AUSTIN, Texas — In meetings, in practice and when he was just thinking to himself, Charlie Strong pleaded with his team not to be a one-game wonder after a big season-opening win.
That turned out to not be a problem at all.
Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele passed for 244 yards and four touchdowns and No. 11 Texas backed up its first national ranking since 2013 with a 41-7 victory over UTEP on Saturday night.
“I was nervous,” said Strong, who entered the season under tremendous pressure after two losing seasons. “Everyone was telling them how good they are and I wondered how would they respond? I kept telling them, ‘Just focus. We haven’t done anything yet.'”
Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said the message came through. But Jefferson suggested the players didn’t really need the reminder because they knew how to handle the week after beating Notre Dame.
“We were 5-7 last year,” Jefferson said. “We can’t be satisfied with anything.”
Buechele wasn’t there for the previous two years of losing, but there was no letup from the freshman as he put together another splendid game with his arm and feet. He was 22 of 27 passing and his 34 yards rushing in the zone read option showed the Longhorns (2-0) have even another wrinkle in their new offense.
Buechele threw touchdown passes of 29 and 7 yards to Jerrod Heard, who started at quarterback most of 2015 but moved to wide receiver this season. He also connected with Dorian Leonard for a 46-yard score in the third quarter that made it 34-7.
“I felt good out there,” Buechele said. “We started slow but I feel like we finished strong … I like throwing the ball to all these guys.”
Aaron Jones ran for 123 yards and a 51-yard touchdown for UTEP (1-1).
UTEP: The Miners missed the passing of injured starting quarterback Zack Greenlee, who was held out to rest a strained knee before the start of the Conference USA schedule. Kavika Johnson was 9 of 15 for 42 yards, and Jones gave the Miners their only punch on offense. The Longhorns knew Jones was the primary option on nearly every UTEP possession until the score got out of hand.
“We’re not making excuses for anything. They whipped us handily,” Kugler said.
Texas: Buechele continues to impress. His second start came behind an offensive line that was missing two starters with injuries. Buechele was sacked three times and withstood several more hits, but his first two touchdown passes were precision throws into coverage on the sideline in the end zone. His third was a deep throw that hit Leonard in stride.
The Longhorns should stand pat. They easily handled a team they were supposed to and Buechele proved he’s no fluke. No one in front of Texas lost so there’s no real room to move up unless AP voters punish No. 9 Georgia for its close win over Nicholls. Staying where they are they are would still be another big step for a program that has been on the skids the last two years.
HEARD’S BIRTHDAY BREAKOUT
Heard’s first two career touchdown passes came on his 21st birthday. He’d been letting everyone know his big day was coming up by announcing it for days on Twitter. He finished with six catches for 46 yards.
“It says he’s a ball player,” said Texas running back Chris Warren III. “He’s an athlete who can play.”
Strong praised Heard’s quick adjustment to catching passes instead of throwing them. Last season, it was Heard who everyone thought was the quarterback of the future when he broke Vince Young’s single-game school record for total offense.
“He’s always vibrant, always has a smile on his face. That first touchdown was a good catch,” Strong said.
UTEP: The Miners host Army next Saturday in their last game before starting Conference USA play.
Texas: The Longhorns get their first road test next Saturday at California, which beat Texas 45-44 last season when the Longhorns missed an extra point in the final seconds.
“He’s very talented,” Kugler said about Buechele. “Probably Texas fans are really excited of having him for four years.”