Mack Brown often reminds his players to pay no attention to reviews offered by fans, media and others who regard themselves as experts.
But Longhorns center Dominic Espinosa knows that stuff is not easily avoidable.
“Social media, paper write-ups,” Espinosa said. “It’s hard not to see that.”
You can uncover your eyes now, Dom. The offensive line — Texas’ most ridiculed unit in recent seasons — has performed well lately. Don’t look for any of the linemen to end up on All-America teams. But there is progress.
The Longhorns’ front, with blocking from left tackle Donald Hawkins, left guard Trey Hopkins, Espinosa, right guard Mason Walters and right tackle Kennedy Estelle, has helped Texas become a more forceful running team in the past two games, authoritative victories over Oklahoma and TCU.
Texas produced 255 rushing yards against Oklahoma, fielding two 100-yard rushers, and had 187 yards at TCU, which was leading the Big 12 in rushing defense. And quarterback Case McCoy hasn’t been sacked since Iowa State.
“I love those guys,” McCoy said. “I don’t tell them enough.”
Truth be known, this improvement along the line is the product of a cohesive effort by the entire offense.
Injured quarterback David Ash hasn’t taken a snap in the past 3½ games. The Longhorns would rather not have to rely on McCoy winning games with his arm and have stuck with the ground game since ditching it too quickly in the 31-30 win at Iowa State.
Texas had just 29 running plays against the Cyclones but ran 60 and 52 times the past two games.
Consequently, opponents who bunch at the line of scrimmage in an effort to stop tailbacks Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown have presented McCoy with increased opportunities to throw against one-on-one coverage.
“It’s not one of those things where I want to pat everybody on the back but us, but credit goes to everybody,” Walters said. “Case is doing a good job getting us in the right run play. He does some checks at the line. And we have a great group of guys behind us and on the perimeter that really make it difficult for teams to stop us.”
Head coach Mack Brown said a recent commitment to running has helped the offensive line succeed.
“If you run it 25 times, they are not going to block as well as if you run it 52,” Brown said. “It’s an attitude. When they know that if you don’t get yards on this play, we are going to keep running it, and it’s up to them to make it work in the third and fourth quarter, then they bring a different attitude to the game.”
Walters supports that theory.
“I really think it’s chipping away at a defense,” Walters said. “You keep hitting and keep hitting and keep hitting. Eventually somebody’s going to give. They are either going to start getting tackles for losses or you are going to start busting those runs for 5, 8 yards at a time and then breaking off bigger chunks. As an offensive line, that’s when you start to see the will of the defense bending a little bit.”
It helps that gaining even a modest 3 yards or so on first and second downs leaves the Longhorns with the option to run or pass on their next play.
“It’s easier to pass block when they are expecting run and (execute) play action when you are beating them down,” Mack Brown said.
The tandem of McCoy and wide receiver Marcus Johnson has benefited from a run-first approach by producing some big pass plays. Johnson has four receptions for 179 yards in the past two games. He and McCoy hooked up for touchdowns covering 59 and 65 yards.
“We’ve been able to run the ball and get 5 yards, 6 yards a pop, and that has really helped with the deep balls for Case,” Espinosa said.
The TCU defense had 24 sacks in six games before facing Texas but got none against the Longhorns — an accomplishment that McCoy was made aware of by his linemen.
“I know,” McCoy said, grinning. “Trust me.”
As a result of this newfound success, offensive line coach Stacy Searels has less reason to throw his ball cap in exasperation.
“We’re not getting that as much as we used to,” Espinosa said. “But he still has to do it to keep us on edge.”
TEXAS VS. KANSAS
2:30 Saturday, LHN, 1300, 98.1