Football returned to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday as the Texas Longhorns took care of business throughout the overmatched contest against the UTEP Miners in a dominant 59-3 victory in front of roughly 18,000 fans in Austin.
Despite head coach Tom Herman integrating two new coordinators and five more assistant coaches without the benefit of spring practice, the Longhorns raced off to a huge start. It only took one play on offense.
New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich dialed up a bubble screen run-pass option with a skinny post attached for his first play at Texas. Senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger held onto the ball when UTEP took away the bubble screen after Ehlinger got a pass read, but hit Moore on the post — the redshirt sophomore then went off to the races for a 78-yard touchdown.
One play, one TD for Texas.— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) September 13, 2020
Joshua Moore just flew. pic.twitter.com/yZxUpA5Yv1
It was Moore’s first catch since Sept. 29, 2018 against Kansas State before a subsequent injury ended his season and a suspension last year kept him from seeing the field. Moore finished the game with six catches for 127 yards and that touchdown, by far the best performance of his career.
Texas has a threat at the Z position in Moore.
The play from Ehlinger to Moore also represented the longest Texas offensive play since 2017 and the longest touchdown by the Longhorns since 2016. Moore’s run and catch and score was also the first time that Texas scored on its first play of the first game since 2004 against North Texas.
When UTEP wasn’t able to convert a third-and-short situation against the four-down front of new defensive coordinator Chris Ash, Texas took advantage offensively on the following possession. A holding call on senior center Derek Kerstetter negated an explosive run by sophomore running back Roschon Johnson, but the Horns were able to remain on track.
On those first two possessions, Yurcich showed off his repertoire of run-pass options, complementary plays, and different looks to showcase each player’s skill set. The diversity of players, plays, and formations continued throughout the game at a high level of rhythm for Yurcich. Texas finished with close to 700 total yards on offense while barely playing starters in the second half.
When Texas did get behind the chains with a false start, Yurcich inserted junior running back Keaontay Ingram, put him in the Pistol, and gave him a downhill run that allowed Ingram to hit the line of scrimmage with significant momentum. When he was contacted, Ingram kept his legs driving to gain 12 yards.
Ingram only received nine carries on the day, but the Pistol looks he did receive highlighted a player who could significantly benefit from an ability to hit the hole close to full speed.
Ehlinger then targeted senior tight end Cade Brewer for a 15-yard gain over the middle, a positive sign after the position didn’t produce much in the passing game last season. Two plays later, Ehlinger found Brewer again for a 20-yard touchdown.
On that play, redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Whittington went in motion and Ehlinger faked the bubble screen to him. Moore was open on the back end, but so was Brewer, and Ehlinger found his second open option for a 14-0 lead.
After the game, Ehlinger expressed his disappointment about some plays that he left on the field, even though he went on to set school records for full games by the time the first half ended.
That’s an insight into how much the Longhorns can still get better — the Miners were, after all, projected as the nation’s worst FBS program this season.
When Texas inserted the nation’s No. 1 running back in the 2020 class, Bijan Robinson, it was behind Yurcich’s debut of his 12 personnel scheme. Three carries only went for five yards for Robinson, but the Longhorns were able to march 70 yards on eight plays, thanks to two catches for 38 yards by Wolverines graduate transfer wide receiver Tarik Black, the first two catches of his Texas career.
Black finished as the second-leading receiver for the Longhorns with five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
The Horns finished that drive with a 15-yard run by Whittington on a reverse with Ehlinger serving as an effective lead blocker before Johnson scored on a one-yard run to take a 21-0 lead.
A missed field goal from 44 yards by junior kicker Cameron Dicker resulted in the first empty possession for Texas after Ehlinger missed Whittington open on third down, but redshirt junior cornerback Josh Thompson continued his strong play by stopping UTEP running back Deion Hankins on the edge on third down to force a punt.
A 6’0, 215-pounder, Hankins is Power Five-quality running back who is tough to bring down thanks to his leg drive and ability to run behind his pads.
On previous drives, Thompson’s coverage downfield forced several incompletions, a positive sign for a cornerback who sometimes struggled in coverage last year, but has the right skill set to fit Ash’s defense.
Texas took advantage of its next drive, fueled by big contributions from graduate transfer wide receiver Brenden Schooler, who just landed in Austin last week after moving from Oregon to Arizona during the offseason. Schooler’s first catch included a broken tackle on a hitch and a 25-yard gain on his first touch in burnt orange, then another broken tackle on another hitch for a 40-yard touchdown. Texas took a 28-0 lead on the play.
Thompson’s impressive performance continued when the UTEP quarterback tried to throw the ball away, the intended receiver gave up, and Thompson was able to use his superb athleticism to come down with the interception.
The turnover set up Texas with a shortened field and the Longhorns offense continued to slice and dice the Miners through the air. All three plays were passes to Black, including a 35-yard gain when Ehlinger was under pressure, hung in the pocket, and then delivered a pin-point throw with a defender breaking dangerously on the football.
Down the field, Black kept fighting for extra yardage, but eventually fumbled the football, which was pulled away from a Miners player by redshirt freshman tight end Brayden Liebrock. Black scored a touchdown on the next play, his first score for Texas.
UTEP ended the shutout with an 11-play, 46-yard drive that ended with a 47-yard field goal that included a fourth-down conversion.
However, Texas finished the half with another touchdown — once again through the air — this time to walk-on wide receiver Kai Money, who also made another catch on the drive. Whittington left the field with a knee injury and did not return.
With Yurcich including some Air Raid concepts into the Texas offense, Ehlinger turned in a carer performance in a single half — his 429 yards and five passing touchdowns were both a career high as he completed 24-of-32 passes. Ehlinger’s passing yards and touchdowns also represented a Texas record for a single half.
Overall, Texas gained 498 yards in the first half compared to 121 yards for UTEP. Nearly complete dominance.
The only complaint from head coach Tom Herman at halftime was that the Longhorns didn’t produce more in the running game, which still averaged 4.9 yards per rush.
With the team’s objectives largely accomplished in the first half, though, the big stories in the second half were about backups getting experience.
Redshirt sophomore Casey Thompson threw for two touchdown passes, including a nice play by Eagles to redeem his poor performance early and the first touchdown catch by redshirt freshman Marcus Washington. Thompson put the ball where only Washington could catch it and the St. Louis product finished it with strong and sure hands.
Thompson finished the game with 4-of-7 passing for 55 yards and those two touchdowns in addition to those two passing touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, third-string true freshman quarterback Hudson Card entered the game and nearly engineered a touchdown drive that was thwarted on fourth down when his intended pass to true freshman walk-on wide receiver Paxton Anderson fell incomplete.
In the end, Texas produced 689 yards on offense and only allowed 223 yards and three points to UTEP, perhaps the worst team in FCS this season. The 689 yards of offense were the most by the Longhorns since facing the Aggies of New Mexico State in 2013.
And so, while all caveats apply, the Longhorns turned in a dominant performance considering the ongoing pandemic, two new coordinators, and seven new assistant coaches. In a vacuum, it would be difficult to tell that Texas had so much turnover in the offseason.
In his post-game interview, Herman acknowledged the need for some improvement on the offseason line, but Texas will have time to improve that area of the game over the next two weeks before facing a Texas Tech team in Lubbock that barely survived Houston Baptist on Saturday evening.
The major takeaways are that the Texas defense did its job against an overmatched opponent and the Longhorns offense had 10 different players catch passes as Yurcich used the run-pass option game early, then mixed formations and personnel to create matchups that Texas effectively exploited. Massively.
Call it a huge success in a season opener amidst a pandemic that resulted in the postponement of multiple Big 12 games this weekend. Meanwhile, Kansas State and Iowa State were both upset.
As former head coach Mack Brown might say, those early results could scare someone to death, but Texas absolutely took care of business on Saturday evening in front of roughly 18,000 fans.