With each Texas Longhorns game seems to come more certainty that Sterlin Gilbert was the perfect hire for the offensive coordinator position. Gilbert took an anemic unit and added energy and purpose, devising ways to highlight the strengths of his talented players. There is still untapped potential, but that just means the offense should only continue to get better as the youthful groups develops.
Here’s our grades for the Texas offense’s non-conference portion:
The way Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes handled Notre Dame was like something out of a corny sports movie. The fresh-faced freshman dropped dimes into his receivers hands to lead his underdog team to quick scores, while the embattled senior used muscle and brute force to will the Longhorns to victory in double overtime.
Since then, the Swoo’chele duo has continued to work, but there have definitely been challenges in the past two games. Against UTEP, the 18-Wheeler package was surprisingly ineffective, as Swoopes wasn’t able to pound the ball to the end zone in a first and goal situation (he finished with only two rushes for three yards).
The Cal game also pointed out weaknesses that having two quarterbacks can cause. At several points in the game, Buechele and Swoopes were switched out on seemingly every other play when a penalty or big loss turned a short-yard rushing situation (Swoopes) into an obvious passing down (Buechele).
In Berkeley, Swoopes also didn’t demonstrate that he could be a reliable tradition quarterback if Buechele does in fact go down. While the 18 Wheeler had some nice throws, he also threw an ugly interception. While Buechele has two interceptions and Swoopes only has one, it almost feels like more just because the defense has failed to execute in getting turnovers of their own.
However, starting a freshman quarterback has gone nearly as well as Texas could’ve hoped for. Buechele shows tremendous poise and confidence behind center and truly looks like he will be a star for years to come. And Swoopes, who has so unfairly been the scapegoat for the team’s troubles in the past, has finally utilized his athleticism and size to play a major role.
It’s fair to say that opponents on the Texas schedule are not looking forward to the bruises that will be inflicted on them by the Smash Brothers. Before Saturday’s bye week, D’Onta Foreman was leading the Big 12 in rushing yards, which is impressive considering the junior missed a game against Texas’ only non-Power Five opponent. Foreman is averaging a staggering 6.2 yards per carry with 288 yards over two games.
The other half of the Smash Bros isn’t excelling to quite the high bar set by Foreman, but Chris Warren is a beast in his own right. Warren struggled to find a rhythm against Notre Dame, and hasn’t broken a huge run, but the sophomore is still averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has 260 rushing yards.
When people think of a fast-paced offense, they tend to think of an aerial attack with significant speed. Foreman and Warren however add an element of power to the mix, which has allowed the duo to easily gain first downs in short yardage situations.
Talented freshman Kyle Porter has also gotten contributed to the rushing attack. Though he ripped off a 16-yard run, he’s only averaging 2.4 yards per carry in his other seven runs. Still, it’s a great sign to see the four-star recruit be able to already perform adequately at the college level.
It’s unfortunate that Kirk Johnson suffered a serious knee injury, because his elite speed and athleticism would’ve added an element of finesse to the smash.
If we could turn off injuries and suspensions on this season, the offensive line would have a much higher grade. The problem is, the line has been banged up, and now senior leader Kent Perkins has been arrested for a DWI and has an uncertain outlook with the program.
With highly-touted freshmen such as Patrick Hudson poised to enter the rotation next season, depth will not be an issue for Texas’ offensive line in the near future. Unfortunately, it’s a concern right now. At one point against UTEP, Patrick Vahe was the only starter on the field (and he then faced a hand injury of his own). The line looked like swiss cheese.
After not allowing any sacks against Notre Dame, Texas has given up three in both the UTEP and Cal games. But for all the holes in the line, there are many more bright spots.
Sophomore tackle Connor Williams as expected has been a star, earning Pro Football Focus “Team of the Week” honors and being the second rated offensive tackle in the country. Fellow sophomore Alex Anderson has unexpectedly stepped up to do a more than serviceable job after being on transfer watch just a few short months ago.
Texas’ offensive line performed admirably for their first three games, but the frequent injury susceptibility of the group and especially the Kent Perkins suspension has made the unit’s outlook a bit uncertain down the road as we enter conference play.
When discussing which freshman would receive prominent playing time in the off-season, many writers predicted that the wide receiver position would be stacked with newcomers, particularly Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson. Unexpectedly, it’s been the experienced pass catchers who have stepped up and that is not at all a bad thing.
Senior Jacorey Warrick is a great example of a player who was expected to be passed up and instead flourished. Though Warrick fumbled at the end zone against UTEP, the speedy Houston native leads the team in receptions with 13, which already more than doubles the six catches he had all season last year.
Jake Oliver and Jerrod Heard have also stepped up to the plate in a big way. Heard seamlessly transitioned from quarterback to receiver and already has 10 catches, including a 68-yard burst and a touchdown. Oliver had no receptions in his first two years, but has now proved to be a reliable target for Buechele with nine catches. The two juniors’ stellar performance has lessened the need to throw Duvernay and Johnson into the line of fire.
The most promising aspect of the receiving corps is that each player seems to bring his own unique weapons to the table. From John Burt’s lightning speed, to Jerrod Heard’s playmaking ability, to Collin Johnson’s size, there’s a way to torch opponents through the air in multiple facets.
There is of course still room for improvement, however, as the wide-outs have had many untimely drops. Though John Burt is clearly the team’s best threat, he in particular has had significant trouble reeling in the football. The sophomore already has five drops through three games, already surpassing the three he had last season.
The Texas offense is by no means at fault for the loss on the Longhorn resume. With more than 40 points every game during the non-conference schedule and no signs of slowing down, a healthy offensive unit should continue to roll in the Big 12.