Take away the good and the bad, and you’re left with what might’ve mattered more about Texas’ Alamo Bowl win: The change.
We do not know what offensive philosophies are bouncing around inside Major Applewhite’s head these days. In the months to come, his influences and experience will endure rigorous research by those hoping to nail down what Texas’ new offensive play caller will have up his sleeve for 2013.
He had time only for little tweaks leading up to the 31-27 bowl victory over Oregon State. The full vision gets installed from now until the end of August.
But on Saturday night, Applewhite did drop some hints. Here’s what we learned about his offense’s future after his playcalling debut.
1. The spread
Applewhite says he wants a balanced offense, a scheme that can win games on the ground and in the air. Oregon State required more pass than run.
A review of the film shows that, out of 65 plays on offense, he called 30 shotgun pass plays and 14 shotgun run plays against the Beavers.
David Ash was under center only eight times on the night, and four were pass plays.
What does that say? It could be the product of playing from behind or of Oregon State’s strong run defense, but don’t mistake the results.
Texas went to shotgun sets on 67 percent of its offensive snaps, and that paid off rather handsomely in the second half. This was the first time all season Texas won a ballgame by throwing (34 attempts) more than rushing (31).
“Tonight, the way we needed to win the game was to spread them out, throw it, clear some loose lanes for the quarterback to run the ball and be effective,” Applewhite said after the game.
Is the spread Texas’ best way to win in 2013? Applewhite has this spring and summer to find out.
2. Pushing the pace
The stats might not show it, but Texas thrived when it upped its offensive tempo in the second half.
The Longhorns ran 65 plays. Nothing new there -- Texas went for 65-plus in eight other games in 2012. No meaningful changes in time of possession, either.
But David Ash’s fourth quarter performance spoke volumes. He hit on his final seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Six of his eight completions went for 10-plus yards.
He overcame a shaky first half and played with poise late. A faster-paced, shotgun-heavy attack clicked when the stakes were high late.
This wasn’t a no-huddle, hurry-up attack, but Applewhite did cite Oregon’s success against OSU as a motivation for spreading out and speeding up.
After spending 2012 trying to convince itself it could play SEC-style power ball, could Texas swing the other way on the offensive spectrum under Applewhite?
3. At last, speed
Remember Marquise Goodwin? He was in the London Olympics. Pretty fast dude. Had a good game against Ole Miss.
We hadn’t heard much from Goodwin since. He touched the ball on offense a total of 12 times in Texas’ final seven regular-season games.
Texas’ new OC made sure Goodwin’s final game as a Longhorn was a triumphant one. For all the clamoring to get D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson the ball, it was Goodwin for whom Oregon State had no answer.
“This game is about speed,” Applewhite said. “It's about speed and explosive players.”
He loses Goodwin and Monroe, but Applewhite won’t be hurting for speedsters next season: Johnson and receivers Kendall Sanders, Marcus Johnson and commit Jacorey Warrick are legit home-run threats. Next season could be very good to some or all of them.
4. Thinking pass-first?
Kudos to Applewhite for giving the Beavers what they wouldn’t have expected.
Texas called just as many pass plays on first downs (13) as run plays. Again, falling behind and ineffective rushing played a role here. But it was a promising sign.
The returns on that emphasis weren’t as pleasing. The Longhorns faced second and long 15 times and third and long on 12 occasions.
That’s an easy way to start slow on offense and stumble in the first half.
But Ash did gain 8 yards or more on six of those 13 first-down passes. Four of those came on Texas’ final two drives. Get that going earlier and Texas will be plenty happy with the offensive balance it sets up.
5. The X-factor
When the going got tough ... Ash ran the ball. Who saw that coming?
The true sophomore was labeled a dual-threat quarterback last season but ran for only 141 yards in 2012.
In most games, his fleet feet helped him avoid sacks. In this game, designed keepers and scrambles caught OSU off guard and also created Ash’s key fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Johnathan Gray.
In Ash, Applewhite has a third-year starter to tailor his offense to next year -- if that’s what he wants.
Should Texas want to roll with a quick-tempo shotgun offense next year, Ash is more than capable. But that philosophy also could give Jalen Overstreet and Tyrone Swoopes -- and, someday, Jerrod Heard -- a trump card in a quarterback competition.
Ash can get the job done. But he could face new challenges if the expectations placed on Texas’ quarterbacks change.