1) Was David Ash really better?
Ash had a great night by the stat book. He was 16-of-22 for a career-high 221 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't make any turnovers, meaning that statistically, he doesn't have any this season (the first game snap is listed as a TEAM fumble). That's a quarterback rating of 187.1.
But the primary difference between Week One, when Ash was 20-of-27 for 156 yards, and Week Two, seems to be that his receivers did a better job of making things happen after the catch. He had six completions of 15-plus yards that were essentially created by yards after catch, and those six pass plays went for 146 yards, including touchdowns of 45 and 22 yards that saw Ash throw the ball a total of three yards downfield between the two of them.
Other than those short plays turned into big ones, Ash was 10-of-16 for 75 yards.
Of course, you don't get to dismiss the good plays, just like you can't take out the bad ones (see the rushing defense analysis below). It's worth noting as well that Texas has the athletes to make those kinds of plays, and Ash's role is largely to get them the ball in positions to succeed. He did that.
And I'll also say this: for the second consecutive game, Ash made a big-time throw. His on-the-money 20-yarder to Bryant Jackson displayed his arm strength, and was perfectly placed at Jackson's back shoulder where only the receiver had a chance at it. I'd like to see a bit more of that in the future.
On the bad end, Ash did have one pass that was nearly intercepted (it was dropped). On the good side, he did a much better job with his legs, including a nice 49-yard touchdown run that saw him make multiple nice cuts in the open field.
But here's the bottom line: if somebody would have said before the season started that Ash would be completing 73.5 percent of his passes, putting up 208 yards per game and scoring twice per contest while not turning the ball over, you would have taken it. Anybody would have.
2) Wide Receiver Blocking
Of course, a big reason for those plays down the field was the outstanding downfield blocking by the Texas wide receivers.
When Texas took part in its first spring with the new staff, one of the most apparent changes was Darrell Wyatt's emphasis on blocking. Wyatt drilled and drilled and drilled on that skill set, and this year, it's really paying off.
Both long touchdown passes were set up by impeccable blocking downfield. Mike Davis's jaunt was available because of Marquise Goodwin's stellar blocking, while fullback Ryan Roberson made a great block in space to free Daje Johnson. Additionally, everyone did a nice job on David Ash's 49-yard touchdown run.
Several other good gains, including a Jaxon Shipley catch-and-run (also courtesy of Goodwin), were also the result of excellent downfield blocking.
That has been a 180-degree turnaround from where the Longhorns were just two short years ago, and with Wyatt's coaching, and the addition of nasty blockers like Jake Oliver, it's a trend that should continue into the future.
3) The Running Back Rotation
The Longhorns wanted to work on getting a number of players the ball, so it wasn't a huge surprise that Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown carried the ball just 13 times between them. But the 11-2 discrepancy, with Bergeron getting the 11, was a bit of a shocker.
Ole Miss should give us the best look at what Texas would like for its rotation to be in big games. So this isn't anything to freak out about. But it seems to me that Brown is the better fit for the back to get early carries, whereas Bergeron seems to best make his hay when he enters the game when defenses are tired.
Mack Brown has said that ideally, the Longhorns would give out 45 carries to their top three backs, with Brown, Bergeron and Gray each getting 15 totes. And the trio only carried the ball 20 total times against New Mexico, way too small of a sample size to determine anything.
Still, I'll be really interested to see how those carries and touches shake out. Like I said, if I were Bryan Harsin for a day, I'd give Brown the early carries, use Gray as a change-of-pace and utilize Bergeron as my closer. Will it shake out that way? We're probably only a week or three from finding out.
But following a season where Texas had five running backs lead the team in rushing — Brown, Bergeron, Jeremy Hills and the now-departed Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson — it makes sense to get a number of players touches early.
4) Run Defense
Taking out sack yardage, New Mexico had 155 rushing yards on 35 carries through three quarters* (4.43 yards per carry). But the Longhorns allowed a whopping 101 yards on seven carries that went 10-or-more yards, 14.43 yards per carry.
* I kept away from the fourth quarter statistics, which saw extensive defensive substitutions. In the fourth quarter, the Lobos produced two more explosive runs: an 18-yarder and a 20-yarder.
That means that the Longhorns held the Lobos to 54 yards rushing on their other 28 carries (1.93 per carry). On one hand, it's encouraging that the Longhorns were so highly successful against a big percentage (80 percent) of the Lobo carries. On the other, it's discouraging that 20 percent went for big plays. As Manny Diaz often says, a few plays here or there can get you beat, and Texas gave up more than a few of those plays. The big positive, as Diaz would say, is that none of those big plays went for touchdowns. The Longhorns made the tackle, and went back to setting up the defense.
Another point: when New Mexico quarterback B.R. Holbrook went down after sustaining what appeared to be a head shot early in the second quarter, the Lobos had rushed 15 times for 91 yards (6.1 per carry), creating four big plays (26.7 percent). In the next nearly two quarters, New Mexico rushed 20 times for 64 yards (3.2 per carry) and produced three big plays (15 percent).
I'm not saying the Lobos would have won the game with Holbrook in the ballgame. But when Texas had to respect the pass (backup Cole Gautsche went 0-for-4 with an interception), the Longhorns had considerably more trouble stopping the New Mexico rushing attack. In two full drives with Holbrook, the Lobos pushed inside of the Longhorn 30 both times. They couldn't get that close the rest of the game.
I'm not as discouraged by this performance as you would think … in talking with a defensive coordinator that I know with extensive option experience, one of the things that he said to me was that the option "always wins." Maybe not on a consistent basis. Maybe not in the win column. But someway, somehow, the option is going to create plays here or there when the defense winds up with one player trying to defend two on the edge. And New Mexico turned those plays into double-digit yard gains, but wasn't able to generate consistency.
So to utilize an oft-used phrase: the option may have won a few battles, but the Longhorn defense certainly won the war.
5) The Good and the Bad in the Kicking Game
Texas continued its run of outstanding kickoff coverage. The Longhorns kicked the ball off nine times and just two were touchbacks. Further, out of Nick Rose's four kickoffs that were returned, the average starting field position was the 15.75-yard line. And even that was somewhat skewed by a sky kick that only went to the 11, allowing for one return out to the 22. On the other three kicks, the ball was returned to the 14, the 16 and the 11.
William Russ supplied the other two kickoffs, and had Rose-like production on the first, stoning the Lobos at the 11. The second one wasn't as good, with the Longhorns allowing their longest return of the season, a 25-yarder out to the 27. It should be noted that said kickoff was the last of the game, and that the second-team coverage units were in.
But the best part was probably the punt/punt return game. You could argue that Texas won four of New Mexico's first five punts. The first had a net of 11 yards, a 36-yard punt that went for a touchback. The second was blocked by the Longhorns' Mykkele Thompson. The third was a 34-yard punt returned 35 yards by Quandre Diggs. And the fifth was a 29-yard punt on an attempted angle punt that gave the Longhorns decent field position. Meanwhile, Texas punted just once, with Alex King blasting a 51-yarder with a 42-yard net.
The only downside was another missed field goal. Nick Jordan booted a 38-yarder, but missed on a 45-yard try. Texas was good on all seven of its extra points, with Jordan kicking the first four and Rose making the final three.