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Texas OL named to Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll

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The Horns won’t have a chance to earn the award at the end of the season unless the group turn its play around.

NCAA Football: Texas at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, the Joe Moore Award honored the Texas Longhorns offensive line with a spot on the midseason honor roll for the second straight season. The Joe Moore Award recognizes the nation’s top offensive line — Oklahoma won the award last season.

Offensive line coach Herb Hand has accomplished the feat of largely improving the unit this season despite working in three new starters, including two players with limited experience in pass protection. Led by sophomore offensive tackle Sam Cosmi on the left side and senior center Zach Shackelford in the middle, the Longhorns have produced 156 knockdown blocks and 221 blocks leading to touchdowns or first downs. Texas ranks second nationally with 196 first downs and ninth in scoring offense at 40.9 points per game.

One of the most consistent aspect of the offense is its success in the red zone, a part of the field where even the most explosive attacks often struggle as the field gets compressed —Texas ranks No. 5 nationally in touchdown percentage in the red zone at 85.7 percent. On third downs, the Horns have been excellent, too, ranking second nationally and first in the Big 12 at 55.8 percent.

Despite injuries to the running backs, Texas has also been a strong rushing team this season — the backs are averaging 2.67 yards before contact and sophomore Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson have both had 100-yard performances. In line yards, standard downs line yards, opportunity rate, and stuff rate, Texas ranks among the top 15 offensive lines in the country.

Continuity this season has helped — the same five starters have appeared in every game (from left to right: Cosmi, senior Parker Braun, Shackelford, redshirt freshman Junior Angilau, junior Derek Kerstetter).

However, if the Longhorns offensive line wants to earn serious consideration for the Joe Moore Award when the regular season is complete, the group needs to improve in pass protection and do it quickly. Texas ranks tied for 116th nationally in sacks allowed, as junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger has gone down in the pocket 22 times this season, including 12 times in the last two games alone after Oklahoma sacked Ehlinger nine times in the Cotton Bowl.

After that game, Shackelford said that the Longhorns need to do a better job communicating up front, as the Sooners were able to get pressure by playing twisting linemen and stunting linebackers. In that contest, Texas struggled to set with proper depth, pass off defenders, and limit penetration.

As a result, Texas ranks in the 90s nationally in sack rate on standard downs and passing downs — for a team that runs healthy doses of run-pass options and frequently utilizes play-action passes, there’s no real excuse for such a poor ranking on standard downs. On passing downs, Ehlinger is mobile enough and has strong enough pocket presence that he shouldn’t be taking a lot of sacks in those situations, either.

All told, the Texas offensive line has played well enough to make the Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll when viewing the season as a whole, but the recent struggles have several limited any discussions about whether Hand’s group is one of the top several units in the country and the best offensive line for the Horns in the last decade.