Longhorns offensive line experienced but struggling

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With the Longhorns’ inability to thwart the BYU rushing attack stealing the headlines last Saturday, it is easy to overlook the sluggish performance by the Texas offensive line.

The Longhorns surrendered four sacks, five quarterback hurries and eight tackles for loss against the Cougars front seven, with much of this coming against only three pass rushers. They also failed to consistently create holes for the Texas running backs as the Longhorns averaged just 3.4 yards on 39 carries.  

Senior right guard Mason Walters understands that expectations are elevated for a Texas offensive line that leads the nation in combined starts. He believes the unit needs to play better than it did against a relatively inexperienced BYU team moving forward, saying that the best way to remain dynamic is to perform well on every play.

“If we don’t execute then anybody can beat us,” Walters said. “That’s something we need to continue to focus on, fundamentals and techniques. When things start to go crazy, especially on the third downs, when you have great pass-rushers coming against you, stick to what 
you know.”

The Longhorns offense struggled to move the chains, going just 5-for-17 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down. Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite believes that this was the result of too many third-and-long situations rather than the offensive line being completely overmatched by the BYU pass rush.

“Am I concerned about it?  No,” Applewhite said. “What happens when you get in long situations like that on third down, the advantage goes to the defense. That makes it extremely difficult on the quarterback.  We have to find a way to get ourselves in third-and-medium and third-and-short and find some more options.”

That said, the Longhorns failed to convert on a number of third-and-short situations against BYU, including on the first two drives of the game. Senior guard Trey Hopkins knows the importance of moving the chains in short yardage situations and he said that the linemen are continuing to work on limiting mistakes.

“That goes back to the execution, and we have to continue to execute better on offense,” Hopkins said. “We really need those third down conversions, and we really need short yard conversions.”

Head coach Mack Brown gave a vote of confidence to the offensive line, saying that they were hardly the only ones to blame for the Longhorns offensive inefficiency.

“The offensive line did some good things the other night,” Brown said. “We were in so many third-and-long situations. We ran the ball well at times, could have run it at other times better. We made some mistakes at quarterback and running back, even receiver that hurt us up front.  But I’m still positive about those guys moving forward.”

Brown said that he expects to determine the five starters along the line and trim the backup rotation to three reserves. Regardless, the Longhorns linemen know they have to elevate their play to keep maintain the fluidity of offensive drives.

After allowing just 16 sacks in all of 2012 and zero in the season opener last week, Texas’ offensive line took a step back against the Cougars. Brown is not concerned about the unit, however, and he expects it to return to form quickly.

“Nobody was pleased overall as unit Saturday night,” Brown said. “We got whipped. I think the [offensive line] unit is moving forward and will be a really good asset before the year is over.”