Texas wins... finally
Longhorns grade a solid B, but will need more next week
That fact is significant, even against a not-very-good Rice team. So let's take a moment and let the feeling of victory wash over us...
OK. The Longhorns certainly did not look like a championship caliber team, maybe not even like a Top 25 team, but they were able to begin exorcizing last season with a group of pretty spectacular freshmen and a quarterback who seems to be getting his confidence back.
The new offense is fun to watch. Co-offensive Coordinator Bryan Harsin threw everything into the game. No fewer than half a dozen players took a snap from center. We saw long bombs, a double-reverse pass, the Wild Fozzy, the Wildcat, you name it Harsin did it. And Texas ran for a respectable 229 yards, again, against a not-very-good Rice team, but it was a start.
Let's take a closer look at the goals I laid out last week for this team:
1) Build confidence. Gilbert needed to play well and he did. While he only attempted 23 passes (completeing 13), he threw the ball all over the field including at least four deep throws of over 50 yards. Two of those passes were completed to Mike Davis, a sophomore who sent notice that he is a legimate, stretch-the-field deep threat. The chemistry between he and Gilbert will only get better.
Gilbert had no turnovers, no batted balls, and made only one bone-headed mistake trying to pitch the ball back as he was being sacked. That fumble was recovered by Fozzy Whitaker for a 12 yeard loss. Otherwise, Glibert was able to hold his head high.
2) Test the young'uns. There were kids flying all over the field and no fewer than a half dozen players took a snap from center. Freshman Jaxon Shipley scored the first TD of the season and his first as a Longhorn. He has great hands, runs tight routes, and may be faster than his now Cincinnatti Bengal brother Jordan (who incidently attended the game to watch his little bro's debut). Shipley will be as big a star as his brother was.
Welcome to the Longhorns Malcolm Brown. The Texas coaches handed him the ball 16 times and he delivered with 87 yards — all in the second half — the most yards for a freshman debut since Jamaal Charles in 2005. The Horns found their rushing future last night. Fozzy Whitaker, the senior leader of this team has great hands, and good speed, but is not the north-south, run-over-them runner Brown can be. Whitaker and Brown compliment each other well and should give Texas hope for a renewed rushing game.
The offensive line did open holes and kept Gilbert's shirt clean. There are still questions to be answered though as Rice was able to put pressure on Gilbert if not outright sack him. This was Rice, not BYU. BYU will be better.
On defense, the young cornerbacks aquitted themselves well. Not allowing receivers to get behind them, and making tackles. The defensive tackles however were a different story. Besides Kheeston Randall, there isn't much there. Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz rotated a lot of players through the line, none seemed able to put significant pressure on the Rice QB, and none seemed able to effectively close off running lanes. Rice averaged over four yards per carry... this is Rice we're talking about here. That can't continue against good teams.
3) Build team leadership. Gilbert is becoming the leader he must be. He played with energy and emotion... he even threw a fist pump after his first TD pass. The entire team came out a bit flat early, almost afaid to lose. The second half saw a Texas team playing to prove something, probably more to themselves than to any of the 101,000 fans in the stands. The team leadership must maintain that motivation week to week.
Specifically here were my keys to Texas success and how the Horns responded:
- Protect the ball - 0 Turnovers on offense, 2 or more take-aways on defense. Texas got 2, but lost one fumble late in the game.
- Throw the ball - Get Garrett Gilbert 40 throws, let him air it out deep, let him play the whole game. Gilbert threw only 23 times but did air out several long balls with great success. He played all but the last possession.
- Run Malcolm Brown - Brown should get at least 12 carries and see what he can do. Can he average more than 4 yards per carry? 16 carries, 87 yards, averaging 5.4 per carry, all in the second half. Wow.
- Hold Rice under 200 yards of total offense.The Longhorn defense needs to dominate the game. 224 yards. Texas D did not dominate, but they did control, which was good enough for this game.
Brigham Young comes in next week and they will be a challenge. They are a much better team than Rice — stronger, faster, better coached. Texas team mantra this year is "brick by brick". The first brick in the foundation has been laid, but the Longhorns may need the whole wall built by gametime next week.