Texas Football: Breaking Down Longhorns' Hot and Cold 34-17 Victory Over Rice

Dino NicandrosAnalyst ISeptember 5, 2010

Sophomore Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert audibles at the line.
Sophomore Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert audibles at the line.Bob Levey/Getty Images

It wasn't as impressive as many expected, but on a day when some of the nation's top teams were pushed to the brink, Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns were just happy to leave Houston with a win over the Rice Owls.

In what was the first career start for sophomore quarterback Garrett Gilbert, the Longhorns got out to a slow start, trailing the Owls 3-0 after one quarter of play.

After a poor first-quarter effort, Texas finally woke up.

On the first full drive of the second quarter, junior running back Tre' Newton punched in a one yard touchdown, giving Texas a 10-3 lead.

One the Owl's next possession, defensive end Sam Acho sacked quarterback Taylor McHarque, popping the ball loose, allowing linebacker Keenan Robinson to pick it up and jog into the end zone for a score and a 17-3 Texas lead.

While Texas didn't obliterate their rival Owls like in past seasons, there was little doubt that the Longhorns controlled the game from the second quarter onward.

Let's take a look at the pro's and cons of Texas' inaugural game of the 2010 season:



Running Game

Mack Brown said before the game that Texas would come out and run the football almost exclusively, and while there were some hiccups here and there, the Longhorn runners were effective.

Cody Johnson, Tre' Newton, and Fozzy Whittaker combined for almost 170 yards (Texas racked up 197 yards total on the ground).

Of the three, Newton was the most impressive despite losing his starting spot to Cody Johnson during spring drills.

Newton carried the ball 18 times for 61 yards and three touchdowns, showing some flashes of real potential between the tackles.

Starter Cody Johnson pounded his way for 59 yards on 15 carries.

Fozzy Whittaker took over in the second half, gashing the Owls for 51 yards on nine carries.

It took a little while to get fired up, but a worn-down Owls defense couldn't keep the Texas running game under wraps for much longer than a quarter.



Garrett Gilbert's Debut

The talented sophomore wasn't incredible on Saturday, but he was more than adequate.

In his first action since the Pasadena nightmare, Gilbert went 14-of-23 for 172 yards, adding two carries for 11 yards on the ground.

While Gilbert failed to throw a touchdown pass, he didn't make any crucial mistakes.

Gilbert did throw a few questionable balls, but we got to witness first-hand just how strong this kid's arm is on a beautiful 30-yard laser to John Chiles in the second quarter and a 47-yard bomb to Malcolm Williams in the third quarter.

The offense was very vanilla, but there were some definite glimpses of potential Gilbert greatness.


Speed on Defense

The overall athleticism of Will Muschamp's defensive unit is nothing short of remarkable.

On several misdirection plays, Texas linebackers were in the backfield before YouTube sensation Sam McGuffie knew which gap he was going to run through.

Keenan Robinson was a one-man highlight reel, racking up a sack and a fumble return for a touchdown.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro may have been the most entertaining player on the field. Each of one his seven tackles were more devastating than the last.  Let's just say I wouldn't want to be in his intended path of travel.

Sam Acho and freshman Jackson Jeffcoat collected a sack apiece in a dominating performance by the Longhorns' edge rushers.

Apart from a lucky tipped ball that led to a Rice score right before the half, the Texas defense was stingy all day long.


Marquise Goodwin

The Big 12 long jump champion figured to be a huge factor in the Texas offense in 2010, and he kick-started the season by doing a little bit of everything.

Goodwin grabbed four balls for 50 yards, showing off his rare speed on two separate screen passes.

The Texas speedster also added two carries for 15 yards, with a 19-yard gain coming on a reverse.

Keeping Goodwin involved in the offense will throw defenses off balance because of the mismatches he creates all over the field.



Texas Goal Line Running Game

While Texas did rack up decent yardage on the ground, the running game stalled miserably inside the five-yard line.

Bruiser Cody Johnson was stuffed on an ill-advised sweep play from two yards out, and later, Tre' Newton would fail to punch it in.  Texas would settle for a pair of field goals.

If the Texas offensive line found it difficult to pave a hole for Johnson and Newton against Rice's defensive line, imagine what life in Dallas or Lincoln will be like.

Personally I'd rather not, so let's assume this problem gets addressed before October.


Justin Tucker

Kicker Justin Tucker's day started well, nailing a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter, but he would miss his next two attempts from 54 yards (for which I can't really fault him) and 44 yards.

I don't think Texas fans understand just how much they'll miss Hunter Lawrence and his clutch leg.

While there's plenty of time for Tucker to settle in, Texas can't afford to leave points on the field in some of the closer games they will play later on this season.



Statistically, the Texas secondary was solid, allowing only 131 yards through the air (90 to the starter McHarque).

My beef with this group is the missed opportunities.

Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown both missed chances to pick off passes and return them for touchdowns. This is a bit uncharacteristic for this group, as they led the nation with 25 picks a year ago.

Chykie Brown also gave up a long 31-yard gain and committed a needless pass interference penalty a play later.

The bottom line is that if this group is going to live up to its billing as the best secondary in the nation, they have to capitalize on chances for turnovers whenever they can get them, especially against the high-powered offenses of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M.


Overall Grade: B-

It looked like for much of the game that the Longhorns were just going through the motions. There was nothing fancy about the offensive game plan, and the defense made plays when it had to.

It's hard to gauge this team right now, so we'll likely have to wait until their date with Texas Tech in Lubbock to draw any significant conclusions.

Look for Garrett Gilbert to continue operating from under center while Texas builds its new running attack.