#1 … Is there any way Texas can keep pace with No. 7 Baylor next week, the nation’s top-scoring offense (59.3 ppg heading into Saturday night’s game at Iowa State), and No. 4 OU (44.8 ppg) as a run-first, play-action pass team with the way Texas’ run game finished vs Kansas?
A show of hands?
Before you hear from both Strong and Watson on the subject, here are the Texas rushing totals, quarter by quarter, in the Horns’ 23-0 victory against Kansas:
1Q … 17 carries for 79 yards (4.6 ypc)
2Q … 7 carries for 25 yards (3.6 ypc)
3Q … 6 carries for 7 yards (1.2 ypc)
4Q … 6 carries for 0 yards (0 ypc)
The confidence in that side of the ball seemed to drop right along with the output of the running game.
It was a two-possession game, 13-0, until Nick Rose hit a 42-yard FG with 10:41 left in the 3Q.
I asked Shawn Watson if Texas needed to spread it out and throw the ball to set up the run with a depleted offensive line.
“That’s a great question,” Watson said. “Sometimes that’s the case. Sometimes that’s the case. We have to spread it around a little bit just to help us open the run game. Part of their plan was to load the box and make us throw it.
“That’s why we went to throwing the ball in the later part of the fourth quarter.”
But when I asked Strong what needed to change to get the offense against Kansas, he sounded like a man determined to establish the run.
“It’s just the consistency with our offense. We drove the ball in the first half, had the turnover and the field goal blocked,” Strong said.
“In the second half, we had to find a way to run the football,” Strong said. “If we can establish the run game, then the passing game is going to open up for us. But when you can’t run the ball and it’s second-and-9, then you’re behind the chains.
“On first and ten, we have to get in front of the chains, get it to second-and-five or even get it to where it’s a manageable third down. You have to get consistency.”
When I followed up by asking Strong if Texas needed to be a pass-first offense to help open holes in the running game, he said no.
“No. You can get enough bodies to block,” Strong said. “You watch some of the plays that were there, it’s just missing a backer in the hole or something. “The thing about Kansas, they bring a lot of pressure. They blitz a lot, and we weren’t able to just break that run.
“I tell our backs all the time, it’s not always going to be blocked perfectly, just run through a guy. Just get behind your pads and run downhill.”
Easier said than done, especially with the defenses coming up next.
Baylor’s D is better than people think, giving up just 64.3 yards per game on the ground, while OU’s D is giving up just 99.2 rushing yards per game.
Texas was 9th of 10 teams in the Big 12 in rushing offense coming into the Kansas game, averaging 123.7 yards per game, and the Horns only ran for 111 yards vs KU (3.1 ypc).
MY TAKE: No backs can run through 8- and 9-man boxes on defense, and that’s what Texas was facing at Kansas most of the second half.
It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that the Texas offense started taking more of an aggressive mindset, spreading it out in three wides and throwing it. Swoopes hit Harris for 26 yards on third-and-13 from UT’s own 4.
Then, on the next play, Swoopes hit TE Geoff Swaim for 18 yards on first down.
Those two plays – with 8 minutes left in the game – were more offense than Texas had in the entire second half up to that point (36 yards previously).
Again, mix it up. Throw to set up the run.
#2 … The defense is looking to the offense for help with Baylor next week. And the offense is hoping the defense can do what it did last year in Waco, holding the Bears to 3 points in the first half and make it a low-scoring affair.
“Baylor’s strong offensively and so is Oklahoma,” said senior DE Ced Reed. “The defense, we’re going to do our thing. We just need the offense to come help us out. That’s the big thing, I think.
“The defense is on point. Guys across the board got sacks. Guys across the board got interceptions. The defense is coming together. Our offense, I think once they get it together, this thing is going to pop.”
When I asked senior WR John Harris how Texas can ramp it up in a week to keep pace with Baylor, he said:
“I think we can. I think our defense can keep pace with Baylor and slow em down a little bit. We played with em last year and held em to three points at halftime.
"So, it’s just going to be about our offense putting points on the board and our defense getting stops. Our offense is going to have to put some more points on the board, and we know that.”
Jaxon Shipley said the key to next week is going to be starting fast offensively.
“You got to come out, start fast and show them you’re ready to play,” said Shipley, who had 6 catches for 81 yards vs Kansas.
“That’s the most important thing is to come out and try to score on the first drive.
“Our defense has done a really good job. I think they can hold them pretty well. Ultimately, I think it’s about us as an offense.
"The defense is doing a great job, and the offense needs to match the defense a little bit. And I think we can. We’re getting a little better every week.”
Quandre Diggs said the defense isn’t about to start pointing fingers.
“Those guys are going to continue to get things worked out, and we just got to stand by them each and every day and continue to just try to help them get better,” Diggs said. “Those guys are going to work their tail off, and I think they’ll be ready to come out strong.”
When Charlie Strong was asked about facing Baylor, he said he hoped Texas wouldn’t go back home and belly flop like it did in a 41-7 loss to BYU.
“It’s going to be a huge task for us. You’re facing a Heisman quarterback in Petty, and Baylor’s an unbelievable football team.
“Coach Art Briles has done an unbelievable job with that team. Each year, they’ve gotten better and better. “Our hands are going to be full. But we’re coming back home and hoping we don’t have the same showing we showed a couple weeks ago, when we were totally embarrassed.”
MY TAKE: If Texas doesn’t want to get “totally embarrassed, UT needs to start spreading it out in three and four-wides and throwing to set up the run.
If Strong thinks his backs can run through 8- and 9-man boxes, he’s hurting his team.
On UT’s longest offensive drive of the game – an 11-play, 78-yard march in the first quarter – Texas threw or attempted to throw on first down four times, had KU’s defense off-balance and got to the Kansas 3 before losing a fumble on a botched snap.
The offense isn’t going to go anywhere under a run-first, play-action concept unless they have Tyrone Swoopes throwing deep more often.
And why aren’t UT’s receivers bailing deep every time Swoopes breaks the pocket?
If Texas doesn’t spread things out and throw to set up the run, the defense is going to give out, just like it did in the second half of the BYU game and Texas will be “totally embarrassed” against Baylor.
#3 … The defense pitched its first shutout since 2012 against New Mexico (45-0) … its first shutout vs a Big 12 foe since 2011 vs Kansas (43-0) … and its first on the road since 2005 at Baylor (62-0).
UT also stuffed all three of KU's fourth-down attempts, including Duke Thomas' pass breakup in the end zone on fourth-and-goal in the third quarter, when UT was clinging to a 13-0 lead ( Caleb Bluiett, who started vs Kansas, also had a nice pressure on the play).
It was a bounce-back game for Thomas after biting on a pump-and-go route by UCLA on the Bruins’ game-winning TD pass with 3:17 left in the game.
“He does a great job of coverage and he studies the receivers during the week, so he knows the throws and what’s going to happen for him,” Charlie Strong said of Thomas, who also intercepted a Hail Mary in the end zone at the end of the first half.
“I look at that UCLA game, and I told Duke it wasn’t that play that beat us. That’s the thing about a defensive back, you have to have a short memory. It’s how you bounce back, and he bounced back with the plays that he made. He has a lot of confidence, and I don’t think you’re ever going to break his confidence.”
MY TAKE: I talked to Duke Thomas after the game and you could tell he had a big ol chip on his shoulder.Without saying it, you could tell he was going to do everything he could to make up for that play in the UCLA game.
#4 … UT’s four scoring drives were less than 30 yards and two of those drives were less than 20 yards. All set up by special teams or the defense:
* Started at the Kansas 18 - set up by Jaxon Shipley's 41-yard punt return (1-yard TD pass from Swoopes to M.J. McFarland)
* Started at the Kansas 13 - set up by Duke Thomas' INT return to the KU 26 and a KU personal foul (7-yard TD run by Swoopes)
* Started at the Kansas 29 - set up by Jordan Hicks' INT (42-yd FG by Rose)
* Started at the Kansas 27 - set up by defense stuffing KU on 4th down (Swoopes 16-yard TD pass to John Harris)
John Harris, who had six catches for 89 yards and one TD and now has a TD catch in every game this season, said the offense killed itself with a fumble at Kansas’ 3 on a botched snap after an 11-play, 78-yard drive that took 5:16 off the clock.
“Finish a play like that, and it really helps your offense get rolling,” Harris said. “We took the ball about 80 yards, and then you get a fumble like that, it hurts. It takes the life out of you.”
MY TAKE: More innovation in the offense. More plays to Armanti Foreman. If you’re going to play him, use him. He picked up 29 yards on a reverse, then disappeared.
“Armanti is a big-play guy,” Strong said. “And I see him do it practice so I said, ‘If he can do it in practice, he can do it in a game. So let’s just find a way to get him the ball.’”
OK, so get him the ball!
#5 … Texas finally had a punt return on. No, seriously, this was the first week Texas didn’t have punt block called on every opposing punt.
The result, Jaxon Shipley actually had blockers set up for him to return the ball, and he took on 41 yards to the KU 18, setting up Tyrone Swoopes’ 1-yard, play-action TD pass to TE M J McFarland.
“This was the first week we’d done actual ‘return,’” Shipley said. “We had ‘punt block’ in the whole year. So for us punt returners back there, me and Quandre, it’s pretty much been fair catch. Or, if you do catch it, just get what you can, because there’s not anybody blocking.
“This week was the first week we put in some actual returns. So I think it went pretty well this week. Hopefully, we can get a touchdown on that in the next couple weeks.”
MY TAKE: Stick with the punt return. Throw in an occasional punt block attempt. But, my goodness, this offense is so challenged in finding an identity … in finding any yards … that it needs all the special teams help it can get.
BONUS MY TAKE … on burning the redshirts of WRs Dorian Leonard, Roderick Bernard and DT Poona Ford
MY TAKE: Strong said more players have to play at receiver to provide rest/depth for John Harris, Marcus Johnson and Jaxon Shipley.
I didn't quite understand the Roderick Bernard decision, because I would think you'd play Jacorey Warrick more to see if he could provide some depth.
Warrick had a key catch in the UCLA game that helped move the chains.
Not a good situation, but probably not much of a choice.
In case you missed it, I asked Shawn Watson, point-blank after the Kansas game, if Tyrone Swoopes went down for a play or a drive in a game would it be Trey Holtz or Logan Vinklarek coming in (which is what I'd heard and have been reporting here at HD) or true freshman Jerrod Heard?
And Watson said he'd put in Trey Holtz if it was a play or two that Swoopes had to come out (if his helmet popped off or he was cramping or something).
"We're not going to blow up a redshirt (for Jerrod Heard) if it's a play or two - only if it's a long-term situation," Watson said.
I think this is the right call, too, unless Texas is willing to change its offense to a zone-read based scheme with a lot of QB running plays. And I don’t see Strong doing that. Heard didn't go through the spring and is apparently way behind in the passing game.
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