If the Texas Longhorns plan on being competitive in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, it will have to do something Longhorns fans haven’t seen in the box score all season — put together a complete offensive performance.
Looking back on the 2018 season, Texas has had great games offensively, but it’s often a direct correlation to one player, or two, who carried the Horns, whether it be through the air or on the ground.
And even then, when a wide receiver had 150-plus yards, or a running back surpassed 100 yards rushing, Texas sometimes didn’t come out on top in the stat column that matters most — the scoreboard.
Comb through the individual stats, take a look back at big days for individual players, and what you’ll find is Texas doesn’t have one specific trend attributable to success.
In fact, the Longhorns won football games while some of their biggest players had borderline miserable days statistically. Likewise, some of the biggest wins came without one player that clearly separated himself from the rest of the team. This is, indeed, a nod to the positive culture at Texas, stringing together wins with a collective effort.
Consider this — in 2018, the Longhorns had 100-yard rushing performances (combined) from freshman running back Keaontay Ingram and senior running back Tre Watson in losses. So, there’s nothing that indicates a win if the two combine for 100 yards. Likewise, Texas saw junior wide receivers Colin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey have 100-yard receiving performances in losses. Once again proving that you can’t take such performances and attribute them as a key to success.
To that effect, as I mentioned above, the Longhorns even pulled off victories in games where neither Ingram nor Watson rushed for more than 60 yards each, and Humphrey and Johnson both failed to amass 50 receiving yards.
These facts aren’t indicative of an inconsistent offense, bad game planning, or even bad games. But they do, however, make one thing undeniably evident about Texas’ matchup with No. 5 Georgia.
If Texas is going to get an upset victory in a New Year’s Six Bowl that will do wonders for its 2019 campaign — yes, this game absolutely has an impact on 2019 — the Longhorns will have to beat the Bulldogs with something they haven’t had on a regular basis, if at all, in 2018 — a complete game.
This, to me, would be a mistake-free day from sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger on top of solid passing and rushing numbers, Humphrey and Johnsons having 75-plus yards in receiving, and one of the two Longhorns running backs rushing for 100 yards.
I don’t need to tell you how important it is to get Johnson and Humphrey involved. So, let’s focus on the other aspect of the offense, the more inconsistent point of offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s attack.
Ingram and Watson.
Actually, considering the magnitude this game can have on next season, let’s go even deeper — Tuesday night is going to have to be Ingram’s grand arrival as the Longhorns’ feature back.
This isn’t to say that getting a ground game established is the only way Humphrey and Johnson have the type of days they will need to have. Yes, Georgia has an elite passing defense that has an S&P+ rating of third overall in passing defense and seventh in passing marginal efficiency. But with 2018 Thorpe Award winning defensive back Deandre Baker skipping the Sugar Bowl to prepare for the NFL, I fully expect both of Texas’ big wide receivers to have a healthy amount of targets and an overall big day.
However strong the passing defense may be, the S&P+ ratings actually come out lopsided for Georgia and in favor of Texas having a big day on the ground.
Georgia ranks just 57th in rushing defense S&P+, 81st in rushing marginal efficiency, 82nd in stuff rate (17.7%), and 109th in opportunity rate (50.3%), which collectively speak volumes about the talent in the trenches’ inability to have their way against opposing ground games. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Texas isn’t exactly elite in that regard, as Ehlinger, Tre Watson, Ingram, and Daniel Young have combined for 44 fewer rushing yards than Georgia running backs D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield as part of a rushing offense that ranks 93rd in S&P+.
Earlier this week, Watson told reporters Ingram has Heisman-caliber talent. Ingram, in his true freshman campaign, had just one 100-yard performance and just two other games with 80 or more rushing yards. Three times this season Ingram finished with more than 80 all-purpose yards.
The talent is there for Ingram — nobody has nor would anybody dare debate that. But I come back to how this game will set up the expectations and possibilities for 2019. With the return of Humphrey and Johnson unknown, as the two will soon decide whether to enter the NFL draft, it’s imperative to Texas’ success that the Longhorns prove to themselves that they can have reliable productivity in the running game out of Ingram.
Even if both of Ehlinger’s prime targets return, the Longhorns can’t continue to go into games hoping for big days from No. 84 and No. 9 as the “tip of their sword.” Likewise, and more importantly, if both Humphrey and Johnson do head to the NFL, Texas can’t afford to have a flighty rushing attack that goes for 40 yards one week and 94 the next.
Tuesday’s game is more than just a chance to win a New Year’s Six Bowl.
This matchup against Georgia is foundation for the 2019 season, and Ingram needs to show that he is one of the strongest pillars on which the Longhorns can lean on.