After enjoying a heavy dosage of UTEP’s running game last weekend, the Texas Longhorns defensive focus now shifts in an entirely different direction: California’s extremely pass-happy offense. Considering the numbers – Cal’s Davis Webb leads the nation in passing attempts after 126 heaves in two games – it’s far-fetched to expect Texas’ secondary to shut Cal’s air raid down, but the increasingly familiar connection between Webb and junior receiver Chad Hansen will demand all of Vance Bedford’s preparation.
To this point, Cal’s two opponents – Hawaii and San Diego State – haven’t had much success to that end. Through the first two games of the season, the Texas Tech transfer has targeted his new favorite pass catcher 48 times, connecting with Hansen 28 times; 14 in each outing. As a result, Hansen not only leads the nation in receptions, but also receiver yards (350) after racking up 160 yards against Hawaii and 190 yards against San Diego State.
Chad Hansen : 14 catches, 160 yards & 2 TD's (Caught 19 passes all year last year) pic.twitter.com/xeZFLs8lMD— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) August 27, 2016
Webb has done a considerable job in spreading the pigskin around, as 15 different players have caught a pass and six have a touchdown reception, but Hansen has become his clear go-to option and security blanket. While Hansen has hauled in the aforementioned 28 passes, no other receiver on the team has more than nine.
"It's going to be a big challenge for our secondary," Charlie Strong said of the going against Webb. "We need to get pressure on the quarterback, just to take some of the pressure off. Some balls are going to be completed. We just can't allow balls to be thrown over our heads."
Cal’s play selection and how often Webb has relied upon Hansen on various downs has been interesting, as well.
On first down, Cal has passed the ball 42 times, as opposed to only 15 running plays. Nearly half – 19, to be specific – of the 42 first down passes were directed at Hansen, who came down with 13 of them. 11 of Cal’s second down passes have gone Hansen’s way, as well; he’s caught nine of them. Oddly enough, Webb has only looked Hansen’s way seven times on third down, though the small sample size doesn’t suggest Texas can expect Webb to go away from Hansen on third down.
But what is clear is that on a Cal offense that loves to pass early and often, Texas will have to have to prevent Webb from establishing a comfortable rhythm on first and second down, where he so often likes to get Hansen involved. Much of what will go into that is assuring whichever defensive back is matchup up with Hansen doesn’t provide him with much cushion, as 15 of his receptions have been for fewer than 10 yards. And for Texas’ secondary, the threat of getting beat for big gains will remain, considering Hansen has caught 13 passes that went for 10-plus yards and four receptions of at least 20 yards, including a 49-yard grab catch last game.
Fortunately for Texas, who now has an offense potent enough to hang around and even headline an offensive frenzy, simply preventing Webb and Hansen from having a field day together should be enough to escape Berkeley at 3-0. It’s a challenge that’s easier said than done, but one Texas safety Jason Hall said the team is up for.
"For DBs, you got to love that," Hall said of the chance to play a team that throws the ball 50-plus times a game. "That's a great challenge. It's a great challenge for us. A team like that that passes a lot, it gives us a chance to show what we can do, gives us a chance to show the country that we're able to execute."