Texas Football: 10 Surprises and Letdowns

Jonathan WooCorrespondent INovember 15, 2012

Texas Football: 10 Surprises and Letdowns

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    The Texas Longhorns get the weekend off to rest their bodies in preparation for two more Big 12 clashes to finish out the season.

    It has been a roller-coaster ride of sorts for the Longhorns, jumping to a 4-0 start before dropping consecutive games that seemed to dissolve their identity.

    But with four straight wins and playing at a much higher level on both sides of the ball, Texas sits 8-2 with a heavy interest in the BCS picture.

    So as the entire Longhorn Nation sits back and observes the landscape of college football change this weekend, let's take a look back at the ups and downs for the Horns so far.

SURPRISE: Johnathan Gray

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    Coming into the season, a vast majority knew what kind of running back it was getting when Johnathan Gray stepped on campus.

    Already fixed with two formidable backs in Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, Gray's impact looked to be merely icing on a cake.

    But with three top-tier running backs, where would all the carries go?

    Brown's ankle injury opened the door for the true freshman to receive a load of carries, and after three games as the anointed starting tailback, Gray has taken the Texas running game by storm as he leads the team with 607 rushing yards.

    It was unfortunate the way Gray broke out in light of Brown's setback, but there is no question that Gray's efforts have been instrumental in sustaining Texas' four-game winning streak.

LETDOWN: Injuries

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    Injuries are part of football in every way, but the disheartening fashion in which the Longhorns kept losing critical pieces to injuries has put even more pressure on the rest to perform.

    Junior DE Jackson Jeffcoat is out for the season, and he was compiling some pretty hefty numbers opposite the All-American Alex Okafor.

    Junior LB Jordan Hicks was supposed to take the lead in the middle of the defense, but he has been out with a hip injury since the Ole Miss game.

    Sophomore RB Malcolm Brown is just getting back into the mix after missing the better part of five games with a high-ankle sprain.

    While every team has to deal with these setbacks, there is no question that the Longhorns have had to overcome some pretty challenging injuries, and the struggle has been disappointing at times.

SURPRISE: Mike Davis

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    While it might be a stretch to consider Mike Davis' recent outbreak a surprise, the growth of the passing game and the offense entirely has been helped along considerably by Davis' deep-threat potential.

    Pinned as a breakout candidate for the second year in a row, Davis finally looks the part of a top-rated wideout coming out of high school.

    With a team-best 837 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 45 receptions, Davis is on pace to become Texas' first 1,000-yard pass catcher since Jordan Shipley racked up almost 1,500 yards in 2009.

    Davis has broken loose for huge numbers in the past three weeks, and his continued production is a certain catalyst for the success of the Texas offense.

LETDOWN: Defense

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    The high expectations for a defense filled with talent created an even steeper tumble as the Longhorns struggled early on in the Big 12.

    With returning stars like Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor and Kenny Vaccaro, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz figured to have a standout year in his second season in Austin.

    But the losses of four, very formidable seniors has been a challenge to overcome.

    The injury issues to some key players has not helped, but the Texas defense fell well behind the eight-ball and is only just starting to perform at a consistent level.

    Lingering tackling issues have been a sore spot since the season opened, but there has been a noticeable decrease in frequency.

SURPRISE: David Ash

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    Many may not realize that David Ash is in his first full season as the starting quarterback, and by that, the sophomore took first-team snaps during the summer, looks that he did not see as a freshman when Garrett Gilbert was still around.

    But now as an experienced quarterback, Ash has shown great progression which has enabled the Texas offense to transform into something much different than ever before.

    The sophomore signal-caller has amassed 2,354 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions with a 69.3 percent completion rate.

    He is no Colt McCoy, but Ash is showing an efficient touch, and although he has had some poor outings this season, he has made noticeable strides that surely has to have the offense in a great position moving forward.

LETDOWN: Steve Edmond

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    Having lost two senior linebackers in Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, the Longhorns faced quite a challenge in replacing them, a tussle that still has defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz tinkering with the position.

    Sophomore Steve Edmond looked to be one of those long-term, immediate-impact type of fill-ins, and after receiving some high praise during the spring and summer, Edmond has fallen short of those expectations in his first season as a starter.

    Edmond still may prove to be a brilliant playmaker, and he has made some strides that have delivered that potential at times. But with much of that progression coming in recent weeks, one can only wonder what this defense might have looked at with Edmond playing at this level early on.

SURPRISE: Blocked Kicks

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    Under Mack Brown, Texas had been one of the best teams at getting blocks as huge momentum-changers.

    In recent years, those numbers have fallen considerably, but the 2012 season has seen the Longhorns surge in that category.

    Seven blocked kicks on the season is the most since 2008 when Texas posted six blocked kicks, four coming from Aaron Williams.

    So with much of the offense and defense progressing nicely, the Longhorns are also getting after it on their kick coverage.

LETDOWN: No Show vs. Oklahoma

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    The annual showdown with Oklahoma that has become the biggest spectacle in Big 12 play hardly delivered those goods this season with Texas failing to show up in a 63-21 demolition from the Sooners.

    Having lost the 2011 meeting by an equally ugly 55-17 scoreline, Texas was hoping for some revenge in 2012. Instead, it received a hard dose of reality that it was not a very good team.

    Fortunately, the Longhorns have turned things around since then and have reeled off four straight wins while playing their best football all season.

    But for a rivalry that is in the conversation as one of the best in college football, Texas fell well behind the eight-ball this season. Sure, the expectation may not have been a victory, but to lose in the fashion that it did, the subsequent discussions about the direction of the program were well-warranted.

SURPRISE: Alex King

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    One of the more consistent bright spots for the Longhorns this season has been the play from their senior punter, Alex King.

    The Duke transfer has been a welcome addition to a special teams unit that has been all over the map.

    After surviving for years on the leg of Justin Tucker, who handled both kicking and punting duties, King has come in and more than handled his role as the go-to punter.

    King has amassed some handsome numbers, averaging 45.4 yards per punt with a long of 65 yards. King has dropped 14 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line and has nine punts of at least 50 yards. By comparison, opposing punters have a 37 yards per punt average, 10 punts inside the 20, four punts of at least 50 yards and succumbed to three blocked punts.

LETDOWN: Kicking Game

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    On the other side of special teams, Texas has really struggled to line up a formidable place-kicker to follow in the footsteps of Justin Tucker, seemingly the last of four consecutive strong kickers.

    Junior Anthony Fera was supposed to be the cure-all, but his pre-existing groin injury he brought along from Penn State kept him sidelined early in the season.

    With Fera healing, the Longhorns turned to freshman Nick Jordan, who struggled in his own right early on.

    Fera took over the kicking duties midway through the season, but has given Texas very little with just a 50 percent conversion.

    Texas has given Jordan a second look, but there appears to be no end in sight for its troubled kicking game.