Unlocking the 4-2-5 defense of the TCU Horned Frogs is a difficult task, especially given the scouting ability of head coach Gary Patterson, but the Texas Longhorns were able to do so at a critical moment on Saturday thanks to head coach Tom Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
Down 16-10 with time running out in the third quarter, the Horns were looking to consolidate momentum after the defense forced a fumble by Horned Frogs quarterback Shawn Robinson that was recovered by junior safety Brandon Jones.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger had converted two third downs on the drive, but the offense was behind the chains following a holding penalty on graduate transfer left tackle Calvin Anderson. Facing 1st and 20, Herman and Beck called a post route to junior wide receiver Collin Johnson after noticing a weakness in the TCU coverage based on a certain formation, Herman said after the game.
It’s a look that the Horns used effectively at times last season, but have been more aggressive with this year — lining up Johnson and junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey to the same side of the field, in this case to the boundary, with the other wide receiver, junior Devin Duvernay just inside the numbers to the field and the H-back and running back also lined up to the field.
Since TCU played a safety over the top of the wide receiver to the field, Texas got one-on-one coverage against Johnson with little chance of help over the top.
After the game, Patterson appeared to talk about the play, noting that the Longhorns often target Duvernay on post routes, which explains why the only safety help was on that side of the field.
“I wish I would have been in something over the top coverage,” Patterson said. “I’ve got to change things up.”
The run fake executed by Ehlinger helped hold the safety to the field, while Johnson attacked his single coverage and Humphrey ran an out route to occupy his defender. The other defender to the boundary was responsible for the flat and took the running back out of the backfield.
That left Johnson with a chance to make a play without a safety over the top.
Of course, beating one-on-one coverage is hardly guaranteed when the opposing cornerback is Jeff Gladney, one of the fastest players in the country and one of the top coverage corners in the conference.
But Johnson is starting to emerge as a safe bet to beat that type of coverage more often that not and was able to get a step on Gladney, who was still in good position on the play.
In a rare mistake, redshirt freshman right tackle Sam Cosmi missed on his block, resulting in quick pressure on Ehlinger, who released the ball as he was hit, with only a small window to hit between Gladney and the late-arriving safety from the field.
Texas WR Collin Johnson went FLYING for the TD catch!— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 23, 2018
The Longhorns took down No. 17 TCU! pic.twitter.com/5b1EAZADyw
A sensational catch by the diving Johnson ensured that the well-designed play didn’t become a wasted opportunity. Not only did the junior wide receiver show the athleticism to get to the football, he also had the body control to twist his body as he fell to keep it from hitting the ground and potentially becoming dislodged.
As a result, Johnson matched his touchdown total from last season and recorded the third 100-yard receiving game of his career. Texas took the lead and never looked back, scoring another touchdown 17 seconds later and adding another in the fourth quarter to end the four-game TCU winning streak.
The biggest takeaway, though? Herman and Beck out-schemed one of the best defensive coaches in college football by recognizing a tendency in coverage and exploiting it. In doing so, the Texas turned the game in its favor.