Many of the estimated 46,000 fans and a number of key recruits filed into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to get a glimpse of the Longhorns' new up-tempo offense.
But the fans didn't get to see much of the up-tempo offense on Saturday, with the team staying pretty vanilla, per usual Spring Game play. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz used just four defenses on the night, while the Texas offense went up-tempo at times, but not for the majority of the scrimmage.
But what the fans didn't see in rapid-fire reps, they did see in largely crisp offense from the "Texas" or first team, especially early. David Ash led the Texas offense to points on each of its first four drives, including touchdowns on drives two, three and four.
The first touchdown came in the first quarter, with "Texas" leading 3-0. Ash went over the top for Mike Davis, who benefitted from a blown coverage in hauling in a 38-yard touchdown. Just four plays later, Texas had the ball in scoring position again, after Sheroid Evans picked off a Case McCoy pass and returned it 60 yards to the two-yard line. Johnathan Gray plowed in on the next play, and Texas had a 17-0 lead.
Ash had one more touchdown pass in him, hitting Kendall Sanders on the sideline. Sanders twisted away from two potential tacklers and ran in for a 24-yard score.
To that point, Ash completed 14-of-16 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
"Whenever you play well, it's just all 11 guys doing their jobs and executing consistently.," Ash said. "That's what we did. You only have to get four yards a play. If you can do that, you get a first down every time."
When the Longhorns do go up-tempo, Applewhite said he expects the offense to snap the ball every 15 seconds. And while Texas wasn't at that tempo tonight, there were several plays where Texas got the snap off between 15-and-20 seconds. That number should get even faster when Texas stops flipping its outside receivers, Texas coach Mack Brown said.
"It will be faster," Brown said. "One thing we are already going to change for the fall is we will not flip the outside receivers. They are going to stay on the same sides. That will really speed the game up. We didn't want to confuse them. If you leave those guys set and just flip the inside receivers, you aren't running all across the field. That will help us create a lot faster tempo."
Meanwhile, the defense went to work at trying to forge a better unit than last year's forgettable one, despite the loss of two potential first-round NFL Draft picks.
"What we found out is that a defense is about all 11," said Manny Diaz, Texas defensive coordinator. "What we have to do is find a way that all 11 guys do their jobs and do it with a nasty disposition. If we can find 11 guys to do their jobs and do them with a nasty attitude, we'll be OK."
While the Longhorns return a number of players on the defensive line, Diaz said the group that he was most pleased with coming through the spring was his own linebacker unit.
"There aren't any that I've been displeased with, but certainly our experience at linebacker has been telling," Diaz said. "We are better off than we were at any point last season. And I would say the safety position as well. Those two are the standouts in terms of the biggest jumps from where we were a season ago."
The latter group is benefitting from, among other things, a fully healthy Adrian Phillips. The senior safety, who didn't participate in contact drills last spring, had a game-high seven tackles, including a stop in the backfield. And it was Phillips's stone-solid tackle on massive backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes that dropped the freshman just short of a touchdown on a key third-down play.
Showcasing the team's athleticism at the position, Mykkele Thompson returned a kickoff 61 yards, actually setting up the second team's first score.
The Texas team scored on all of its first four drives and held a 24-0 advantage early in the second quarter. But Thompson's kick return gave the "Longhorns" the ball at the Texas 33 for Swoopes's first and only drive. Case McCoy had operated on three Longhorn drives at that point, with two punts and an interception as the results.
Swoopes came in and, following an illegal block penalty and a one-yard loss on a pass to Malcolm Brown, faced a second-and-18. But the burly quarterback slipped away from the rush and ran 21 yards down the sideline for a first down. He was sacked on the very next play for a loss of eight, but rallied by hitting Marcus Johnson for a 12-yard gain. On third down and six, he ran for seven yards and another first down. And on third-and-goal from the eight, Swoopes scrambled toward the end zone, only to be knocked down by Phillips at the two. Nick Jordan kicked a 19-yard field goal, and the Longhorns were on the board.
After David Ash threw a pick on a scramble play to Jordan Hicks on Texas's next drive, McCoy came back in and quickly hit Johnson for 14 yards and a first down. And on the very next play, he dropped a picture-perfect deep ball over John Harris's shoulder for a 35-yard gain to the three, with Carrington Byndom in tight coverage. On the very next play, Joe Bergeron bounced a run to the outside to pick up the three-yard score.
Two plays later, Ash was intercepted again as time ran out, overthrowing Bryant Jackson over the middle. Jackson tipped the ball with one hand, but it ricocheted to Adrian Colbert, who returned the ball 27 yards, ending the first half.
Connor Brewer led the Longhorns to another field goal in the third quarter, helping his cause with a 32-yard pass to Harris.
In the fourth quarter, the staff emptied the benches on both the Texas and the Longhorn team, with Jalen Overstreet piloting the Texas team to one final touchdown. Overstreet had a 19-yard pass — again to Harris — and a 24-yard run on the drive, with walk-on back Gaston Davis diving in from the one.
Ash finished 17-of-24 for 162 yards and two touchdown passes to two interceptions for the Texas team. McCoy, who was the only other Texas quarterback to attempt at least 10 passes for one team, was 7-for-11 for 80 yards for the Longhorns. Brewer split time between the two, going a combined 6-for-10 for 64 yards.
Gray had 45 yards rushing on six carries for Texas. Davis had four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown for Texas, while Harris had three catches for 73 yards for the Longhorns, and another 19-yard catch for Texas.
Texas was without a number of top players on Saturday night, including two projected starting offensive linemen in Trey Hopkins and Josh Cochran, as well as Hopkins's primary backup in Sedrick Flowers. Also out were wide receivers Jaxon Shipley and Cayleb Jones, as well as some top-line players on the defense like defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebackers Tevin Jackson and Kendall Thompson.
As expected, Duke Thomas played both ways. He's expected to get a more prolonged look at wide receiver in the fall. He caught three passes for 27 yards, including a 16-yarder.
Defensive standouts for Texas included Phillips with seven tackles, Hicks with six tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception, and Chris Whaley with four tackles, two tackles for loss and a half-sack he split with Shiro Davis.
Caleb Bluiett had four tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack for the Longhorns.
The Orange-White game capped a successful recruiting weekend for the Longhorns. The Texas Relays ensured that a number of top high-schoolers were in town, and Texas took full advantage of the situation, hauling in two 2014 commitments — Jasper center Terrell Cuney and San Antonio Warren defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao — and a 2015 commitment in Corpus Christi Flour Bluff cornerback Jalen Campbell. Additionally, the Longhorns hosted a number of other top recruits in both classes.
"We had so many recruits in today," Brown said. "It was an unbelievable last two days for us. It's just been amazing. So it is something we need to look at. We had the top sophomores and juniors here the last two days. We have just had a blast. It's been a lot of multi-tasking. The coaches have got to be exhausted. But at the same time, they [the recruits] had great weather and saw a great game. And we had really good responses from the kids and the parents over the last two days."