By Steve Habel
Texas’ 45-0 victory over New Mexico met the expectations of 100,990 fans the night of Sept. 8, with contributions by a few talented newcomers and a confident Longhorn defense enhancing the eventual outcome. The Longhorns now stand at 2-0 after two consecutive home games.
Quarterback David Ash had a workman-like game against the Lobos, throwing for 221 yards and two touchdowns, as well as running 49 yards for a third score. The sophomore led a Longhorn offense that racked up 431 yards, despite running just seven offensive plays in the first quarter.
“[Starting a game like that] lulls you to sleep and takes the crowd out of the game,” head coach Mack Brown said.
Nick Jordan followed Ash’s scrambling run to the end zone with a 38-yard field goal. Then, with 28 seconds left in the second quarter, Ash threw a short pass to the left flat that Mike Davis turned into a 22-yard touchdown play, giving the No. 17 Longhorns a 17-0 halftime lead.
“I thought the score before the half was key,” Brown commented. “Then we came back out and scored to start the third quarter — that’s when we took over the game.”
The Longhorns dispatched New Mexico with a complete performance in the second half, reeling off touchdowns on four of their five possessions. Overall, Texas had nine drives in the game and scored on seven of them — six touchdowns and the aforementioned field goal.
Texas didn’t record a single turnover against New Mexico. The Longhorns have just one — an Ash fumble in the season-opener against Wyoming — in their first two games.
Built for the run and looking to rely on its power ground game this season, the Longhorns threw the ball 30 times, while running it 31 times against New Mexico (1-1). Sophomore Joe Bergeron led the rushing game, racking up 49 yards on 11 carries and scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
“We wanted to throw and get the ball out there with some space and see what our guys could do,” co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said. “We had a couple runs and some sweeps … [our playmakers] made things happen.”
Ash’s longest completion was to freshman Daje Johnson. Johnson took a shovel pass from Ash in the backfield and then ran through the Lobos’ defense for a 45-yard touchdown. “That pass was a stat-builder,” Ash admitted with a smile.
With the game well in hand, quarterback Case McCoy led two fourth-quarter scoring drives. The first ended in a 6-yard touchdown run by D.J. Monroe, who ran over a defender at the goal line, and the second was a 13-yard pass to tight end M.J. McFarland in the game’s final minutes.
“In the second half we had a mindset that we had to put them away,” Bergeron said. “Coach Brown wanted us to keep our foot on their throats and keep playing.”
New Mexico’s final drive ended moments later at the UT 34, securing Texas’ second shutout in the past two seasons (the Longhorns blanked Kansas last year). The Longhorns’ defense forced a fumble, nabbed an interception, and never allowed New Mexico past the UT 29-yard line.
The Lobos had 241 total yards, 142 of which came in the first half when their option attack had a measure of success against Texas — at least until they got into Longhorn territory.
“We moved the ball well in the first half, but when we play against somebody as good as Texas we have to sustain it,” New Mexico coach Bob Davie said. “The demons started to pop up because we couldn't execute well enough to sustain those plays. We got exposed. At times we went toe-to-toe with [Texas], but we’re a team that has to play perfect. We weren't capable of that tonight.”
From the 9:23 mark of the second quarter, until its final drive with just under three minutes to play, New Mexico never drove past its own 36-yard line.
“In our first game, Wyoming came after us,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “This week we went back to the basics.”
Brown said the best thing about Saturday’s win over New Mexico was that “everybody had fun.”
“Everyone got to play and that makes our football team better,” he said. “Morale is better. Kids are happier. Mamas are happier. And you get better as a football team because you gain more depth.”
Now the season turns decidedly more serious. Beginning with this week’s journey to Oxford, Miss., Texas plays one home game in the next month — against a powerful West Virginia.
1 How was Ash’s decision-making against New Mexico?
You can’t fault the quarterback’s choice of running for a touchdown on a called rollout on fourth down and 1 from the Lobos’ 49. The decision ended Texas’ first possession with a touchdown.
Ash ran across the field from east to west and his speed eliminated the angles of five potential tacklers.
“[Taking off and running in that situation] is part of my read on that play,” Ash said.
He came close to throwing an interception on Texas’ second drive (his pass hit New Mexico linebacker Joseph Harris right in the hands) and was late on a few reads, but Ash continues to progress with each game.
“David is operating,” Harsin said. “He had a couple of touchdown throws and no turnovers … those are the things we talk about and want to work on.”
Besides his 45-yard TD pass to Johnson, Ash’s longest completion was a 23-yard screen pass to Malcolm Brown.
“David’s doing a good job of understanding the situations, knowing what’s available and not forcing anything too far down the field,” left guard Trey Hopkins said. “Knowing when to take the shot and when not to is a big thing.”
Ash’s ability to stretch the field will be a key to Texas’ success as the season continues.
“I like that we won, but I was disappointed when I got careless with the ball,” Ash said. “I’ll have to clean that up.”
2 .Is the Texas defense living up to the hype?
Yes and no.
The New Mexico option caught the Longhorns’ defenders out of position several times, but the linebackers and defensive backs had the speed to run down the ball carrier. The defense may not have the opportunity to make up for these types of mistakes against better teams, but Texas will likely not see the option as much either.
“If you don't give up long runs or passes for touchdowns, you always have a chance,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Our guys are resilient. They fight against pressure. Our defense was out there for more snaps then we wanted to be, but we never gave the big one away. New Mexico never got into our red zone.”
The Lobos managed just 35 passing yards, and only 3 yards in the second half after starting quarterback B.J. Holbrook was injured. “That obviously limited them in their passing game,” Diaz said.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks led the Longhorns with nine tackles and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat had five tackles, forced a fumble and recorded Texas’ only sack among his two and a half tackles for losses. Overall the Longhorns had eight tackles for losses.
The defense is a dominant unit that will continue to improve in the weeks ahead.
3.Who’s been the most dominant part of the team through the first two games?
That’s easy — the kickoff coverage unit. Against New Mexico, Texas kicked off eight times and the Lobos’ best starting field position was at their own 27, on the game’s final kickoff.
Of the six kicks they returned, New Mexico’s average field position was its own 15. The Lobos started three drives at the 14-yard line or worse. Texas’ coverage team swarms to the ball and New Mexico never had a chance to make something happen in the kick game.
Texas’ efficiency in the red zone is dominant as well. Texas was 4-for-4 in red zone opportunities against New Mexico, and is now 10-for-10 on the season (9 TDs, 1 FG).
4. Do the Longhorns have an Achilles heel?
Yes. The Longhorns lack prowess in field goals. Jordan, a true freshman, kicked a 38-yarder but also missed wide-left on a 45-yarder after a Quandre Diggs’ interception.
Jordan and fellow freshman Nick Rose kicked in the game, with each getting three PATs. Brown said that unit is coming together. “I hate that we missed the field goal, but both young kickers did better,” he said. “We’re headed in the right direction.”
Former Penn State kicker and punter Anthony Fera, who transferred to Texas this summer, is still working his way back from a groin injury and could get into the kicking mix this week.
5. What should the Longhorns expect against Ole Miss?
Texas has to play significantly better to beat the Rebels, who’ve forged two wins at home against Central Arkansas and UTEP. Ole Miss was ranked 14th and last in the Southeastern Conference’s preseason polls, but has played well early under new coach Hugh Freeze, who came to Oxford from Arkansas State.
The Longhorns experimented some in their first two games, but will have to bring the total package into play against Ole Miss. “We won't be able to try this and that out — we have to go into Ole Miss to win the game,” Brown said.
Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. and ESPN2 will telecast the game. “I don’t know how happy we are about playing a SEC night game, but I know our fans have bought every ticket that they could find, so they're excited about it,” Brown said.