On Saturday, the Texas Longhorns offense took a significant step forward, building on momentum from the second half of the first scrimmage to win over the defense.
“It was a close ballgame,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said on Saturday. “The offense edged us out. Our offense has beat us a couple of times. You guys might not have been around. They’ve done a good job, a really good job.”
As head coach Tom Herman noted on Monday, the big difference between preseason camp this year and preseason camp in 2017 is that the offense was able to score touchdowns against the first-team defense. Those were “few and far between” last year.
Herman has previously said that he wants to see a balance of success between the two units, but given how well the defense played in the Texas Bowl and how well it projects this season, there’s little reason for concern on that side of the ball beyond depth at linebacker.
Following the abject disappointment offensively during Herman’s debut season, it’s fair to say that Saturday’s offensive win and an overall narrative of improvement throughout the offseason are heartening. Cautiously heartening, perhaps, but heartening nonetheless.
Herman said Monday that it was more about the offense playing well than the defense playing poorly. “I think it’s definitely more the offense making strides — our defense is a really good defense,” he said.
The area for concern offensively that emerged from Saturday’s game was allowing too many negative plays. Texas ranked tied for No. 113 nationally in that category in 2017 by allowing 90 stops behind the line of scrimmage — nearly seven per game. In an offense that lacked explosiveness, that was a huge problem, because the Horns simply weren’t capable of playing from behind the chains.
However, the biggest reason why the offense won the scrimmage, according to Herman, was that the offense didn’t turn the ball over and only committed one penalty in more than 100 plays. Penalties were also a major issue last season, as the Longhorns ranked No. 112 in penalty yards per game at 66.8. All told, Texas gave up 869 penalty yards.
Offensively, many of the penalties were a result of holding, offensive pass interference, and procedural issues that spoke to a lack of experience along the offensive line and poor coaching and execution at the wide receiver position.
“You’ve got a chance when you don’t beat yourself,” Herman said.
Another area of emphasis for the Horns this season is producing more explosive plays — Texas tied for No. 106 nationally in scrimmage plays of more than 30 yards last season in producing only 19.
That’s one of the reasons why the coaches decided to move freshman D’Shawn Jamison to wide receiver despite his lack of experience at the position. On Saturday, that paid off, as Jamison reportedly had a 70-yard run on a jet sweep and scored two touchdowns.
The running backs also reportedly had a strong scrimmage, with graduate transfer Tre Watson, junior Kirk Johnson, and freshman Keaontay Ingram all earning praise.
However the offense scored touchdowns — whether from inside or outside the red zone — getting the ball into the end zone will be a crucial factor this season, as Texas struggled in that area last year, too. The team scored on less than 80 percent of its red-zone trips due to penalties and a shaky kicking game and stumbled to a mediocre 61.7-percent touchdown rate in those situations.
Beyond what transpired between the offense and the defense on Saturday, the players received a big surprise — their parents were in attendance for the scrimmage.
“I can’t believe we kept the dang thing a secret for that long,” Herman said. “That was a credit to the parents and a credit to our support staff that helped organize that, but the thing is that camp is a grind. It’s two and a half weeks of Groundhog Day and I felt, one, that these guys had earned the right to have the afternoon off, and two, if you’re going to give them the afternoon off, why not surprise them with their family?”