Texas seeks big-play potential in Big 12 play

AUSTIN, Texas -- In the Big 12, 20 points per game just won’t cut it.

If the Longhorns don’t know that, they’re about to find out. Texas enters conference play on Saturday at Kansas with an offense that ranks in the league’s bottom three in most key offensive categories.

In fact, Texas ranks behind the Jayhawks in yards per game, yards per play, yards per rush and pass attempt, rushing offense and a slew of other stats. Texas’ 20.7 points per game, while slightly better than KU’s 20.3, is indicative of an offense in transition that must start finding easier ways to score.

“We know we are going to have to score points and know we are going to have to generate some offense and generate some big plays,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said.

With a new quarterback in Tyrone Swoopes and a piecemeal offensive line, Texas had too much to fix before facing BYU and UCLA teams that are now ranked in the top 20. Perhaps the biggest concern: Can this become a big-play offense?

Texas ranks No. 114 nationally in both rushes of 10-plus yards (nine) and passes of 20-plus yards (five). And nearly half of those explosive plays came against North Texas, with the now-retired David Ash running the show.

“We have a lot of playmakers,” Swoopes said. “I feel like we’ve been watching film, and we see we’re just one block away, one cut away from busting a big one. I feel like we definitely have big-play ability on this team.”

The Longhorns have produced four scoring drives in these past two games. They’re averaging nearly five minutes of possession on those drives. Among Power 5 programs, Texas currently has the No. 7 least-efficient offense in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Surely, after a bye week and another week to prepare, Texas can start finding easier, faster ways to score, right? Strong is hopeful that, in time, the play-action game will open up more of those chances.

“You would like to see just more explosive plays, where we can get the ball down the field. And it will happen,” Strong said. “It will eventually happen, because the more the quarterback plays, the more confidence he will gain.”

Swoopes enters his third career start optimistic that Texas’ offensive breakthrough is coming soon. In some ways, he can see the Longhorns’ difficult nonconference slate as being potentially beneficial.

“If we would’ve played cupcakes, we would’ve had confidence, but I feel like it would be kind of false confidence because we really didn’t play anybody of significance,” Swoopes said. “I feel like we played some pretty good teams in our nonconference and once we get to those big games in the Big 12, we’ll know what it feels like and it won’t be like a culture shock or anything new to us. We’ll be ready for it.”

Five years ago, Big 12 teams with winning records averaged 27 points per game in conference play. Last season, that average was up a full touchdown to 35.1.

The Case McCoy-led Longhorns put up 30.4 a game in 2013 and reeled off six straight wins to claw their way into Big 12 title contention, all despite a 1-2 start and the loss of Ash. Strong has reminded his players they’ve done this before.

“I don't see why we couldn't do the same thing or more,” Swoopes said. “I feel like we can do it again."

But there needs to be progress (and points) against Kansas. Next week, the nation’s No. 1 offense comes to Austin. It’s going to take a bit more than 20 to beat Baylor.