Longhorns look to keep pace against powerful California offense

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Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard played well in his first collegiate start with 120 yards passing and two touchdowns, but he’ll face a tougher test against California on Saturday.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ win against Rice last week brought the team a much-needed spark. 

Riding the momentum from last week’s victory, the Longhorns boast rejuvenated confidence and look to replicate their success Saturday against high-powered California.

“This is going to be the biggest test,” freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I’m glad we’re playing Cal right before conference play because we [have] seen the dual threat, and now we’re going to see a passing team.”

Offensively, Texas will look to build off its successes against Rice. With redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard at the helm, the offense scored four touchdowns on nine offensive drives and averaged over 7 yards per play last week. While the offensive production against Rice yielded a victory, keeping pace against California is a much different animal.

Led by junior quarterback Jared Goff, the Golden Bears rank No. 4 in passing yards, No. 7 in total points and No. 13 in yards per completion. Their up-tempo “air raid” offense will challenge the Longhorns’ young defense, and Texas’ offense will look to keep up.

“[Cal’s] going to be up-tempo, they score a lot of points,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “If we do give up the points, can we go match the score? That’s going to be key. Offensively, can we go down and match it?”

Heard will get his second start after electrifying Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium with big plays in his debut as a starter. He will not only need to score to match California’s points, but also he’ll need to sustain long drives and control the clock to keep the ball out of Goff’s hands. While the hype surrounding Heard increased this week, he said he’ll focus on preparation and humility this weekend.

“When that’s your first game, we win like that in such a big atmosphere, all the momentum on the field … it’s real hard not to just soak all of it in,” Heard said. “At the same time you just have to learn, too, just take it a game at a time and grind for it.”

Even though Strong says he expects a high-scoring game, the matchup provides Texas’ defense with an opportunity to improve against a high-level opponent. Coming into the year, the unit, led by an experienced defensive line, expected to provide stability. However, plagued by missed tackles and an inability to get stops on third down, the struggling Longhorns’ rank No. 115 in total defense.

“Defensively, we have to get off the field on third down,” Strong said. “We call that the money down. What’s happening right now is too many conversions, whether it be missed sacks, pressure, missing tackles. Just have to do a better job overall defensively.”

Additionally, California gives Texas’ defense a chance to defend an up-tempo, pass-heavy offense, reminiscent of some of the Big 12’s notorious passing offenses. Cal offers the Longhorns a glimpse of the balance they’ll need to strike to power their offense and stifle Big 12 opponents.

“It’s going to be a good challenge,” Heard said. “I have total confidence that our defense is going to make stops for us so we can put points up and match up with them.”

Texas kicks off at home at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.