In the famous words from the movie Beetlejuice: “let’s get this show on the road.” After 185 days since the Texas Longhorns played a sporting event, we have finally made it to Week 1 and it appears the Longhorns will be playing football this week after all. Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium will be only be at 25-percent capacity with no Longhorns Band.
Here’s a preview of the opening matchup against undefeated UTEP.
What to expect from UTEP’s offense
If UTEP is to find any success against the Horns, it all starts with the running game and redshirt freshman running back Deion Hankins. The former Parkland High School standout rescued the Miners stagnate offense last weekend with 113 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. Once Hankins started to find his groove, UTEP was able to move the chains and open up the passing lanes for quarterback Gavin Hardinson.
Arm tackles won’t work against Hankins as he will certainly test the team’s tackling ability early on. New Texas defensive coordinator Chris Ash mentioned in his media availability Wednesday that the linebacker position “is a work in progress.” If Hankins is able to get past the first line of attack it will be interesting to see if the freshman back will cause any challenges to the Texas linebackers. Just remember to wrap up.
The Miners also used Hankins in the wildcat formation where he found the end zone. Expect a lot of Hankins on Saturday night.
Establishing a running game obviously takes the pressure off the passing game, which proved to be important for Hardinson last week. The redshirt sophomore finished with 212 passing yards, along with a touchdown. He also had a pair of turnovers including an interception and a fumbled snap on a 4th and 1 quarterback sneak.
Hardinson isn’t afraid to take shots downfield and will test the Texas secondary. It’ll make UTEP susceptible to turnovers, but if Ash’s defense gets caught slipping it could turn into six. Hardinson’s favorite target last week was wide receiver Jacob Cowing, who finished with seven receptions for 116 yards.
Hardinson didn’t start to find success through the air until the second quarter and at times looked unhurried in the pocket against Stephen F. Austin — he was only sacked once. I would expect the Texas pass rush to get to Hardinson a few times Saturday night and if the Horns are able to limit Hankins and the run game, it’ll be a long night for the Miners.
Big game ahead for the Texas offense?
The Miners defense had some difficulty defending bubble screens against the Lumberjacks — SFA marched down the field on two bubble screen plays and scored their opening touchdown using that perimeter-oriented attack.
While it was the first game of the season for UTEP, the Miners defense also had trouble tackling throughout the game against Stephen F. Austin. Against faster and stronger opponents, that could be a cause for concern and ultimately lead to the Texas offense consistently creating big plays.
Look for new offensive coordinator Mike Yurchich to have a field day against the rebuilding Miners on Saturday and show off the rhythm that senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said the two have developed during preseason camp. Texas just has too much talent across the board offensively and should dominant in the trenches, allowing Ehlinger to pick apart the UTEP secondary.
What Texas has to do to win
There’s a reason the spread opened at 45 points favoring the Longhorns. I don’t want to say that all Texas needs to do to win is to show up or not lose a significant positional group to COVID-19, but basically all they need to do is show up and not lose a significant positional group to COVID-19.
The UTEP program is in year three of a five-year rebuild and the Miners picked up their third win under Coach Dimer in last week’s come-from-behind victory against FCS opponent Stephen F. Austin. The only advantage UTEP has is that they’ve played an actual football game and Texas has not. We might see some first-quarter rust out of Texas, but by the second half or even the second quarter, the Longhorns should be firing on all cylinders.
Ehlinger should have no trouble against the UTEP secondary and I expect Texas to have at least one of Ingram-Johnson-Robinson to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark Saturday. Head coach Tom Herman should have the opportunity to play his second and third-stringers to make sure everyone is healthy in time for the Big 12 opener against Texas Tech.
It’s been a wild year and the fact that we’re three days away from Texas football is incredible. We don’t know how many games we will actually get this season or what the future has in store. Enjoy it.