AUSTIN, Texas — On Texas’s first play from scrimmage against Iowa State, the Longhorns went to the Wishbone, and ran a toss play to the right in tribute to recently deceased coaching legend Darrell Royal.
But on a play that was most certainly not in Royal’s playbook — the run-first, run-second coach famously said that three things happened when you passed and that two of ’em were bad — Jaxon Shipley, who received the pitch while lined up as a running back, threw the ball back to quarterback David Ash, who then connected with tight end Greg Daniels for a 47-yard gain.
“I was kind of worried that it was announced on the national news,” Ash said of Texas using the formation as a tribute. “But it worked anyway.”
The Longhorns went to more of a conventional passing attack for the rest of the game, but with mostly similar results. Ash hit on 25-of-31 throws for a career-high 364 yards and two touchdowns and Texas was never really threatened by the visiting Cyclones, winning 33-7.
The Longhorns actually wasted that big trick play and had to punt four plays later, but found the end zone on each of their next two possessions. After a six-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a five-yard Johnathan Gray touchdown run, the Texas defense forced a quick three-and-out. Then Ash went deep for Mike Davis, finding him with a perfect bullet for a 61-yard touchdown.
Texas added to its lead in the second quarter, but not before struggling some in the kicking game. Anthony Fera had a 32-yard field goal blocked. And after Ash hit Barrett Matthews for a three-yard touchdown, Fera missed the extra point.
The Cyclones cut into that lead with a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Steele Jantz to receiver Quenton Bundrage, but those wound up being the only points allowed by the Texas defense. The Longhorns tightened up in the second half, allowing just 18 plays and 64 yards.
Offensively, the Longhorns chipped in a pair of field goals — both by kicker Nick Jordan, who replaced Fera — sandwiched around another Gray touchdown run, this one from 13 yards away. The Longhorns had a balanced effort on that side of the ball, passing for 387 yards and rushing for 222 with two 100-plus-yard receivers in Shipley (8-137) and Davis (7-113).
“David Ash had a great game, he made decisions, wide receivers made plays, and [Iowa State] is a very difficult team to run the ball on consistently,” said Bryan Harsin, Texas offensive coordinator. “So you’ve got to mix it up, and that is what we did tonight. It helped out the run game, and we had a chance when we did that to soften it up just a little bit inside for us to be successful.”
The Longhorns elected to go with the play from the Wishbone on Wednesday of this week, giving them minimal time to prepare a play.
“So these crazy young coaches come back to me with a double-reverse pass,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “And I said, ‘You are kidding. That would make him madder than anything if we did that.'”
Brown quipped that one of Royal’s favorite sayings dictated the double-pass.
“I thought if you throw it twice, that means two good things can happen,” Brown said.
The Wishbone formation was one of several tributes the Longhorns paid to their fallen former coach. Texas lit the UT Tower orange on Wednesday night, and the stadium named for him, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium now bears his initials, DKR, at midfield. After the game, Brown said that those initials would remain for the TCU game, while the team will wear Royal’s initials on their jerseys for the rest of the year. He added that the Longhorns gave the game ball to Royal’s wife, Edith Royal.
“In honor of DKR, coach wanted us to play hard for him, and the game was in his honor,” Gray said. “The first play was a big motivator for us.”
Darrell Royal won three national championships and 11 conference titles at Texas, never having a losing season. Brown, meanwhile, has the Longhorns at 8-2 two seasons after his lone losing season at Texas, and the Longhorns still have an outside shot at a share of the conference title. That seemed an unlikely scenario when Texas needed a last-minute comeback to hold off Kansas.
“It seems really far back,” Ash said of that game.
It was just two weeks ago. Since then, Texas has rolled off a pair of impressive wins at Texas Tech and Saturday against Iowa State. Win out, and get help from Kansas State and Oklahoma, and the possibility is still on the table, especially with a Dec. 1 matchup in Manhattan, Kan., looming.
But don’t think that the Longhorns are looking ahead.
“We know that we can’t listen to anything outside,” said Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom. “We know that we are a family together, offensively and defensively. We want to continue to strive for excellence. We want to go out and work hard each day to try to get better.”