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Once again, the first part of our weekly preview series looks to the five primary playmakers for the Texas Longhorns. We're going offense-only this week since there are so many worthy going over.
When I look at the players Texas actually has on its roster, I am actually astounded by the fact that their offense isn't more potent. They have at their disposal one of the best running back groups in the country according to recent recruiting rankings, several skilled receivers with speed and size, and a couple of in-between players with tools galore. Texas fans would probably object vociferously to my characterization, and they certainly know more about things than I do, and they'd probably point to two things: 1) offensive line and 2) QB. The problems at the QB position are particularly vexing since you can't hide a poor QB against even decent defenses. To force an analogy, it you appears UT is in its own post-Aikman (Colt McCoy) phase looking for a Tony Romo and hoping it doesn't take nearly so long. That hope seemed validated early this season with the progress made by starter David Ash, but all of that seemed to come crashing down this past week against Oklahoma. Does that mean it was illusory to begin with? I don't know, but that's where our list starts.
1. David Ash -- QB -- #14
As you can see from his stats, last season was basically a disaster for Ash as he was pushed into service in his true freshman campaign due to the stunning final chapter in the saga of Garrett Gilbert (at least at Texas). Because of Gilbert's struggles in the first game, Texas experienced what can only be characterized as a three-way logjam at the position until he was sidelined for good after Week 3. After that, UT flip-flopped between Case McCoy and David Ash as the two took turns having decent performances. Ash finally seized the job going into the game against Oklahoma State for game 6 before (if I recall correctly) getting injured against Kansas State for the rest of the season.
That same QB controversy that plagued the 2011 Longhorns was not to repeat itself this year as Ash grabbed the bull by the horns in the summer (despite a hamstring injury) and was named the starter for his efforts. He responded capably in the early going and seemed to turn a corner with his outstanding performance against Ole Miss. I have to say, though, that I've never been fully convinced. From what I've seen, Ash seems to have issues with arm strength and often underthrows his receivers. Against OU his footwork in the pocket broke down due to the pressure from OU's DL. A gruesome-looking (but apparently mostly benign) wrist injury eventually knocked him from that game, but he's practiced every day since finding out the wrist wasn't broken and has stated confidently that he intends to play this weekend.
2. Joe Bergeron -- RB -- #24
After only getting only 4 carries for 1 yard and a safety against Oklahoma last week, Joe Bergeron is once again listed as the starter on Texas' depth chart this week at running back after being limited the past few weeks by a shoulder injured suffered against Ole Miss. Despite that injury, Bergeron is both the leading rusher for the Longhorns and the player with the most attempts, probably due, once again, to injury. Fellow sophomore RB Malcolm Brown sprained his ankle against Oklahoma State three weeks ago and has now missed both of the last two games. It appears since he's listed behind Bergeron and true freshman Jonathan Gray that he could miss our game, as well. For his part, Bergeron's primary attribute is size; he is basically a clone of Glasco Martin and used much the same way in the Longhorn offense. If he gets the biggest part of the load on Saturday, expect it to be in the role of a power back as they try to bruise our front seven repeatedly. If he doesn't get the primary load, it will go to...
3. Johnathan Gray -- RB -- #32
Mr. All-Everything 5* RB recruit and the jewel of Texas' 2012 recruiting class. Everybody in the country wanted this kid because of what he did in high school and what he's likely to do in college. If he didn't set a record at Aledo, it's because that record doesn't matter. He scored something like 2,000 touchdowns in 4 years and probably scored another while I wrote that sentence. He has speed, size, agility, vision ... I think you get the point.
So far this season, injuries have actually helped Gray get more playing time than I think anybody, including Gray, probably expected. His numbers aren't great as he has a lot to learn about playing the position and is still adjusting to the speed of the college game, but the talent is there. I wouldn't be surprised if Texas uses Bergeron and Gray liberally against our defense in a thunder and lightning-type combo to grind us down before taking a few shots. And when those shots go up, they be in the direction of...
4. Mike Davis -- WR -- #1
In terms of receptions and yardage, Mike Davis leads the way for the 2012 Texas Longhorns just as he did in 2011. Davis is a junior with both size and speed, and when Ash goes downfield, it will probably be his way. He is a crisp route runner with good body control to come back to the ball if it is underthrown, and he seems to have corrected his major issue from last season: drops. Variously listed as 6-1 or 6-2, it probably doesn't matter too much how tall he actually is. Texas is going to take a few deep shots and they'll probably go to Davis.
5. Jaxon Shipley -- WR -- #8
At some point authorities are going to find the cloning lab where UT keeps churning out McCoys and Shipleys, but until then, we've got another one to worry about. Jaxon is a bit taller than his brother Jordan, I believe, but sacrifices a bit of quickness for that size. Like his brother, he returned a few punts last season, something he hasn't yet done this year. Texas seems to use Shipley mostly in the intermediate passing game, and he's a reliable pass-catcher across the middle of the field. For that reason, I'm actually a little more scared of Shipley than I am Davis. We also need to watch out for trick plays; Shipley threw 4 passes last season and Texas might try something like that early on against us to get the offense going.
Jeremy Hills -- RB -- #5: mostly a third-down back, has 4x as many receptions (12) this season as rushing attempts (3). If he comes in, it's probably to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Marquise Goodwin -- WR -- #84: Absolute speed-demon. Sometimes used in jet sweeps and the screen offense.
D.J. Monroe -- RB/WR -- #26: Much more a RB than a WR, but listed as the latter. Supposedly incapable of learning the playbook under Greg Davis, so they basically just hand him the ball and let him go. Game-changing speed.
Daje Johnson -- RB/WR -- #27: Another true freshman with huge talent that is playing this season. Actually leads the team in yards per reception of players with more than 10 catches.