The Texas Longhorns emerged from behind the paywall for some hot late-night action down at the Grove with Ole Miss. When all was said and done, they headed back to Hornville with a 66-31 victory.
So, Sooner fans, what to make of UT in the aftermath of its nationally televised romp? Here are my observations.
*Ole Miss is really, really bad.
Actually, the Rebels did show some spark on offense between the running of Jeff Scott and vertical threat Donte Moncrief on the outside. But that D...
The Rebs ranked 95th in the country in Defensive S&P+ heading into the weekend and 90th overall last season. Looking back a year ago, Ole Miss finished the season ranked 103rd nationally in yards allowed per play (6.24).
In other words, take Texas' sparkling offensive output (676 yards) with salt grains.
*In the third season since undergoing an offensive makeover, I imagine this is more the kind of attack that Mack Brown had in mind.
UT ran over, around and through the Ole Miss D. You name it - power, stretch, zone read - and the 'Horns did it with success, churning out 6.5 yards per rush.
The offensive line played with a physicality that was missing a year ago. The big uglies also showed some athleticism on misdirection and sweeps.
Malcolm Brown (21 attempts, 128 yards, 2 TDs) looked more effective than he did in his rookie season. He appears to have benefited from a year in a college strength-and-conditioning program.
Tough to make anything of Johnathan Gray's reps in garbage time.
|"Quite a 'rebellion' you've got on your hands, Hugh (chortle, chortle)..."|
*UT offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin effectively leveraged that success in the ground game to open up the pass. Quarterback David Ash (19-23 attempts, 326 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) cashed in on play action, completing four passes of 45 yards or longer.
For their part, Texas' receivers gave a solid effort and made adjustments when Ash was off-target.
*All that said, while the numbers look good on the stat sheet, this is not an imposing passing attack. Ash clearly looks more comfortable operating the offense, but UT's coaching staff still handles the second-year QB with kid gloves.
Texas' heavy reliance on the run (54 rushes, 24 passes) made sense given both the level of competition and the offense's evolving objectives. However, Ash's throws consisted almost exclusively of shallow routes and Playstation-esque 50/50 balls down the field. He was rarely asked to make straight drops, and three of his deep completions came off of a combination of his receivers making adjustments to underthrown balls and laughably bad ball skills on the part of the Ole Miss secondary.
*Defensively, the 'Horns' pass rush was as good as advertised. UT's front four battered Rebels QB Bo Wallace on passing downs, as Wallace routinely saw his pocket collapsing around him. Texas defensive linemen notched five sacks and generally made life miserable for Wallace and backup QB Barry Brunetti.
*Ole Miss' ability to move the ball consistently on the ground surprised me.
The Rebs gained a total of 205 yards rushing (net 170), averaging 5.0 yards per attempt. Ole Miss seemed to do most of its damage with the zone read. It wasn't a great night for the defensive tackles when all was said and done.
*Even more surprising, though, was the play of Texas' secondary.
The UT DBs showed plenty of promise last season and garnered their fair share of preseason accolades. It would be generous to describe their play as "uneven."
The Rebs burned the Longhorns' corners multiple times, including a long pass play in which Moncrief scored but was ruled to have stepped out of bounds on a review. UT's tackling was pretty poor from start to finish, and the members of the secondary were the primary culprits.
In stomping Ole Miss Saturday night, Texas gave a performance sure to be overblown by Burnt Orange partisans and underestimated by the Longhorns' rivals.
The D had moments of brilliance, but that unit's play didn't live up to the promise it demonstrated in 2011. That nasty pass rush can cover up plenty of flaws, but, otherwise, the rest needs work. Primarily, Oklahoma, West Virginia, etc. will get their jollies against that kind of effort from the corners.
On offense, it has taken a little while, but Texas is starting to look like the squad that Mack Brown envisioned post-Colt McCoy. The Longhorns are playing power football and building their offense around a talented group of running backs. Bryan Harsin appears more comfortable with his personnel. In turn, the players seem better-suited to what he wants to do.
Yet, this team still remains limited offensively by what its quarterback can do in the passing game. Screen passes, short routes in the middle of the field and downfield heaves work against teams like Ole Miss. Better opponents will force Ash to toss it into tight windows and make quality, dropback throws. Until he gives opponents reason to fear that he can make those kinds of plays consistently with his arm, the Longhorns will be staring up at a lower ceiling than they'd like to see on the 40 Acres.