Texas Longhorns(7) Marcus Johnson fights his way to the endzone for a score against Oklahoma Sooners (13) Ahmad Thomas in the NCAA college football game at the AT&T Red River Rivalry Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas Texas Saturday, Oct 10, 2015. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Football

Texas’ best plays of 2015: Our list is definitely freshmen-friendly

Posted December 11th, 2015

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Not everything that happens in a 5-7 season is bad. We promise.

At one point, you may recall, it appeared Jay Norvell and Jerrod Heard had fixed an offense that require significant change after the opener at Notre Dame. Heard and his “juice” were loose against Rice and the following week against Cal.

But Heard soon regressed, losses accumulated. Still, the future is bright, as eight of the season’s top 10 plays were generated by a player with eligibility remaining in 2016.

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Here are the 10 best plays of Texas’ season:

Texas receiver John Burt, makes a touchdown reception in front of Kansas (25) Marnez Ogletree during the first quarter of Big 12 action held at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas receiver John Burt, makes a touchdown reception in front of Kansas (25) Marnez Ogletree during the first quarter of Big 12 action held at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

No. 10: Heard goes deep. All week long of the Kansas game, Jay Norvell and Jerrod Heard had to answer questions about why they hadn’t taken deep shots in the 24-0 Halloween blanking at Iowa State. So, of course, they responded by throwing deep on the first play. John Burt outran single coverage and Heard’s pass was on point for an 84-yard score. It was the second-longest pass and third-longest catch in school history by a freshman. After the game, Heard told reporters that Norvell had come to him earlier in the day with his deep-ball plan.

“(Heard) needed that,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “The thing about him, once he gets going and once he  if it happens, if it’s positive for him early, then you’re going to get positive results from him. Just to see him bounce back. And once he made that first throw, then you just knew that he was going to be on point.”

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No. 9: Fabulous freshman. With injuries sidelining Johnathan Gray and D’Onta Foreman, Chris Warren III got the Thanksgiving call against Texas Tech and responded with 276 yards, the most ever by a Texas freshman. Ninety-one of them came on a second-quarter touchdown when Warren broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and then broke four more. With that game, attention shifted to a future backfield of Warren and Foreman, a sophomore and the team’s leading rusher.

“I told Chris Warren before the game, ‘I guarantee you’ll have a breakout game; you’ll probably have 200 yards rushing,’” Strong said. “… We knew what we had with him. He’s just a big, strong, physical runner, and you look at him, he can break tackles, he can run through people, and that’s why I wasn’t concerned going into this game. Everybody kept saying, well, you’ve got two (running backs) down, but I knew we’d be OK with the running game with him.”

Said Warren: “He just told me, ’25, I expect a good game from you this week’ and I was like, ‘All right, Coach, I’ll do what I can.’”

No. 8: Hill’s pick-six. Holton Hill made Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph pay for an overthrown ball, returning it 41 yards for a score. It gave Texas a 27-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

From that point forward, however, the offense turned lifeless and the officiating became curious, and Texas never scored again in a 30-27 loss.

“… We don’t have any more freshmen,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said after the game, when asked about Texas’ freshmen defenders. “You earned your playing time, you have to go out there and make plays out there in the field. Clearly Coach trusts you, (so) I am going to trust you, and they did a great job.”

No. 7: Bluiett’s role-reversal. Baylor was supposed to have the quick-strike offense, yet it was Texas that took the early lead on a 57-yard touchdown catch by Caleb Bluiett, a former defensive end. A breakdown in coverage led to Bluiett moving freely down the field, resulting in an easy hookup with Tyrone Swoopes.

The score was important for reasons beyond the obvious. Of Charlie Strong’s 25 games at Texas, the team that scores first has won 22 of them.

Still, Bluiett himself says deep down, he still sees himself as a defensive end.

“That’s where my heart belongs,” Bluiett said in October. “I love beating quarterbacks. I hate quarterbacks. I love my own, but I hate all the others.”

No. 6: Payback for Foreman. D’Onta Foreman has had a strong dislike for Oklahoma dating back to when the Sooners gave him the cold shoulder during recruiting. So it was all the more gratifying when Foreman ripped off an 81-yard run against the Sooners. It came on a speed draw, something play-caller Jay Norvell took from his time as an assistant with the Sooners. Foreman didn’t score on the play, but the drive culminated with a touchdown grab by Bluiett, giving Texas a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

“We just wanted to gas them, to just run at them,” Foreman said. “I told the coaches let’s just keep running at them, keep running at them. For some reason, I just have a lot of success running that play. They called it, and I felt like I was going to do good, and I did.”

OCTOBER 10, 2015 - Texas (40)Naashon Hughes, defensive end, wraps up Oklahoma (6)Baker Mayfield, quarterback, for a sack during the fourth quarter of action in the AT&T Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Tx., on Saturday, October 10, 2015. Texas defeated Oklahoma 24-17. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
OCTOBER 10, 2015 – Texas (40)Naashon Hughes, defensive end, wraps up Oklahoma (6)Baker Mayfield, quarterback, for a sack during the fourth quarter of action in the AT&T Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Tx., on Saturday, October 10, 2015. Texas defeated Oklahoma 24-17. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

No. 5: Double trouble. In need of a big stop late against Oklahoma — Texas held a touchdown lead with three-and-a-half minutes left, with OU facing a third-and-14 at its own 34 — Naashon Hughes beat OU left tackle Orlando Brown and collaborated with Poona Ford to sack Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield. That 17-yard loss, coupled with a false start on the very next play, forced OU into a fourth-and-36 wall at its own 12. The Sooners punted, and Texas ran out the clock to ice its stunning 24-17 win that remains Oklahoma’s only loss to this point.

It was the sixth sack of the day for Texas.

“That felt amazing,” Hughes said. “It basically summed up how hard we’ve been working, and to get that last sack was tremendous.”

No. 4: Bringing the juice. It was an exhausting week in the days following the season-opening loss at Notre Dame. Shawn Watson was demoted as play-caller, Tyrone Swoopes was benched as quarterback, and speculation swirled about Strong’s job security after a third straight blowout loss. But tension calmed when Swoopes’ replacement — Heard, making his first career start — took off on a run on the third play against Rice and picked up 35 yards. It represented the sort of explosion fans had been teased with when Strong announced in the offseason that the offense was switching to the spread. Norvell, in his first game as play-caller, said Heard’s scramble “changed our whole football team. … It gave us a spark.”

Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson loses a fumble after a hits from Texas defenders Duke Thomas and P.J. Locke III. Texas recovered for a turnover and Johnson left the game with an injury and at McLane Stadium, Dec. 5, 2015. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson loses a fumble after a hits from Texas defenders Duke Thomas and P.J. Locke III. Texas recovered for a turnover and Johnson left the game with an injury and at McLane Stadium, Dec. 5, 2015. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

No. 3: Locke’s big knockout. Baylor staggered into the season finale with its No. 3 quarterback following injuries. Before the first quarter was over, the Bears had to go to their fourth option after Chris Johnson suffered a concussion on a shot from safety P.J. Locke. Already up 10-0, Texas suddenly was in a great spot facing emergency quarterback Lynx Hawthorne, a receiver. Hawthorne couldn’t pass, turning Baylor’s offensive attack one-dimensional.

UT assitant coach Jay Norvell cheers as UT quarterback Jerrod Heard makes a touchdown against Cal late in the fourth quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 19, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT assitant coach Jay Norvell cheers as UT quarterback Jerrod Heard makes a touchdown against Cal late in the fourth quarter at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 19, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

No. 2: The big tease. Trailing by seven points against Cal, Heard broke loose for a 45-yard touchdown with only 71 seconds to go. Royal-Memorial Stadium was rocking, as Texas had erased a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit. Well, almost. There was still an extra point to be kicked and Nick Rose missed it, which goes down as No. 1 on the list of the season’s worst plays.

It was a record-setting night for Heard, who was starting only his second game. The redshirt freshman knocked Vince Young from UT’s record book for total yards for a freshman. He had 527 yards of offense and became the first Longhorn to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game since Colt McCoy’s big 479-yard effort vs. Texas A&M in 2009.

“The last run that he scored the touchdown on was really electric,” Strong said. “I mean, you see where he takes off and we called a draw, he makes a wide-out miss and then all of a sudden, an open field is very dangerous. But just watching him, he’s exciting and he has brought the excitement into the team. You watch our whole sideline now when our offense takes the field, our guys are all just locked in.”

No. 1: Booming the Sooners. Marcus Johnson always saved his best efforts for Oklahoma, and that was no different in his final Red River Showdown matchup. With the game scoreless early, Johnson took a shovel pass from Heard — it was ruled a pass since Johnson was in front of the quarterback — and blew threw five defenders for a 24-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.

The tackling efforts, ESPN’s Chris Spielman noted, were “awful,” but credit Johnson with a stiff arm and for keeping his balance along the sideline.

“Being such an angry team that just wanted to be great, we had no choice,” Heard said after the game. “We knew one of these games was going to give in and favor us. So when something like this happens, we’re just going to keep that momentum and feed it into next week.”

 

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