Longhorns Look Ahead
Next season started last night for the Texas Longhorns football team, who beat the California Golden Bears 21-10 in the Christmas Bowl — oops, I guess we're calling it the Holiday Bowl. One game after delivering the Heisman to Robert Griffin III, Manny Diaz unleashed his beasts on defense, especially Jackson Jeffcoat, who was more DeMarcus Ware than Daddy Jim. Manny’s defense pounced on five Cal turnovers, while the Horns, as uncharacteristically clean as Robert Downey Jr. on the set of Iron Man, left the carpet free of purloined pigskins.
Texas had such clunky and indecisive quarterback play this year that the Statesman hung its low expectations on a banner headline, "Ash Wednesday," that honored David Ash for throwing for 142 yards and a touchdown to Marquis Goodwin (who played like he’d been watching tapes of incoming freshman Cayleb Jones). Third and fourth were the Tito and Marlon Jackson of downs for the Longhorns, as those 2-yard passes on 3rd and 9 would lead to yet another 34-yard punt from Justin Tucker, who hasn’t been himself since he stabbed a dagger into the heart of Kyle Field on Thanksgiving night.
Next season the Longhorns lose J-Tuck, O-line stalwart David Snow, TE Blaine Irby, Fozzy Whittaker, of course, and Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson and Kheeston Randall on defense. Also, the Blake Gideon Decade has ended.
But coming here next season are eight of the top 10-rated high school players from the state of Texas, including Aledo running back Johnathan Gray, the most highly regarded prep galloper since Adrian Peterson of Palestine. Now we’ve become wary of top-rated recruiting classes, who have been known to lose against Iowa State at home. Sometimes blue chips come in green and are made to wait, especially in Mack Brown’s conservative, experience-smitten system.
You just never know if they're going to turn out like lightly-regarded Colt McCoy or five-star bust Tray Allen (who, to be fair, has been hurt). But what we learned Wednesday is that Acho’s heir, Jordan Hicks, the five-star underachiever at LB, can really play when he's cut loose. Sophomores Jeffcoat and Hicks were called out to step up and they certainly did against Aaron Rogers' alma mater.
It was Kenny Vaccaro, however, who made Sportscenter's plays of the day reel with a hurdle and sack that hates Jerome Simpson. A still-raw Vaccaro wisely decided to return for his senior year, choosing a shot at the Thorpe Award over 7th round jitters during the NFL draft, but he’ll have competition as the nation’s top DB from his own teammates Carrington Byndom and Quentin Jammer’s baby brother, Quandre Diggs.
The Holiday Bowl was somewhat confusing because announcers kept talking about two sets of brothers with different last names. Cal QB Zach Estevez did hit brother Keenan Sheen nine times for 82 yards, but that other set of surname-independent siblings — “The Smother Brothers” of Byndom and Diggs — were in control.
The last time Orangebloods were happy about 8-5, TV crews were doing segments on John Mackovic's wine cellar. But we’ll take that record as the midpoint between 5-7 and 11-2. One aspect of next year’s team that is still fairly ominous is at quarterback, however. Incoming freshman Connor Brewer of Scottsdale, Ariz. hasn’t even learned the menu at Player’s, let alone the UT playbook, so it looks like either Ash or McCoy will be behind center at home for the opener against Wyoming on September 1, 2012.
With Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in the backfield, Texas should have a great running game next year. The O-line will be refreshed with such incoming bear cats as Kennedy Estelle, Curtis Riser and Donald Hawkins; with playmakers Cayleb Jones and Thomas Johnson joining Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis in the receiving corps, opponents can’t stack up for the run. Things are looking up everywhere (but at the most important position in all of team sports).
As last night’s 2012 pre-season contest showed, the Horns are going to be total badasses on defense. Isn’t it always better when your team has a great defense and a struggling offense than the other way around? I had that swagger in my head last night, watching Zach Maynard (not Estevez) and Keenan Allen (not Sheen) try to pull it out and knowing they just couldn’t score on us in the 4th quarter. Ain’t nuthin’ but a D thing, baby. Fierce is back in town.
It was a mediocre season at Texas in 2011. Still, it was an improvement over 2010. The Brick By Brick Gang has built a nice chimney and on Wednesday night in San Diego, they may have started a fire.