Texas wide receivers a stabilizing force in Longhorns offense

Peter Sblendorio

Coming into the season, the Longhorns faced a bevy of questions at the wide receiver position.

Veteran wideouts Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley missed time in training camp with nagging injuries, while sophomore receivers Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson were each inactive for games early in the season. These concerns are nothing but a distant memory now, though, as Texas’ now healthy cast of wide receivers form perhaps the team’s most dynamic offensive unit.

“The depth at wide receiver has really helped us,” head coach Mack Brown said. “I’m not sure this isn’t our best group of wide receivers top to bottom that we’ve had since we’ve been here.”

Texas’ starters at wide receiver both played well in the Longhorns first eight games, with Shipley leading the team with 39 receptions for 445 and Davis setting the high mark with five touchdowns. But Shipley and Davis hardly stand as the Longhorns’ only consistent threats through the air.

Sanders racked up 28 receptions for 286 yards and a score in his first seven games this season, while Johnson places third on the team with 301 receiving yards. Adding to the depth are sophomore running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson, who has 14 receptions in six games, and junior wide receiver John Harris, who has two touchdowns.

“I think we’ve really developed two-deep at the wide receiver position, and [wide receivers coach Darrell] Wyatt has done a really good job of getting us blocking and getting us to do all of our assignments,” Shipley said. “We’re really excited about the wide receivers.”

Senior quarterback Case McCoy continues to enjoy the depth at wide receiver, as having a number of viable options in the passing game allows him to spread the ball around without having to zero in on a single target.

“Those guys are stepping in and can play,” McCoy said. “When we have our four wideouts on the field, that’s a good group right there. I can throw the ball to any of those guys and I know where they’re going to be.”

Co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite believes that the injuries to Texas’ veteran wide outs early in training camp prepared the younger receivers for increased playing time, as players like Sanders, Marcus Johnson and Daje Johnson received extra reps with the first team offense.

“Even though it was frustrating when Jaxon and Mike weren’t practicing and then you lose Kendall Sanders with an ankle and then Marcus with a knee, all those other guys started getting reps and now it has started to pay off,” Applewhite said. “Now all those reps that aren’t seen in the stat lines that are given out in August, now all those things are starting to come and you got top-to-bottom depth.”

Brown expects the Longhorns receivers to continue
producing in the upcoming games, as teams figure to stack the box in an attempt to stop a torrid Texas rushing attack that has produced 221 yards on the ground in its last three games.

“Those guys should be in one-on-one situations, because more people are going to be trying to stop the run the next four weeks,” Brown said. “It should leave some one-on-one shots. We need to do a better job of getting the ball in their hands in space or hit some deep shots.”

The Longhorns know that maintaining a balanced offensive game plan is necessary if they hope to remain in the driver’s seat for a Big 12 title. This calls for McCoy to maintain a strong connection with his wide receivers, and unlike at the start of the year, he has plenty of options to throw to.