Five questions facing Texas on Saturday night against Louisiana Tech:
1. Who leads Texas in rushing on Saturday?
Last year, Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram handled all but 43 of the 370 rushing attempts that Texas distributed to running backs. UT needs that two-pronged philosophy to work this weekend since Ingram and freshman Jordan Whittington will be the team’s only healthy running backs. Sam Ehlinger can run and converted quarterback Roschon Johnson has been practicing in the backfield, but will Ingram and Whittington be enough against a run defense that allowed 149.7 yards per game in 2018?
2. What does Jake Smith do in his debut?
Since he didn’t enroll early, fans will get their first chance to see Smith on Saturday. A four-star recruit from Arizona and the 2018 Gatorade national player of the year, the 6-0, 200-pound freshman should be kept busy in his first game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. As a receiver, he’ll back up Devin Duvernay at the H, or slot, position. On Monday, UT coach Tom Herman also announced that Smith would return both punts and kickoffs.
3. How will the senior year begin for UT’s NFL flirters?
This offseason, receiver Collin Johnson, safety Brandon Jones and defensive lineman Malcolm Roach all considered entering the NFL draft. They were advised by the NFL College Advisory Committee to stay in school, although all three players have stated they had other reasons for returning. Back for their senior seasons, will Jones, Roach or Johnson stand out against a Bulldogs team that ranked 44th in passing offense, 109th in rushing offense and 28th in passing defense last season?
4. Can Texas avoid another slow start on special teams?
Texas hasn’t kicked a field goal in each of its last two openers, and the first game of the 2017 season featured a 42-yard miss and a blocked kick that was returned for a Maryland touchdown. The Longhorns, however, should feel confident in the leg of sophomore Cameron Dicker. An all-Big 12 honoree, he’s coming off a freshman year in which he hit 18 field goals. Said Herman of the Lake Travis product: “I love our kicker. He’s fun to be around, which you don’t say a whole lot of times about specialists.”
5. Can Texas beat both Louisiana Tech and the spread?
Texas opened this week as a 20.5-point favorite, which seems high. Texas is the 10th-ranked team in that country, but the Longhorns have been beaten in their last two openers by Maryland teams that went on to win four and five games. Of UT’s 10 wins last year, only the 37-14 beatdown of USC was a 20-point triumph. Louisiana Tech is also not your typical season-opening sacrificial lamb. The Bulldogs hung with LSU last year and have won at least eight games in four of the past five years.