(Eds: With AP Photos.)By JIM VERTUNOAP Sports Writer
The Texas Longhorns have been running over some of the worst defenses in the country.
No. 21 Texas averaged 440 yards rushing in consecutive wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, games that had the coaching staff scrapping pass plays because there was no point.
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But now what? What happens when an offense led by freshman quarterback David Ash goes on the road to face a Missouri (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) defense that looks like it can actually tackle somebody?
”We have got to throw the ball better,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. ”And we have got to throw it downfield.”
Ash completed four of six passes against Texas Tech and hit two long throws to Mike Davis. Both of them might have been touchdowns if the passes had not been underthrown.
Otherwise, Texas (6-2, 3-2) had no need to pass against the Red Raiders while they were churning out 8.1 yards per carry. The Longhorns posted their first consecutive 400-yard rushing games since 1977 when Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell was in the backfield.
Freshman Joe Bergeron now has consecutive 100-yard games and his 191 against Texas Tech were the second-most by a Texas freshman. Another freshman, Malcolm Brown, is on pace for Texas’ first 1,000-yard season since 2007, though he missed the Texas Tech game with a sore toe.
Ash’s deep passes to Davis were set up by drawing defenders in to stop the run. If the Missouri defense, which gives up about 150 yards per game rushing, can limit Texas’ ground game, the Longhorns have yet to prove they can pass the ball well enough with Ash to win.
He threw five interceptions in losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and the win over Kansas. He didn’t have any turnovers against Texas Tech.
Davis is confident the young quarterback can deliver when he needs to.
”David has really grown up,” Davis said. ”He can run, he can make deep passes. He can make all kinds of throws.”
Texas will be hoping for the return of leading receiver Jaxon Shipley, who missed the Texas Tech game with a knee injury. Shipley’s 33 catches for 438 yards and three touchdowns are all team highs.
The Longhorns became bowl-eligible with their win over Texas Tech and will play three of their last four games on the road: against Missouri, Texas A&M and Baylor, all of which have prolific, high-scoring offenses.
Their last home game is Nov. 19 against Kansas State, which scored 45 points last week in a loss to Oklahoma State that came down to the final play.
”We’re going to have to score in the 40s to win here at the end and we’re going to have to throw to do that,” Brown said.
Texas looked like a team on the rise when it started 4-0, then took back-to-back beatings by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. The game against the Cowboys showed the beginnings of a dominant running team but also showed the flaws in a passing game still trying to evolve. Ash threw two interceptions against the Cowboys and misfired on a short fourth down at the goal line.
”We could not have taken on this four week stretch four weeks ago. We weren’t near ready. We do not have it scripted like we want to here at the end (with) three of four games on the road,” Brown said. ”We’ve got our hands full.”