Despite the absence of starting quarterback Shane Buechele, the Texas Longhorns rolled all over an overmatched San Jose State Spartans team for a much-needed 56-0 win on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
After San Jose State defensive tackle Sailosi Latu went down early in the game, Texas was able to run at will against one of the worst run defenses in the country, ultimately racking up 406 yards and six touchdowns on 59 carries.
Junior running back Chris Warren III led the way with 16 carries for 166 yards and two touchdowns, including a 41-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter that showcased his power and speed.
Working out of a Wildcat package, junior wide receiver Jerrod Heard also contributed with eight carries for 39 yards and two touchdowns of his own, providing a boost in short yardage and in the red zone.
Even the backups got in on the action, as freshman running back Toneil Carter broke several tackles on a 38-yard run and scored his first career touchdown. Fellow freshman Daniel Young also looked quick and powerful on his four carries.
At quarterback, freshman Sam Ehlinger showed poise in the pocket behind an offensive line that protected him well all day. When necessary, he scrambled, gaining 48 yards on seven carries. And even though his wide receivers let him down with multiple drops, he was able to complete 15-of-27 attempts through the air for 222 yards and one touchdown.
The competition level wasn’t especially high and Ehlinger did narrowly escape throwing two interceptions in the first half, but his performance was impressive for a true freshman.
Whether there’s a quarterback controversy now remains to be scene. The good news, however, is that the season isn’t completely lost if Buechele can’t play and Ehlinger has to fill in for the sophomore.
Defensively, the Longhorns significantly reduced mistakes across the board, playing with better leverage, missing fewer tackles, and largely eliminating the coverage miscues that led to big plays by Maryland.
The Spartans gained only 171 yards in the game and went 2-of-12 on third down.
The highlight came from junior cornerback Holton Hill, who returned an interception 45 yards across the field in the third quarter. It was the third interception return for a touchdown of his career and his third score of the season.
Overall, Hill was solid in coverage and run support once again, proving that his impressive performance to open the season wasn’t a fluke — he’s once again a reliable player on this defense and arguably the team’s best cornerback at this time.
Last week, star junior college transfer Gary Johnson didn’t see any time on defense, but received more playing time on Saturday and impressed with his speed, slicing through the offensive line for several stops near the line of scrimmage.
Until late in the game, the longest run for San Jose State went for only eight yards, a testament to the physicality of the defensive line and run fits from the linebackers.
There were still some issues on special teams, though, with senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman fumbling the first Spartans punt of the game and junior kicker Josh Rowland missing his third kick of the season. The junior college product is yet to connect on a field goal.
And junior tight end Garrett Gray left the game with a knee injury and did not return, further depleting depth at the position. Fortunately, graduate transer Kendall Moore ably filled in for Gray and freshman Cade Brewer was also able to put some reps on film.
On the positive side, senior safety Jason Hall forced a fumble that put Texas in position to score a fourth quarter touchdown.
Unquestionably, the Longhorns will have to play better next weekend in Los Angeles to have a chance against the Trojans, but Saturday’s performance was a big step in the right direction.
For that, the players and coaches deserve significant credit.