Texas Football: 5 Bold Predictions for Longhorns Offense in 2013
In one week, the Texas Longhorns will debut Major Applewhite's highly anticipated up-tempo offense. If all goes to plan, Texas will ride it to once again become one of the nation's premier offensive attacks.
Though the focus of the offseason has been fixing a historically bad defense, the 'Horns will go only as far as Applewhite's offense takes them. Texas has only lost two games in the last five seasons when it has scored over 30 points, and that is the kind of production it takes to win in the Big 12.
Fortunately for Applewhite, putting up 30 a night should be no problem. He gets 10 out of 11 starters back from a unit that put up over 35 per game last season. He also returns a full stable of running backs and gets a more experienced David Ash under center. Applewhite could do some special things with this group and the 80 plays he plans to run per game.
The goal for this offense should be to put up 40 per contest. With the help of the conference's best quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher and a breakout campaign from a speedy sophomore, he will do just that in taking Texas back to the top of the Big 12.
David Ash Will Be the Big 12's Best Quarterback
David Ash may not lead the Big 12 in yardage or touchdowns, but he will lead the team that wins the conference. As the quarterback at Texas, that is all that really matters.
Ash does not just return as the conference's most experienced quarterback this season. He does so with his three leading rushers, his top two receivers and his entire offensive line from 2012, plus an upgrade at left tackle.
Those factors alone should allow Ash to improve on a sophomore season in which he threw for 2,699 yards and 19 touchdowns against only eight interceptions. Except he will also be running Applewhite's up-tempo system, which will allow him to better utilize the weapons surrounding him and use his legs to pick up yardage as well.
That will have Ash running one of the most well-oiled offensive machines in the nation. He will not put up a 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown season, but Ash's command of the offense and clutch play will be evident in the win column.
Johnathan Gray Will Become Team's First 1,000-Yard Rusher Since 2007
All three of Texas' backs have the ability to rush for 1,000 yards and will see plenty of action this season. But Johnathan Gray leads the pack and will give Texas its first 1,000-yard rusher since Jamaal Charles took off for the NFL.
Gray, the team's leading rusher in 2012, has been tearing it up in camp. He arrived a bulked-up 210 pounds and remains with the first team despite strong showings from both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron.
The coaches will likely ride the hot hand, but Gray should see the most carries on the year. His speed and quickness make him an ideal fit for the up-tempo system, and his added size will allow him to break more tackles than he did as a freshman.
Factoring in the postseason, it takes roughly 77 yards per game to reach 1,000 yards. If Gray can average five yards a carry, as he should, reaching that mark should be no issue, even if both Bergeron and Brown stay healthy.
No Receiver Will Go for 1,000 Yards...and That Will Be a Good Thing
Texas has not had both a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver since 2003. Given the depth at running back and the overall talent on the team, that will not change in 2013.
Texas ran the ball about 56 percent of the time last season, a number that should increase in 2013. There are five backs and all-purpose players that will demand carries, while David Ash is also expected to rush it himself often enough to be a consistent threat.
So if Texas runs 80 plays per game, expect only about 30 to be passes. With up to five receivers on the field at a time, there are a lot of places those 30 passes can go.
Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley will lead this receiving corps, but guys like Kendall Sanders and Daje Johnson are going to get their fair share. Marcus Johnson and freshman Jacorey Warrick have proven in camp that they deserve some consistent involvement as well.
Unless any of these receivers becomes an uncoverable home run hitter, there will not be enough targets for one guy to hit 1,000 yards. At least without excluding another valuable talent, which should never happen in this offensive scheme.
The most important thing is that each skill player is a threat. That will benefit the entire team, even if it is at the expense of one receiver cracking quadruple digits.
Daje Johnson Will Finish with over 1,500 All-Purpose Yards
If there is one Longhorn whose ceiling is limitless in this offense, it is Daje Johnson's. In his first season as Major Applewhite's Swiss Army knife, 1,500 all-purpose yards is merely skimming the surface of his potential.
Despite playing behind Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe in 2012, Johnson became only the second freshman in school history to record a rush and reception of 70 yards or more. On the season, he racked up 490 yards of offense on only 46 touches.
With Monroe and Goodwin out of the picture, Johnson has guaranteed himself a featured role in the offense. He has worked hard to become a viable starting option in the slot and will be the team's scatback while also assuming the vacated kick-return duties.
Everyone saw what Johnson did with just under four touches per game in 2012. Applewhite gave Goodwin and Monroe the ball 12 times in his Alamo Bowl debut. Those touches now belong to Johnson, and he will turn them into between 100-125 all-purpose yards per game.
The Longhorns Will Score 40-Plus Points Per Game
All the aforementioned factors will translate to a high number on the scoreboard. Specifically, one in the low to mid-40s.
This is the deepest offense Texas has had in a long time. Not since 2005 has it had three starting-caliber running backs, and not since 2007 has it returned its two leading receivers. There is an obvious hole at tight end, but the younger receivers make up for that discrepancy.
So what should you expect? This group lost only one starter from a group that scored 35.7 per game last season. And Applewhite's scheme will be an obvious upgrade over Bryan Harsin's huddle-up attack.
Health in the backfield and Ash's consistency are the wild cards, but this is far from a loaded schedule from a defensive standpoint. That said, averaging 40 points or more per game is easily within reach. The real question is whether the defense can keep the opposition from answering with 50 of its own.