Football

Texas’ notable number: When (or if) big plays are coming — and the number 5

Posted October 31st, 2018

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Every week this fall, we’re looking at a specific number that’s tied to Texas football.

This week’s notable number is five — the number worn by running back Tre Watson, the graduate transfer from Cal who’s averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Defensive end Charles Omenihu has at least one sack in five different games this year. There have been five 400-yard passing performances in school history, the last of which came in 2009 (Colt McCoy).

Five also represents the number of teams in the country who have yet to record a play of 50 yards or more this season. Texas is one of them, along with BYU, Central Michigan, Florida Atlantic and Rutgers. There are 130 FBS-level schools.

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No. 2 Clemson, on the other hand, has had 15 plays of 50 yards or more. Oklahoma and South Florida — where former UT head coach Charlie Clemson is now coaching, and where former UT offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert is running the offense — rank second nationally, with 13.

Texas’ longest play has been a 47-yard touchdown catch by Lil’Jordan Humphrey, against USC back in September. Keaontay Ingram’s 31-yard gain against Oklahoma is the longest run.

Devin Duvernay scores against Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., on Oct. 22, 2016. Three of Duvernay’s four career touchdowns have covered more than 50 yards. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“We’ve done all right with explosive plays, but it always comes back to taking what the defenses give you,” tight end Andrew Beck said. “If you force anything, nothing good is going to come of it. You’re either going to turn the ball over, throw a pick, fumble, something like that. You can’t force anything.”

Where Texas (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) separates itself from those other four teams — besides the record; BYU, Central Michigan, FAU and Rutgers are a combined 9-24 — is offensive production. The Longhorns are averaging 31.3 points and 409.4 yards per game. Rutgers (15.1 ppg) and Central Michigan (16.3) have two of the country’s three worst scoring offenses. BYU (22.8) ranks 111th.

As Beck said, Texas can partially attribute its shortage of big plays to responding to what it sees from opposing defenses. In addition to getting running backs and tight ends involved in the passing game, Texas also hasn’t forced a lot of passes downfield or to double-covered receivers. That has contributed to quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s school-record run of 210 straight passes without an interception.

The Longhorns, though, have missed some opportunities. Last week, offensive coordinator Tim Beck expressed confidence in the vertical passing game. He also noted that Ehlinger had misfired on a deep post route run by Devin Duvernay that would have led to an early score against Kansas State.

“I think there’s definitely opportunities where we can capitalize on how good our wideouts are or creases in the running game that we haven’t necessarily capitalized on this year,” Ehlinger said. “It also attributes to taking what the defense gives us. They know we have deep threats and they are going to do everything they can to possibly take that away.”

Texas has the ability to record explosive plays. Duvernay has scored on 63-, 75- and 80-yard catches in his career. John Burt has logged a 70-yard play in each of the past three seasons. In his first game after his transition from a quarterback to a receiver in 2016, Jerrod Heard hauled in a 68-yard pass.

“Explosive plays, they’ll come,” said junior receiver Collin Johnson, who has caught a 45-yard pass this fall. “Coaches, they always have really good game plans and we’ve just got to go out and execute when those plays are called.”

This weekend, Texas will host a West Virginia team that has prevented opposing offenses from dreaming big. Only West Virginia and Mississippi State have yet to allow a 50-yard play this season. Ehlinger, though, did throw a 50-yard pass during last year’s win in Morgantown.

RECENT NOTABLE NUMBERS

Devin Duvernay’s return to the spotlight — and the number 29

The Longhorns, the NCAA’s targeting rule — and the number 6

Samuel Cosmi’s first career start — and the number 10

A positively negative impact on running games — and the number 30

Texas’ fourth quarter offense — and the number 56

Pass-catching running backs at Texas — and the number 46

The disappearance of UT’s receiver rotation — and the number 13

The resurgence of the Horns’ pass rush — and the number 9

Post-bye week offenses under Tom Herman — and the number 17

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