AUSTIN, Texas -- Let’s play a little game. Here’s a snapshot of the offensive production of three FBS teams. Can you guess which one is Texas?
Team A: 26.5 points/game, 418 yards/game (231.6 rushing, 186.4 passing), 6.0 yards per play, 6.4 yards per attempt, 5.5 yards per rush, 1.7 points/drive.
Team B: 21.1 points/game, 356 yards/game (158 rushing, 198 passing), 4.8 YPP, 6.3 YPA, 3.7 YPR, 1.4 points/drive.
Team C: 21.2 points/game, 330 yards/game (195.5 rushing, 134.5 passing), 5.2 YPP, 6.8 YPA, 4.5 YPR, 1.4 points/drive.
If you guessed Team C, congratulations! You sure do you know your Longhorns.
Team A was New Mexico State. Team B was UTSA. Both are 1-7 this season.
All that’s separating Texas from being 1-7 today are wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State that were supposed to be momentum-builders toward a promising finish in year two under Charlie Strong. Instead, what followed was a 24-0 shutout loss against Iowa State that proved more embarrassing than 38-3 at Notre Dame and 50-7 at TCU.
Strong leaned on the words “execute,” “executing” or “execution” 16 times at his weekly press conference Monday while trying to explain how Texas imploded in Ames. Coaches say that when they think the plan was good and the performance was not. It’s hard not to question both after what the Longhorns displayed Saturday night.
Until the final drive of the night, Texas’ offense had spent only one play in Iowa State territory. And Jerrod Heard threw an interception on that play. Playcaller Jay Norvell didn’t like anything he saw: Texas didn’t run the ball aggressively, didn’t block effectively, didn’t throw accurately or on time and didn’t make plays downfield.
“We’ve got to learn from this,” Norvell said. “We’ve got to be more mature.”
Strong pointed out what he considers the most glaring statistic on Monday: Texas went 2-of-13 on third downs. The results when Texas tried to throw on those downs: sack, sack, Heard’s interception, incomplete, -2 yard gain, sack, incomplete, incomplete, incomplete.
Heard and Norvell were confident the passing game was ready to open up the previous week against K-State, but the rainstorm during that 23-9 win had waterlogged the ball and made it difficult to grip and throw. Better to play it safe and save the good stuff for another day.
No rain can be blamed for Heard’s 26 yards on 6-of-9 passing against the Cyclones’ zone coverage. Tyrone Swoopes wasn’t any more successful, completing 6-of-13 for 59 yards. So when’s the good stuff coming?
“We’re not throwing the ball very good. We’re not. We’ve got to throw the ball better,” Norvell said. “Do I think we can? Yes. Do we practice it? Yes. We’ve got capable players. We’ve got capable schemes. We’ve got to throw the ball better. It’s really not rocket science.”
Beyond the passing game, though, Texas’ offense is mired in a more troubling trend: The Longhorns are now 0-11 under Strong when their opponent scores first. When things haven’t gone their way early in games this season, an already one-dimensional offense becomes easily flustered.
“It's just a group that has got to learn how to go finish and prepare themselves and be ready all the time,” Strong said.
Or perhaps it was just time for Texas to confront the debt it had been accumulating all season long. The Longhorns spent an entire offseason working on an offensive blueprint that was discarded after one game. Strong asked Norvell, in his first year at UT, to construct a new one on the fly around a young quarterback with no game experience whose limitations were largely untested.
The positive results were treated like a season-changing progress. The negative ones shouldn’t be too surprising. That the struggling Cyclones were able to beat up on Texas is alarming, sure, but it’s not a shock that coach Paul Rhoads was able to figure Texas out.
And yet, Texas did the exact same thing last year, ending October with a 23-0 road loss at Kansas State. The team never even came close to scoring in that game, either. Then the Longhorns rallied for three straight wins to clinch a bowl bid.
If they can’t pull off the same feat this year -- Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech are up next -- Texas’ season will end no differently than, well, the ones at UTSA and New Mexico State.