For Texas to get it done in Dallas, its best receivers don’t have to outshine that more heralded duo on the other sideline.
Just be more physical.
Bigger could be better.
Physicality. It’s one thing 6-6, 220-pound Collin Johnson and 6-4, 225-pound Lil’Jordan Humphrey bring to the party. They’re larger wideouts who not only can make an impact when they catch the ball, but also in the blocking game. Texas needs it on Saturday when the offense will have to keep up with Oklahoma’s big-play attack.
Downfield blocking? It’s not the sexiest part of playing the position, but one that this pair takes to heart.
Remember back in 2003 when receiving royalty Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson and Sloan Thomas — Texas’ famed Triplets who made sweet pass-catching music with quarterbacks Chris Simms and Major Applewhite — were understandably frustrated because redshirt freshman Vince Young was more likely to pull the ball down and run rather than go through his progressions? Later in the season — after Young put up one of his majestic rushing performances — Johnson bragged to coach Mack Brown about how he had become the best blocking receiver on the team.
Today’s Texas receivers are not to that point. Sam Ehlinger is developing into a capable passer and has done a serviceable job of getting the ball to his playmakers over the last four games. Better yet, he has taken care of the ball and hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 128 attempts.
When it comes to the receivers who will take the field at the Cotton Bowl, Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and CeeDee Lamb are two of the fastest players in the country and enter this Red River Showdown with the edge in terms of national stroke when compared with their Texas counterparts. They’re downright electric, but Johnson and Humphrey can lean on good old-fashioned bulk to make their mark in the biggest game of the season.
Yes, friends, size matters and the Longhorns duo has used theirs to help what’s largely a station-to-station offense break a big play here and there, though it should be mentioned that Texas’ longest run of the season is only 30 yards, courtesy of Daniel Young near the end of the Tulsa game. While Johnson and Humphrey have combined to catch 50 balls for 752 yards and six touchdowns, they have taken it upon themselves to give it up in the run game as blockers.
“Those guys out there understand that if we’re blocking well on the perimeter, our offense is going to run well,” Ehlinger said. “I think they have done an excellent job of continuing to get better at that and being physical out there. That’s how coach Herman instills his culture. It’s a physical mentality that I think shows at every position.”
To spring the upset, the Horns will need to make some splash plays, but to keep Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray off the field, there will be times when the UT offense will take on the look of what we saw at the end of the Kansas State win: A slowed down, deliberate attack bent on moving the ball and working the clock in methodical fashion.
The Horns haven’t had a bevy of huge plays in the passing game, but when plays have gone for big numbers, it’s often been because Johnson and/or Humphrey have taken advantage of their size against smaller cornerbacks to seal the edge and hold them up just long enough for the play to pop. The opportunities will be there against an average OU defense, but when the ball is elsewhere, look for Texas’ big bodies to be blocking downfield.
“It’s always a point of emphasis,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you’re a complete receiver if you don’t block and neither does this coaching staff. That’s something we focused on in camp and that’s something coach (Drew) Mehringer and coach (Corby) Meekins focused on. We’ve seen some plays during the season where one big block sprung a big play. We definitely take that seriously.”
Who knows which coach will be calling the plays, but Herman and Tim Beck have done a pretty good job of getting the ball to their wideouts. That includes Devin Duvernay, who has emerged as much more than just a deep route runner. The blocking duties will be there, but the Horns don’t win unless Johnson and Humphrey show us that physical YAC (yards after contact) we’ve seen during this winning streak.
“They complement each other a couple different ways,” Herman said. “One, because their skill set — even though their size looks pretty similar, their skill set is pretty different. Two, I think when you’ve got them on different sides of the field, that poses problems in terms of defending the run game, defending (Johnson and Humphrey).”
Sure, they’re showing up to catch the ball on Saturday. But there will come a time when the word “target” will take on a different meaning for blocking wideouts. It may mean the difference between a win and a loss.