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Texas in need of more big plays

AUSTIN, Texas --Texas threw deep eight times against Oklahoma State.

The hope was to stretch the field, get the vertical passing game going, open up the running lanes and give freshman quarterback David Ash some confidence in his line, his receivers and himself.

The result was eight incomplete passes.

"We need to have more explosive plays," Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. "We've got to connect on some of those deep throws. We've taken some shots, and we've been a hair off here and there from hitting some of those.''

It's a game of inches. Right, Wisconsin?

But Texas wants to measure itself by yards and points.

"We're scoring 30 points a game, and that is not enough," Texas coach Mack Brown said.

The Longhorns are also averaging just 203.5 passing yards per game. That is clearly not enough. To get more, Texas has to get vertical.

"Are we being too complicated? Do we need to simplify some things, because we've got young players? Or do they need to do a better job of handling what we've got for them?" Those are some of the questions Brown posed to his offensive staff during the bye week.

What he found was that there is not one solution to finding more explosive plays.

"We're throwing the ball deep enough; we need to catch it," Brown said. "It's partly protection. It's partly wide receivers. It's partly quarterbacks. It is a combination of a lot of different things."

Those complications are adding up while the yards are not piling up. In Harsin's offense, he defines an explosive play as a run of 12 or more yards or a pass of 16 or more yards. Texas wants seven such plays a game.

Texas had eight of those plays against Oklahoma State. Only one, a 20-yard pass from Ash to Mike Davis, came in the passing game. Five were in the first half. Only one occurred in the fourth quarter, when Texas went almost exclusively to the pass. That one was a 17-yard scramble by Ash on the second-to-last offensive play of the game for Texas.

Most of Ash's throws were underneath to receivers he had locked onto early. That kept him from reading the field and connecting on deeper throws.

"It's pretty typical of a new offense and new quarterbacks that are young, but we had two or three missed communications that you saw [against OSU]," Brown said.

Ash missed Marquise Goodwin once and Jaxon Shipley for an almost certain touchdown over the middle of the field late in the game.

"It's miscommunication," Brown said. "Those are things we can't have. We've got to get better."

Better communications plus big plays equals more points. It is a formula that has long worked for the Longhorns.

"If you win the turnover battle and you win the explosive game you give yourself an almost 100 percent chance to win," running back Fozzy Whittaker said. "Basically, we're undefeated whenever we win both the turnover and explosive ratio. That's a big emphasis that we always look at."

It definitely holds true this season. Texas is 4-0 when it has more explosive plays than its opponent and 0-2 when it doesn't.

In those two losses, the vertical passing game has been almost nonexistent.

Texas hasn't connected on a deep pass of consequence since Iowa State. Shipley snared a 23-yarder from Case McCoy against Oklahoma, but the score was 55-10, and the game had long since been over.

Harsin believes overall team maturation could solve many of these issues.

"That's going to come with the relationship between the quarterbacks and receivers understanding where they need to be and what their landmarks are," he said.

It also might come this week because of who Texas plays. Kansas has the second-worst pass defense in the country. The Jayhawks are allowing 319 passing yards per game and have given up eight touchdown passes of 24 yards or more.

So, if ever there were a week when the explosive plays and vertical passing game could come together, this might be it. And Texas might need every one of those plays to get to where it wants to be when the game ends.

"[Big 12 teams] are going to score 30 points a game in this league, usually," Brown said. "Unless you are a 30-point team, you are going to get beat."

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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