With seven starters sidelined with injuries, No. 11 Texas flashes its depth, has little trouble dispatching UTEP
Posted September 11th, 2016
Students standing outside Royal-Memorial Stadium tried to put a free game program in fans’ hands before Saturday’s scrum with UTEP. Most people just walked on by, oblivious to the blue-smocked, sweaty volunteers.
As it turned out, rosters were required for this one. Only true diehards could name all 11 Longhorns on the field at times as 11th-ranked Texas pieced together a 41-7 victory with hot glue and duct tape.
The Miners received $1 million to come spend the weekend in Austin. They probably liked their chances once it was determined UT was without starting running back D’Onta Foreman, three offensive linemen, tight end Caleb Bluiett and safety Dylan Haines, all still mending Notre Dame wounds. Center Zach Shackelford started the game, but got scratched with a bum ankle.
As offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said, the Horns “shuffled the deck” and still pushed their record to 2-0. Coach Charlie Strong is now two games over .500 for the first time at Texas.
“I told our guys that we’re in a position now where some of these guys who have been in the program, it’s time to step up and help us, and they did,” Strong said.
Shane Buechele didn’t seem rattled with second- and third-teamers in the mix. The freshman quarterback completed 22 of 27 passes for 244 yards and threw four touchdowns, including two to the birthday boy, Jerrod Heard, who turned 21 on Saturday.
Buechele even tucked and ran some this week, getting 34 yards on 11 carries. Although some of those blows will make the coaches cringe.
“Shane’s the type of guy to take a hit,” guard Patrick Vahe said. “I remember one play, I kind of had my guy beat me a little bit, just a little bit. Guy had a little chip on Shane, and I said, ‘Shane, you all right?’ He said, ‘Yeah, come on, come on. Next play.’
“We’ve got a hard-knocker back there, so we’re good.”
Jacorey Warrick had an 8-yard scoring catch, and Dorian Leonard reeled in a deep ball off play-action for a 46-yard touchdown. Freshmen Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey also got some catches. The only negative came late when Devin Duvernay’s first big catch got wiped out by an offensive pass interference call.
“I don’t feel like I played a very good game,” running back Chris Warren III said as he walked into the post-game press conference. Warren had 95 yards on 20 carries and punched in a third-quarter score that pushed UT’s lead to 20.
“Just the fact we were able to rotate offensive linemen and we could still do a pretty good job protecting and running the ball,” Warren said, “I feel like we’re going to make ourselves that much better of a team.”
Warren wasn’t running behind the same five that bullied Notre Dame and didn’t allow an Irish sack, either.
UT opened the second half with Elijah Rodriguez, Vahe, Jake McMillon, Alex Anderson and Brandon Hodges on the offensive line. Third-stringer Terrell Cuney was in there at one point. Their mothers didn’t need a program.
“When you’re having to play guys in those kind of roles and situations,” Gilbert said, “what you’re actually doing is creating depth. It’s a long season.”
The defense had little trouble bottling up second-string UTEP quarterback Kavika Johnson, a runner subbing for the injured Zack Greenlee. Johnson threw for only 42 yards and got sacked five times.
The Miners hoped to lean on Aaron Jones, the nation’s leading rusher after one week. He got loose for a 51-yard score and finished with 123 yards on 18 carries. Overall, UTEP was 3 of 15 on third-down conversions and spent the majority of the game on its own end of the field.
Breckyn Hager had a team-high eight tackles and a sack. DeShon Elliott had his first sack. Kevin Vaccaro now has two sacks in two games.
Plenty of other youngsters stood out. Malcolm Roach looked like he was everywhere and finished with four tackles and a sack. Brandon Jones had UT’s first blocked punt since 2012, and Kris Boyd continues to be a special teams standout, albeit one who goes too far at times.
“I think we could have done more, though,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “But from the standpoint we got a win, and it was a pretty good win. Now we can look forward to Cal.”
The trip to California is another major test for a team still adjusting to its national ranking and newfound confidence. Strong said a lot of the injured players who missed UTEP should return.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford wants the Longhorns to “master their craft.” That means maintaining a level of consistency, even on long trips to faraway locales like Berkeley, Calif.
“We’ve got a lot to prove,” Hager said. “We’re worried about this Cal game coming up. We only have two wins right now. That’s not a season. You’ve got get a season full of wins.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.