Every week this fall, we’re looking at a specific number that’s tied to Texas football.
This week’s notable number is 13. Thirteen is the number worn at Texas by receiver Jerrod Heard. Senior tight end Andrew Beck has 13 catches in 2018, which tops the 12 career catches he had entering this year. No UT freshman has ever scored more touchdowns than Cedric Benson’s and Jamaal Charles’ 13 during the 2001 and 2005 seasons, respectively.
Thirteen also represents the number of catches recorded this season by Texas wide receivers not named Collin Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey or Devin Duvernay.
As Texas has rolled to a 5-1 record, it has essentially done so with the same three receivers in its starting lineup. (Johnson missed UT’s first offensive snap against Maryland because of a wardrobe malfunction). Humphrey (35 catches, 535 yards), Johnson (30-431) and Duvernay (17-173) have accounted for 60.3 percent of UT’s 136 receptions and 73.9 percent of its 1,541 receiving yards. On Wednesday, Humphrey was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list that already includes Johnson.
The steady play of those pass-catching options has led to fewer opportunities for UT’s other receivers. Freshman Joshua Moore leads the Texas back-ups with his seven catches, one of which was a 27-yard score. Heard, D’Shawn Jamison, Brennan Eagles and John Burt have six receptions among them. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, for those who are counting, has caught four passes this year.
During Texas coach Tom Herman’s first year in Austin, Texas rotated regularly between nine wide receivers. Over the first six games of last season, Texas started four different combinations in its receiving corps. During that span, seven wide receivers had between five and 29 catches.
One year later, Texas has seemingly ditched that rotation. Herman will point out that injuries to Eagles (hamstring) and Burt (foot) have factored into that decision. Johnson, Humphrey and Duvernay have also played their way into more snaps.
“The philosophy last year was that they were all on the same level in terms of quality of play, so it was easier to rotate, where these guys have kind of separated themselves a little bit,” Herman said this week.
Johnson told reporters that he was on the field for all but one offensive snap in this past weekend’s 48-45 win over Oklahoma. The Longhorns ran 75 plays in that three-point triumph. Against the Sooners, Johnson accounted for six catches and 81 yards.
Johnson has caught a touchdown pass in each of UT’s last three games, and his 124-yard effort against TCU on Sept. 22 led Humphrey to proclaim that UT has one of the “best wide receiver group in the nation.” Humphrey had a career-best nine catches and 133 receiving yards last week. Duvernay set his career high when he caught six footballs at Kansas State on Sept. 29.
“I feel like any position when you’re on the field, the more you’re on the field, the more of a rhythm you’re able to get into,” Johnson said. “As a receiver, I feel like I’m able to get in more of a rhythm when I’m on the field more.”
“(He’s) a little different,” Herman said. “He’s an intermediate guy that’s in great shape right now. You don’t see a huge drop-off in his play, you know, as he piles on the number of reps.”
Herman, however, conceded the receiver reps must be managed as this season drags on. He also noted that run-blocking and running routes on every snap will wear down the 5-11, 210-pound Duvernay, which could conceivably open up playing time at the Z receiver position for Heard and a healthy Burt.
Humphrey expressed confidence in the depth of UT’s receiving rooms. Can a receiver, though, be an asset when he’s coming off the bench or does UT need to ride its hot hands? A former basketball player at Southlake Carroll High, Humphrey said that receivers don’t need to find a so-called shooting stroke.
“You’re either ready to play or you’re not at any time,” Humphrey said. “I feel like there is no getting hot at receiver. Either you’re on when you step on that field or you’re not.”