LUBBOCK, Texas – One of Hookem.com's regular features is back, and there's no better way to usher in the return of The Daily 5 than to break down five things I learned from the Texas Longhorns' 31-22 win over the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday afternoon.
Bryan Harsin went to his breat and butter and it paid off on Saturday.
1. Bryan Harsin might have finally figured it out
Just one week after having a plan that was befuddling and frustrating to watch, the Longhorns' play-caller didn't mess around.
He was hammered in the press for not going to the perimeter runs early against Kansas, especially when they worked so well late in the game. Heading into the Tech game, Harsin didn't want to try to mash heads with Tech defensive line.
Instead he opted to attack the edges and get the Texas running backs in space against linebackers and safeties, a match-up that favored the Longhorns.
“We felt like these guys were very good inside,” Harsin said. “We had to do something to help ourselves with the inside run game, so we went to the perimeter earlier.”
If you go back to the Oklahoma game, Harsin's strategy has been off, on, off and then on again. He can't afford to tinker with things like he did against Kansas in the final three remaining regular season games. He needs to go with what works, or at least do what he did Saturday and figure out the best way to exploit a weakness.
If we see a similarly aggressive attack against Iowa State, then we'll know for sure that Harsin is willing to work with what he's got.
2. The offensive line is capable of winning a football game
Mason Walters was pretty blunt with why the running game wasn't overly-impressive last week against Kansas.
Mike Davis has definitvely emerged as Texas' go-to wide receiver.
“We didn't play well last week, and that's completely on us as players not doing our job all the time,” Walters said.
Texas finished off the Red Raiders with 47 yards on seven carries on the final drive to close out the game. The line proved on Saturday it's capable of carrying the Longhorns to the finish line against a formidable defense.
On top of that, Texas had a lot of success early with the pull-and-pin with the play-side guard blocking back and allowing Dominic Espinosa to pull and get out in space. Like the power play with the pulling guard last season, the pull-and-pin looks like the bread and butter of the Texas run game right now.
This offensive line might not be as good as the one that physically manhandled Ole Miss and Baylor, but it's not as bad as what it showed against Oklahoma. They just have to build on this one and find out which end of the spectrum they're closer towards.
“It's just another compliment to our running game and a way to move the ball when they stack the box,” Walters said. “This thing is evolving around us, and the coaches are calling the plays so we have to execute them.”
3. Mike Davis is unquestionably this team's go-to receiver
David Ash said Mike Davis will often tell him to throw him the ball and he'll go make a play. Is Davis developing the mentality of a receiver who demands the football?
“Sort of,” Davis said. “I'm always open. That's what I tell him.”
Davis has earned the right, and he's proven he's the guy Ash can go to in key situations. Of Ash's 15 touchdown passes nine have gone to either Davis or Jaxon Shipley. You know what you're going to get from Shipley in terms of his reliability and production, and now Davis has settled in to be the consistent playmaker he's long-been expected to be.
Freshman Johnathan Gray has turned into Texas' top option at running back over the last two games.
He's now made key grabs in Longhorn victories against Ole Miss and Baylor, and arguably made the catch of the game in wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas. At this point, Davis is the midst of the type of year that few could have only dreamed he'd have entering the season.
4. Johnathan Gray is the best option at running back
I mentioned this in The 2-4-7 but it bares repeating. We saw much more of Gray and Daje Johnson, who bring more juice to the running back spot with the ability to maximize runs better than the other options Texas has there right now.
“Johnathan showed us what we've thought,” Mack Brown said. “He's not only a fast guy that can break tackles and make things happen for the long ball, but he ran a lot of power plays at the end that killed the clock."
Gray has earned the right to start, and with Joe Bergeron being what he is – a short yardage specialist so long as he's strictly a tailback – and Malcolm Brown having not played since the first half of the Oklahoma State game, it's time to lean on Gray.
He gives Texas the best chance to have a versatile running game, and with his pass catching ability the offense can be less predictable when he's in the game.
He knows the margin for error for this team to have a chance to win and for him to not be in danger of losing his job is slim. He deserves credit for getting a team ready to play in a tough environment and for the players pulling through.
“I loved the way they came back to win,” Mack said. “It was a fun game, and fun for me. I really enjoyed it.”
For Texas to have a chance to win the rest of them, he'll have to make sure to get the same sense of urgency and pride out of his players on a daily basis. The Longhorns aren't out of the woods yet in terms of being able to rest, and this is the time where Mack has to make sure the heat remains turned up.