Texas wide receiver Jerrod Heard (13) celebrates his 29-yard touchdown catch against UTEP during the first quarter action held at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: Sterlin Gilbert’s offense keeping everyone involved

Six different Longhorns have more than 100 receiving yards giving Shane Buechele plenty of options

Posted October 6th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Texas receiver John Burt has been battling a hand injury since Notre Dame.
  • Jerrod Heard has been the most productive, considering his chances.
  • Keep an eye on Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon, who has 12 catches coming out of backfield.

Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert promised there’d be plenty of balls for everybody this season.

Four games in, we’re getting a better idea how the Longhorns spread it around and who’s making the most of their opportunities.

Quarterback Shane Buechele clearly likes looking for John Burt and Armanti Foreman out wide, based on the number of times they’ve been targeted this season. But inside receivers Jerrod Heard, Jake Oliver and Jacorey Warrick are doing far more damage on shorter routes in traffic.

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Some teams highlight only one playmaker, and to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. Think Cal’s Chad Hansen, Texas Tech’s Jonathan Giles or Oklahoma State’s James Washington. The Longhorns have five established receiving threats with three freshmen cooling their jets.

Texas wide receiver John Burt has been battling a head injury since the Notre Dame game, according to Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. STEPHEN SPILLMAN FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas wide receiver John Burt has been battling a head injury since the Notre Dame game, according to Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert. STEPHEN SPILLMAN FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“We feel strong about distributing the ball to all of our playmakers, whether it be the running backs, the quarterbacks and even those receivers,” Gilbert said. “So it just depends game by game and even quarter by quarter based on production and depending on what you’re getting from the other side of the ball.”

Six different players have more than 100 receiving yards, and six different players have receiving touchdowns. In 12 games last season, Texas had a pedestrian 1,751 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. With eight regular-season games remaining this year, Gilbert’s crew already has 1,025 yards and eight scores.

The Sooners’ defensive coaches have an idea who the Horns like, but they likely can’t assign shut-down coverage help for any one particular Longhorn.

What a good problem for Buechele.

“Even Lil’Jordan (Humphrey) got a ball in the last game, and I didn’t even know he was in the game until I threw it to him,” Buechele said. “But that’s just a comfort thing. No matter who’s out there, you just feel comfortable and you’ve gotta get them the ball.”

It appeared early as if the Longhorns wanted to make speedster John Burt a primary weapon. Burt was targeted 12 times in the season opener against Notre Dame, far and away the highest total of any individual player in any one game so far. He finished with six catches for 111 yards.

But Burt’s production has tailed off, and Gilbert finally conceded that Burt was battling a hand injury. He was targeted only four times against Oklahoma State and had just two catches.

Jacorey Warrick was one of Buechele’s favorite targets against UTEP. The 5-11 senior was targeted seven times and had seven catches for 73 yards. Foreman had a team-high eight targets against California but reeled in only four catches. Oliver (seven targets, four catches) was the go-to guy against OSU.

Who’s been the Longhorns’ most consistent threat? Former quarterback-turned-receiver Jerrod Heard. The sophomore has been targeted 18 times and has 14 catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Texas receiver Jacorey Warrick (11) celebrates a touchdown with John Burt (1) against California during the first half of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas receiver Jacorey Warrick (11) celebrates a touchdown with John Burt (1) against California during the first half of a NCAA college football game, Saturday, September 17, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“With our room, it’s basically like saying, ‘We know we’re going to succeed,’” said receiver Dorian Leonard, who had a 49-yard catch in Stillwater that set up a touchdown. “So when we see somebody else out there making plays, it’s like seeing little brother at his game scoring his first touchdown. We haven’t really had a problem with the ball getting spread around.”

The Texas sideline got a real charge out of watching tight end Andrew Beck make his first catch of the season against the Cowboys. Buechele found him over the middle, and Beck went 39 yards for a touchdown.

Conversely, target numbers give the Texas defensive coaches some clues, too.

OU’s Dede Westbrook is one of the Big 12’s top receiving threats, and quarterback Baker Mayfield looks for him plenty. Westbrook has been targeted 34 times and has 24 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Mark Andrews also leaps off the screen with four touchdowns on only 11 receptions.

What really stands out is how OU is using running back Joe Mixon out of the backfield. Mixon is far more than a safety valve; he’s got 12 receptions on 15 targets for 162 receiving yards.

Texas lost track of OSU’s Blake Jarwin, who hung out to Mason Rudolph’s right for safety protection. Rudolph dumped it off to a wide-open Jarwin four times for 50 yards.

What’s clear is that Gilbert’s offense gets everyone involved, something that should keep players engaged, even those who may get only one or two passes per game.

“That’s what happens when you have great athletes,” Buechele said. “You can just get the ball to everybody and see what they can do with it.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

Targeting the Longhorns, Sooners

Here's a look at how many times Texas and Oklahoma quarterbacks have targeted their teammates and how many catches each player has this season. Texas and OU have matching 2-2 overall records.
Texas
PlayerClassPos.TargetsRec.YardsTD
John BurtSoph.WR26141911
Armanti ForemanJr.WR22131391
Jerrod HeardSoph.WR18141662
Jake OliverJr.WR18131290
Jacorey WarrickSr.WR15131722
Dorian LeonardJr.WR751141
Collin JohnsonFr.WR53220
Devin DuvernayFr.WR32160
D’Onta ForemanJr.RB21210
Lil'Jordan HumphreyFr.WR22150
Andrew BeckJr.TE11391
Kyle PorterFr.RB1120
Lorenzo JoeJr.WR11-10
Oklahoma
PlayerClassPos.TargetsRec.YardsTDs
Dede WestbrookSr.WR34243122
Mark AndrewsSoph.WR18112174
Joe MixonSoph.RB15121620
A.D. MillerSoph.WR1171042
Mykel JonesFr.WR109590
Nick BasquineSoph.WR871051
Samaje PerineJr.RB77690
Geno LewisSr.WR75540
Jarvis BaxterSr.WR43420
Jordan SmallwoodJr.WR42210
Jeffery MeadJr.WR4161
Dimitri FlowersJr.RB3181
Abdul AdamsFr.RB11160

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