Bryan Harsin, Boise State's offensive coordinator for the past five years, was brought onto the Texas coaching staff this offseason as the co-offensive coordinator, as well as the quarterback coach.
The Longhorns may have only played one game with Harsin on the staff thus far, but in that one game they used a season's worth of formations. In fact, Coach Mendenhall said it was hard to say their offense was any one type (such as pro-style, spread, etc.).
Against Rice last Saturday, sometimes Texas lined up with junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert under center in the I-formation, or with one back behind him in the Ace formation, and there were variations of those base formations. But Texas also lined up in multiple shotgun sets, including ones with five wideouts or four wideouts and a tight end. The Longhorns even employed the pistol formation.
With so many looks to go to, as well as the use of the Wildcat, the Texas offense poses a unique challenge for the Cougar defense.
"It's just gonna take concentration on our part, I think," said cornerback Preston Hadley, "just recognizing formations quick, recognizing their personnel and just relying on the game plan we have for them."
In his first game in Harsin's offense, Gilbert completed 13-of-23 passes for 239 yards, one touchdown and no picks to help Texas beat Rice 34-9.
As a first-time starter last season, Gilbert threw for 2,744 yards, 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. It was a disappointing year in general for the Longhorns, who finished 5-7.
Nevertheless, despite Gilbert's struggles last year, he is still an experienced quarterback, and that's something that Ole Miss did not present last week.
"Definitely he's better than the one we played last week, so we'll have to tighten up the coverage," Hadley said, "but we get a good look from our quarterbacks here, so I think we'll be ready for him."
Texas is young at some of the skill positions. The leading Longhorn rusher last week was true freshman Malcolm Brown, who finished with 86 yards on 16 carries (5.4 yards per carry). Meanwhile, a number of the Longhorn receivers and tight ends on the two-deep are either freshmen or sophomores.
"We know that they're young," said Hadley. "They got a lot of freshmen, redshirt freshmen playing. They got speed though. They can run, but I also believe that we got guys that can run too. So we gotta respect the vertical pass, but we also gotta play physical and aggressive, so that's what we're planning to do."
Texas sophomore Mike Davis led his team in receiving yardage against Rice, racking up 115 yards on only three receptions.
The Cougars are expecting the Longhorns to take more shots downfield than Ole Miss did last week.
"The front seven, we know [they're] gonna stop the run, and that's when [the Longhorns are] gonna try and go over top and test us as DBs," said Hadley.
When Ole Miss did turn to the passing game against BYU, the Cougars struggled at times to maintain tight coverage.
"Coaches have been pushing us on our coverage a lot better," said Hadley. "There's a lot of improvements that we need to make in that. [Texas is] a similar rushing team compared to Ole Miss, but as far as passing, they're much better at passing the ball."
With the potent playmakers Texas has, as well as the variety of formations and potential trick plays they can turn to (freshman receiver Jaxon Shipley caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from fellow freshman receiver John Harris against Rice), the Cougar defenders will have their work cut out for them if they hope to repeat last week's impressive performance.
But, as one might expect, confidence seems to be riding high after the showing against Ole Miss.
"I think we're just playing for each other right now, and I think when you do that, that's when defenses are at their best," said Hadley.