Texas (4-2 overall, 3-0 in the Big 12) has reached its halfway point of the season, and American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden weigh in on all things Longhorns:
1. Who is this team’s first-half MVP?
Bohls: Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, over wide receiver Mike Davis. Jeffcoat has been consistently good all year but has raised his level of play in the biggest moments, including a pair of sacks against Oklahoma, two sacks on Kansas State’s final two drives, and a sack and a game-clinching interception at Iowa State.
Golden: Johnathan Gray. Even if he falls short of his preseason goal of running for 1,500 yards, he’s been the most consistent offensive player when called upon. Mack Brown and Major Applewhite sometimes forget about him, but Gray has been solid — 562 yards and four touchdowns, plus that nice 5.1 average per carry.
2. Who’s been the most disappointing Longhorn?
Bohls: Anybody seen Desmond Harrison lately? We’d been led to believe the offensive tackle could be the best thing to come to Austin since Trader Joe’s. He’s gotten in on only 67 snaps, and now we’re wondering if he’s even going to letter.
Golden: Quandre Diggs. I thought he’d have an All-American impact at cornerback and in the return game, but that hasn’t happened, even though he did play very well against Oklahoma. Quentin Jammer’s little brother will get his chance to make more eye-opening plays with games still remaining against TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
3. What’s been the best coaching move of the year?
Bohls: Firing Manny Diaz after the second game. It became critical that Mack make a change after BYU ran for 550 yards on what passed as a Texas defense. That still looks like a typo when I write it.
Golden: The hiring of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who has settled this defense down over the last couple of games. And he undoubtedly has his guys playing with supreme confidence after what amounted to a shutdown of OU’s offense last week.
4. What’s been the worst coaching move of the year?
Bohls: Not firing Diaz in January, after last season. That would’ve been more fair to Diaz — who clearly wasn’t ready for this environment — and would’ve encouraged him to take the Florida International job. But with Bryan Harsin’s exit, Mack clearly didn’t want to go into another season with two brand new coordinators.
Golden: The defensive game plan against BYU. That embarrassing display put Brown’s future in question. Diaz paid for the performance with his job, but Brown was just as responsible since he’s the guy who signs off on game plans.
5. What’s been the offensive play of the year?
Bohls: The Hail Mary to John Harris on the last play of the first half against Iowa State. Without it, Texas trails at halftime and the Cyclones might have used that momentum to hand the Longhorns their third loss in four games.
Golden: Case McCoy’s 59-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson against OU. It was easily the biggest touchdown since the program started its slide in 2010. It not only put the Horns firmly in front, but assured the offense that McCoy could get it done against a quality defense.
6. What’s been the defensive play of the year?
Bohls: How do you not take Chris Whaley’s 31-yard interception return — with a strong assist from a blitzing Adrian Phillips that pressured Oklahoma’s Blake Bell into a poor throw — that gave Texas the lead for good last Saturday? It’s the Longhorns’ only defensive score of the season.
Golden: Whaley’s pick-six. What a moment for the former running back.
7. What’s been the best play call?
Bohls: A play that didn’t even result in a score, or even a first down. But I applaud the decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 early in the second quarter against the Sooners. McCoy overthrew a wide-open Alex De La Torre. A close second was the fake punt against Kansas State, when De La Torre ran 19 yards for a first down to give Texas some separation on the scoreboard.
Golden: Placing Daje Johnson back on punt returns for the Oklahoma game, which couldn’t have come at a better time. Nothing like an 85-yard return for a touchdown in a must win over your fiercest rival.
8. What’s been the worst play call?
Bohls: Abandoning the run in the second half against Iowa State. That decision kept the Cyclones in the game.
Golden: The decision to call 15 consecutive pass plays in the third quarter at Iowa State. The Longhorns had already shown an ability to gash the Cyclones with the run. It made things much stickier than they should have been on the road.
9. If Mack had one play to do over, it’d be …
Bohls: The handoff to Daje Johnson on the third play of the BYU game, when he went down with a badly sprained ankle and missed the next two games and was a nonfactor in a third. He remains the most explosive player on the roster.
Golden: To play Tyrone Swoopes. With the uncertainty surrounding David Ash, Texas is left with a potential backup quarterback with zero college football game experience — and with the meat of the schedule coming up.
10. Who’s the newcomer of the year so far?
Bohls: On offense, Kendall Sanders, who’s been as good as advertised. The sophomore receiver twice has had seven-catch games and figures to battle Johnson to be the next Davis.
Golden: On defense, Hassan Ridgeway. He has held up his end of the defensive tackle rotation. He’s still working to be more consistent, but he’s making his presence felt, especially in passing situations; he leads the team with six quarterback pressures.
11. Who has been the biggest surprise player?
Bohls: McCoy has to be the man of the hour. The staff has to commit to him, since Ash may be a headache away from retirement. He’s saved Mack’s bacon so often, he should endorse Hormel. His legacy is secure after wins over Texas A&M and Oklahoma, not to mention Kansas.
Golden: Cedric Reed. Those long arms and that great first step have made the 6-6 defensive end a terrific sidekick to senior Jackson Jeffcoat. If Reed continues to progress at this rate, he’ll find himself playing on Sundays.
12. How will Texas finish up this season?
Bohls: Texas wins four of the next six, goes 8-4 and returns to the Alamo Bowl.
Golden: Sticking with my preseason prediction — Texas goes 9-3 and plays in the Cotton Bowl, hopefully against Texas A&M or LSU.
BOHLS, GOLDEN CHAT
Join columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden at 11 a.m. Wednesday for their weekly live chat at statesman.com/bevobeat.
How Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden are picking Texas to finish up this year:
Bohls: 8-4, Alamo Bowl.
Golden: 9-3, Cotton Bowl.
HORNS: THE BIG PICTURE
How does Texas compare?
Where the Longhorns rank in the Big 12 and nationally in various categories after six games. Parentheses show last week’s rankings:
Rush offense;3rd (3);37th (48)
Pass offense;4th (4);51st (42)
Pass efficiency;4th (7);55th (61)
Total offense;3rd (3);40th (39)
Scoring;4th (4);47th (47)
Rush defense;10th (10);114th (117)
Pass defense;3rd (4);30th (49)
Total defense;8th (10);92nd (108)
Sacks;5th (T-4);T-32nd (T-46)
Turnover margin;3rd (T-2);19th (T-12)
The season, so far
Texas 56, New Mexico St. 7: David Ash, Daje Johnson lead a record-breaking offensive night.
BYU 40, Texas 21: Horns implode defensively and see Ash, Johnson get injured.
Ole Miss 44, Texas 23: No Ash, little defense and a second-half implosion against the ranked Rebels.
Texas 31, Kansas St. 21: Johnathan Gray and the defense lead Horns to Big 12-opening W.
Texas 31, Iowa St. 30: A controversial ending, but Horn rally late to survive Ames road trip.
Texas 36, Oklahoma 20: Horns dominate Sooners in every phase, move to 3-0 in the Big 12.
2013 vs. 2012, 2011
How the Longhorns (4-2) compare statistically with the 2012 and 2011 teams’ averages and totals after six games (* average per game):