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Mike Yurcich’s RPO evolution pays off early for Texas

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The first play against UTEP, a 78-yard touchdown pass, showcased how the new Texas offensive coordinator combined two popular run-pass options to threaten defenses horizontally and vertically.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

It only took one play on Saturday against the UTEP Miners for new Texas Longhorns Mike Yurcich to showcase how his offense will look different than what head coach Tom Herman ran in past seasons.

And that’s a good thing.

Last year, Texas added the “glance” run-pass option to the playbook, using it effectively against Kansas State, targeting Devin Duvernay for big gains with an RPO that threatens defenses vertically.

The Longhorns also used the common tight zone/bubble concept throughout the last several seasons.

Against UTEP, Yurcich opened the game with a play that effectively combines both of those concepts.

When Ehlinger receives the pass read from the defense, he pulls the ball from sophomore running back Roschon Johnson and looks to the perimeter, where redshirt freshman wide receiver Jordan Whittington is running a bubble route.

Typically, Z receiver Joshua Moore would block on this play, but at 169 pounds, Moore doesn’t have the physicality to consistently win those matchups. However, Moore is one of the fastest and most explosive players on the team, so Yurcich dials up a play to take advantage of those attributes and give senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger two pass reads on the play.

Instead of blocking, Moore runs a skinny post, so when the defender covering Whittington bites on the bubble route, Ehilnger has a huge window to target Moore with the linebackers all crashing on the run. He just has to deliver the throw before the safety can come downhill to break it up.

Ehlinger gets the ball out on time and when the safety takes a bad angle on the play, Moore shows off his speed and races 78 yards for the touchdown, the longest reception for the Longhorns since 2017, the longest touchdown reception since 2016, and the first time that Texas scored on its opening play since 2004 against North Texas.

The play call, similar to a play used effectively by LSU last season, albeit with the glance and bubble to opposite sides, represents an evolution of the run-pass option game that combines two popular concepts to threaten defenses horizontally and vertically in the passing game. It also gives Yurcich another way to target his playmakers and put defenses in multiple conflicts.

On Saturday, the results spoke for themselves — Ehlinger only needed one half to set school records for single-game passing yards and passing touchdowns as he looked as comfortable as advertised in Yurcich’s offense.