Texas Longhorns: Marcus Johnson

As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in a Big 12-best 1,339 receiving yards and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Shepard and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hayes, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

[+] EnlargeJordan Thompson
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. But who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. The good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the league. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him back in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.

Big 12 games of the year: No. 3

January, 23, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 3. One of the most competitive games of the year went down to the wire in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 3: Nov. 9, Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT)

This back-and-forth thriller featured big plays from both teams and seven combined touchdowns after halftime.

What happened: Texas made the plays when it needed them. West Virginia did not.

On fourth-and-7 at the West Virginia 47, Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, Anthony Fera tied the game at 40 with 13 seconds left, sending this one to overtime.

In overtime, McCoy was clutch again with a third-down conversion to Marcus Johnson followed by a two-yard touchdown pass to Alex De La Torre on third-and-goal. It was the Texas defense’s turn on WVU’s overtime possession, as it tightened its resolve after a 20-yard run by Mario Alford to start the possession. WVU gained one yard in the next four plays, capped by Steve Edmond’s interception to end the game and send the Longhorns back to Austin with their Big 12 title hopes intact.

Player of the game: UT defensive end Cedric Reed. Several Longhorns defenders had exceptional games, but Reed was relentless. He finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Not a bad day’s work.

Stat of the game: 6. WVU allowed six sacks and had six fumbles (losing three). UT’s defense was opportunistic and aggressive throughout the game, as its defensive line was all over Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard after knocking Clint Trickett out of the game.

Quotable: “When one of us gets a sack, that means the other guys are doing their job. We just knew we had to put pressure on these guys and disrupt them.” -- Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

The rest of the list:
After a whirlwind 48 hours full of meetings, appearances and handshakes, Charlie Strong still hasn’t had much time to find out what kind of talent he’s inheriting.

So let’s make life a little easier for Texas’ new head coach. Here’s an early breakdown of how Texas’ offensive depth chart might look in 2014, based on who’s slated to return and the incoming freshmen. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the Longhorns defense.

Keep in mind, a lot can and will change between now and the end of August. All of these players have to prove themselves to a new regime. You could see lots of movement, position changes and reshuffling between now and the season opener against North Texas.

Quarterback
David Ash, junior
Tyrone Swoopes, sophomore
Jerrod Heard, freshman

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDavid Ash will be back for one more season as quarterback.
Ash comes back after missing nearly the entire season with concussion issues. He gets a medical redshirt and a chance to start over. Swoopes’ redshirt was wasted and he’s still a few years away. Could Heard be Strong’s next Teddy Bridgewater? He won’t enroll early but could play early in his career under this new staff.

Running Back
Malcolm Brown, senior
Johnathan Gray, junior
Joe Bergeron, senior
Donald Catalon, freshman

As long as Gray heals up 100 percent from his torn Achilles, Texas will have one of the best rushing duos in the Big 12. Brown was a revelation to end the season and could be in for a big senior campaign. Bergeron will work his way back into the mix. Catalon and D'Onta Foreman will provide depth as freshmen, and one could contribute early.

Wide Receiver
Jaxon Shipley, senior
Daje Johnson, junior
Jacorey Warrick, sophomore

Shipley is the leader of the group and should be in for a big season, no matter the offense. Will Strong’s staff give Daje one more chance? No guarantees he’s still on the roster by the fall. Warrick earned praise in practice and limited playing time.

Wide Receiver
Kendall Sanders, junior
Montrel Meander, redshirt freshman
Jake Oliver, redshirt freshman

This is the year Sanders can take a big step forward. He’s a legit playmaker whose role will expand. Meander made a strong impression in his redshirt year and is a big, athletic target. He and Oliver will battle for snaps and should contribute in 2014.

Wide Receiver
[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson caught 22 passes as a sophomore.
Marcus Johnson, junior
Armanti Foreman, freshman
Emanuel Porter, freshman

Johnson made some big plays and had a nice rapport with Case McCoy. He can stretch a defense and burn corners deep. Should see big opportunities this fall. Foreman and Porter are instant-impact guys among in large group of incoming freshman receivers, and keep an eye on Lorenzo Joe, too.

Tight End
Geoff Swaim, senior
Greg Daniels, senior
M.J. McFarland, junior

Swaim, a junior college transfer, was a revelation as a blocker in 2013. Daniels got the job done as a blocker, too, but neither had many opportunities as receivers. Let’s hope the next staff can salvage the career of McFarland, who got stuck on special teams this season but needs to become a trusted pass-catcher.

Left Tackle
Desmond Harrison, senior
Kennedy Estelle, junior

Mack Brown still believed Harrison will develop into an NFL first-rounder before he’s done, though his first season was a disappointment. If he’s not the solution at left tackle, you could see Estelle or several others move over. Estelle has mostly played right tackle and had some good moments in eight starts, but was suspended from the bowl for grades.

Left Guard
Sedrick Flowers, junior
Darius James, redshirt freshman

The departing senior linemen were big fans of Flowers, who they considered starter-quality throughout 2013 even if he was mostly a reserve. This is his spot to take. James needed a redshirt year to get back in shape, but he has the potential to be one of Texas’ best.

Center
Dominic Espinosa, senior
Jake Raulerson, redshirt freshman

The new veteran leader of the line, Espinosa has 39 career starts under his belt and improved as a junior. Hard to see him losing his spot. Raulerson continues to put on muscle and will have a long, successful career. Texas also adds incoming freshman Terrell Cuney here.

Right Guard
Curtis Riser, sophomore
Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman

Riser is entering his third year in the program and seems likely to be the favorite for this spot, but don’t count out Hammad. He redshirted as a freshman and missed part of the season with an arm injury, but he’s as impressive as any first-year lineman the Longhorns had.

Right Tackle
Kent Perkins, sophomore
Josh Cochran, senior

Perkins earned one start as a freshman and should be an All-Big 12-caliber tackle by the time he’s done in Austin. It’s hard to peg what’s next for Cochran, who lost enough weight from a shoulder injury to necessitate a move to tight end. The former starter could end up at either spot in his final season.

Kicker
Nick Jordan, sophomore

Good luck to whoever must replace Anthony Fera, the All-American and Groza Award finalist. Jordan strugged as a freshman in 2012 but got a year off and seems most likely to assume the kicking duties, though there will be competition.

Ten plays that defined Texas' season

December, 12, 2013
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Counting down 10 of the biggest plays of Texas’ season, the ones that ended up defining the 2013 Longhorns:

10. McCoy’s no-look TD pass at Baylor: The epitome of Case McCoy’s moxie magic. On 4th-and-goal down big in Waco, McCoy faked a handoff but the pass was well-covered so he scrambled to his left, but the run was blown up quickly. McCoy turned back and, amid good pressure, fired off a long pass to a wide-open Malcolm Brown for the score. It’s about as a tough a 2-yard touchdown as you’ll find, and McCoy probably had no business making the throw. But it worked.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesDaje Johnson's TDs against New Mexico State in the opener displayed Texas big-play potential on offense.
9. Daje Johnson goes deep: Try to remember what this meant at the time. Late in the second quarter of a low-scoring game, Texas ran a four-verticals play, and David Ash hit an open Johnson from the slot. He found space and dash untouched past three New Mexico State defenders for a 66-yard score. At the time, it was a sign of Texas’ potential to become a big-play offense in its new up-tempo spread attack.

8. Justin Gilbert pick-sixes McCoy: The phrase “slim margin for error” came up a lot in the final weeks of Texas’ season. This play was certainly indicative. Down 21-10 to Oklahoma State, Texas was driving to trim the deficit before halftime, but Gilbert baited McCoy into forcing a pass to Kendall Sanders along the sideline, then picked it off and ran it back 43 yards. There would be no coming back from 28-10 against Oklahoma State.

7. Jeffcoat finishes off the Sooners: We had to get one of Jackson Jeffcoat’s 12 sacks on the list. This one came on 4th-and-13 late in the fourth quarter against OU. Blake Bell, in the red zone and threatening to possibly cut Texas’ lead to 36-28, dropped back but had no chance. Cedric Reed’s rush forced Bell to his left, where Jeffcoat dropped him for a sack and a 12-yard loss to kill the Sooners’ last-ditch rally. One of many times Texas’ defensive end duo made a big play.

6. Taysom Hill’s first touchdown run: A sign of big, bad things to come for Texas’ defense. Hill faked a handoff on 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter and darted around his left tackle. Adrian Phillips took a bad angle and missed. Sheroid Evans and Josh Turner both dove for Hill’s legs and missed. He scooted 68 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns. It was the beginning of the end for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

5. “Score pass” to beat West Virginia: Arguably Major Applewhite’s best play call of the season. The Longhorns’ first possession of overtime against West Virginia could’ve stalled after Brown was twice stopped on goal-line runs. But they caught WVU by surprise on 3rd-and-goal. McCoy faked a handoff and tossed a short pass to fullback Alex De La Torre for the 2-yard touchdown. The go-ahead score was DLT’s first career catch, and McCoy had missed on this exact same play vs. OU.

4. Ash goes down at BYU: We don’t know for certain when Ash suffered his concussion against BYU. But one play stands out: With less than nine minutes left in Provo, Ash scrambled out of the pocket and was hit hard from behind by end Bronson Kaufusi as another defender wrapped up his legs. Ash was helped up, went back down, knelt and put his head down as trainers rushed out. He missed the rest of the game and nearly the entire rest of the season.

3. McCoy’s Red River dime: In another example of McCoy’s infinite irrational confidence, he chucked a 30-yard pass down the sideline and perfectly hit Marcus Johnson in stride off a wheel route. Johnson burned his defender for a 59-yard score to put Texas ahead 17-3. It was a real game-changer both for momentum and for the confidence of the Longhorn offense.

2. The near-fumble at Iowa State: Paul Rhoads and his legion of Cyclone fans had a hard time getting over this one. It’s entirely possible Johnathan Gray lost a fumble at the goal line with less than four minutes left, but no camera angle could confirm this to game officials. and McCoy would later score. Imagine where this season would’ve headed had ISU won the review and the game, sending Texas to a 2-3 record.

1. Chris Whaley’s INT for a TD against Oklahoma: No play better sums up Texas’ six-game Big 12 win streak. Whaley, the 295-pound defensive tackle, slipped back into coverage in a heavy blitz front. Adrian Phillips got to Blake Bell, whose pass sailed wide and right into Whaley’s hands. He rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown that gave Texas a stunning 10-3 lead. Just a crazy, inexplicable play that led to an unexpected rout.

McCoy's road comeback résumé growing

November, 12, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Call it magic, or moxie, or luck, or whatever you want. Case McCoy likes a good comeback.

"I think sometimes he just likes to live close to the edge," Texas lineman Mason Walters said.

Following his trip to West Virginia last weekend, the senior quarterback's résumé now includes four comeback road victories. Texas has found some serious fortune when McCoy is facing a fourth-quarter deficit and a whole lot of pressure. He doesn't have an easy explanation for why this keeps working out for him and his Longhorns.

"I don't know what the formula is to any of that," McCoy said Monday.

He doesn't get away with it all the time (see: the 2011 Missouri loss). But these Longhorns have a strange knack for surviving close road games late when McCoy is behind center. Here's a review of the four comebacks he has pulled off in the last three years.

No. 25 Texas 27, Texas A&M 25
Nov. 24, 2011 | Kyle Field | College Station, Texas

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
Tim Larson/Icon SMIThere's something about a late-game deficit on the road that brings out the best in Case McCoy.
The deficit: Texas trailed 25-24 after Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit Jeff Fuller with a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 left. The Aggies' two-point conversion failed.
The comeback: McCoy led the Longhorns on a seven-play, 48-yard drive, and Justin Tucker became a Texas legend with his 40-yard field goal with time expiring to beat A&M in the final game of their century-old rivalry.
McCoy magic: With 46 seconds left, McCoy dropped back to pass, then scrambled right and up the middle. He shed one tackle and bounced off another before gaining 25 yards, putting Texas in position for Tucker's game-winner.
Final line: 16 of 27, 110 passing yards; 7 rushes, 25 yards, 33.6 QBR
Quotable: "I told him: 'Here's where you become the guy, and here's where you take us down and win the game. Every quarterback has to have a signature moment and this is going to be yours.' " -- Texas coach Mack Brown

No. 23 Texas 21, Kansas 17
Oct. 27, 2012 | Memorial Stadium | Lawrence, Kan.

The deficit: Texas trailed 14-7 with 13:04 left when McCoy entered the game to replace an ineffective David Ash, who threw two interceptions. After going ahead 7-0 early, Texas' offense had produced five punts, two turnovers and one turnover on downs.
The comeback: McCoy led two touchdown drives in the game's final 10 minutes and connected with tight end D.J. Grant for a 1-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left to escape a near-disastrous game with a victory and improve to 6-2.
McCoy magic: After nearly throwing a game-sealing interception on his first attempt of the final drive, McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for an 18-yard gain on a fourth down, hit Mike Davis for a 39-yard gain one play later, then got the game-winner to Grant after Johnathan Gray was stopped twice at the goal line.
Final line: 5 of 7, 68 passing yards, 1 TD, 99.7 QBR
Quotable: "It wasn't anything I did. I think our coaches and our team just decided to dig down deep and decide to fight. We definitely came out slow and sluggish, and that's something we can't do the rest of this year. We got lucky, and we were able to come out of here with a win." -- McCoy

Texas 31, Iowa State 30
Oct. 3, 2013 | Jack Trice Stadium | Ames, Iowa

The deficit: Iowa State rallied with 10 points in the fourth quarter and extended its lead to 30-24 on a field goal with 3:40 left in the game.
The comeback: Texas marched 75 yards in 12 plays, with the help of 38 yards off Iowa State penalties, to score with 51 seconds remaining. Of course, all anyone will remember from this drive are Gray's two controversial near-fumbles at the goal line.
McCoy magic: After Gray's two short-yardage failures, McCoy pushed in for a 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal to put Texas ahead for good. More memorably, he found John Harris on a 44-yard Hail Mary to take a lead into halftime.
Final line: 26 of 45, 244 passing yards, 1 TD, 66.4 QBR
Quotable: "This will be a real positive for us moving forward. I'm really excited. I think I love comeback wins on the road more than anything in football." -- Brown

Texas 47, West Virginia 40, OT
Nov. 9, 2013 | Milan Puskar Stadium | Morgantown, W.Va.

The deficit: Texas trailed 26-16 midway through the third quarter, scored two touchdowns, gave up the lead, retook it and lost it again. The Longhorns were down 40-37 with 2:35 left in regulation.
The comeback: The Longhorns went 57 yards in 12 plays and forced overtime with a 24-yard field goal from Anthony Fera, then found the end zone in six plays in overtime and got a four-play goal-line stand from its defense for the win.
McCoy magic: The 10-yard touchdown to Jaxon Shipley to put Texas up 37-33. The 9-yard completion to Shipley on fourth-and-7 in the final drive of regulation. The 14-yard pass to Marcus Johnson on third-and-4 in overtime. The third-and-goal pass to Alex De La Torre that he missed against Oklahoma. He had a few big moments.
Final line: 27 of 49, 283 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 71.9 QBR
Quotable: "Never been more proud of my team, my offense and my defense. We didn't do everything right by any means, but we came into a hostile environment and got a win." -- McCoy
 

Survive and advance. That’s all Texas could worry about doing on Saturday night.

A wild night in Morgantown, W.Va., ended with an even crazier finish, when Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond snagged a diving interception on Paul Millard’s fourth-down pass to clinch a 47-40 overtime victory.

The last-second win keeps Texas’ Big 12 championship hopes alive another week. The Longhorns got to 6-0 in the league despite another perfect storm of injuries and mistakes. They couldn’t have pulled this off without the help of a large cast of big-moment contributors and surprise saviors.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond and Texas made big plays when the Longhorns needed them most against West Virginia.
“That’s the way this team has had it all year. Nothing has been easy,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “They’ve had to come back from the dead and they’ve had to fight and claw each week and they’ve had to win some tight games. They just continue to amaze me and overcome everything.”

This wasn’t like the Iowa State game, when Texas won an ugly 31-30 game and Brown was nothing but smiles, declaring a win a win and that he loves nothing more than a comeback on the road. That cheery optimism drew more than a few eye rolls.

No, this was a get the heck out of Dodge -- or, in this case, Appalachia -- and get home with a win, and no more casualties.

“We’ll take this win any time,” quarterback Case McCoy said.

For Texas, nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong early on did. The first four offensive possessions ended with a safety on a blocked punt, an interception, a fumble and a punt.

Its defense forced five turnovers and recorded six sacks. The Longhorns have never lost a game in the past decade when getting four takeaways. But they came awfully close on this night, with a rough first half of offense and injuries to running back Johnathan Gray, defensive tackle Chris Whaley and right tackle Kennedy Estelle.

Texas trailed 19-13 at halftime, then 26-16 midway through the third quarter. And yet, this team kept finding a way to scrap together just enough, delivering on every critical moment.

Jaxon Shipley caught his first touchdown of the season, on as beautiful and difficult a pass as McCoy has thrown, with a diving two-handed grab on a corner route.

Then came Shipley’s fourth-down conversion on Texas’ final drive in regulation. And Malcolm Brown’s 27-yard run. And Anthony Fera’s field goal to send Texas to the first overtime of Brown’s entire coaching tenure, and just the second in school history.

There was Marcus Johnson’s third-down catch in overtime. And Major Applewhite’s best play call of the year, a play-action pass on third down to Alex De La Torre, whose first career catch gave Texas its overtime lead.

And then there was Edmond, the once-maligned middle linebacker, batting a floated pass at the goal line on third down and slipping back to snag an interception on the game’s final play.

Big moments, each of them. Drop the ball once and it could be game over. The Longhorns delivered, over and over again.

“When I got that pick, I felt like I just won the lottery, like I was just the richest man on earth,” Edmond said. “I didn’t know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, you just do crazy stuff. I just took off running.”

And his teammates, tired and worn out but undeniably relieved, chased him as Edmond tried running the length of the field.

How long a run does this Texas team have left? Next up, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home. Then Baylor on the road, possibly for the Big 12 title, Baylor’s BCS title hopes, Texas’ Fiesta Bowl dreams and all the other marbles.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These Longhorns aren’t. They’ve been humbled a few times during the six-game streak, enough to know that they’re living one week at a time.

We don’t know the prognosis on Gray. If he misses extended time -- he was in a boot and crutches by the end of the night -- Texas’ coaching staff will need to go back to the drawing board this week and find new ways for their offense to get the job done.

Another key leader went down early on, when Whaley was lost for the night with a left knee injury. The senior leader, a heart-and-soul cog of the defense, wiped away tears as he left the field on a cart.

His defense kept going, plugging in tackle Desmond "Tank" Jackson and getting an inspired performance and two sacks. They survived and advanced.

This is a resilient bunch. They shouldn’t even be in this position after starting 1-2. West Virginia found ways to exploit them on both sides of the ball. They can lose any or all of these final three games.

But just when you’re ready to count them out, the Longhorns somehow keep fighting.

“They’ve been called everything, they had their struggles when they got started, they never got their head down,” Brown said. “They kept their head up and played with pride. I’m just happy to coach them and continue to watch them play.

“It’ll be interesting to watch them the next three weeks. I’m not going to bet against them.”

Big 12 primer: Week 10

November, 2, 2013
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Texas will look to keep things rolling, Kansas State will hope to take another step toward becoming bowl eligible; West Virginia and TCU will try to keep their bowl hopes alive, and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will stage the first Big 12 title elimination game of the season.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 10 of the Big 12:

Kansas at Texas, 2:30 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): As a reliever, QB Case McCoy bailed the Longhorns out at Kansas last year. Now the starter, McCoy has been a big reason for Texas’ October turnaround. He delivered Adjusted QBRs of 90.8 and 95.4 in the Horns’ victories over Oklahoma and TCU. With Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown churning out yards between the tackles, Marcus Johnson and Mike Davis beating people deep, and McCoy putting the ball on the money, this is the best the Texas offense has looked since Colt McCoy was quarterbacking it.

Iowa State at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Wildcats have five straight wins in the “Farmageddon” series, but none has come easy. All five wins have been within a single score. But these are teams headed in opposite directions. The banged-up Cyclones have been outscored by 95 points the last two weeks. With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back, K-State is finally healthy again and is coming off its best win of the year, a 35-12 rout of West Virginia.

West Virginia at TCU, 2:30 p.m. CT (ESPNU): Both teams desperately need a victory, both for morale and for bowl hopes. This game will feature two of the three worst offenses in the league. The one that can finish off drives with touchdowns instead of field goals will be the one that prevails here.

No. 18 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Texas Tech, 6 p.m. CT (FOX): This week, coach Mike Gundy acknowledged that the Cowboys will be in trouble against a rugged November schedule if they don’t complete more passes. Last year, according to ESPN Stats & Info, QB Clint Chelf completed 49 percent of his throws of 15 yards or longer. This season, that percentage has plummeted to 31 percent. Considering Tech is second among BCS conference teams in yards after the catch, the Cowboys will have to answer with plays down the field to keep up in Lubbock.

Stats that matter: Kansas-Texas

October, 30, 2013
10/30/13
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats & Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference on Saturday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ home game this weekend against Kansas (2:30 p.m. CT, Longhorn Network).

1. One

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayOne of the major improvements Greg Robinson has made to Texas' defense is cutting down on missed tackles.
Texas’ defense was one of the nation’s worst last year when it came to missing tackles. In Manny Diaz’s two games as defensive coordinator this season, the Longhorns missed a combined 24 tackles, which tied for third worst in FBS. A total of 17 occurred at BYU alone.

However, against TCU last weekend, the Longhorn defense had one missed tackle. One.

Texas’ missed tackle numbers have been steadily declining since it began Big 12 play, from 11 against Kansas State to nine vs. Iowa State to four against Oklahoma. And those improvements have come without the help of Texas’ best linebacker, Jordan Hicks.

Those stunning improvements are a testament to what Greg Robinson and Texas' defensive staff have achieved in the past month, and they are also indicative of the high level of confidence this unit is playing with right now.

2. 82.4

There’s a valid case to be made that Case McCoy is playing like the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 right now. During October, McCoy had an opponent-adjusted QBR of 82.4, which ranked No. 2 in the conference behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty and No. 11 nationally.

He finished third in the conference this month in yards per attempt (7.8) as well as completions of 20-plus yards (10). He also went 3-0, and each of those wins came away from Austin.

Keep this in mind: His three interceptions in the last two games came in the second half, after Texas had already secured victory. His gunslinger tendencies still pop up from time to time, but they haven’t gotten him in trouble yet. He’ll have to keep those mistakes to a minimum if Texas is serious about running the table.

3. 0-25

Everyone knows this stat by now, but there’s no ignoring it: Kansas has now lost 25 straight Big 12 games. That’s the second-longest losing streak in league history, behind Baylor’s 29-game slide from 1998 to 2001.

In the past five seasons, Kansas is 2-36 in Big 12 play. The average scoring margin of those 38 games has been 23.1 points, or an average score of 40-17. During that period, the Jayhawks have also employed three different head coaches. The two rare victories came in games when Kansas managed to score 40-plus points.

KU has never defeated Texas in their 10 meetings as Big 12 foes, but its four-point loss to Texas last year remains the closest Charlie Weis has come to winning a Big 12 game in his tenure.

Three more to remember

No. 120: Kansas’ FBS ranking in yards per play. The Jayhawks are averaging 4.24 yards per play on offense, fourth worst nationally.

31.7: Texas receiver Marcus Johnson is averaging 31.7 yards per catch on third downs in his last four games. He has seven receptions on 10 targets, scoring touchdowns on two and picking up first downs on four others.

10/4/2008: The last time Kansas won a Big 12 road game, a 35-33 victory at Iowa State. KU has lost 19 straight conference road games since then.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 from Week 9:

1. Texas Tech is no fraud: The Red Raiders might not have come out of Norman with a victory. But unlike the ’02 and ’08 teams, they came to play the Sooners. Tech never lost its poise, even when down two touchdowns, and executed a series of trick plays to retake the lead in the third quarter. Ultimately, the Red Raiders committed too many killer penalties and turned the ball over too many times to beat Oklahoma on its home field. But the Red Raiders also proved their 7-0 start was not a mirage. Kliff Kingsbury’s aggressive game plan showed why he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks. And even in defeat, Tech showed it’s still a team that could win 10 games this season -- and it's a program with a bright future.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State has found its running back after Desmond Roland rushed for a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State.
2. Desmond Roland is Oklahoma State’s best running back: The Cowboys still can’t throw the ball. But at least in Ames, they found their running back, as Roland at last got the Oklahoma State running game going. On 26 carries, he racked up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Cowboys to a 58-27 win at Iowa State. His 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, in which he rumbled over Cyclone after Cyclone, gave the Cowboys a 38-20 lead and the Pokes some breathing room after a sloppy second quarter. The passing game remains a mess. In his first start since the opener, Clint Chelf threw for just 78 yards and completed just 10 of 26 passes. But at least in Roland, the Cowboys now have someone they can run their offense through going into next weekend’s showdown at Texas Tech.

3. The OU win wasn’t a one-game anomaly for Texas: The Longhorns moved to 4-0 in the Big 12 with a dominating 30-7 victory at TCU. They also showed that the win over Oklahoma two weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. Texas carried over its winning recipe from the Red River win into Fort Worth. They fed the ball to running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, who churned out another 145 yards on the ground against a tough TCU defense. Quarterback Case McCoy made some big throws downfield to Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson. And the defense forced turnovers. This is not the same club that got pummeled by BYU and Ole Miss earlier in the season. The Longhorns are quickly gaining confidence, and for good reason, are beginning to believe they could bring the Big 12 title to Austin.

4. K-State is better than its record: After suffering four tough losses, including three in the league, Kansas State finally got its first Big 12 win with an impressive 35-12 pasting of West Virginia. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams were fabulous throwing the ball, combining to complete 18 of 21 passes. And receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson were terrific in their returns from injuries, totaling four touchdown receptions. This was a game the Wildcats had to have to make a bowl game. And at 3-4, K-State still has work to do. But the Wildcats sure looked like a bowl team against West Virginia. Given the remaining schedule, K-State is a good bet to get to six wins.

5. Baylor will be humming entering the defining part of its schedule: The Bears have yet to face a ranked opponent. But after their 45-point win at Kansas, they will head into a Nov. 7 tilt with Oklahoma still on a roll. Once again, QB Bryce Petty was on target with 430 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Lache Seastrunk spearheaded another impressive ground game for Baylor. The Bears have been the most impressive team in the Big 12 by far. They remain the league favorite. Yet their mettle is about to be tested. The Bears face ranked opponents (Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) in their next three games, a defining stretch that will determine whether they are truly a national title contender. But after another dominating performance, Baylor will go into that stretch healthy, with all pistons firing.

Delay doesn't slow Texas in statement win

October, 27, 2013
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- By the time Texas players stormed the field, after a thoroughly convincing win at TCU, almost nobody was paying attention. But that's only because it was 12:32 a.m. CT.

By then, after severe weather delayed this game three hours and six minutes, the rest of the nation either couldn't figure out which channel the game had been moved to or had already gone off to bed.

Many will see only a box score on Sunday morning -- Texas 30, TCU 7 -- and shrug it off, noting that the once-great TCU is now off to a 3-5 start to its season.

In fact, even those who didn't give up on this six-hour affair likely will be too distracted by the game's final five minutes -- when Texas freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes made a startling cameo -- to step back and recognize this victory for what it was.

Texas made a statement on Saturday night, even if nobody was watching.

Never mind the fact that, thanks to Oklahoma's tough 38-30 win over Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas are the lone schools atop the Big 12 standings now. The Longhorns, underdogs in back-to-back games, have gone out and proved plenty.

Oklahoma and TCU were picked second and third, respectively, in the preseason Big 12 media poll. They were considered serious Big 12 title contenders. And Texas just stomped both of them, on both sides of the ball, with surprising ease.

Just ask Marcus Johnson, the sophomore receiver who burned TCU's venerated secondary for 120 yards and a touchdown on three catches.

"Oklahoma was a huge game. Obviously that was a monkey off our back," Johnson said. "TCU coming in having one of the best secondaries, especially for our wide receivers, really showed that we can really compete with anyone in the nation. But it's just one of those things where, week by week, we have to stay focused. We can't slack off or be complacent.

"No matter what team you're facing, it's the Big 12 conference. It's a crazy conference. Just have to be ready every week."

As hard as it is to believe, Bob Stoops and Gary Patterson -- two of the best in their business -- could not get their teams ready for this suddenly confident, motivated Texas squad.

Mack Brown said the only message he'll send his team after tonight is this: Beat Kansas. Get to 5-0 in the Big 12. That's all that matters. Still, he savored this one.

"That's pretty good when you go on the road, you win big against a team that beat you last year, that doesn't like you very much, with a three-hour delay," Brown said.

His quarterback, Case McCoy, continues to surprise. His one-two punch at running back is doing all the right things. His offensive line just put together two strong games in a row.

But it's the defense that is stealing the show for Texas. Last time the Longhorns faced this kind of a weather delay, their defense turned in one of its worst performances ever against BYU. It's completely unrecognizable today.

In its past two games, Texas' defense has allowed just two touchdowns. One came on a trick play Saturday. The other came after a 73-yard kickoff return against Oklahoma.

After TCU connected on a double-pass for a touchdown to make it 10-7 late in the first quarter, the Frogs fell into an inescapable funk. The Longhorns' Steve Edmond picked off Casey Pachall in Texas territory on the following drive, and TCU settled for punts on its next nine possessions. Pachall finished 13-for-34 for 140 yards in his first game since Sept. 7.

The game was essentially over when Malcolm Brown's 3-yard touchdown run put Texas ahead 27-7. That came just 5:20 into the second half, and the Longhorns were able to go on cruise control -- except for two McCoy interceptions -- the rest of the way.

And then, at 12:23 a.m., Mack Brown made a decision that folks in Austin will spend the next week debating, and maybe a lot longer. With 4:57 left, he sent Swoopes trotting onto the field for an eight-play debut that woke up anybody who might've started dozing off.

Swoopes had an 8-yard run. Two pass plays were called, but he didn't throw on either. He took a sack on fourth down to end the drive. Anyone who missed it did not miss much.

But the move means a whole lot more than the 29 yards gained. Brown confirmed after the game that David Ash will not play against Kansas next weekend. There's still no timetable on his return.

"We don't know what David's situation is down the road," Brown said. "We know he's not going to play next week, because he was not released this morning. So we want to get Tyrone ready to go. We said we were not redshirting him, we wanted to play him some. Hard to get more meaningful time when you're trying to win."

We'll be hashing out the endless layers of that decision for days to come, no doubt. But the fact Texas, the two-point underdog, was feeling so comfortable with a 23-point lead that it could make a move like that just goes to show how not-close this game ended up being.

Brown fully expected a brawl this weekend. Instead, he got another blowout. His own team is surprising him.

"They are. It's who I thought we would be in preseason," he said. "It's who I thought we'd be in the summer."

After these last two games, there's no telling what this team could be in December.
AUSTIN, Texas -- By now, Texas’ opponents should know plenty about Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley. The scouting reports on those two are obvious.

The Longhorns love to go deep to Davis. He has 30 receptions of 20-plus yards in his career. Shipley is the guy who makes his hay over the middle and on critical downs.

[+] EnlargeKendall Sanders
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWith 25 receptions for 240 yards, Kendall Sanders has found a home as Texas' slot receiver.
They've been doing that for years. TCU has plenty of tape on those two entering this week’s matchup.

The Horned Frogs could have a harder time on Saturday when it comes to accounting for the new wild cards of this Longhorn offense -- Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson.

The sophomore wideouts are starting to emerge as dangerous options. Shipley, for one, is not at all surprised to see them thriving this fall.

“It’s crazy because a lot of people don’t think they have much experience because they didn’t play last year,” Shipley said. “We’ve seen them, ever since they’ve been here, gradually every day they've gotten better and improved. Those guys are making huge plays during camp. We already knew they were going to do big things.

“Everybody outside hadn't seen it, so they didn't know. We had all the confidence in the world in putting them in.”

Johnson enjoyed his breakout moment against Oklahoma, beating his defender on a wheel route and hauling in a 59-yard touchdown. That score, the first of his young career, put Texas up 17-3 in the second quarter.

“[Chris] Whaley's touchdown and that great shot from Case [McCoy] to Marcus Johnson -- those were some big plays for us and I believe those two shifted the momentum for us,” Texas running back Malcolm Brown said after the game.

Johnson first broke onto the scene in September against Kansas State when he picked up big first downs on catches of 14 and 21 yards along the sideline. He’s now averaging 19.5 yards per reception on his seven catches.

It’s a nice start for a wideout who saw action in eight games last season but caught no passes. Sanders didn’t have much of a role either, recording two catches in 11 games. Both entered the season with high expectations, especially with Texas’ need to replace NFL draft pick Marquise Goodwin in the slot.

Sanders rose to the challenge and becoming the clear No. 3 option among Longhorns receivers. In fact, he has nearly just as many targets (43) as Shipley (46) and Davis (45) do this season, and has turned that into 25 catches for 240 yards.

He seems to have found a good rapport with new starter Case McCoy, too. Sanders has a team-high 18 receptions in the three games McCoy has started, though his best play this season came on a pass from Ash.

On a play that’s usually Davis’ specialty, Sanders snuck behind Kansas State’s defense to haul in a 63-yard bomb for his first career score.

Add in the early-season exploits of the explosive Daje Johnson, who despite injury problems already has a rushing, receiving and return touchdown, and 2013 has been a good one for Texas’ trio of sophomore wideouts.

“They’re taking an extra step to get better and starting to put their names out in college football,” running back Johnathan Gray said. “They’re doing a great job for us right now and they’re hard workers. The sky’s the limit for those guys.”

TCU has the No. 1 run defense in the Big 12. It also has the league’s best cornerback in Jason Verrett, who will no doubt be dedicating his attention to Davis and Shipley.

That could potentially make for a big day for Sanders and Johnson. It’s never quite that simple, of course, and TCU has more talent in its secondary, but either could be the X-factor that Texas’ offense seeks.

While Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite likes what he’s seen from the duo in practice and games, he’s careful to give too much praise. Sanders and Johnson are not done developing.

“That’s the biggest thing. The road to the championship is always under construction,” Applewhite said. “You've got to keep working. You’re never there, you’ve never arrived.”

But when the Longhorns find themselves in need of a momentum-changing play this weekend, don’t be surprised if one of the sophomores gets a chance to build on the breakout seasons they've begun.

Texas finds what Oklahoma loses

October, 14, 2013
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A critical exchange of possessions in the second quarter defined this year’s Red River Rivalry.

With the Sooners trailing 10-3, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel dialed up three consecutive Blake Bell passes. All three fell incomplete.

Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite countered with three consecutive runs between the tackles for a first down. The drive ultimately ended with Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson in man coverage that gave the Longhorns control of the game.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell and Oklahoma didn't take advantage of opportunities against Texas..
Saturday, on the same field where Texas finally uncovered an offensive identity, the Sooners completely lost theirs.

Oklahoma’s recipe for success before Dallas was simple and effective. Run the ball, take care of the ball and make the necessary plays in the fourth quarter. The game plan worked wonders in the Sooners’ convincing victory at Notre Dame. It was enough to beat TCU, too.

But against the Longhorns, once Oklahoma’s shaky passing attack was exposed, the entire offense fell apart.

Texas loaded the box and checked the Sooners’ ground game. The Longhorns dared Heupel and quarterback Blake Bell to beat them deep. And the Sooners blinked first.

Bell completed just 1 of 7 downfield attempts that were longer than 10 yards – a fullback pop to Trey Millard for 29 yards early in the game. Considering the defensive scheme Texas employed, the lack of completions downfield was staggering. The lack of attempts, even more so.

“There were opportunities there a little bit to unload the box that we're not taking advantage of,” Heupel said. “We haven't been good on the outside or in the middle of the field — anything past 15 yards. We’ve got to be better. There are explosive plays out there that have the opportunity to win. We’ve just got to make them.”

Heupel also shied away from calling many quarterback runs, which had been so effective for Oklahoma in the past and so lethal against the Longhorns this season. Against a loaded box, having the extra blocker would have been useful. But the Sooners didn’t attempt to capitalize off Bell’s power wheels, and Bell only ran three times for just eight yards.

“That’s just the way Coach Heupel and all of our offensive coaches wanted to go into the football game,” answered Bob Stoops, when asked why more Bell runs weren’t called. “Again, there were just some things we don't feel so comfortable with in some areas always with Blake.”

If the Sooners didn’t feel comfortable with Bell throwing the ball downfield or running him, maybe they should have made another quarterback change. But that wasn’t considered, either.

Now, the Sooners are left to pick up the pieces from their Red River disaster and rework an offensive identity that went to pot in Dallas.

“There’s no magical pill you’re going to take and correct it,” Heupel said. “You just go back to work.”

According to all reports, the Longhorns didn’t take any magic pills before the Oklahoma game. But they played a like a completely different team than the one that had shuffled through the first five games. And a week after calling 45 passes, Applewhite opted to run the offense through hard-nosed running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown behind the Longhorns’ veteran offensive line.

“They were determined to go play, determined to move the ball and they understood the game plan,” Applewhite said of his line. “I think we spelled it out for them in terms of where we wanted to be on third down so we could possess the ball and convert and keep the chains moving. I think the game plan was a lot more simplified; the schemes were very simple.”

The simple scheme couldn’t have worked better for burnt orange.

Texas gained five yards anytime it wanted up the middle, as Gray and Brown both rushed for more than 100 yards. That took the pressure off quarterback Case McCoy, who delivered the big plays when he was called on to.

The last three years, Texas coach Mack Brown has been trying to locate the right identity for the Longhorns offense. This past offseason, Brown indicated he wanted to speed up the tempo and spread the field.

But as Saturday showed, this offense is built to run between the tackles, then throw deep to a host of speedy receivers.

The formula worked wonders against the Sooners. And could work wonders going forward, too.

“I loved the game plan,” McCoy said. “I was confident in the plan and knew in any situation what was going on and what I was doing. We played hard and played to the plan.

“And that's exciting.”

Five things learned about Texas' offense

September, 26, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- At last, we’ve reached a one-week reprieve after a rollercoaster month of Texas football. Now is a good time to look back and break down what we know and what we’re still trying to figure out about this Longhorn offense.

Here are five things we’ve learned about Texas’ offense after four games:

1. There’s a question mark at quarterback.

David Ash is Texas’ No. 1 quarterback, and nobody doubts that. He gets more than a week to recover from the concussion-related symptoms that forced him out of the Kansas State game, and there’s optimism that he’ll be fine and cleared in time to play Iowa State next Thursday. There’s still a chance, though, that Texas coaches will use the wild card up their sleeve and play freshman Tyrone Swoopes, at least in a limited capacity. Protecting Ash is an absolute necessity, and if he has more issues going forward we’ll see more Case McCoy and more opportunity for Swoopes to contribute.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray has assumed the role of Texas' workhorse in the backfield.
2. Texas is getting a hang of its tempo

Mack Brown’s ambitious goal in the preseason was 84 plays per game. Texas is doing OK on that front, having surpassed 80 twice this season with an average of 77 per game. The Longhorns struggled early in the season to put the foot on the gas pedal and get off to fast starts, though jumping ahead 10-0 against Kansas State was promising. When the Longhorns are really moving the ball, they can play at a blistering pace and wear down a defense, especially with the run game. Now that the Big 12 slate has begun, expect to see this become more of a factor.

3. Johnathan Gray is taking the next step

The lion’s share of the run game is being entrusted to the former five-star recruit, and against K-State he showed just what he’s capable of when he gets a big workload. At 350 yards he’s the No. 2 rusher in the Big 12, and the mix of agility, vision and power he brings to the table are beginning to set him apart. Gray is getting 60 percent of Texas’ carries in 2013, with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron splitting the remaining 40 percent evenly. No matter what happens at quarterback, Gray is the guy Texas can lean on.

4. Texas has depth to deal with its pileup of injuries

If you’d told Texas fans in August that Ash, Mike Davis, Daje Johnson, Josh Cochran and several other starters would get injured during the first quarter of the season, they might be a bit more understanding of a 2-2 start. But a handful of second-year players, including Marcus Johnson, Kennedy Estelle and Kendall Sanders, rose to the occasion last Saturday when replacing those key cogs. That depth needs to keep providing for Texas if it hopes to survive (and thrive) in conference play.

5. We don’t know how good this offense can be

If the season opener taught us anything, it’s that Texas can maximize its tempo, speed and versatility when Daje Johnson is on the field. The running back/receiver can hit the home run on any play and creates lots of problems for opposing defenses. The Longhorns offense can start playing up to its potential when its X-factor returns to the lineup from an ankle injury, possibly next week against Iowa State. Unless more injuries derail this unit, its best days and performances are still ahead.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
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Several Big 12 schools had a bye but other squads saw several players step up when they needed them on Saturday. Here's a look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during Week 4:

Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor: On an offense full of stars, Goodley is quietly making a major impact with the Bears. He had five receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns in Baylor’s 70-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe. He brings excellent size and speed to the Baylor offense, adding yet another explosive threat at quarterback Bryce Petty's disposal. He has 14 receptions for 370 yards and four touchdowns this season, with 13 of those 14 receptions ending up in a first down or touchdown.

Linebacker Ben Heeney, Kansas: The junior was exceptional for the second straight week. Heeney gets overlooked because of KU’s struggles but he’s one of the league’s top defenders. He had 10 tackles -- including a half-tackle for loss -- one interception and one pass breakup. He’s a linebacker who is comfortable in space with the ability to make plays in the running game or passing game. He should be an anchor of KU’s defense for the rest of the year, he just needs help from his teammates.

Linebacker Blake Slaughter, Kansas State: Slaughter was a beast against the Longhorns, making Wildcats fans momentarily forget Arthur Brown. He had 10 tackles, three pass breakups and one quarterback hurry, but his activity on the second level of KSU’s defense should be encouraging with the heart of Big 12 play right around the corner.

Receiver Marcus Johnson, Texas: Who? That’s exactly what Kansas State was saying as Johnson made clutch reception after clutch reception in UT’s 31-21 win over the Wildcats. He finished with five receptions for 70 yards, with three of those catches coming on third down. The sophomore stepped up with Mike Davis and Daje Johnson out against KSU and could emerge as a clutch playmaker who can take advantage of one-on-one opportunities when that playmaking duo returns to the Texas’ lineup.

Linebacker Will Smith, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders defender is constantly around the ball, evidenced by his 9-yard fumble return after Kerry Hyder's fumble in Tech’s 33-7 win over Texas State. He had eight tackles and one tackle for loss against the Bobcats. It’s rare to watch a Red Raiders game and not notice No. 7’s active nature. His continued consistency could be a key for Texas Tech as they enter the heart of Big 12 play.

Running back Dreamius Smith, West Virginia: Really? An unsung hero after the Mountaineers’ 37-0 shellacking at the hands of Maryland? Well, Smith actually had 12 carries for 74 yards, 6.2 yards per carry and, most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over in the loss. On a squad searching for playmakers on offense, it’s been unusual to watch Dana Holgorsen use Smith sparingly at times. Expect that to change in the future as WVU tries to find some type of identity on offense.

Note: Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU had a bye.

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