Putting In the Defense
Let's be clear here: Texas was helped out on Saturday by a less-than-coherent offensive strategy by the Wildcats, and Kansas State hasn't exactly blown up the Longhorns offensively the past few years, anyway. Manny Diaz's defense held Kansas State to just 121 yards two years ago. And even last year, Kansas State only had 362 offensive yards, despite scoring 42 points (remember that K-State had two drives of 10 or fewer yards, and scored 21 points by driving a combined 50 yards). What the Longhorns are running is still pretty simple, and Texas will face bigger challenges on the schedule to come, including, but not limited to, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Having said that, it's hard not to be at least a little bit encouraged by the defensive effort against the Wildcats. It wasn't that Texas was perfect. There's still polishing up to do. The Longhorns struggled to corral Tyler Lockett, allowing him to put up a school-record 237-yard night. And Jake Waters caught fire late, throwing for 129 yards in the final quarter.
But Texas played with maxed-out effort and showed discipline, hitting the right gaps, creating 10 tackles for loss and generally looking like a team that knew how to defend the run. That represents a giant step forward, even if the Wildcats didn't always look like a team that had the gameplan, and the personnel in the ballgame, to test the Longhorns in that department.
Texas now has two weeks before facing Iowa State and three before playing Oklahoma. That means that Robinson will have had five weeks, including a bye, to put in his defense before the Longhorns' next big challenge. Red River should give us the first real look at what he can do.
Texas talked this offseason about having better depth across the board. One position that has demonstrated that is Darrell Wyatt's group at wide receiver. Early on, Texas had to deal with injuries to Kendall Sanders — an expected starter — and Marcus Johnson. Saturday, the Longhorns were missing Mike Davis and Daje Johnson, both of whom started Texas's opener and are among Texas's biggest weapons.
But there was Marcus Johnson, running strong routes and making a few big plays. He tied for the team lead with five catches, and was second in yardage with 70 yards. Sanders added three catches for 80 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown catch on a post route where he simply outran the coverage. Texas tucked in the passing game quite a bit in the second half with David Ash out, but after the first half, the Longhorns were on pace to pass for well over 300 yards despite missing two of their top receivers.
All-told, six wideouts have had at least 50 yards receiving in a game so far this year. It creates an interesting log-jam when Davis and Daje get back, but that's a good problem to have. Remember that when Wyatt had his best receiving corps at Oklahoma, he liked to go 5-6 deep to continually trot out fresh legs and test the defense.
It's a credit to Wyatt and the Texas staff in that three of the six were late additions in the 2012 class. The Longhorns have long been known for filling up their classes early, but Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson all committed to Texas in December or later.
As Texas fans know well, there's going to be some injuries over the course of a season. That the receiving corps has been so injury-riddled through four games, and continued to produce is certainly an encouraging sign.
Joe Posnanski, one of the country's great columnists, once wrote a piece on soon-to-be Hall of Fame guard Will Shields. In it, he said that Shields's greatest attribute was that you never noticed him. He didn't blow assignments. He didn't allow sacks. He didn't jump offsides.
Indeed, there are two ways to judge that an offensive lineman had a great game. First is Posnanski's column, that a lineman has a good game if he isn't seen OR heard. But the second model is clear domination, when a player is so obviously outstanding that a layman can notice his performance without needing to go to the tape. Hopkins on Saturday night followed that second one.
Hopkins has shown flashes of putting it all together in the past, and he's actually had some exceptional games as a Longhorn. And Saturday was another example of why he can be a tantalizing player. He did everything well, blowing his man off the ball on plays that required drive blocks, showing the mobility to pull and attack defenders in space and utilizing his intelligence, athleticism and strength in picking up the twists and stunts that Kansas State tried to employ.
It was a great game for left tackle Donald Hawkins as well, and it says something about how great Hopkins was on Saturday night that he stood out in such an obvious, dominating way that people were commenting on his play in real time.
Other teams will test Texas's offensive line in a more meaningful way, but the general feeling going into the season was that the left side was the stronger side, and Saturday night did nothing to change that perception.