Game notes and analysis: offense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' offensive performance in their 41-7 win over New Mexico State:

After the Longhorn kick coverage team forced and then recovered an NMSU fumble on the opening kickoff, the Texas offense trotted onto the field needing just 23 yards to record its first score of the season. Three plays later that offense slumped off the field 13 yards further from the end zone than it started following a draw to Victor Ike that lost three yards, a Chris Simms incompletion (while greatly pressured by 6-2, 252-pound nose tackle Joe Olivo) and an Aggie sack of Simms for an 10-yard loss by FS Tyrone Gifford, who got to the UT QB unopposed. An inauspicious beginning for a veteran unit with the fire power of the Texas O. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said post-game that the New Mexico State D showed the Horns some new fronts and blitzes that it did not throw at Louisville last week, including the free safety blitz that, with the offense in a five-wide, empty backfield set, the OL (and Simms) failed to pick up on the third-and-13 play mentioned above. Davis called the breakdown a mis-ID. To counter those free safety blitzes, Simms later in the half went to a quick release, three-step-drop while in five-wides. He was not sacked again all night. On the first series, before going to the five-wide set on third-and-long, the Horns lined up in a standard two-wide (Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson), two-back (Ike and Matt Trissel) set.

The Texas offense put its first points of the season on the board on its next drive, covering 50 yards (actually only 40 yards of offense -- NMSU was whistled for two offside penalties) in 10 plays. Despite the short field, a quick-strike drive it was not. The Horns traveled half the field in 6:02 of game time, an eternity for a team that last year routinely went the length of the field in under two minutes. Ike and Ivan Williams combined for 20 yards on six rushes, with Williams carrying the mail into the end zone on a four-yard run at the 5:40 mark of the first quarter. On the drive, Texas lined up in the I, the off-set I, three-wides, four-wides and five-wides. "We did not want to play the entire game in five-wides," Davis said. "That was a mistake last year (in the opener vs. Louisiana-Lafayette). We wanted to force the run." On at least three of the three-wide, single-back plays, the Horns handed to either Ike or Ivan who ran to the OL's strong (tight end) side. Both Bo Scaife and Brock Edwards saw action in the series. Roy Williams had the highlight play of the drive, taking a quick pass from Simms in the right flat and putting the moves on three defenders before finally being dragged down after a 15-yard gain. Not exactly the field-stretching bombs we saw so much of last year, but a solid gainer and a play that is almost impossible to stop nonetheless. On the play, the offense worked out of its spread set with four-wides and Brett Robin as the tailback. A few plays later, Simms made the first of what would eventually be three scary decisions on pass attempts. On a first-and-10 from the 15, the QB tried to find Roy Williams on the far left side of the field from about the right hash mark. Unlike the quick-hitter that gained 15, this one may have been good for two or three at best, and it could have gone for six (points) the other way with the long throw back (the ball is in the air far too long on the play, giving the defenders the chance to break on the ball and, if they intercept it, take it the length of the field) into traffic.

After putting a seven-spot on the board on its second series, the offense sputtered, gaining just 50 yards over its next three series. On the first of the three, the Horns couldn't manage a yard coming off the goalline. Left at the two after return man Nathan Vasher failed to field an NMSU punt, Texas attempted to go straight for the jugular on first down, sending Roy Williams deep up the right sideline, but Simms, standing in the end zone, was forced to release early because of pressure up the middle by Olivo. On second down, the Texas QB threw quickly right to Trissel coming out of the backfield, but the fullback dropped the pass. The Aggies had the play completely sniffed out, though, so a completion probably wouldn't have moved the ball, if at all, much past the two. On third down, Simms dropped back and looked downfield but LB D'Wayne Taylor smacked him just as he released the ball, forcing another incompletion and a dangerous punt from the back line of the end zone. During the first half, most of the pressure on Simms (and the backfield stops of the Longhorn running backs) came from right end Jamar Cain, NT Olivo, LB Taylor and FS Gifford up the middle or through the left side of the offensive line. Robbie Doane took the first-team snaps at left tackle, Tillman Holloway and Derrick Dockery rotated at left guard and Matt Anderson started at center. The Horns did not have much early success running to the left side of the line, by my count gaining just 20 yards on eight carries to that side in the first half, 12 of those coming on a seven-yarder by Ivan Williams with the Horns in a two-TE set and a five-yarder by Ike running behind TE Scaife. The seven-yarder, following a rumbling six-yarder off right tackle, came on the second of UT's mainly stagnant mid-first half series and gave the Horns just their fourth first down of the game early in the second quarter. The drive stalled, though, after an Ivan one-yard run, a deep incompletion for Roy and a three-yard dump pass to Robin on third-and-nine. The Texas O finally moved the ball on its next series, but despite a short field, couldn't get the ball in the end zone. From the New Mexico State 38, Ike ripped off right side runs of nine and 15 yards to set the Horns up at the 13, but two short gainers right (a three- and two-yarder) forced Simms to go to the air, where he made the second of those scary throws I mentioned earlier. Out of a split backfield set, Robin slipped out to the left and towards the goalline where Simms tried to connect. Aggie back-up MLB Simon Ocampo, though, stepped between Robin and Simms and almost snagged a momentum changing INT. It's obviously impossible to tell for sure, but it looked like Simms didn't see Ocampo slanting into the passing lane. (The third almost-INT came in the third quarter when Simms, trying to hit Tony Jeffery, instead put the ball into the hands of NMSU MLB Josh Watts. Watts, though, could not hold on.)

The Texas O finally seemed to find its rhythm on its last drive before the half. Leading 17-0, the Horns took over at their own 20 with 3:41 to play before intermission. Davis's O mounted a nicely executed, 80 yard, 11 play TD drive to make the halftime score (24-zip) a bit more comfortable. The Horns opened the drive with Ivan and Trissel in a split backfield, and Simms went directly for the fullback, but NMSU defensive end Mike Boganowski registered the Ags' second near-INT of the game. The Texas QB found his running back on the next play, zipping the ball past Cain and into the hands of Ivan Williams for a seven yard gain. Up to that point in the game, the Longhorn O had lined up in five-wides just a couple of times. Seven of the Horns next nine plays, though, including three straight third-and-shorts, would come out of the five-wide, empty-backfield, Simms-under-center sets. Six of the plays resulted in quick-hitter completions, three to B.J. (for five, eight and 11 yards), two to Montrell Flowers (for 23 and nine yards, both on a right to left slant pattern, the second of which went for the TD) and one to Roy (for nine yards). The only incompletion came on a deep post for Roy Williams that would have been a TD but for the slight underthrow by Simms, allowing a beaten CB Paul Holland to bat down the ball before it reached the hands of Williams. As I've written before, the short routes out of the Horns' three-, four- and five-wide formations are virtually unstoppable, and if the opposing defense tries to press the Texas wideouts, Williams and Johnson and Co. can simply adjust to a deep route. New Mexico State seemed content to give up the short pass so as not to get burned deep. By the second quarter, the Horns simply took what the Aggies gave 'em. "I thought we started slow and it took us a while to get in rhythm," Davis said, "but the five-wides kinda got everyone settled down." The O-coordinator said the five-wide formation (with a three-step drop) and some blocking scheme adjustments led to the offense's late second quarter and then second half success. And the third down success shown on the series above continued throughout the entire game. The Horns converted 15 of 21 third down attempts, over half of the 15 coming in four- of five-wide sets.

Early in the game, the Horns' five-wide set consisted of receivers Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas, Flowers and Jeffery. After Williams "tweaked" his ankle in the third quarter, true freshman Brian Carter stripped the redshirt and replaced his sophomore teammate in the group, catching his first collegiate pass in the fourth quarter. On the play, Carter crossed from right to left and Major Applewhite hit him for a 10-yard gain. On the offensive side of the ball, Carter and Cedric Benson were the only true frosh to see action. [Editor's note: For more on Benson, see Benson dazzles in debut] Of the six wide receivers who played, only Jeffery did not catch a pass. Despite missing most of the last quarter-and-a-half, Williams led the team with five catches for 70 yards. His highlight reel play came on the Horns' opening drive of the second half when he hauled in a Simms pass near the right sideline along the line of scrimmage and, with the help of RT Mike Williams' clearing block on CB Holland, raced up the sideline, outdistancing a pursuing LB Taylor and leapt for the end zone from the six as FS Gifford tried to force him out of bounds. The officials ruled Williams, who telescoped his arms and the ball to the pylon, touched the sideline at the one for a 35-yard, tantalizing-close-to-a-TD catch and run. Earlier in the same drive, though, Williams let a catchable ball slip through his hands, and he did the same on the next series, failing to haul in a potential 20-plus-yard gainer that hit him square in the hands. He limped off the field with a sore ankle after the play. Flowers had his best game in two years, catching four balls for 54 yards for two TDs. "Montrell's been overshadowed a bit but he's a great receiver for us," Davis said post-game. "He's providing great senior leadership." Johnson totaled 32 yards on four catches. Sloan grabbed two balls for 18 yards.

Above, I described Roy Williams' great catch and run to the one. Let's pick up the story from there. Despite a first-and-goal from the one, the Horns could not punch the ball into the end zone. Texas ran three plays in its short yardage offense (three running backs, two tight ends, no wide receivers), the first a right side plunge by Ivan Williams for nothing, the second a naked rollout by Simms where NMSU pressure forced him to throw the ball away, and the third a pitch right than the New Mexico State D string out and stuffed for no gain. The DKR crowd implored Mack Brown to go for the TD, but instead, the head coach sent true freshman kicker Dusty Mangum on for the short field goal attempt. "The smart thing to do was to kick the field goal," Brown said post-game. "The emotional thing to do was to go for it." The Horns lack of goalline success in that situation is a bit surprising given the great success the Texas O in general and Ivan in particular had throughout the game in its two-TE sets. Before the three downs on the goalline, Williams gained seven, eight and 11 yards running behind a seven-man line. The Horns may need to look at a two-wide, two-TE, single-back set in short yardage rather than the three-RB, two-TE, no-wide goalline package that puts all 11 defenders on the line of scrimmage near the point of offensive attack.

Ike had a quietly successful opener, gaining 53 yards on 14 carries (3.8 per rush). Almost half (24) of those yards, though, came on two carries in the second quarter. Several other times Ike seemed headed to daylight before NMSU defenders brought him down with arm tackles, often around the ankles. That tendency to go down easily is the reason Ike isn't suited to be an every down running back. He's simply not going to give you the tough yards that Ivan Williams and Benson seem capable of delivering.

The Texas tight ends did not catch a pass in the game. Simms hit Scaife for a short gain on the Horns' second drive but UT took an offside penalty on the play instead of the TE's two-yard reception. Later in the first half, Simms tried again for Scaife, but the QB, under pressure from a NMSU blitz, overthrew his TE target. Both Scaife and Edwards contributed a great deal in the running game, though, as I mentioned earlier. Many of the Horns' successful running plays were set up by the blocking of those two.

[Editor's note: More Game notes and analysis on the Horns' defensive and special teams performances is on the way later today.]


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