For the first half of the Holiday Bowl, it seemed like we would see much of the same Texas team we had all year: an all-world defense carrying a stalled offense. By the second half, that all changed.
Now I’m not suggesting the Texas offense could burn elite defenses, or even score toe-to-toe with the Oregons, Oklahoma States and Baylors of the world, but I am saying the Longhorns finally played to their offensive potential. It was the type of performance fans were hoping to see, and the coordinators were hoping to rely on all season.
In order, the credit should first be bestowed upon co-offensive coordinator and play-caller, Bryan Harsin. Knowing he had a defense that had bailed his offense out for most of the season, Harsin saved his finest called game for last.
No one player had particularly blistering stats, as the Longhorns don't yet have the play makers to do so. Quarterback David Ash, the game’s offensive MVP, only tossed 142 yards and a touchdown to go with his receiving score. A healthy Malcolm Brown ran for only 35 yards, and Marquise Goodwin had three catches for 49 yards, one of which was a 47 yard touchdown.
But the rest of the box score tells the story. Ash spread the ball around to six different receivers, and Texas had seven rushers that amassed a combined 109 yards. Given the extraordinary field position the Longhorns had for much of the game, a 100+ yard rushing game is more than efficient. It’s the type of prototypical, grinding run attack Harsin has wanted all year so that he could open up the playbook for a little fun.
“…[Harsin’s offensive philosophy] is one of the reasons why I hired Bryan,” Brown said after the game. “He believes in running the football, he believes in being physical, but he's got toys in the pocket that he's going to take advantage of things when he can."
In the past, Texas had to rely on its gadget plays out of desperation for a score. In the Holiday Bowl, Harsin had the time, the defensive support, and most importantly, the possessions (Texas never turnedthe ball over) to play trickster when it was most effective.
Don’t get it confused, this offense has a long way to go. After the first half it turned in, it seemed like Texas was headed for a repeat of its ninth and tenth games of the year where the Longhorns only managed 18 total points against Missouri and Kansas State. As you’ll remember, Texas put up big yards against Baylor in its final game, but also turned the ball over six times. So their 21 points isn’t much, but it’s better than the 16 the Longhorns averaged in the last quarter of the year.
As I said in early December, an 8-5 record is a heck of a lot more impressive than 7-6. The Longhorns will have many of their stout defenders returning to the 40 Acres, and by turning in the solid offensive performance they did, their most complete of the year, there are certainly big things to carryover to next season.