AUSTIN, Texas – The truth about Texas’ offense is buried somewhere in the middle.
They’re not the offense that showed up for the first half. They can’t be the second-half edition every single week.
It’s not a Jekyll-and-Hyde conundrum as much as a testament to the challenges offensive coordinator Major Applewhite faces as he calls the shots from the sideline. He found out Saturday just how good Texas’ offense can be when the uptempo offense has worn down an opposing defense. He also knows how shaky this unit can look when it starts slow.
Applewhite spent Saturday night and Sunday reviewing it all with his staff, but the postgame summation he offered was apt.
“The first half was miserable,” Applewhite said. “The second half got better, a little bit more fun.”
Texas went from scoreless to unstoppable in a matter of minutes, from 0 points to 56 before New Mexico State could muster an answer. The offense that had 136 yards in the final minutes of the second quarter finished with a school-record 715.
As a coach, Mack Brown likes those kinds of results. They’re perfect motivators, tangible proof for any team meeting or film session.
“You need for them to play well enough to feel they can be good, but understand they didn’t do well enough to be good,” Brown said. “We’ve got some things we’ve got to fix. But I thought it was a great opener for us. We won. We blew them out.”
He’s glad that blowout required a humbling dose of adversity, too. As was the case in the Alamo Bowl last December, Texas' own worst enemy is too often itself.
The first of Texas' three first-half turnovers came after on a fumble after Mike Davis picked up 21 yards on third down. The second could have been an easy touchdown if thrown just a bit differently by David Ash. And Applewhite said the third would’ve been a Daje Johnson touchdown had Ash’s pass not been tipped at the line.
On all three occasions, a big play was wiped off the board by some detail, some miscue. That’s living and learning when you’re operating an offense loaded with weapons and big-play potential.
What mattered, really, was how Ash handled those hiccups. Texas fans unleashed the boos after his second interception. A year ago, he might have folded. Texas coaches might have discussed a Case McCoy relief appearance.
Applewhite saw his third-year quarterback compartmentalize. Ash learned from his mistake and forgot it. On to the next one. So did the rest of his teammates.
“I was proud to see them do that,” Applewhite said. “I don't think they would have done that a year or two ago.”
For Ash, being surrounded by veteran starters who had been through these rough starts helped. Having the trust and support of Texas’ playcaller might have meant more.
“It helped having coach Applewhite down there,” Ash said. “So much of football is about morale and believing, and I think coach Applewhite's been in a lot of those situations. It helps when he's seen that and he knows what to say, knows what to expect and knows what to do to get guys going.”
How tempo fits into all of this is a good question. Texas players are confident that when they started playing fast in the third quarter, New Mexico State wore down. Applewhite agreed.
“I can definitely tell you the tempo showed up in the third and fourth quarter,” he said. “You ask any tempo team and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Brown has his sights set on 84 plays per game, but thanks to six touchdown drives of five plays or fewer, the Longhorns finished with 72 snaps on offense. That number ranked 53rd nationally in Week 1 and 31st among teams that are now 1-0.
That’s a nice reminder of the meaninglessness of achieving 84 plays. Texas’ average time of possession on its eight touchdown drives was 90 seconds. The Longhorns coaches will take that any day of the week, and as much as possible on Saturdays.
“We all knew, as an offense, what we needed to do,” running back Malcolm Brown said. “We needed to flip that switch, and that’s what we did in the second half.”
They’ll need to flip it earlier this Saturday at BYU. Texas’ head coach is certain of that. One week in, though, and they know exactly what off and on looks like for this Longhorns offense.
“I think the competition will obviously really pick up next week,” Mack Brown said. “So we’ll know more, because Brigham Young plays great defense. I think we’re where we need to be going."