No. 11 Longhorns prepare to face California

Michael Shapiro

The No. 11 Longhorns’ defense faced a tall order in week two, when they were tasked with stopping the nation’s then-leading rusher in UTEP’s Aaron Jones. Texas came through in its second victory of the year, holding Jones to just 123 yards in a 41-7 win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. 

With UTEP’s potent rushing game now in the rearview mirror, the Longhorns face a whole different animal in week three against California. 

The Bears sport one of the nation’s premier passing attacks, led by senior quarterback Davis Webb. The Prosper, Texas, product has been firing on all cylinders through two weeks. He’s thrown nine touchdowns on the year and ranks second in the nation in passing yards with 963. 

“[Webb] is an excellent quarterback,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “He has the arm, he sees the entire field … I think the kid has special talent.”

Despite Webb’s passing prowess, Texas believes it can slow down California’s offense. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said he saw various opportunities for turnovers when watching film, citing Davis’ struggles in the face of blitzes. 

“I saw last game Davis Webb had some trouble in the pocket when there really was pressure,” Jefferson said. “That always makes a difference in the game when there’s a passing quarterback.”

A transfer from Texas Tech, Webb’s success at California partly stems from his experience in a similar system in Lubbock. He compiled over 5,500 yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons, firing 46 touchdowns from 2013–15. But after being benched prior to his junior year in favor of sophomore Patrick Mahomes, Webb chose to transfer before the 2016 season. 

Webb’s transition has been smooth through two weeks. California has moved at a breakneck pace this year, flinging the ball all over the field. Webb attempted 72 passes — a school record — in last week’s 45-40 loss to San Diego State.  

“Well first, that’s an outstanding offense,” sophomore safety DeShon Elliott said. “I’ve never seen a team run those plays like they did and have that much success.”

The game’s location also presents a challenge for the Longhorns. 

After enjoying raucous home crowds against Notre Dame and UTEP, Texas will play on the road for the first time this year Saturday. Away games were less than kind to Texas in 2015. The Longhorns went 1–4 outside of Austin, losing by an average of 22 points per game. 

The lowest point of the burnt orange’s road woes came in week nine against Iowa State. Texas failed to muster even a trace of offense in the 24–0 blowout. Jefferson said he recalls the loss to Iowa State and won’t let that happen against California. 

“That was the worst moment of my life, actually,” Jefferson said. “But we’re more focused now. Everybody is buying in.”

Texas claims it’s a different team than the one that finished 5–7 in 2015. The Longhorns have impressed through two weeks, taking the mantle as the Big 12’s top-ranked team. But they must take care of business on the road to maintain their top-15 status. 

Their first test comes against California on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

“It will be a big challenge for us going on the road for the first time,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “We got to pack our defense, we got to pack our kicking game, we got to pack our togetherness. We’re going to have to play well and play together as a football team.”