Texas Football: 3 major concerns for the Longhorns vs. Houston

Ryan Watts, Texas football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Ryan Watts, Texas football (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers (3) attempts to elude the rush of Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Jordan Kelley (88) during the second half at Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Quinn Ewers (3) attempts to elude the rush of Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Jordan Kelley (88) during the second half at Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The second half of the regular season begins on the road on Oct. 21 for head coach Steve Sarkisian and No. 8 ranked Texas football against head coach Dana Holgorsen and the Houston Cougars. Texas will battle in-state Big 12 foe Houston at TDECU Stadium for the first time since the 2001 season. And the last time Texas and Houston met on the gridiron was at the back end of a home-and-home series in Austin in 2002.

Texas enters this first and only meeting with Houston as Big 12 foes as a sizable favorite. Roughly 24 hours before kickoff against the Cougars this weekend, the Longhorns remain a 23.5-point favorite on the road in Week 8.

The Longhorns enter Week 8 with a record of 5-1 (2-1 Big 12) coming out of the bye week. Texas is looking to right the ship with a win over Houston following a tough last-minute loss against the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Rivalry game in Dallas on Oct. 7.

Concerns for Quinn Ewers and Texas football on the road vs. Houston

Houston does have some momentum heading into this matchup against Texas after coming up with its first win in Big 12 play last week. Holgorsen and the Cougars downed the West Virginia Mountaineers in a last-second Hail’Mary from quarterback Donovan Smith to wide receiver Stephon Johnson Jr. The win over West Virginia moved Houston to 3-3 (1-2 Big 12) on the season.

Texas should be able to take care of business against Houston this weekend. But this Cougar team boasts some dangerous weapons on offense and a dual-threat quarterback in Smith, who exploited the Longhorns defense last season when he was under center for Texas Tech.

Here are three major concerns for the Longhorns against the Cougars in Week 8.

Houston’s speed and weapons in the receiving corps

Houston has one of the best receiving corps in the Big 12 this year. Led by the Big 12’s leading receiver, former West Virginia transfer Sam Brown, and the speedy sophomore standout Matthew Golden, this is a Cougars wide receiver room with four legitimate weapons.

Brown is the ultra-productive starting field receiver who gets most of Houston’s targets in the passing game. He leads the Big 12 in receptions (37) and receiving yards (549) this season. Brown is a precise route-runner with good hands. He is also elusive in space, as Brown leads the Big 12 in yards after the catch (239).

Golden is the most speedy and elusive of Houston’s top wideouts. He can make opposing defenders miss in space and create explosive plays from multiple levels of the field. Houston likes to get him the ball in space in the passing game by whatever means necessary. They’ll target him in the screen game and the short, intermediate, and deep passing game.

Golden is also very dangerous in the return game on special teams. He’s already housed two kicks for six points this season, including one in last week’s win for the Cougars over West Virginia.

Houston’s other two capable wideouts are the aformentioned hero of the West Virginia game, the former Oklahoma State transfer Johnson, and former USC transfer Joseph Manjack IV. Johnson caught the game-winning deep touchdown pass from Smith in Houston’s two-point win over the Mountaineers last week.

Johnson was utilized much more in the Houston passing game in the last two weeks than at the outset of the regular season, registering over 125 receiving yards and two scores against West Virginia and Texas Tech. Texas is familiar with Johnson as he went off for 90 receiving yards on six catches in Oklahoma State’s win in Stillwater over the Longhorns last year.

Lastly, Manjack is having a breakout redshirt sophomore campaign for the Cougars. In his second year with Holgorsen and the Cougs, Manjack has registered a career-best 29 catches for 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 and 202-pound Manjack has blossomed into a big-body weapon that Smith and the Cougs like to target between the numbers.

Manjack is a big and strong wideout that works the tight windows well in the short and intermediate passing game.

Texas is facing a Houston receiving corps that has a diverse set of weapons in the receiving corps that could give them issues if they’re not prepared for this matchup this weekend. The Longhorns will be tested in a big way this weekend, especially given some of the recent injuries in the secondary.

Redshirt junior boundary corner Ryan Watts and senior safety Jalen Catalon got an extra week to heal during the bye. But Watts and Catalon are both questionable heading into the Houston game on Oct. 21.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Texas’ struggles defending the deep ball in the first half of the regular season. Smith and the Cougs are effective in the deep passing game. Smith ranks fourth among Big 12 starting quarterbacks in deep ball completions (10) and deep passing yards (370).

Texas could use a version of Watts close to 100 percent on the boundary this weekend. But the Texas corners will need more help from the safeties on the underneath stuff (which they struggled with in the loss to Oklahoma) and over the top in coverage to limit the explosiveness and production of the Houston receivers.