The Texas offense had some moments to brag about last season.
Among the 130 schools, Texas ranked 46th in scoring. Texas averaged 411.3 yards per game, which was 57th nationally. The Longhorns faced three top-40 defenses and they bettered the average points allowed by Georgia, Iowa State and TCU. Texas returns five offensive starters, including quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
As a sophomore, he threw for 3,292 yards and totaled 41 touchdowns. This fall he could be UT’s first Heisman Trophy contender in a decade.
Offensively, Texas obviously needs Ehlinger to lead the way. But there are other keys for the offense:
Keep the running backs healthy
Depth wasn’t a problem in the backfield last year — Texas had seven running backs on scholarship. The Longhorns needed only three of them, however. Tre Watson, Keaontay Ingram and Daniel Young helped Texas average 153.1 rushing yards per game. That ranked 90th nationally.
Flash forward a year and running backs coach Stan Drayton doesn’t have as many names to remember. Watson has exhausted his eligibility. Kyle Porter (Houston), Toneil Carter (Sam Houston State) and Tristian Houston all transferred during the offseason. Texas moved five-star athlete Jordan Whittington to the backfield upon his arrival, but Ingram (142 career carries), Young (123) and Kirk Johnson (8) are the only backs with college experience.
The running back position is physically demanding, and both Ingram (knee) and the oft-injured Johnson (shoulder) were banged up during fall camp. Drayton said earlier this summer that he wants his backs to “take over this run game” from Ehlinger. But will he have enough healthy horses to do so?
Find out if Parker Braun fits into UT’s offense
Braun, a graduate transfer from Georgia Tech, should be one of UT’s starting guards this fall. The 6-3, 300-pounder was a two-time All-ACC player for the Yellow Jackets. But at Georgia Tech, Braun starred in a triple-option offense that ran the ball 2,038 times over his three seasons and threw it just 405 times. That’s running it 83 percent of the time.
Texas, through Tom Herman’s first two years, has run it 1,076 times and passed it 608. That’s running it 64 percent of the time.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck told reporters that some adjustments for Braun are needed when it comes to techniques, fundamentals and on-field communication. Beck said Braun has been a quick study: “He’s a grad transfer from Georgia Tech. I don’t know if I could grad transfer from Georgia Tech.”
Following UT’s first practice this month, Herman was asked if he’d have Ehlinger throw a deep pass on the first play of the season. He laughed off the suggestion.
That may not be a bad idea, however.
Texas and Central Michigan were the only schools in the country that didn’t record a single 50-yard play last season. (Clemson, meanwhile, led the country with 23 plays that went 50-plus). In fact, the Longhorns have produced a 50-yard play only twice in Herman’s two years. And even then, neither John Burt’s 90-yard catch or Reggie Hemphill-Mapps’ 50-yard catch in 2017 went for scores, so Lorenzo Joe’s 49-yard score in 2017 is UT’s longest offensive touchdown of the Herman era.
Despite the lack of explosive plays, Texas is still averaging 30.3 points per game under Herman. But if Texas can cash in on the speed of its deep receiving corps, that would add another wrinkle to the offense.
Take advantage of Collin Johnson’s decision
Both of Texas’ leading receivers from 2018 flirted with the idea of leaving for the NFL, but only Lil’Jordan Humphrey ended up saying goodbye. Johnson said earlier this summer that he was advised by the NFL college advisory committee to return to school. The chances to earn his degree, compete for a Big 12 title and play with his older brother also factored into his return.
Johnson’s decision to stay at UT gives Ehlinger a familiar, veteran and 6-6, 220-pound target. Johnson missed one game last year and finished with 68 receptions for 985 yards and seven touchdowns. He caught a two-point conversion in the Sugar Bowl and had a 177-yard performance against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
Johnson, who wears No. 9, ranks ninth in both career catches (150) and receiving yards (2,065) at UT.
Limit the turnovers (again)
It goes without saying that there’s a correlation between on-field successes and turnovers. Last year, 52 teams committed at least 20 turnovers. Only two of them — No. 17 Penn State and No. 24 Cincinnati — were ranked in the final AP poll.
After struggling in this category in 2017, Texas was responsible for only 11 turnovers last season. Only Georgia Southern (5), Army (8) and Miami of Ohio (10) had fewer. One of the five lost fumbles was actually credited to offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi on a last-second lateral against West Virginia. Ehlinger also set a Big 12 record last year as he threw 308 straight passes without an interception.