Texas Football: What We Learned from the Week 1 Game vs. Wyoming
The Texas Longhorns opened their season with a 37-17 win over Wyoming, a telling victory in some respects, but otherwise sprinkled with a handful of kinks to iron out.
Texas flexed its muscles on the ground, eating up 280 yards spread healthily across a board of highly capable ball-carriers in what will be a go-to strategy for the Longhorns.
David Ash demonstrated improvement, but is there still work to be done?
Defensively, the Longhorns had an up-and-down kind of night. What worked well and what did not?
Many would say the learning curve between a team's first and second games is the greatest, and while the Longhorns did flash some of its potential on offense, a somewhat vulnerable defense leaves many issues at hand.
So what did we learn from the opener?
David Ash Improved
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Ash put together several scoring drives that demonstrated his improved confidence and comfort within his own game and the offense.
Apart from a fumbled snap, the sophomore quarterback took good care of the ball, made some timely throws and effectively managed the offense.
Despite all that went well, Ash is still in a position to develop as a more polished quarterback. He did have some nice passes, but he had his share of poorly-thrown and under-thrown balls.
Fortunately for Ash, the rest of his offense can run the ball very well and with multiple looks. As long as Texas has that constant of a ground game, Ash will naturally work out timing with his receivers.
It was an acceptable performance from the sophomore, but there is plenty of work to be done.
But the Passing Game Still Needs Work
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There is no denying that the featured component of the Texas offense is its ground game, but the passing attack showed signs of life that presents a good foundation on which to build.
It may very well be improvements that come over time, but the need for another consistent option outside of Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis (sometimes) is evident.
So while the running game carries the offense, there is time for Ash and his receivers to develop better chemistry and timing that could transform the Longhorns into a more polished team.
Shipley and Davis combined to catch 11 passes for 85 yards, more than half of the production in that phase of the game. Marquise Goodwin barely got any looks, and no other pass-catcher hauled in more than a single catch. That is either a sign of how effective the running game is or how limited the options are at receiver. Maybe it's both.
Ash demonstrated a level of comfort in his dropbacks, but he will have better performances this year.
The Running Game Looks for Real
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The Longhorns stuck to their guns and ran the ball pretty much whenever they wanted, and it made for steady offense. With a duo as talented as Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown combined with the speedster in D.J. Monroe, the crew is more than formidable.
But toss in a couple of freshmen in Johnathan Gray and Daje Johnson and the potential is through the roof. There is a challenge, however, in finding ways to distribute enough carries.
Yes, the numbers we saw last night were against a Wyoming defense that just could not stack up to the size that the Longhorns fronted on the ground. Still, it was an expected performance from the running backs, and it presents a solid foundation that should see this group take it to the next level.
The offensive line will have to make strides, but every game this front five play together, the better they get. Depth is a concern, though.
Much like last season, as long as the passing game is still working on the finer points, the ground game will always be there.
There Still Is No Solution at Tight End
As much as it is something realized, it is no news at all that the Longhorns still lack something whole at tight end. The best catchers cannot block and the best blockers cannot catch, and there is little to get around it without tipping the offense's hand.
D.J. Grant was the only tight end to haul in a reception last night at a position that was mostly invisible.
It looks to be a continuous evaluation for a group that plays a considerable role in a motion-heavy offense that utilizes mismatches to its advantage. Without a consistent option who can block as well as he can catch the ball, the Texas offense may not truly be complete.
The numbers are there, but a player with the proper combination of skills and tools has yet to emerge.
The Defensive Line Looks Sharp
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First of all, credit should be given where it is due, and Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith flashed his athleticism against a defensive line that got consistent pressure in the Cowboys' backfield. And for all the times the line flushed Smith from the pocket, he managed to squeeze out of danger and make a play.
But as discouraging as Smith's escape tactics were throughout the game, there was a sharpness in the way the defensive line handled their business. The final execution was missing, and there were some pursuit mistakes and poor angles, but those are miscues that can be remedied in the coming weeks.
Against the run, the line plugged the holes in the middle and really turned Wyoming into a scrambling, passing offense that ended up making some big plays.
Alex Okafor recorded the lone sack of the night, but there were plenty of linemen who played to the standard. Now we wait for them to exceed those expectations.
A Shift in Defensive Strength?
Dating back to last season and coming into the current campaign, many had pinned the Texas secondary to experience the most success in 2012.
But against Wyoming, the Cowboys were able to take advantage of miscommunication and relaxed defending against the pass. Conversely, Texas fronted a strong push against the run and forced Wyoming into a dimension that was relatively successful.
So has there been an underlying shift in the strength of the Texas defense?
Fear not, Duane Akina fans. This is a veteran unit lead by a duo of All-Conference-caliber players in Kenny Vaccaro and Carrington Byndom. The communication problems will get fixed and the plays will continue to come in the defensive backfield.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, as the back end of the defense comes flush with the front end, Texas will have a working equation against some of the Big 12's potent offenses.
Could Jaxon Shipley Be the Offensive MVP?
Early talk of MVP candidates is always polarizing banter, so how legitimate are Jaxon Shipley's chances to claim that title for the Longhorns this season?
For a guy that simply catches everything thrown his way, and a player that oozes athleticism and is willing to take on a diverse set of roles in the offense, Shipley has several things working in his favor to become the biggest playmaker on that side of the ball.
With the slew of running backs cutting into each other's overall production, there could be a different standout performer each game.
But at a wideout position that lacks consistent options, it only puts more emphasis on what Shipley is able to do with the ball in his hands. Whether that is catching, carrying or throwing the rock, the sophomore standout is a legitimate player for the Longhorns.
The Kicking Game Is a Huge Question Mark
The post-good-kicker era in Texas football was a palpable fear in the offseason.
Following the incoming transfer of Penn State kicker Anthony Fera, the prospects were positive. But a sustaining injury to the junior kept him from a place on the field in Texas' opener.
Freshman Nick Jordan is the resulting replacement, and he was anything but impressive against Wyoming. One successful field goal in three attempts is not a percentage that Texas will want to live with, a perspective that may have the Longhorns entertaining other options.
A highly serviceable kicker has been a consistent presence for the Longhorns dating back almost a decade. Now that the constant is gone, or at least in question, is Fera the answer that Texas is willing to wait for or will somebody else enter the fold?
One thing is certain. For now, Texas has legitimate concerns at kicker.
Kenny Vaccaro Is a Huge Piece
People rarely underestimate the value of having senior playmakers on any side of the ball and for good reason.
The Longhorns' senior safety Kenny Vaccaro is just that, a playmaker and leader that has the ability to change the environment of a game in a single play. Whether it is delivering a crushing blow on a defender he zeroed in on from across the field or using his speed and athleticism to snatch an improbable interception, Vaccaro has the make-up of a do-it-all contributor for the Texas defense.
The starting four defensive backs are Vaccaro, Adrian Phillips, Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. As a quartet, there may not be a better group of defenders by season's end. But remove Vaccaro from the equation and a big hole is revealed, one that brings energy as an enforcer and a no-nonsense type of production.
While Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat anchor the front of the defense, Vaccaro is what keeps everything chaotically organized in the back.
The Wildcat Will Be a Player
Third-and-short appeared to be the scenario that had the Longhorns in their Wildcat formation, a look that had Joe Bergeron running the option from the quarterback position.
With the weapons at Texas' disposal, Bergeron just needs to make the right decisions and get the ball into the hands of the right option for the formation to do its damage. The misdirection and gimmicks will do some of the work, but with speed and quickness to the outside that the Longhorns have in bunches, expect to see more of this look in the offense.
Will Bergeron remain the go-to option in the Wildcat? Texas experienced huge success in the formation last season with Fozzy Whittaker at the helm, but Bergeron hardly has the same quickness and giddy-up. Could a player like Johnathan Gray or Daje Johnson be a legitimate candidate to run that set?
Time well tell for this offense that loves to give different looks.