Just two games into the young season, and already Texas has a really big problem on its hands.
Not near enough footballs.
Receivers, Charlie Strong has plenty of those.
So many that the third-year head coach now has such an array of options that Saturday night’s top two targets in the 41-7 thumping of UTEP were a senior who’d never scored a touchdown in his career and a sophomore who a year ago was throwing passes, not catching them.
But the little-used Jacorey Warrick and quarterback-turned-receiver Jerrod Heard wowed a crowd of 92,864 at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The 11th-ranked Longhorns are 2-0 for the first time since 2012. And an impressive 2-0.
“Really, I haven’t (had this many weapons),” Strong said. “It’s been fun to watch it. And we’re only going to get better, and the quarterback is throwing the ball well.”
But Texas could use a few more footballs to spread around the distribution. Eight Longhorns caught a pass, and four of them found the end zone Saturday. Shane Buechele’s already thrown six touchdowns and, with a little luck, would have easily had nine, but for a drop, a strip and a tackle at the 1.
Oh, and the likely featured receiver for the year? The speedy John Burt, the only proven threat and one of the heroes of the stunning opening upset of Notre Dame. Against the Irish, he had 111 yards and a touchdown but also one dropped scoring pass; against UTEP, he was pretty inconspicuous with only two receptions for 28 yards.
Burt was an afterthought on this night, but this thought persists. As pointed out in this space a month ago, this class of receivers could be the best in school history. I remain convinced of that although the proof will come in this season and those to come. Dorian Leonard caught a touchdown bomb, Armanti Foreman’s tremendously improved, and Heard just seems like a natural.
“That’s a good thing,” Heard said of the wealth of receivers. “We’re going to do big things.”
For now, it’s amazing Buechele’s head isn’t spinning because he doesn’t know whom to throw to first.
“We have a lot of ’em,” said Buechele, whose first five touchdowns this season were thrown to five different receivers before Heard caught two on Saturday.
Buechele’s got receivers coming out of his ears, a big reason Texas has scored 91 points in two games. That type of output will play well in the score-a-thon league that is the Big 12, especially given the fact the Longhorns have a proficient ground game. Last year, Texas ranked dead last in passing, a whopping 537 yards behind Kansas State and the only team to throw for fewer than 2,000 yards, ranking 118th nationally.
Texas averaged just 146 yards through the air in 2015, but has shot out of the gate with a 262.5 yards passing average after two games. Sterlin Gilbert loves the luxury of so many receivers that defenders won’t know whom to double-cover.
“We’re extremely excited, but we’re by no means satisfied with what’s going on,” Gilbert said. “We’ve got guys who are unselfish, whose ultimate goal is to win.”
“Our depth is amazing right now,” said Warrick, a slightly built senior who led all players with seven catches for 73 yards, one touchdown and nearly a second until a UTEP defender poked the ball from his grasp. “We have guys who can run. We have tall guys, physical guys, shifty guys.”
And freshman guys.
The 6-6 Collin Johnson played only a few snaps versus the Irish, but made his initial catch as a Longhorn on Saturday, diving for a low pass.
Lil’ Jordan Humphrey made his first catch, too.
So did burner Devin Duvernay. Technically, anyway. Officially, it didn’t count because his nifty long-distance grab on a pretty bomb from Tyrone Swoopes was erased for his own offensive pass interference.
“Devin’s my boy,” Heard gushed. “I was really rooting for him. I think Devin’s going to have a big impact on the field.”
At this rate, it’s hard to tell who isn’t.
“You’re going to get multiple opportunities in this offense,” Warrick said. “In the past, you might get a pass, but you didn’t know when the next one’s coming.”
Now he knows the next one’s coming, and coming fast. You’re just not sure to whom.