By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — No. 14 Texas heads to the Big 12 championship game Saturday against No. 6 Oklahoma in Arlington with a herd, if you will, of weapons: a record-setting quarterback, a trio of wide receivers who can compare with any in the nation, and even a rotation of three running backs, all of whom excel in different phases of the game.
The one weapon the 'Horns hope Oklahoma overlooks is senior tight end Andrew Beck, who could end up being the difference in the game. In a game that likely will be decided by the Longhorns' ability to chew up the clock to keep the powerful OU offense off the field, short, drive-extending throws to Beck will be one of UT's bread-and-butter plays.
A two-time captain, Beck has overcome three injuries in his career to the same foot and has returned this season to start all 12 games, hauling in a career-high 26 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns while emerging as a threat down the seam on play-action passes.
From 2014 through 2016, he started 15 times with 12 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, so it’s easy to say that Beck has enjoyed his most successful year on the 40 Acres.
“I’ve done an alright job in the run game so far, which is what I pride myself on,” Beck said. “Because of that, the coaches have found a way to open it up in the passing game a little bit. Just keep doing my job, man. That’s all I want to do.”
Last August, before the 2017 season started, Beck fractured his left foot during practice, but he still served as one of the team’s captains throughout the season. This summer, his teammates voted him to serve as a captain again.
“Beck is one of those guys that people will listen to in the locker room,” Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “He's a great leader. He's been around the program, experienced a lot, seen a lot, played a lot of 'ball.”
Beck was recruited by former Texas coach Mack Brown (he attended one of Brown’s camps on campus when he was young), and was signed by Charlie Strong out of Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., after he collected offers from 16 Div. I programs.
Texas hasn’t had a consistent pass-catching threat at tight end since Jermichael Finley in 2007. If Beck can catch six more passes over the Longhorns’ final two games, he can move into the top five on the program’s list for receptions by a tight end in a single season.
“He’s everything for us, and a pleasure to coach,” Texas tight ends coach Derek Warehime said. “Andrew does a lot of things that go unnoticed, from a physical standpoint. He is the guy we use as an example to continue to fight and stay to the end, even when things get difficult.”
Despite the fact that Beck has received more and more chances as the season has progressed, Texas coach Tom Herman wouldn’t tip his hand when asked if he would try to target the tight end more against the Sooners. But then maybe Herman is playing his cards close to his vest ... and rightly so.
“Offense isn't about opening playbooks; it’s about taking what the defense gives you,” Herman said. “We saw some opportunities in the last few weeks for Andrew to have a bigger role, and if that's the case this week, we will (target him more). If not, we won't. So it's not a concerted effort by any stretch to open any playbook. The playbook is always open.”
Beck said he likes the way the Texas offense has evolved and has become more versatile as the season has progressed.
“We can go from 11 [personnel with one running back and one tight end] to playing all over the field,” Beck said. “Lining up at receiver, coming back in the box and putting or hand in the dirt to going to 12 [one running back, two tight ends] and bouncing around and doing some stuff in there. There’s a lot of room for us to contribute, which is exciting.”
Beck, a member of the Texas Cowboys (an honorary men's service organization at UT created in 1922 to serve the university and the surrounding commiunity) and one of the oldest players on the roster, has been named a semifinalist for the second annual Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year for having demonstrated a record of leadership and exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field.
After injuring his foot during spring practices in 2017, Beck reinjured the same foot in a non-contact injury during August camp and missed the entire 2017 season, which would have been his senior year.
Instead of calling it quits, Beck got surgery again, rehabilitated throughout the season, took a redshirt and returned for 2018.
“(While) going through the process, my teammates were incredibly supportive the entire time, and I did not give them enough credit about them being a part of the reason for me wanting to come back,” Beck said. “They absolutely were a huge part of it.
“I get to hang out with 105, 110 of my best friends every day. You just don’t find that anywhere else, and that was a big reason why I wanted to come back — just to be around them.”