AUSTIN, Texas -- Earlier this season, Texas offense consisted of Colt McCoy throwing a lot to Jordan Shipley.
Short passes. Screen passes. Deep passes. All kinds of passes from one roommate to another.
But as the Longhorns prepare for Saturday’s Big 12 championship game against Nebraska, the offense has evolved with many more potential playmakers.
“Overall, we’ve worked hard, prepared and found out what works,” McCoy said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can help us out. And now, I feel like we are really playing at a high level.”
Malcolm Williams produced a team-high nine catches last week against Texas A&M. James Kirkendoll produced four grabs that led to a career-best two touchdowns, including a pivotal 47-yard fourth-quarter TD grab.
That growth should lead to a change in the kind of coverages that Shipley is seeing because of his productive teammates around him.
“The emergence of Malcolm and Kirkendoll has been huge,” Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “That makes it tough to do special things to Shipley. It makes it good when they get the one-on-one and they come through like they have. “
And the Longhorns’ much maligned running game has showed some promise in the last several weeks. After failing to crack 100 yards in back-to-back games against UCF and Oklahoma State, the Longhorns have averaged 217.7 yards in their last three games. That binge was topped by the 293-yard effort against Texas A&M that is their best against a conference foe this year.
The running game got a varied lift. Tre’ Newton rushed for a career-best 107 rushing yards. And all of those performances came in a game where McCoy rushed for 175 yards and became the first player in Big 12 history and only the third in college history with 300 passing yards and 150 rushing yards in the same game.
With so many other weapons around him, McCoy’s Heisman chances have improved over the last month as the Longhorns have become one of the nation’s most productive offenses. Since the Oklahoma game, Texas has scored on 36 of its last 61 drives (59.0 percent) with McCoy in charge.
“It’s somebody different every week,” Shipley said. The good thing for us is that we have a lot of guys making plays,” Shipley said. “If we can continue to spread the ball around and all those guys contribute the way they have, we’ll be pretty tough to stop.”
Williams has produced 15 receptions over his last two games after notching 20 catches in Texas’ first 10 games this season.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has always been considered a potential star because of his superb athletic ability. But his struggles in practice have kept him from becoming a consistent playmaker until late this season.
“It was just growing confidence,” Williams said. “The coaches are having faith with me to out and make plays. And Colt believes in me enough to throw me passes.”
Kirkendoll emerged to grab a career-high eight passes against Kansas before the first multi-touchdown game of his career against A&M last week.
“Colt is so poised in the game,” Kirkendoll said. “We go over all of this stuff in practice and it’s really just muscle memory. Everybody is comfortable with each other and Colt is just a good quarterback (in getting them the ball). He’s really like a point guard in getting us all involved.”
The contributions from the varied cast members are making things easier for McCoy. He has responded with his best play of the season and arguably his career over the last month. That late charge has helped him become more comfortable in his offense after some admitted self doubt earlier this season.
“We weren’t very good early in the season, and we were erratic at receiver,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “We were running some inconsistent routes, and a quarterback needs to trust his receivers, and that just wasn’t happening.
“We had a different running back playing every week, and Colt was sick for two of the games. I think he had such a great junior year that he thought it was just going to happen. But we had to kind of reinvent this offense and go back and figure out who we are.”
The change has come for McCoy after all of the new weapons sprouting around him.
“Those guys are really playing well. Offensively, we’re a different team,” Shipley said. “We’re a different team than from when we played Oklahoma earlier in the year.
“That’s a tribute to our coaches and all the hard work we’ve put in. But you’ve also got to give credit to James and Malcolm for putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”