Best player - David Ash, QB
After two years of shoddy quarterback play, it’s alarming that anybody would gripe about Ash underthrowing a few receivers. Those issues will get ironed out. It’s not surprising Ash has been good — come on, look at the defenses he’s gone up against — but it is surprising just how good he’s been. He’s third in the nation in completion percentage and passer rating, seventh in yards per attempt and one of only 14 qualifying quarterbacks (minimum of 15 attempts per game) to have not thrown an interception. Don’t forget, this is the guy who threw eight of ‘em as a freshman last season. Can he keep it up? We’ll see. But if he can, it’s not hard to imagine Texas being in the hunt for a conference championship come November.
Most disappointing - Carrington Byndom, CB
Byndom’s still an above-average collegiate cornerback, but he simply hasn’t made the strides expected of him after a promising sophomore season. He has one interception, but doesn’t rank in the top 100 nationally in passes defended or passes broken up. Heck, he doesn’t even have a PBU. This isn’t a case of quarterbacks not throwing his way — they most certainly are. Byndom has whiffed on several tackles in the secondary to allow long plays. When he was most effective a year ago, Byndom was bumping receivers at the line of scrimmage, then blanketing them the rest of the way. Now, most of the time, he’s playing eight yards off and allowing curl route after curl route. With four consecutive games against fantastic receiving corps on the horizon, Byndom has a chance to prove he hasn’t lost a step.
Trend to watch
Yes, total yards rushing and yards per carry are a perfectly fine way to measure running backs, but what matters more is what a runner does with each of his carries. I’ve been tracking “quality carries” this season, which is classified as one that gains four-plus yards or results in a first down or touchdown. Broken down into percentages, here’s how it looks for Texas’ three main ballcarriers.
Will Bergeron and Brown continue to share the workload? It’s worth asking after the latter was handed the ball just twice against New Mexico, though Brown rebounded with a brilliant showing against Ole Miss. And when will Gray be ready for 10-plus carries a game? That needs answering, too, especially when head coach Mack Brown said his ideal carries distribution would be 15-15-15. Gray, the No. 1 running back recruit out of high school last season, did not come to Austin to play a bit role.
The Texas offensive line has made major strides since last season, when it gave up one sack every 13 passing attempts. The rate the Longhorns are at now, they’re giving up one sack every 36. It’s no surprise the Longhorns are racking up 269 yards a game, which was expected coming into this season.
The group has taken on the nasty mentality of its leader, right guard Mason Walters, who had 12 pancake blocks in the season opener.
“Coach [Mack] Brown always talks about how great players can’t have a bad day, and that’s extremely true,” Walters said.
The JUCO addition of Brandon Hawkins at left tackle been big. Seven of the Longhorns’ 11 rushing touchdowns have been run in his direction.
Due for a breakout - Josh Turner, cornerback
Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Baylor all utilize multi-receiver sets. To counter, the Longhorns will slide Kenny Vaccaro to the slot to play the nickel and bring in either Turner or Mykkele Thompson as the fifth defensive back. While Thompson might have better long-term upside, the nod here goes to Turner, who is very fluid in coverage and boasts good ball skills. Right now, he just seems more comfortable in the secondary than Thompson.