Offense Shoulders Load for Longhorns

For the last half hour or so of Texas’ basketball practice on Saturday the Longhorns worked on nothing but end-of-game situations.

Rick Barnes would put anywhere from 7.8 seconds, 2 seconds, to 0.6 seconds on the clock and then work through different scenarios until he was satisfied with what he saw. They must have run 50 different situations.

Did it get a bit tedious at times? Yes.

Were people starting to lose interest? A bit, so it seemed.

But you quickly begin to realize why coaches spend so much time on these situations if you saw the end of Texas’ thrilling 48-45 victory over Iowa State on Saturday.

The Longhorns were 22 seconds away from going to overtime with the Cyclones before Tyrone Swoopes led them on one of the more improbable drives you’ll see.

In fact, it was so unlikely that Texas would find a way to score within those 22 seconds that Charlie Strong was even prepared to go to overtime.

“Actually I was going to send the game into overtime,” Strong said. “I said, ‘Hey, let's wait and see how many yards we get on this kick-off return,’ and Hot Rod was able to get the ball out, and I thought, hey, let's go for one.”

On the first play of the drive Tyrone Swoopes found Jaxon Shipley down the sideline for a 39-yard pass. Then, Swoopes connected with John Harris for 29 yards down to the ISU 4-yard line where Nick Rose kicked the game-winning field goal.

Shawn Watson called those last two throws two of Swoopes favorite balls to throw, and it showed. The sophomore with the gigantic arm showed great touch on both pass and hung in the pocket long enough to get the throw off because he trusts in his offensive line more than ever.

“It’s just been hard work, working with Coach Watson and him teaching me little things to help me throughout the game and practice, pretty much everywhere in life,” Swoopes said. “And then the guys are also getting better, the offensive line is getting better. The receivers are out making plays for me, the tight ends as well and the running backs running the ball really well. All around I think we’ve all gotten a lot better over this month.”

Over the last two games Swoopes has completed 51-of-80 passes for 655 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also thrown two costly interceptions but has shown great resolve in being able to shake those mistakes off and continue fighting.

His confidence is growing by the minute and the players have taken notice.

“He is playing more of a vocal role now,” Shipley said. “It’s not a whole lot, but the things he says, everybody listens because he’s not necessarily the most talkative guy so when he says something in the huddle, everyone listens and everyone respects it. I think that’s a big deal. You have to have a quarterback that everybody will listen to and everybody will do what he says. We really believe in him.”

Watson said he trusts Swoopes so much now that he doesn’t ever worry about the QB. He used to. He used to make sure that he got Swoopes started a certain way. But now he just lets him play.

“He's come a million miles in a short period of time, too, but that is a testimony to Ty and his character,” Watson said. “He's got great character and the attractive thing for me with him has always been his character, because he's a humble, hard-working guy.”

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Turnovers are nice whenever you can force them.

But making them happen when it matters most, and turning them into points, can often be the difference in more wins and fewer losses.

It’s something Charlie Strong pointed out in a recent press conference and something Texas’ coaches stress daily.

The Longhorns hadn’t forced a turnover in two straight games coming into Saturday – Zip vs. Baylor and nada against OU – but they flipped the script against an Iowa State offense that had only thrown four interceptions this season by picking off two passes.

The first one came in highlight reel fashion via former walk-on Dylan Haines, who beautifully stepped in front of a Sam Richardson pass intended for tight end E.J. Bibbs and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown with 2:50 left in the first half to give Texas a 28-21 lead.

“Well it was just man-to-man coverage, my dude motioned and I carried him and I kind of anticipated the route and I just jumped in front of him and made a play,” Haines said.

Not only did Haines, who was awarded a scholarship during fall camp, do a great job of understanding the situation (ISU had a 3rd-and-4 from the Texas 29 and were likely to look for its best possession receiver), but his elusiveness on the return (made a few guys miss) was equally as impressive.

“Yeah, I kind of first just took off down the sideline and then I saw someone come in to cut me off and so I just cut back and was just doing anything I could to get in the end zone,” he said.

That INT, for the moment, moved him into a tie for the team-lead with two interceptions.

But it didn’t last long as Duke Thomas reclaimed the lead by intercepting Richardson at the Texas 48.

“All week in film we have already been knowing what was going on and I just saw the formation and was ready for the play,” he said. “Coaches on the sideline were screaming it too, so it all just came together.”

The Longhorns went on to score a touchdown six plays later.

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At some point don’t you have to wonder when Texas is going to run out of bullets?

I mean how many times can one team shoot itself in its own foot before it just can’t go any longer?

Texas was 8-yards away from taking a 21-7 lead in this game and all but assuming total control of the game (the way it felt at DKR) within the first 15 minutes before Tyrone Swoopes made one of his poorest decisions as Texas’ QB by throwing across his body into the middle of the field where ISU’s Nigel Tribune intercepted it at the goal line.

“They had us covered down, just burn the ball and live to see another day, because we took seven points off the board,” Watson said. “So Ty knows how I am. He goes, ‘Coach, I know, I know, I know, I'll fix it.’ I reminded him, to burn it and see another day and that's about it. We moved on.”

The Cyclones didn’t turn that into points but it did take at least three points off the board for a Longhorns offense that needs any kind of momentum it can get at this point.

And it only took ISU one play after it punted for it to put points on the board anyway as T.J. Mutcherson stripped John Harris on a jet sweep, which Jevohn Miller scooped up for a 51-yard touchdown.

It marked the third week in a row that Texas allowed a non-offensive touchdown. Baylor had the blocked field goal return for the first score of that game. Then Oklahoma had the kickoff return and DB Zach Sanchez’s Pick-Six.

Fortunately for the Longhorns they were able to get a non-offensive touchdown of their own via a nifty 74-yard Pick Six by former walk-on Dylan Haines to turn the Tide back in their favor.

But better teams than ISU, as Texas can attest, won’t let you survive crucial turnovers like those.

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You really have to feel good for Nick Rose don’t you?

To say he’d struggled up to Saturday would have been a huge understatement. But he came up huge on two occasions for the Longhorns against Iowa State and seems to have the type of confidence moving forward that could lead to more moments like his 45-yard FG or game-winning FG.

“It felt real good. I think all credit goes to the team, actually,” he said. “They kept us in it the whole way. Our offense really put in another level tonight. On their level, [Tyrone] Swoopes carried them and I think our O-Line played real well. So they kept us in the game. I just did my job at the end and I got the opportunity to seal the deal. I just walked up and hit it.”

Rose said he was real shaky during the first few games, even on PAT’s, which is expected but is something you just can’t be as a kicker.

He said he’s gotten past all of that.

“I felt real confident tonight,” he said. “I walked up and hit everything well. I kicked off well. I was happy about that too. I definitely think as time has progressed, I’ve gotten a lot more confident in myself. Even through practice and practice reps at the practice fields, it’s all continually getting better and better. I think that’s what I’ve been searching for is consistency.”

One big reason for his confidence boost is the fact that his teammates never gave up on him. Rose told me that while some kickers might be viewed as outcasts on the team, he’s actually really close with the defensive line and linebackers and that they’ve had his back from Day 1.

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By no means was it a banner third quarter for the Longhorns.

But, considering how absolutely atrocious they’ve been this season during that frame, Saturday’s third was a step in the right direction.

Players and coaches haven’t been able to point a consistent finger as to what exactly has made the third quarter such a headache. But it’s truly been an abysmal quarter for football all season.

UT entered the game scoring on 9 percent of their third-quarter possessions and punting on 86 percent, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The Longhorns came in with 22 third-quarter drives, 17 of which ended in punts, including 10 three-and-outs.

It wasn’t until the third drive of the quarter that Texas finally broke a streak of 16 consecutive third-quarter drives that ended in punts. UT’s first two possessions – both three-and-outs - totaled 12 yards.

Texas picked up its first, first-down of the quarter after a personal foul facemask penalty on ISU.

Tyrone Swoopes then used his feet to move the chains on two consecutive occasions, including a gutsy 10-yard run on 4th-and-9 from the ISU 37. The Longhorns wouldn’t get much farther but Nick Rose made the drive count by nailing a 45-yard field goal.

Those three points cut Texas’ overall third-quarter deficit this season to 331-38.

Iowa State, though, followed that with an 11-play drive and a field goal of its own to make it 31-all going into the fourth, a quarter that UT actually has out-scored opponents 47-45 this season.

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It became really apparent on Iowa State’s first scoring drive that the Longhorns are much more sound defensively in the back end with Jason Hall in there than Adrian Colbert.

I know this isn’t news to a lot of you – or any of you – but this could present further problems down the road considering the caliber of passing offenses Texas will face the rest of the season (Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, TCU).

No timetable has been announced as to when Hall will return from his patellar tendon injury. We are hearing it’s not too serious. But the sooner Texas can get him back patrolling the secondary, the better.

The Cyclones must have realized the weakness in Texas’ defense. Especially on their first scoring drive, including on EJ Bibbs’ 4-yard touchdown reception.

The Longhorns need to try and capitalize on this win and A&M’s loss as much as possible.

I’d be contacting Daylon Mack, Kingsley Keke, and any other Aggies commitment they feel like they even remotely have a chance with and seeing if they’d like to visit.

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Longhorns 2015 QB commitment Zach Gentry's junior highlights

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