After a demoralizing defeat against Maryland last Saturday, the ‘Horns look to get on the right track this Saturday at home against the San Jose State Spartans (2:30 CT/LHN). The Spartans are 1-1 so far this season under first-year head coach Brent Brennan. After being the wide receivers coach at Oregon State from 2011-16, Brennan is now at the helm at San Jose State.
San Jose State has fared pretty well so far this season, including a 42-22 loss against former Texas coach Charlie Strong and the USF Bulls. After getting off to a quick 16-0 lead in the first quarter, the Bulls stormed back and scored 42 unanswered points. Their lone win came against FCS opponent Cal Poly last weekend, as they won 34-13. Brennan and his squad will be playing in their first road game this Saturday in Austin. Expect the team to play with lots of energy, as they have nothing to lose in this game.
Here are three keys to the game if the Longhorns want to come away with a momentum-building victory on Saturday.
Pressure freshman quarterback Montel Aaron
Earlier this week, San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan announced that freshman Montel Aaron would be the starting quarterback Saturday against Texas. After a hot start to his freshman campaign (269 passing yards, four touchdowns), it comes to no surprise that Aaron was named the starter.
After getting embarrassed up front by the Maryland offensive line, the front seven for Texas has to respond well. The ‘Horns had a hard time getting any pressure at all against Maryland’s quarterbacks Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill. Each quarterback had time to step up in the pocket and make big throws. Texas recorded just one total sack last game.
The ‘Horns may not be deep on the defensive line, but with the speed and athleticism they have on the edge, plus at linebacker, they should have plenty of success pressuring the freshman quarterback. Aaron is more of a pro style quarterback, although he does pose a slight threat to run the ball. This will make it easier for the ‘Horns defense as they don’t have to worry too much about the run. With this game being Aaron’s first start on the road, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando should not be afraid of blitzing early on and try to rattle the freshman. The Spartans have allowed only three sacks through two games but that’s not to say they have a good offensive line. San Jose State led the FBS last year in sacks allowed (50).
That says it all. Although the Spartans return all five offensive lineman (four of them are seniors), there is no reason why this Texas defense shouldn’t have a field day on this offensive line.
San Jose State does run an air-raid offense, which means Texas will have to play more defensive backs most of the time. This also means less blitz packages will be used from Orlando as the ‘Horns will have to protect the pass a little more.
Expect defensive ends/edge rushers Malcolm Roach and Charles Omenihu to have big performances. Defensive lineman Poona Ford will also be a major key.
Run the ball
Through two games, the San Jose State defense is giving up 255.5 yards per game on the ground. Texas running Chris Warren III has to be licking his chops. Well, that is if he gets more than six carries this week. After a whopping 98 total rushing yards on 31 carries for Texas as a team, expect Warren and Kyle Porter to be more involved this week.
If freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger gets to nod on Saturday due to Buechele’s shoulder injury, there will be more caution at the quarterback position with Buechele being out. This means the playbook won’t fully be opened up to Ehlinger with his running ability, although he should still get a few chances. It will intriguing to see how he handles pressure with his mobility in the pocket, should he see the field.
The Jerrod Heard wildcat package will be in effect on Saturday. He’ll be the backup quarterback to Ehlinger if Buechele is out. It should be fun watching the former quarterback take some snaps out of the shotgun again. The real question is whether or not Tim Beck is going to let him sling it on a play or two.
With San Jose State having a more experienced/somewhat talented secondary, expect there to be less passing and a bit more running this week. Running the ball will help set the ‘Horns up in the passing game, which was unable to happen against Maryland. It is very important that the offensive line for Texas wins the battle in the trenches this week. That should be a huge emphasis this week for the offensive line.
Let wide receiver Collin Johnson go to work
Collin Johnson put up a nice stat-line against Maryland (seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown). It was a very quiet “big game” though. Most of those yards came on the final offensive drive when the ‘Horns were down 51-34. The 6’6” 220-pound wide receiver has to be more involved early and often this week, especially in the red-zone and on third downs as Beck failed to go to him in critical spots in the first game. He’s freakishly athletic and has the ability to make ridiculous catches.
Johnson will have a six-inch height advantage over whatever Spartan cornerback is defending him between Andre Chachere and Jermaine Kelly. Whether it’s Ehlinger or Buechele at quarterback, Johnson should be targeted around 10-12 times this week. He has the ability to body smaller defenders and has good acceleration for a guy his size. Throw the ball to him and let him do Collin Johnson things out there.
San Jose State will hang around in the first half but Texas will find a way to bust it open by forcing turnovers and turning them into points.
Offensive MVP: WR Collin Johnson (9 catches, 133 yards, 1 TD)
Defensive MVP: Poona Ford (7 tackles, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks, fumble recovery)