Collin Johnson’s impact on the football field is as big as it’s ever been, but don’t go searching through his stat line for evidence.
You won’t find the proof to back this argument under the senior’s statistics through the first two games of 2019.
You will, however, find it in the performance of both Devin Duvernay and Brennan Eagles.
While both Eagles and Duvernay bring an immense amount of talent to the Longhorns roster, respectively, we would all be remiss if we ignored the 6’6 elephant in Texas’ wide receiver room.
What Louisiana Tech and LSU needed to do with their game plan — dedicating the primary focus of the efforts of their secondary to containing Johnson — Duvernay and Eagles, with the help of Sam Ehlinger, have benefitted from. Johnson also praised freshman Jake Smith and Duvernay for taking advantage of opportunities as a result of the defense’s focus on himself.
Through two games, Johnson has only 108 yards receiving and one touchdown. Eagles and Duvernay surpassed Johnson’s season total in Week 2 alone, with Duvernay pulling in 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Eagles grabbing five passes for 116 yards and one touchdown against LSU.
It’s also worth noting that LSU chose double coverage on Johnson instead of sticking their best cornerback, Kristian Fulton, on the 6’6 wide receiver. Throughout last weekend’s 45-38 loss to the Tigers, LSU relied heavily on bracket coverage to contain Johnson.
“(LSU) came out and started doubling me early in the game and that allowed some other people to be open,” Johnson said earlier this week. “We need those guys. Brennan (Eagles) has been balling out, doing his thing, no surprise to me.”
Johnson hasn’t been underwhelming, nor has he performed poorly. The fact of the matter is that he creates such a massive threat to the defense, opponents are faced with game-planning their pass coverage around knowing where No. 9 is on the field at all times.
This should, for all intents and purposes, level off at some point, though.
On the season, Eagles, who saw just one reception in 2018 for a whopping 35 yards, has eight catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns thus far. Duvernay had just five receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown through the first two weeks of 2018. Heading into this weekend’s matchup against Rice, Duvernay has 21 catches — good for second-best nationally — for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Eagles) has been playing really well,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said at his Wednesday media availability. “We’ve got the leading receiver in the Big 12 in (Duvernay) and we have Brennan Eagles. I don’t know what (Eagles) is averaging, but he’s got a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns.”
Beck added, on top of the praise that both Duvernay and Eagles have earned, that teams essentially now have bigger problems on their hands defensively as they’ll have to account for Johnson in addition to Duvernay and Eagles.
If Duvernay and Eagles, as well as freshman wide receiver Jake Smith, and even Keaontay Ingram out of the backfield, are going to be this explosive and this productive, Johnson will find his stride as the defenses Texas will face have to account for every wide receiver that lines up on offense.
On this week’s episode of All-Access on Longhorn Network, the cameras took viewers into the wide receiver room where coach Drew Mehringer reviewed film from the Louisiana Tech game. Mehringer echoed the sentiment from the top of this story, something along the lines of, “This won’t show up on your stat line,” as he highlighted and praised Duvernay’s route running on the play, which drew the safety away from the middle of the field, allowing Eagles his wide-open touchdown catch in the middle of the end zone.
With the help of All-Access, in addition to the first two weeks of the season, it’s evident that the Longhorns wide receivers are a one-for-all and all-for-scoring-by-any-means-necessary kind of group.
If ever there was a weekend for Johnson to get going, this Saturday’s matchup against Rice would be my pick, if he plays, of course. Tom Herman said Johnson will be a game-time decision tonight when the Longhorns take on the Owls at NRG Stadium in Houston. But if he does play, it would only make sense that by now, the opposing defensive coordinator would identify this Texas offense as explosive on all fronts, effectively forcing the secondary to respect more than just Johnson in the passing game. Less double coverage on Johnson means more jump balls from Ehlinger where only No. 9 can go and get it in single coverage, a staple of the Ehlinger-to-Johnson connection that started two years ago, something we haven’t seen at all this year.
“What I’m asked to do is beat man coverage and make plays,” Johnson said earlier this week. “So, that’s all I can control, and just continue to work hard so that when my number is called, I come down with all those plays.”
No, Collin Johnson hasn’t been underwhelming, nor has he performed poorly. If anything, he’s been one of Texas’ keys to success on offense, and he’s done so without the ball thrown his way as much as the Longhorns would like.
In their efforts to eliminate a single, big threat, defensive coordinators have actually uncovered multiple weapons on the Texas offense.
That doesn’t show up on Johnson’s stat line and that’s alright.
Soon, the senior will benefit from his wide receiver counterparts just as they have from him during the first two weeks.
And that’s going to be a problem for Texas’ remaining opponents.