Texas Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Longhorns' Week 1 Game
It may not have been the beatdown that everyone expected, but the Texas Longhorns were still able to earn a comfortable 37-17 victory against the scrappy Wyoming Cowboys for their first win of the season.
The offense started slow and the defense started even slower, but Texas finally got over the first-game jitters to get what turned out to be a comfortable win. As expected, the run game was excellent and the defense was suffocating when it mattered most. The team has a lot to work on before the Week 4 showdown with Oklahoma State (don't worry, Savannah State is just that bad).
On the whole, the starters played well and showed why this team has been so hyped up this entire offseason. However, there were surprises both good and bad from this group that merit keeping an eye on as the season progresses.
Here are the grades for the starters' performances in their 2012 debut and where they can improve before the conference games begin.
Quarterback: David Ash
If true sophomore quarterback David Ash did not get the game ball last night, then he should at least know he did enough to deserve it.
Ash was not eye-popping in any way. He did not break off any long runs, throw any bombs downfield or have his way with the Wyoming defense to the degree many expected.
But he did rise above all of the criticism, skepticism and immense pressure that has been heaped upon him ever since last year's promising performance in the Holiday Bowl. Ash ran the offense with confidence, did not throw the ball to the other team and was an incredibly efficient 20-for-27 for 156 yards and a touchdown.
In other words, Ash did exactly was he was supposed to do. Countless times heading into this season, we have heard experts and fans alike saying that if Ash performed like he did in the Holiday Bowl, this team could be as good as it wants to be. In this game he was more efficient, threw for more yards, ran for more yards and basically picked up where he left off in the confidence department.
Were it not for his fumbling a less-than-adequate snap and his under-throwing receivers downfield, I'd give Ash an A+.
Running Back: Joe Bergeron & Malcolm Brown
The only unit with higher expectations placed upon it than the defense is the running backs, and Bergeron answered the bell to the tune of 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Bergeron started rather slow other than his first-quarter touchdown and did not look like he had a prayer of breaking the 100-yard mark. But the bruising sophomore turned it on in the fourth quarter after Wyoming got within two scores, ripping off a 54-yard burst down the field and a 17-yard touchdown scamper to effectively ice the game.
We learned a lot about Bergeron and who he fits into this offense with two other talented runners on the team in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. The first being that he is going to get the first cracks at the end zone when the team is down on the goal line, where he picked up his first score of the night. Second, we learned that Bergeron is the favorite to run the vaunted Wildhorn formation, out of which he engineered a 7-yard TD run by senior D.J. Monroe.
Finally, we know that Bergeron still possesses the ability to mow people over while still having the speed to break off the long runs that we saw last season. For showcasing this ability and successfully running the Wildhorn, he gets the following grade.
Technically the aforementioned Bergeron was the starter for the game, but there is an "OR" on depth chart between these two and they essentially had the same number of carries. Because of that and the performance he put on, I am counting Brown as a starter.
While Bergeron went from starting to slow to breaking the whole thing open, Brown was the steady hand that the Texas offense needed the entire night. When the fans were getting nervous after Wyoming gashed the defense early, Brown responded by doing most of the leg work that led to Bergeron's one-yard touchdown and never looked back from there.
Brown did a little bit of everything on his way to picking up his 105 yards on the ground. He caught the ball out of the backfield, showed some power on a 4th-and-3 touchdown run and broke the longest run of his young career (31 yards) en route to establishing himself as a reliable option for this offense.
Overall, a great start for the reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
Wide Receiver: Jaxon Shipley & Mike Davis
As a freshman Jaxon Shipley was the team's most dynamic offensive threat, and he picked up the 2012 season right where left off.
The younger Shipley's talents were on full display last night as he showcased the full repertoire using his hands, arm and legs. Shipley had the Longhorns' lone receiving touchdown with a spectacular 16-yard diving grab for Ash's first TD pass of the season.
Shipley also had his name called twice by offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin for wide receiver passes, the first of which he had to traverse the entire field to avoid a huge loss and turned it into an 18-yard rush. The second of which was knocked out of Mike Davis' hands in the end zone.
You would like to see Shipley rack up more than 45 receiving yards, though his contributions are far more significant than the stats show. He is the team's big play guy and will be a significant determining factor in how much success David Ash enjoys as the starter. Tonight being the first example.
Looking to rebound from a subpar sophomore season, Mike Davis looked more similar to the record-setting freshman version of himself in last night's performance. Unfortunately, he still is not totally rid of last year's demons.
Like Shipley's, Davis' numbers are rather pedestrian with four catches for only 40 yards, but he also did not really get a chance to be a downfield threat. Davis was underthrown a couple of times downfield, and the rest of his receptions were on underneath routes. But when he did get the ball, Davis seemed to have no problem getting upfield and picking up the extra yardage.
The only negative from Davis' game last night was his failure to reel in Shipley's pass in the end zone. To his credit the pass was well-defended, though you would like to see your receivers come down with balls that they are able to get both hands on. Let's hope this does not become an issue further down the road.
Tight End: D.J. Grant
Other than the wide receivers not named Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis, the biggest no-show on the Longhorn offense has to be D.J. Grant and the entire tight end position.
Grant, who was named the starter because of his blocking ability, was only able to haul in one catch for four yards. That's it.
Considering that this team has a quarterback in Ash that needs all the help he can get in the passing game, one would hope that this team would be able to provide him with a tight end that could be his security blanket. That has not happened and probably will not happen this season, which could come back to hurt this team.
Grant and the rest of the tight ends did do a pretty good job blocking on the edge for the running backs, but this group has to emerge as a pass-catching this season to be truly effective.
The unsung heros from last night's game were the big uglies up front: RG Mason Walters, RT Josh Cochran, LT Donald Hawkins, LG Trey Hopkins and C Dom Espinosa.
When your offensive line does not allow a sack and paves the way for 280 rushing yards, it is pretty hard to find things to complain about. The blocking was great the entire game and these guys really flexed their muscles on the two fourth-down rushing touchdowns.
The one blemish on these guys' game was Espinosa's costly bad snap in the fourth quarter that ended up being recovered by Wyoming in Texas territory. The defense was able to bail him out, but that blunder had serious potential for making Espinosa the goat of the game and cannot happen against better teams.
If Espinosa's screw-up does not happen at that time and place, these guys get an A.
Defensive End: Alex Okafor & Jackson Jeffcoat
The bar was set high for senior Alex Okafor when he was named the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and he validated that in the first game of the season.
Okafor had the team's lone sack after Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith completed his second long pass of the game to Robert Herron that rendered all of Royal Memorial Stadium silent. Okafor's sack turned the tide for the rest of the game and the defense did not give an inch for the rest of the game.
Simply put Okafor was everywhere on Saturday night in recording 5 tackles, one sack and two QB hurries. He was a senior leader when his team needed him to be and that is a great sign of things to come for him and this defense.
In tandem with Okafor, Jeffcoat was also a terror from the defensive end position and was a big reason for the defense's major turnaround in the first half.
The junior defensive end tied for the team lead with 6 tackles and his lone QB hurry led to the first interception that Brett Smith threw to senior safety Kenny Vaccaro. Jeffcoat's effort all over the field was a significant reason the defense was able to lock down after giving up 178 yards in the first quarter, yielding only 167 yards the rest of the game.
Jeffcoat and Okafor have been touted as one of the best defensive end duos in the country, and they both showed us exactly why last night. If these two play like they did last night for the rest of the season, they are going to do very special things this season.
Defensive Tackle: Brandon Moore & Chris Whaley
When Texas brought in Brandon Moore this offseason as a junior college transfer, last night's game was exactly what they had in mind.
The Texas defense gave up only 69 rushing yards on 30 carries on Saturday in large thanks to the 320-pound Moore's ability to plug the middle. Moore's size and strength was also instrumental in occupying the blockers that were trying to control Jeffcoat and Okafor on the edge. He also added two tackles for a loss.
Moore may be overlooked on the stat sheet, but his ability to be an immovable object lays a strong foundation for the rest of the playmakers on this team to do what they do best on a nightly basis. He also helps this D-line make its case as the best in country.
After struggling to find his niche for his first two seasons as a Longhorn, converted running back Chris Whaley may have found himself a new home as the team's second starting defensive tackle.
Whaley's debut as a starting tackle went swimmingly as he recorded two tackles (one for a loss), a blocked extra point and a quarterback hurry. He may not be as big as Moore, but he was every bit as effective last night.
Whaley's speed is a great asset at the tackle position playing next to Moore, who will free him up and allow him to get into the backfield frequently this season. He proved last night that he deserved to be named the starter and could be a real star if he keeps this up.
Linebacker: Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond & Demarco Cobbs
The lone returning starter on the linebacking corps this season, junior Jordan Hicks set a high standard for himself and the rest of the linebackers on this team.
Hicks was also a key cog in the defense setting itself straight in the second quarter and his communication skills during that span cannot be overlooked. Hicks also tied for the team lead with six tackles (one for a loss) while also blocking a punt to set up a Texas field and breaking up a Brett Smith pass.
Hicks seemed to be in the backfield the entire game and is blossoming into a star right before our eyes. Considering that he is also charged with covering the mistakes of two first-year starters in Cobbs and Edmond, Hicks should be commended for his complete effort last night.
He may not have been the most obvious playmaker on the field, but sophomore middle linebacker Steve Edmond had a nice game in his first start for the 'Horns.
Edmond also tied for the team lead with six tackles, with one for a loss, and was a big reason that the Cowboys could only muster 69 rushing yards. Edmond sort of gets lost between the star defensive ends, his running mate Hicks and the playmakers in the secondary, so he will probably continue to be overlooked throughout the season.
Not bad, not great but solid is how you would describe Edmond's performance and his improvement should be fun to watch.
With all of the speed and athleticism he possesses, you would really like to see more from sophomore outside linebacker Demarco Cobbs.
Cobbs just could not find a rhythm in Saturday's game and was only able to record one tackle. Even more disheartening is that the only time he made his presence felt was on a questionable personal foul call.
With his speed, you would have thought Cobbs' role for the game would be to shadow dual-threat QB Brett Smith but nothing like that ever took place. The team needs to find a way to make use of his strengths before he starts doubting himself.
Cornerback: Carrington Byndom & Quandre Diggs
If Saturday was the first time you watched Carrington Byndom play football, you probably would not believe that he was one of the premier cover corners in all of college football and is a candidate for the Thorpe Award that is awarded to college football's top defensive back.
In so many words, Byndom was awful last night. First, Byndom and fellow DB Adrian Phillips missed a routine tackle on Robert Herron that ended up being an 82-yard touchdown. Then, on the next possession, Byndom got burned by Herron for 45 yards on a pass that Brett Smith threw out of his own end zone. Luckily for Byndom, Okafor had an eight-yard sack that ultimately killed the drive.
This was especially brutal to watch because every Longhorn fan knows how good Byndom is. He utterly shut down Justin Blackmon and Jeff Fuller, formerly two of the conference's best receivers, last season and had a game-changing interception return for a touchdown against A&M.
Byndom did have a tackle for a loss and an interception against the Cowboys, but he is much better than he was last night. He is a competitor, so fully expect him to come back with a vengeance.
While sophomore ballhawk Quandre Diggs did not flounder last night in the same way his counterpart Byndom did, Saturday's game was not exactly his strongest performance to date.
Diggs was almost invisible on defense last night in registering only one tackle and was burned on Herron's final touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Playing corner is definitely one of the most thankless jobs in all of sports, but Diggs is a playmaker and you really did not see him making things happen Saturday.
He did have 35 on two returns, which is nothing to scoff at, but he did not have much of an impact on the defensive side of the ball. You know he and Byndom are not sleeping well having given up 276 yards to anyone.
Safety: Kenny Vaccaro & Adrian Phillips
This quote from Vaccaro certainly sums up the performance of the secondary last night in which he stated (via HornsNation), "Honestly, we need to get our head out of the magazine and start fast and play hard."
He would not give himself credit, but Vaccaro's head was certainly not in the magazine last night as he was really the only member of the group that showed up Saturday from this hyped group of defensive backs. The first-team All-Big 12 safety had five tackles, a huge second quarter interception and two quarterback hurries in the victory, including the hurry that led to the easiest interception of Byndom's career.
He did misjudge Herron's second touchdown that he could have made a play on, but other than that he was spot on for basically the entire game. And you best believe he is going to demand better from his teammates that underperformed Saturday.
Phillips was another member of the defense that started slow for the Longhorns on Saturday, but he rebounded to have a fairly solid game in his first season replacing four-year starter Blake Gideon.
After he and Byndom combined to miss the tackle on Robert Herron that led to his 82-yard catch and run, Phillips picked up his play dramatically to finish with three tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Still, he could have provided more help over the top and he shoulders a big part of the blame for this unit giving up 276 yards through the air.
Giving up big plays was not figured to be an Achilles heel for this team, so these guys all need to figure out how to prevent something similar happening against teams like Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
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