Matt Mattox will need to clean up by the start of the season.
Texas still had a chance to score on that first drive, however, as Swoopes threw an accurate deep ball to sophomore wide receiver John Burt, but the speedster took the ball right off his facemask. A quality hurdler, Burt has been splitting time between track and football this spring, so perhaps he's simply a little bit rusty. And his hands weren't an issue last year.
After sophomore wide receiver DeAndre McNeal had a near touchdown taken from him by junior cornerback Antwuan Davis and had a bullet of a pass go through his hands, Swoopes hadn't received much help from his wide receivers in a start that was difficult to evaluate because he received so little help from his receivers.
He ultimately managed to connect on a deep pass to senior wide receiver Jacorey Warrick, but also threw another interception on an underthrown pass. Overall, Swoopes was the like he pretty much always has been -- impressive at times and inaccurate at other times.
On the ground, the two co-starters at running back were extremely impressive, as junior D'Onta Foreman rumbled for 73 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and sophomore Chris Warren used a 51-yard touchdown run to finish with 101 yards on seven carries. Both were difficult to bring down in the open field and showed tremendous speed for their size.
On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore defensive end Charles Omenihu recorded two sacks and was a consistent force as a pass rusher, and Davis and sophomore John Bonney both recorded interceptions. Bonney spent the day at safety after playing cornerback last year, a move that could be permanent due to depth at cornerback and a lack of it at safety.
With a number of players out and limited depth overall, the defense will benefit tremendously from better health and an infusion of talent along the defensive line by this fall, but the offense certainly won the day, which is probably a good sign for Strong and his Longhorns heading into the offseason.
For those wanting a full accounting of the current injuries, here's the entire list from the game:
Complete UT Orange-White DNP list: pic.twitter.com/r2NrEHQSdv— Dennis de la Pena (@dennisonfox7) April 16, 2016
More analysis to follow, but for right now, know that Gilbert's attack operated at every bit of the pace as advertised and managed to showcase both the wide receivers and the running backs by attacking the field vertically with deep passes and widening it horizontally with throws to the perimeter. And then there's Buechele, who now looks like the front-runner to open the season with the first team against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 4 and lived up to the significant expectations placed on him heading into the game.