With the wind gusting to 30 miles per hour as the temperature dropped in Austin, the White beat the Orange, 12-6, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to conclude spring practice for the Texas Longhorns.
Takeaways from any spring game are often difficult, but it was clear that the weather played a large factor in the game — on a 60-yard field goal attempt by sophomore kicker Cameron Dicker, the ball swerved several times due to the wind strength.
In a segment on Longhorn Network during the game, head coach Tom Herman admitted that the defenses were loading the box and daring the offenses to throw the ball over the top, saying afterwards that it was “almost impossible” to throw the football.
“It was even difficult to throw and catch a bubble [screen], let alone a ball thrown down the field,” Herman said.
As usual, the offense was pretty vanilla, too, with Herman mentioning that there are a variety of run-pass options that the Longhorns installed this spring, but didn’t want to put on film for opponents to scout.
Unsurprisingly then, the plan largely worked defensively, as the first-team defense looked especially strong at the point of attack and rallying to the football on the perimeter.
“I thought it was good for our defense,” Herman said. “They had taken a few of these on the chin here lately in the previous few scrimmages, so it was nice to send them into the offseason with a little bit of confidence.”
In fact, the offense won both scrimmages this spring, with practice clips indicating that it frequently produced big plays, both in the passing game and the running game. On Saturday, the physicality of young players really showed up, with sophomore cornerback Jalen Green looking strong on the edge and sophomore safety DeMarvion Overshown delivering a big hit on redshirt freshman quarterback Casey Thompson that the coaches likely didn’t appreciate — quarterbacks are non-contact in scrimmages.
Combined, the defenses forced two turnovers in the first half, both interceptions, with senior Rover Jeffrey McCulloch also breaking up a fourth-down pass intended for Ingram on a wheel route. Even Mac linebacker Ayodele Adeoye got in on the pass coverage, breaking up a throw to sophomore wide receiver Joshua Moore up the seam. Sophomore B-backer Joseph Ossai did the same, forcing a back-shoulder throw to freshman running back Jordan Whittington on another wheel route. The ball hit Whittington in the hands — it should have been a catch — but Ossai was in excellent position.
One interception was forced against Thompson when it appeared as if freshman defensive lineman Peter Mgapi hit the quarterback’s arm as he threw the ball into the wind, resulting in a fluttery pass that ended up in the hands of sophomore cornerback Kobe Boyce.
The second turnover of the game was an interception by McCulloch, who has been good in pass coverage in his limited opportunities at inside linebacker. McCulloch undercut a checkdown route intended for sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram from junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger. McCulloch returned the ball close to the goal line, resulting in the game’s only touchdown.
The tackling was impressive, too, as defenders only missed a small handful during the entire game and the pass rush generated four sacks in the first half.
Dropped passes were the biggest disappointment offensively for the Orange and the White teams, as numerous wide receivers failed to bring in throws that hit their hands and didn’t display particularly strong ball skills. Freshman tight end Jared Wiley, for instance, dropped his first two targets. Sophomore wide receiver Jordan Pouncey had multiple drops, as well.
Herman thought that nervousness was a factor, with some of those receivers playing in front of a large Texas crowd for the first time. Some busted routes also factored into the equation, with senior wide receiver Collin Johnson spending a lot of time on the sidelines coaching the young wideouts.
Thompson suffered the most because of those drops, but he also barely overthrew freshman wide receiver Bru McCoy down the sideline on a double move. Had Thompson taken a little bit off of it, McCoy would have scored a touchdown. The windy conditions probably impacted the throw, as Thompson is at his best on those touch passes.
“It’s a shame that our fans didn’t get to see just how well we’ve been throwing the deep ball during spring practice with [Malcolm] Epps especially, and [Devin] Duvernay and Brennan [Eagles] and Bru [McCoy] — we’ve really come a long way in that regard,” Herman said. “But that’s okay. We know the extenuating circumstances and we’re going to have to do a good job distributing the football.”
Overall, however, Thompson looked good, especially on designed quarterback runs and scrambles — several went for big yardage only limited by the quick whistles typical for non-contact scrimmages. In fact, his runs were the highlight of the first quarter, with the only touchdown of the game coming on a short run by Thompson on the goal line.
Coming off one of the best statistical seasons for a Texas quarterback in school history, junior Sam Ehlinger struggled early, misfiring on his first two passes and stepping out of bounds as he attempted to throw the ball away on a scramble. On third and long, he nearly threw an interception when junior tight end Cade Brewer failed to create separation against sophomore nickel back BJ Foster, who was in good position.
Along the first-team offensive line, redshirt freshman Junior Angilau received the start at left guard while co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Herb Hand rotated juniors Derek Kerstetter and Denzel Okafor between right guard and right tackle.
“We needed to improve and enhance our run game,” Herman said. “I feel like we did that. Our first o-line got a lot better, a lot more cohesive. Our tailbacks our seeing the holes and understanding the run game. We had more explosive runs in 14 practices than we did the entire season last year. So that was good to see in terms of the run game.”
With the offense so limited by the wind, those improvements didn’t necessarily show up in the game. Ingram only had two carries and Whittington only started to find some room in the second half, catching a pass and breaking a tackle attempt by McCulloch for 19 yards and then bouncing a run outside for 16 yards. Overall, Whittington ran hard, getting behind his pads and driving his legs on contact to pick up tough yardage — he wasn’t just looking to get outside the tackles.
On special teams, Texas didn’t kick the ball off and punted with just the long snapper, punter, and return man. Dicker did look consistent in hitting his first two field goals, including a line drive from 52 yards despite the difficult weather conditions.