UH game notes and analysis: offense

Notes and analysis on the Horns' offensive performance in their 53-26 win over Houston:

Early last week, Chris Simms said he and the Texas receivers welcomed the opportunity to play a team like the Cougars that plays at least some bump-and-run coverage rather than the conservative coverages they had faced over the season's first two weeks. It didn't take long Saturday night to see the basis for that optimism. After keeping it on the ground or throwing underneath on its first series -- a 56-yard, 14-play field goal drive -- the O finally hit on a big one. Backed up near the goalline at the eight after a penalty on Nathan Vasher's 13-yard punt return, Simms and B.J. Johnson connected on a 92 yard catch-and-run TD that gave the Horns a 10-0 lead on UT's second possession. On the play, Houston corner Jason Parker squared off with B.J. in man coverage and Johnson simply blew by Parker about five yards into the route, separated and hauled in the long toss near midfield, out-sprinting the pursuing defender to the end zone. "This is the first team that gave us an opportunity to make some big plays and we took advantage of that," Simms said post-game. The 92 yard play marked the longest of both Simms' and Johnson's UT careers. B.J. totaled 124 yards on four receptions on the day.

The Horns just missed on a couple of other long attempts early in the game before returning to a more controlled offensive scheme. Simms, from the Houston 41, put the ball into Tony Jeffery's hands in the end zone later in the first quarter, but the officials ruled that Jeffery did not have control of the ball when he fell to the turf (as you would expect, Simms said he had it). On UT's next series, the Texas QB just overthrew a streaking Roy Williams on what would have been a 66 yard touchdown catch-and-run. Two plays later, Simms underthrew Roy, who flashed open on a post that with a better-timed throw could have been a 49 yard score. "The passing attack tonight was like we wanted it to be," Mack Brown said post-game. "We missed a couple of deep ones . . . but we didn't miss many. We have a few things with our timing we need to (work on) but I was really proud of our protection. I was proud of Ivan Williams being able to run the ball and when you can protect and run like that it gives your quarterbacks and receivers a chance to show what they can do."

More on Ivan in a minute, but first, Simms. The Texas QB showed what he can do -- mostly good but some bad -- with his three touchdown, one INT passing performance. The junior QB, verbally challenged by several Cougar defenders early last week, compiled his highest yardage total of the season (311), completed a season-best 57-percent of his passes, and finally connected on a deep ball. "I feel like Chris played tonight like he did at the end of last year," Brown said post-game. The coaches spread the receivers out and gave Simms more liberties with formations, and he delivered several well-placed strikes. The best may have been his TD pass to Jeffery at the end of the first half that gave the Horns the lead for good. On the previous play, Cougar corner Parker came unencumbered from the offense's left side on a blitz and flattened Simms, forcing a fumble that RT Mike Williams recovered for a seven-yard loss. Parker's hit knocked the wind out of Simms, and the Texas QB had trouble calling the next play in the huddle. On second-and-goal from the 17 with just 15 seconds left in the half, the Horns lined up in a five-wide formation and Houston dropped eight men into coverage. Looking to throw into the end zone, Simms, with good protection, moved up in the pocket after surveying the situation and made eye contact with Stanford Routt, the corner covering Jeffery in the right corner of the end zone. That look froze the defender -- the same defender who picked Simms earlier in the quarter -- who expected Simms to tuck and run, and the QB used Routt's indecision to throw a ball out of his reach where either Jeffery makes the catch or the ball sails out of bounds and the Horns get one more shot at the end zone before the end of the half. Jeffery, though, made the leaping catch of the perfectly placed pass.

As Brown alluded to above, a lot of Simms' success can be attributed to protection. Simms was sacked twice (for negative nine yards), but only one of those was the result of a protection breakdown. The only OL penalty came against LT Robbie Doane for holding early in the second quarter. A quick OL note: Derrick Dockery started at left guard and then rotated with Tillman Holloway at the position the rest of the night. The second team OLs (LT Alfio Randall, LG Beau Baker, C Jason Glynn, RG Trey Bates and RT Lionel Garr) didn't see action until late in the game.

On the bad side of the ledger, Simms had three balls either tipped or batted at the line and he put three more balls into the hands of defenders, including one that Routt held on to for a pick that led to Houston's go ahead TD drive late in the first half. The other two near-INTs came on a third-and-six from the U of H 24 on the Horns' opening drive of the game. Throwing for Kyle Shanahan, Simms instead found Houston MLB Justin Davis. Davis, who had a lot of running room in front of him if he had held on, couldn't clutch it and the ball fell harmlessly to the grass, allowing Texas to kick the field goal for the early 3-0 lead. Cougar DE Lee Ingersoll also let what could have been a game-changing play out of his grasp on the first play of UT's late first half TD drive. Simms, looking left for Sloan Thomas, tossed it right into the Ingersoll's hands but the Houston defender couldn't hold on.

On the Horns' opening drive (and several other times during the game when the Texas QB used his athleticism to make a play), I couldn't help but recall and laugh at one of the Cougars' "street ball" comments about Simms from early last week. Basically, one of UH's defenders questioned the UT QB's intelligence and called his QBing skills suitable only to "street ball." Three plays into the Horns' opening drive, faced with a third-and-five, Simms rolled left and put the ball into Shanahan's hands for a seven yard first down catch. I'm not sure if that qualifies as "street ball," but Simms did use his feet and his head as much as his arm Saturday night. So given the results of Simms' "street ball" (311 passing yards and a comfortable lead when he left the game), I'm wondering if the Houston D now considers that a compliment rather than an attempted put down. By the way, the catch above by Shanahan was his first as a Longhorn. He finished with three grabs for 18 yards. As we projected he would be after his spring performance, Shanahan was a favorite target of Simms on third down. Along with the play described above, Shanahan hauled in another at the chains on third down and he was Simms' target on at least one other third down attempt. Look for Shanahan to continue to emerge as a big part of the Texas passing offense, particularly as an underneath receiver.

Another aspect of the offense adversely affected by injury over the past year may finally be literally and figuratively returning to health. TE Bo Scaife totaled 59 yards on five catches vs. the Cougars while his position-mate Brock Edwards hauled in a one yard TD pass in the fourth quarter for his only reception of the day. The six combined catches by the tight end spot is the type of performance that the Texas offensive coaches hoped to have had last fall before Scaife's season-ending knee injury. Brown said the emergence of the tight end Saturday night is the first glimpse of the offense the Horns hoped to run at the beginning of last year. "Every game should give us a chance to get them more involved and we want them more involved," the head coach said of his tight ends. Before the Houston game, Scaife and Edwards had combined for three catches for just 16 yards.

After struggling to find an offensive identity, the Horns seem to have found one in the three-wide, single-back, one-tight end set (as we speculated might happen this week in our UNC game notes). After opening the game in an offset I formation, Texas used the three-wide set for the majority of its offensive snaps on the night, including 17 of its 23 first quarter offensive plays, eight of 10 second quarter plays (before the final five-wide, one-minute drive) and nine of 17 third quarter plays (and half of the plays in the third that the Horns didn't use the three wide formation were short yardage sets). Through the first three quarters (before the Horns started subbing and sitting on the ball), Simms completed 12 of 19 passes out of the three-wide formation for 199 yards. Over the same span, Texas ran the ball out of the formation 15 times for 99 yards, including runs of 11, nine, 21 and 14 yards by Ivan (he also had an 18-yarder out of a four wide formation) and a wide receiver handoff to Jeffery that gained 17. In the first three quarters, Texas had eight plays out of the I or offset I formation, running three times for eight yards and completing just one pass in five attempts for 12 yards. Two of the four incomplete pass attempts were deep balls for Roy. Because Williams had beaten Houston corner Victor Malone so badly, one of those misses (a slight Simms overthrow) was a stride away from being a 66-yard TD catch-and-run for the sophomore receiver.

Ivan Williams, making his first start at tailback, carried five times for 29 yards on the Horns opening drive of the game but only got four more carries in the half. Former starter Victor Ike rushed once on the opening drive for two yards but did not carry the ball again in the game. Cedric Benson saw his earliest action of the season, getting a first quarter carry on the Horns' third offensive possession. Benson gained three yards on the play. The Texas ground game, responsible for 64 yards on 17 attempts (3.8 per) in the first half, gained strength as the night progressed, totaling 129 yards on 22 second half attempts (5.9 per) and finishing the night with 193 yards on 39 carries (4.9 per). That pattern is similar to what we saw in '98 with Ricky Williams at tailback: a solid first half followed by a pounding second half over a weary defense. The current Williams at tailback, at 6-1, 235-plus pounds, has similar size-speed attributes as the former Texas tailback and Heisman winner who happened to be in attendance at his namesake's coming out party at Robertson Stadium Saturday. Ivan picked up 62 yards on 10 second half carries. Benson gained 68 of his 75 yards after the break. One more formation note: on the first play of the fourth quarter, with the Horns at the Houston one, Texas lined up in its goalline offense of two TEs and three RBs, but Simms faked the handoff and hit a wide open Edwards for the TD. The Horns, who normally run out of the formation, had unsuccessfully attempted the same play vs. NMSU in week one.

Texas converted nine of 13 third down attempts. Shanahan gets credit for two of the conversions. Sloan Thomas also hauled in a 15-yarder from Simms on third-and-seven on UT's opening field goal drive, Brett Robin took a dump pass on third-and-six for 11 in second quarter and Jeffery's 20 yard over the middle catch on third-and-10 extended the Longhorn TD drive before the half. Ivan also converted two third-and-ones, one with Chad Stevens and a motioning TE Edwards leading the way and the other out of the Horns' three running back, goalline set.

Simms apparently had a running conversation with some of the Cougar mouth runners during the game, particularly DE Adrian Lee. One time in particular stood out to me: as B.J. completed his 92 yard catch-and-run to the end zone, Simms jogged up the field alongside Lee, surely aimply inquiring about the health of Lee and various family members. Lee got in his shot later when he sacked Simms on the Horns' two point attempt in the third quarter with the score 26-14. Lee separated Simms from the ball, recovered the fumble and headed the other direction for what could have been two points for the Cougars, but the DE stumbled to the turf after just a few yards. I'm guessing that even after getting sacked on the play, Simms gave it to him on the subsequent series for that one. "I wanted to go out there and tear them up of course, but hey, (trash talk) is part of the game," the Texas QB said post-game. "I talked to him (Lee) throughout the game. He hit me and was getting on me a little bit but we pulled through and made some plays and hopefully we got his respect after that."


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