Texas Finds Momentum, Steamrolls UTEP 41-7

 

Texas Finds Momentum, Steamrolls UTEP 41-7

It didn’t contain the fanfare of opening night, the glitz and glamor of primetime, or the tradition of Notre Dame. But Texas’ 41-7 win over UTEP Saturday night provided the Longhorns with something even more important—momentum.

Heading into Texas’ first road game against Cal (1-1) next Saturday night, Texas begins the season 2-0 for the first time since 2012.

The first half was a bit uneven for Texas. Jerrod Heard scored his first touchdown at wide receiver, a nifty diving catch on a gorgeous pass from Shane Buechele. Before that wide receiver Jacorey Warrick fumbled out of the side of the end zone on what would have been a catch-and-run TD to open the scoring for Texas. After three drives—and three three-and-outs—UTEP was averaging a paltry 0.9 yards per play and blocked a punt. That is, until a hole opened in the Texas defense you could drive a Canyonero through led to a 51-yard rushing touchdown from speedy UTEP running back Aaron Jones.

Not that heading into halftime up 20-7 is a crying shame for Texas—and the lack of RB D’Onta Foreman and six other starters certainly didn’t help matters—but after beating the No. 10 team in the nation six days earlier, we could all imagine Tyrone Swoopes evoking Charles Barkley at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics: “I don’t know UTEP, but UTEP’s in trouble.”

Even after a slow start, offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert acknowledged that success at this level isn’t automatic.

“I’ve been in this just long enough to realize that winning is hard,” he said. “And for these kids to go out and get back-to-back wins and taste success has been huge.”

In the second half, injuries thrust Texas underclassmen and reserves onto the field, and helped make the case that Strong’s overwhelming victory in February will have immediate on-field implications. The trio of freshman wide receivers Collin Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Devin Duvernay saw action, new RB Kyle Porter received meaningful touches, and a couple young defensive lineman collected the first snaps of their college careers. One such player, defensive end Malcolm Roach, finished the game with four tackles, one sack, and another tackle for loss.

Without D. Foreman, Warren showed he was capable of handling a heavy workload, carrying 20 times for 95 yards and a touchdown. But the real bright spot for Texas going forward is the embarrassment of riches it has at wide receiver.

“We have a lot of ’em,” Buechele said plainly after the game, “and they’re all really good.”

Texas quarterbacks threw completions to eight wideouts—the ninth, a beautiful pass from Swoopes to speedy Baylor transfer Devin Duvernay was negated after refs said he pushed off.

The story of the offseason was starting quarterback and what to do with Jerrod Heard. In eight quarters of football since last year’s starter Heard transitioned to wide receiver, he has eight receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Saturday night, as his 21st birthday came to a close, the dauntless slot receiver from Denton distilled his methodology into the clearest terms possible.

“Playing wide receiver is easy; all you have to do is outrun the defender and catch the ball,” he said to reporters after the game. When that quote was relayed to Gilbert, the first-year Texas assistant just laughed.

“Kids are funny,” he said. “That’s him. He’s a confident kid—he’s obviously fast. He’s got a lot of room for growth and improvement. He’s extremely motivated.”

What’s exciting for Texas fans is the same can be said for the rest of the team. This is just the second game for many of these players, and the first meaningful action for many more. That’s the funny thing about momentum—when you have it, it’s boundless.

Quick notes:

-Freshman QB Shane Buechele had another promising night, completing 22 of 27 passes for 244 yards and 2 TDs. He added 34 yards on 11 carries. The former is, obviously, the sexy part of this stat line, but the latter is almost as important as Texas heads closer to conference play. If teams think Buechele won’t take off—and that Swoopes is the sole “running QB”—the offense could become predictable. Now, teams have to respect both facets of each QB’s game.

-As noted above, seven Texas starters missed time against UTEP. Strong said after the game that he felt confident that Texas would be at full strength against Cal, and noted that starting center Zach Shackleford was being looked at. “Most of those guys will be back will be back when we go to Cal,” he said.

-Texas converted just three of 12 chances on third down. Texas committed 10 penalties for 115 yards. Both won’t fly next week in Berkeley. “We’re going to have to play much better than we played tonight,” Strong said.

 

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