Cal vs Texas Holiday Bowl Preview: The Longhorn Pass Offense

Merry Holiday Bowl Eve, Bears fans! In the last few weeks we've brought you Holiday Bowl previews on numbers to know, special teams, the Texas rush offense, the Texas rush defense and the Texas pass defense. Here is the final installment! Sorry, no fancy picture plays or first-hand fan knowledge on this one - only the best stats that can be culled from the internets!

Reading this post will probably make you feel about as optimistic as possible about the Holiday Bowl, because this is clearly the phase of the game that most favors the Bears. Texas has had serious trouble passing the ball this season, and by most statistical measures Cal has had an excellent passing defense.

Hey guys, remember how much fun it was when we were switching back and forth between Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley in 2008? Well, Texas has been doing that a bit this season, and I’m sure Texas fans will be quick to tell you that they are enjoying it as much as we did! After deciding that Cal legacy Garrett Gilbert wasn’t the answer, Mack Brown turned to a dual-QB system of Case McCoy and David Ash, with mixed results. McCoy got more reps until Oklahoma blew out the Longhorns, but when Ash struggled against Missouri and Kansas St. McCoy took over again and has been the starter since.

What’s fun about previewing bowl games is that we have a full, 12 game season to draw information from! Along with the traditional scouting report, I decided that the best way to approach this matchup was to look at two things: 1) How did Texas do against passing defenses similar in quality to Cal’s passing defense and 2) How did Cal’s passing defense do against passing offenses similar in quality to Texas. After the jump are some charts to answer those questions.


As mentioned in the intro, Case McCoy and David Ash have both seen plenty of playing time, but it looks likely that McCoy will get the majority of the snaps, though Texas refuses to name a starter and says that both will play. McCoy has hardly set the world on fire, but he's still been a clear improvement over Ash, completing more passes, throwing more touchdowns, and giving up fewer interceptions. Considering that McCoy wasn't a blue chip recruit and was thrown into action in just his 2nd year in the program, his struggles shouldn't be surprising.

Pass Protection

Texas has allowed 26 sacks this year, 77th most in the nation. It's tough to pin that entirely behind an offensive line that has generally had success run blocking - when you have two rookie QBs with questionable abilities to read defenses and manipulate the pocket, you're making life tough on your defense. It's worth noting that exactly half of the sacks Texas allowed came against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State - two teams with good pass defenses capable of forcing a QB to hold onto the ball a bit longer.

Still, only guards Mason Walters and David Snow even managed to earn All-Big-12 honorable mention, so Texas's trouble on offense isn't just a function of inexperienced skill position players.


Texas doesn't get much production in the passing game from their tight ends (hallelujah!) or running backs. More than 2/3rds of the production in the passing game has come from Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis and Marquise Goodwin. Shipley is the best and most explosive of the trio, and also has three very successful pass attempts on the season. Cal generally doesn't seem to gameplan to take away one receiver, but if they were to do so Shipley would be the guy.

How did Texas’ passing offense do against passing defenses similar to Cal?

So, let's find a comp for Cal's passing defense amongst Texas opponents. National rankings for each category in parenthesis. For an explanation of the S&P metric, read here.


Comp. %

Passer Rating



6.8 (46)

54.7 (16)

118.30 (30)

135.0 (12)

Oklahoma St.

6.2 (15)

57.8 (42)

109.72 (8)

131.3 (14)


6.7 (40)

55.9 (23)

120.82 (38)

128.2 (15)

Cal’s passing defense performed similarly to both Oklahoma and Oklahoma St., even when adjusting for strength of schedule. I'm as surprised as you! And how did Texas do against the Sooners and Cowboys? Here's the combined QB stat line:

42-76, 362 yards (4.8/attempt), 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, 13 sacks.

Ouch. BUT - the majority of those attempts and all of the interceptions came with Ash under center, as McCoy only played for half of the Oklahoma game and none of the Oklahoma St. game. And, in any case, McCoy played better towards the end of the season. Even if Cal's pass defense is comparable, it's probably unrealistic to expect a performance as poor as the above. But it's also unrealistic to expect Texas to beat Cal through the air.

How did Cal’s passing defense do against passing offenses similar to Texas?


Comp. %

Passer Rating


Oregon St.

6.8 (74)

63.6 (31)

124.03 (81)

92.6 (81)


7.0 (63)

57.5 (77)

120.76 (88)

84.7 (98)


6.8 (74)

57.3 (78)

126.08 (69)

83.3 (103)

Honestly, finding a comp for the Texas passing attack was hard, because Cal generally faced a bunch of teams that were really good at passing the ball. Luck, Barkley, Thomas, Price, Osweiler . . . heck, even Washington St., Colorado and Fresno St. could throw the ball pretty well (and were done in by non-existent running games). Presbyterian isn’t a comp for anybody playing FBS football.

From a pure volume perspective, UCLA is probably the best comparison. Texas quarterbacks only dropped back to pass on 40.5% of their plays, nearly identical to UCLA’s 40.6%. But the Bruins were surprisingly successful on the rare occasions that they decided to throw the ball, and in any case the pistol offense also ruins the comparison. So we’re left with Oregon St. and especially Utah. Yes, the Texas passing attack most resembles a team that lost their only viable starter halfway through the 4th game of the season.

So, how did Utah and Oregon St. do against Cal? Here's the QB stat line:

Utah: 11-22, 148 yards (6.7 yards/attempt), 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 5 sacks
Oregon St.: 26-40, 239 yards (6 yards/attempt), 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks

Well, the yards/attempt are a bit higher than Texas's totals against the Oklahoma schools, but other than that it's pretty similar. That's an encouraging bit of data! Now watch McCoy throw 20-28 for 350 yards.


It's all very encouraging stuff, except for the part about how Texas will do everything in their power to minimize their need to throw the ball. If the Longhorns have their way this will be the least important phase of the game, and it's entirely possible that they have the horses on the other side of the ball to make it work.

Here's the thing - Cal doesn't have an offense like Oklahoma St. or Oklahoma, and they probably aren't going to race to a big lead, forcing Texas to throw the ball. That's why the Sooners and Cowboys were able to rack up a bunch of sacks and interceptions.

But if Texas makes a few mistakes, or Maynard and company come out hot and make a few plays, Cal is in great shape because the Texas offense just isn't designed to come back. They only really did it against BYU and Texas A&M, but BYU was a weird, turnover filled game and the Aggies turned blowing a lead into an art form. I'm confident that if the Bears can get a double digit lead in the 2nd half that our defense can hold on.

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