Alamo Bowl 2012: Ash and Applewhite take ownership

USA TODAY Sports

While Okafor almost single-handedly dominated the Alamo Bowl, the young Texas offense seized ownership of the future with a stirring 31-27 comeback.

Mack Brown's 2012 Texas Longhorns played the Alamo Bowl with a great deal of emotion. While Mike Riley's Oregon St team stayed on a fairly even keel throughout the contest, the Longhorns came alive in the 2nd half and became very expressive on the field as their successes grew.

With Quandre Diggs' interception in third quarter and immediate taunting of the Oregon St. bench the Texas side came alive. David Ash followed with a successful drive involving throws into the soft middle of the Oregon St zone and quarterback draws. He capped it with a hurdling touchdown run that seemed to have Texas more alive than at any prior point in the season.

However, Oregon St secured an interception when a DL hit Ash's arm and fire seemed to have sizzled. Fortunately for Texas, Mike Riley repeatedly called pass plays on 1st down that left them vulnerable to Alex Okafor, subsequently leading to repeated 2nd and 3rd and longs.

The Beavers' offensive line could not handle Okafor at all on drop back passes. Looking to improve his draft stock and go out with a big game, Okafor finished the game with eight tackles, six behind the line of scrimmage, and four and a half sacks. He made the dropback pass game that had defined the Oregon St offense all year almost completely untenable and forced them to make their living with screens and runs.

Manny Diaz's ability to bring pressure and deploy Akina-trained cover corners has utterly destroyed Pac-12 offenses in subsequent bowl games, the real question is whether that success can be carried over against Big 12 offenses.

The true success of the game was on the part of new Offensive Coordinator Major Applewhite and David Ash in leading Texas to three 2nd half touchdowns and their ninth victory of the season. Applewhite integrated more of the shotgun spread, QB run game, and hurry up tempo that defined the Colt McCoy era.

David Ash began to emulate the former Longhorn hero by finding a Shipley open in the middle of the zone repeatedly and making up for a stalled run game with QB draws. Ash found a defining moment when he eluded capture by the Beaver pass rush and led Jonathan Gray into the end zone with a toss that brought Texas within three (27-24).

There was a lot of questioning about whether Major Applewhite's offense would more closely resemble Harsin's system or the Greg Davis offense in which Applewhite was initially groomed as a player. Thus far, it has proved to be a combination of the two.

Texas maintained the motion and running game that Harsin was working so hard to install but integrated far more of the Greg Davis passing game with misdirection, bubble screens, and timed throws over the middle. He also employed the Davis solution to a stagnant running game by asking Ash to make things happen with his feet.

After the game, Applewhite dismissed the schematic differences and pointed towards what would be emphasized by Texas in the coming months: Explosive playmakers and toughness.

We have to get tougher. These next eight or nine months are going to be extremely important for our program, our players need to be uncomfortable.

-Major Applewhite

While having a offensive line in 2013 that has seniors will be helpful, the Texas offense has to establish a running game that can move the ball against upper tier defenses. Against squads with strong defensive line play the run game that Texas was intended to be built on would stutter.

The easiest solution would be to simply employ the Quarterback in the X's and O's with spread-option and draw plays that force the defense to dedicate extra numbers to run defense. Whatever the solutions are, the "downhill" mentality that Mack has sought for the last three seasons has not yet taken hold and must in order for Texas to take the next step as a team.

Applewhite's comments about "playmakers" seemed somewhat indicting of Harsin's playcalling and failure to more heavily involve burners like Monroe, Goodwin, and Daje Johnson on a regular basis. Applewhite emphasized the value of such players due to their ability to make plays and beat defenders without the need for perfect blocking or execution by the offense.

While Applewhite has coached at multiple stops now and learned under Nick Saban and Bryan Harsin, his ultimate strategy is still similar to Mack Brown's. Find the best players in Texas and adjust the offense to give them the ball. He asked David Ash to throw the ball around and do more than Harsin had in previous gameplans but the result was a 2nd half offensive explosion that has to give the sophomore great confidence and position to lead his team into 2013.

Major has had a strong career and could position himself to land a good job at any number of other programs, but he's hitched his wagon to Mack Brown-Texas Football. Applewhite wants to be at Texas and wants to serve and build on the legacy of his former Coach and current boss. He could become the next Head Coach at Texas provided that he's successful enough as an Offensive Coordinator to protect Mack's job status and elevate Texas back into the upper echelon of college programs.

The next eight or nine months will tell.

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