With two games down, let’s take a look at what the Longhorns have been working with so far at each position group across the roster. We’ll start with the offense in this post and follow that up with another post for the defense.
- Things really couldn’t have started off much better at the position that had the biggest question marks floating around it before the season began.
True freshman Shane Buechele has taken control of the starting quarterback role and has become the real answer to the drought Texas saw at quarterback for far too long.
- What’s made all of this work out even better for Texas has been senior Tyrone Swoopes’ willingness to settle back into his role as the 18-wheeler, wildcat-type of role. It can’t be easy to lose out on a starting competition.
And that pill must only be tougher to swallow when you’re a senior that gets beat out by a true freshman. But Swoopes has handled it about as well as you can and has become a very important piece of the offense.
- I hope everyone also realizes how rare it is to have three quarterbacks all accept other roles in order to help their team instead of just picking up their toys like an upset toddler and transferring to play elsewhere.
Both Jerrod Heard and Kai Locksley made the move to wide receiver, and credit needs to be given to Coach Strong, Sterlin Gilbert and the staff for any help they had with those position changes as well.
- When conversations are had about the best running backs in the Big 12, D’Onta Foreman’s name absolutely needs to be in those discussions. He has a rare blend of elusiveness and vision to go along with his physical style of running.
He really makes picking up tough yards look easy. Averaging over seven yards per carry last season on almost 100 touches is no small feat.
And he’s followed that up with 24/131/1 line in his one game he’s play against Notre Dame, which was good for a 5.5 yards-per-carry average.
- Make no mistake about it, Foreman is the best running back on this team. But Chris Warren has become a nice compliment to Foreman.
I view Foreman as a back that can find success against almost any defense, while I view Warren as a back who will either excel or have OK games depending on what a defense has upfront - for now, at least.
The ratio of carries probably needs to live in the 3 to 1 range between those two to get the best production from the position when both are healthy.
- Freshman Kyle Porter has settled in as the third option but I’d be lying if I said I still wasn’t very curious to see what type of impact a quicker back like Kirk Johnson would have in this offense. Texas doesn’t really have a quicker, speed option it’s shown it likes to utilize so far.
Hopefully Johnson recovers sooner than later. If not, I wouldn’t count out a redshirt for Johnson if his injury lingers (I still haven’t seen reports of any details for his injury at this time).
- With a total of 39 receptions, 525 yards and six touchdowns through two games, the Texas receivers are already on pace to crush the 139/1751/9 numbers the position put up last season.
Obviously, they largely have a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator to thank for that. But it’s still a great sign that things are trending upwards for the offense.
- There hasn’t been one receiver emerge as a “go-to” guy this season yet, but so far Texas has done a pretty good job of utilizing its receivers based on what the situation calls for.
We’ve seen speedsters like John Burt and Jerrod Heard fly past defensive backs on fly routes to make plays and score touchdowns. And Junior Armanti Foreman has used his athleticism to make big receptions, including a touchdown against Notre Dame.
We saw the smaller but quick Jacorey Warrick rack up receptions against UTEP. And we’ve seen a guy like Jake Oliver, known for his hands and ability to find space in tight areas, pick up key first downs and receptions when the ‘Horns have needed them.
- I have been somewhat surprised freshmen, like Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson, haven’t been more involved. Then again, the position is deep. Against UTEP, we saw junior Dorian Leonard convert on an opportunity for a touchdown over Duvernay and Johnson.
Finding snaps is just tough to come by at receiver this season, and the freshmen appear to be at the lower end of the totem pole right now.
- I do keep wondering if we’ll see Devin Duvernay get some carries out of the backfield in some way similar to Percy Harvin’s days at Florida (when Coach Strong was on the coaching staff there). Maybe that’s not in the cards right now or even this season.
- Blocking has been the tune the tight end position has been singing this season. Not one tight end has caught a pass yet (though, occasionally, we will see a tight end split out as a receiver).
- The scheme has a lot to do with the lack of tight ends being involved in the passing game. In a scheme that tries to put its playmakers in space to beat defenders, throwing to a slower tight end isn’t the most ideal option when you can throw to a guy like Burt, Heard, Foreman or Warrick.
Add in a guy like Oliver, who has shown flashes as being a reliable option underneath and in the middle of the field, and there really hasn’t been a huge need for a tight end as a receiving option.
- I continue to wonder if we’ll see a tight end go out for a pass when Swoopes is in for his package. That may be one formation that could benefit from having a tight end act like he’s blocking then release out for a pass.
It’d be similar to how Caleb Bluiett scored a touchdown against Oklahoma last season.
- This unit is still a work in progress. And really, it’s a group that probably needs this entire season and another offseason before it will take the step up that everyone wants to see.
With that said, though, the unit hasn’t been as big of a liability so far this season as it was last season. Some of that has to do with some improvements from players, but a good portion of that is also due to the new scheme Sterlin Gilbert and Matt Mattox have brought.
Then again, it’s also only been two games...
- Connor WIlliams is still the bright spot among this group and he isn’t close to his own potential yet. Aside from him, the rest of the linemen have shown that inconsistency is this group’s biggest issue right now.
Too often we’ll see linemen look lost, get beat due to poor positioning, or fail to engage a defender that’s in their vicinity.
- The biggest disappointment in the early part of this season has been Kent Perkins. It’s possible a lingering injury has been hindering his play (he did sit out against UTEP in an effort to heal up).
But being that Perkins is a 5th-year senior that moved back inside to guard, a position thought to be his more natural position, he didn’t perform well against Notre Dame and needs to pick up his play moving forward.
- I’ve also wrestled with disappointment when watching Vahe. He’s someone that hasn’t been engaging with defenders as much as you’d expect. And he seems to get tripped up and find the grass too often.
In reality, though, Vahe is a guy that probably could have benefited from a year or two on the sideline or as a reserve instead of getting thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman. He hasn’t been terrible, but his play could look night-and-day better by the time he’s a junior or senior.
- On an evening when a majority of the starters were out dealing with minor injuries, we saw a few reserves step in and play most of the game. There were some flashes of good blocking at a few points in the game from guys like Brandon Hodges, Alex Anderson and Jake McMillon.
For the most part, though, the evening was a reminder that the offensive line still doesn’t have the type of depth Texas needs.
- Speaking of Brandon Hodges, I’m not so sure Tristan Nickelson will automatically be the starting right tackle if/when he returns from injury later this season. Hodges gives the unit a bit more mobility at right tackle and could steal the starting gig away for the rest of the season.
At the end of the day, this offense is definitely an improved unit. Averaging over 40 points is a big step up from last season. And sure, it’s only been two games, with one of those games against a weaker UTEP team. But Texas was in a bad place offensively last season.
Seeing this offense put up points and make plays through the air has been refreshing to say the least to start this season. Sterlin Gilbert has quickly made his presence felt in Austin.