Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck has been dealt a difficult hand in his first season occupying what is always the hottest seat in Austin.
Complaining about the play-calling is weekly ritual around these parts. But there are some hard truths about the Texas offense heading into a matchup with Kansas State (3-1, 1-0 Big 12).
Beck is working with an injury-prone sophomore quarterback and a freshman backup. Two starting tackles are injured, their backups are struggling and now a once-projected redshirt candidate is in the starting lineup. The team’s best tight end just might be the freshman with two career catches.
Further complicating things, the top two running backs are too easy to tackle. One of the Longhorns’ top receivers is so inconsistent, the coaching staff won’t play him. It’s a team that can accumulate four holding penalties in one quarter alone and fumble the ball away on botched snaps.
All that said, Texas tallied 41 and 56 points the first two weeks, totals fueled in part by non-offensive scores. Freshman Sam Ehlinger nearly led Texas to an improbable road win against USC even though the offense scored only 10 points in regulation. And despite numerous issues, the offense scored 17 points, milked the clock and secured a Big 12 road win at Iowa State.
It’s an offense that ranks 21st nationally in third-down conversions (47.2) and is 11 for 16 on collecting points inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Those are numbers an offensive coach can work with. But it’s been an uphill climb, to be sure.
Understanding what Beck is facing is the key to understanding why the Longhorns have been inconsistent.
“We’re continually improving and evolving,” Beck said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’re a young football team. We have to do a better job of protecting the football, and eliminating self-inflicted wounds. We’re playing behind the chains way too much. We’re not at that level yet to overcome those things.
“I like that our guys continue to work hard,” he added. “They continue to find a way.”
Sophomore Shane Buechele, who is battling an ankle injury this week, could remain the starter against the Wildcats. While Buechele may be more conservative than Ehlinger, this coaching staff values protecting the football. He’s also more accurate; Buechele has completed 68 percent of his passes in two games compared to Ehlinger’s 54 percent.
“Does a good job of getting the ball out and getting our guys a chance to make plays,” Beck said.
On the running backs, UT coach Tom Herman said he’ll utilize freshman Toniel Carter more against K-State in lieu of Chris Warren III or Kyle Porter. Herman said Carter was the most “twitched-up, explosive, top-end speed tailback” of those three.
Said Beck, “He actually provided a spark. He showed fresh legs. He plays fast, that’s one thing about him.”
The receiving corps was supposed to be the team’s strongest, deepest unit. But the Horns can go long stretches without targeting 6-foot-6 Collin Johnson. Beck said the Cyclones shifted a safety over to help the cornerback, thus double-teaming Johnson. He had only two catches for 27 yards.
“The plan obviously is to create matchups for him,” Beck said. “They were doubling him quite a bit. There’s not much you can do when they put two guys on him. Your other guys have to step up.”
Fellow receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps was suspended for the first half against San Jose State. Then he wasn’t active at all during the first half against Iowa State. Hemphill-Mapps finished with one catch for 11 yards when he’d been getting far more looks in previous weeks.
“Again, it’s part of the young inconsistency we’re going through as an offense right now,” Beck said. “Reggie is just a part of it. I mentioned the quarterbacks, but it could be anybody. One guy shines one day and the next day, you don’t see him. That goes back to the inconsistency.”
K-State is a team that historically won’t give opponents many chances. last season, the Longhorns averaged 83.3 plays per game. UT’s high-octane attack had a measly 62 plays against coach Bill Snyder’s club last season.
It’s imperative the Horns take advantage of every offensive opportunity at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
“We’ve got to make every drive count, because that’s real,” Beck said. “They’re going to snap the ball with 1 second left (on the play clock). They’ll take their time, very meticulous, well thought out offensive play. You’re going to get limited touches, so you’ve got to make them count.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
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