Texas (1-1) got back on track with a 56-0 win against San Jose State (1-2) at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium in Austin on Saturday. Here are five observations from the first win of the Tom Herman ear:
Chris Warren III established himself as the top dog in the backfield.
Running back was the biggest question mark going into the season. When Herman took the job, everyone assumed the starter would be Warren III, who rushed for 276 yards and four touchdowns in his career debut against Texas Tech in 2015. He started strong in 2016 before a knee injury in the fourth game at Oklahoma State sidelined him for the rest of the year. He continued dealing with nagging injuries through spring and fall that kept him from being anointed the full-time starter.
On this day, Warren III showed everyone what he was capable of as he and sophomore Kyle Porter actually split the carries evenly with 16 apiece. That said, it was clear which runner puts more fear into opposing defenses. Warren rumbled for 166 yards and two scores while catching two passes for 23 yards, including a crucial nine-yard swing pass on fourth down that help set up Texas’s first touchdown. The former Rockwall star was running over hapless San Jose State defenders all day and is averaging a shade below nine yards per carry on the season compared to Porter’s 3.9, so expect the junior to get a larger share of the workload going forward.
This is the Todd Orlando defense we were all expecting.
Many pundits weren’t sure what to make of the offense, but felt everything was in place for the defense to be an elite unit before the season started. That assumption was brought into question last week when the Longhorns gave up 8.3 yards per play in a 51-41 loss to Maryland. But this week was a different story.
The Longhorns allowed just 3.3 yards per play, eight first downs and forced five three-and-outs and two turnovers (one of which was an interception ran back for a score by Holton Hill) in a shutout of San Jose State. Yes, this was worst offense on Texas’s schedule. But still, it was a mighty strong performance from a defense that was reeling after a disappointing season-opener.
The Longhorns looked a lot better on the line of scrimmage.
Herman disagreed with the assertion that his offensive and defensive lines were “manhandled” by Maryland at his Monday press conference. While some would agree that Texas was indeed whooped upfront by the underdog Terrapins, the opposite would be said about Saturday’s performance.
The Longhorns erupted for 406 yards on 59 attempts (6.9 per carry) and completely stifled San Jose State’s own attempt at a ground game, giving up just 42 yards on 23 carries (1.8 per rush). The offensive line, anchored by preseason All-American left tackle Connor Williams, kept a clean pocket for freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who was making his first career start.
The Jerrod Heard whatever-you-want-to-call-it package found success.
One commentator called it the “13-wheeler” package. Another called it the “Thundering Heard.” I’m still trying to come up with my own original nickname for it, but whatever cool moniker you want to coin for those moments when Heard comes onto the field and lines up behind center, it looks like the package might work.
Heard, who came to Texas with lots of fanfare as a four-star dual-threat quarterback that won a pair of state championships at Denton Guyer, still holds the school record for total offense with his 517 yard performance against California in 2015. Heard never developed as a passer, however, and was moved to wide receiver last season.
With last week’s starter, Shane Buechele, nursing a sore shoulder, Herman gave Heard reps this week as the backup quarterback and decided to install a package that took advantage of his athletic talents. Heard answered the call by rushing for two touchdowns and 39 yards on eight attempts.
Ehlinger was good enough, but probably did not lock down the starting job.
The true freshman from Westlake High School completed 15-of-27 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions while adding 48 yards on the ground. Those are fine numbers for a 18-year-old making his first career start at the collegiate level. But he had a pair of should-have-been interceptions dropped by the San Jose State defense and Herman said Ehlinger looked “jittery” during his halftime TV interview.
If Buechele, who was far from the No. 1 reason Texas lost last week, returns to practice healthy on Monday and gets a full week of reps, he’ll have as good a chance as Ehlinger to get the nod next Saturday at the Coliseum for Texas’s mega-matchup with defending Rose Bowl champion USC.
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