An undefeated Texas Tech Red Raiders team rolled into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial on Saturday and got run over by a physical group of Texas Longhorns that scored early and often in a 70-35 blowout that featured 42 points in the first half by the home team and the most points scored overall since the 2005 Big 12 Championship game.
Texas got off to a fast start with a 38-yard touchdown catch by sophomore running back Bijan Robinson on a 4th and 4 and then scored another touchdown on the second drive. When Texas Texas cut the lead to 14-7 after a blocked punt and touchdown recovery was negated by an offsides penalty, Texas responded with a third touchdown drive and never looked back with 28 second-quarter points.
“I’ve been talking all week about the way we prepared and the intent with which we practiced. The cool part for me as a coach is that showed up right there at the start of the game and the first half of this game,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “These guys can recognize when you’re really focused and you prepare and there’s real intention to what we’re doing throughout the week and then when it carries over to the game we definitely have something to build on from that front, so that was really cool.”
Texas junior quarterback Casey Thompson accounted for six touchdowns overall, including five through the air, and the running game continued the improvement it showed last week against Rice in racking up 336 yards and four touchdowns on 6.5 yards per carry.
Early in the third quarter, Thompson tried to do too much and threw an interception in the end zone instead of settling for a field goal, but otherwise he was close to flawless in leading the Longhorns to touchdowns on eight of the nine drives he helmed before leaving the game.
Thompson finished the game completing 18-of-23 passes for 303 yards and five touchdowns while adding a rushing touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his legs in providing further confirmation that he’s the starting quarterback for Texas until further notice.
The biggest contributor in the passing game was freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy, whose five catches went for 100 yards, his first time reaching that mark in college, and three resulted in touchdowns. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian schemed him open on a slot fade with a rub route coming inside on the first touchdown, Worthy got himself open with an impressive route on the second touchdown, and then did most of the work himself taking a dig route 62 yards for a touchdown after spinning out of tackle attempts from two defenders.
“I think now he’s really starting to gain the confidence he can play and he can play at a high level and he can make make plays,” Sarkisian said. “We’re starting to see it in a variety of ways. That’s the encouraging part — he’s not a one-trick pony, he can do a lot of different things. The guy’s got a bright future, but he had a heck of a game today.”
Junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington bounced back from an early drop with a strong effort of his own with five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown on a misdirection push pass from jet motion near the goal line.
The first touchdown came from sophomore running back Bijan Robinson on a route out of the backfield, setting up a performance that featured 137 yards rushing on 18 carries and two catches for 54 yards.
Junior running back Roschon Johnson added 64 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown from the Wildcat formation Sarkisian has used several times to start the season, while junior running back Keilan Robinson had 42 yards and a touchdown of his own on four carries.
Against a defense that entered the game No. 5 nationally in allowing 1.73 yards per carry, the Longhorns offensive line was able to consistently create holes. After struggling against the three-man front used by Arkansas, the staff emphasized identifying fronts and then communicating in order to play well as a unit. But that wasn’t the only point of emphasis for Sarkisian and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Kyle Flood.
“Ultimately, the biggest thing that I think we’ve done offensively is it’s one thing to be assignment right, it’s another to block your man and defeat your man and to strain to finish so that the runner can get to the second level and we’ve been demanding that for two weeks,” Sarkisian said. “And we’re seeing it — we’re seeing that get done. We’re getting our runners up to the safeties and over time, with the backs that we have, sooner or later we’re gonna make those safeties miss and so that’s that’s been a key.”
Sarkisian believes that the entire offensive line has improved individually, but specifically mentioned the growth of redshirt freshman center Jake Majors, who struggled with Arkansas nose tackle John Ridgeway lined up over him. In the last weeks, though, Majors has answered the questions posed by defenses intent on exploiting him in the same manner.
Running outside zone more frequently, the offensive line looked like a completely different unit than it did two weeks ago in Fayetteville, producing more displacement off the ball running inside, perhaps most notably on multiple quarterback sneaks that moved the line of scrimmage.
Better offensive line play has in turn allowed more success on first down — Texas averaged 8.4 yards per play on first down, including seven yards per carry. Staying on schedule set the Longhorns up for success on third down, as Texas converted 10-of-14 third down and 2-of-3 fourth downs, averaging only 5.1 yards to gain on third down.
Despite 639 yards of offense and 63 points scored by that group, there’s still another level to reach and that’s hitting the shot plays in the passing game, a continued area of emphasis where the Longhorns are close, but not quite executing yet.
“There were probably three, four ,or five opportunities down the field that we just missed on — we got another pass interference down the field taking a shot — so hopefully when we can start to hit some of those down the field that we’ll even become more efficient as an offense,” Sarkisian said.
The special teams unit led by Jeff Banks continued to impact games with a 43-yard punt return by senior cornerback D’Shawn Jamison to set up a short scoring drive in the third quarter. And despite the negated blocked punt, Robinson should continue to have an impact playing on that unit because his speed off the edge will remain a problem for opponents.
The results were more mixed defensively.
On a day when starting running back Tahj Brooks was not available and starting quarterback Tyler Shough left the game after throwing a pick six to Texas senior cornerback Josh Thompson early in the second quarter, the run defense held up while the game was still on the line through the first 20 minutes or so. After one interception through the first three games, intercepting two passes was an improvement. The defensive line than indicated by the two sacks and six tackles for loss.
But there’s also a lot to clean up in the secondary after backup quarterback Henry Colombi entered the game and threw the ball over the top of the Texas defense three times. Senior safety BJ Foster took a bad angle on the first touchdown, Jamison gave up two long passes, including a touchdown, and senior safety Brenden Schooler wasn’t able to clean up one of Jamison’s mistakes, colliding with him instead.
“The unfortunate thing defensively, you know, we lost a little bit of our mental intensity in allowing the ball to get over our heads,” Sarkisian said. “So the beauty of all this is it’s a really good win for us to start conference play, but we still have work to do. And I think that that’s a good sign that we can win, not be perfect, and have things to work on.”
In particular, Sarkisian cited the need to consistently play to a standard on every snap regardless of the score.
“Our mental intensity is going to be critical — there’s a lot of high-powered offenses in our league and people aren’t going to stop trying to score because we get a lead, they’re going to try to score and our job is to defend the end zone and to get the ball off of them and to get it back to the offense,” Sarkisian said. “So you’ve got to play complementary football and we need to be better in that aspect of it moving forward.”
With Texas definitively proving an ability to bounce back from the Arkansas loss with two blowouts, Sarkisian’s team has to maintain a level of consistency to achieve its goals in conference play.
“Now the new challenges is one game doesn’t win you a Big 12 Conference championship, it’s a body of work that we have to continue to put together. Again, we’ve got challenges ahead, and the biggest one is is next week going up to TCU, so we’ve got work to do,” Sarkisian said.