HOUSTON - Cody Johnson received the starting spot over Tre' Newton before the Rice game started. So why did Newton score all three rushing touchdowns for Texas in the game?
Johnson's short-lived start consisted of 15 carries for 59 yards, a whopping 3.9 yards per carry. He had one nice rush of 18 yards, but other than that, he was essentially ineffective.
Newton, despite scoring three touchdowns in the win, didn't have a much better stat line. He had 18 carries for 61 yards, and averaged a very meager 3.4 yards a pop.
Even Rice's Sam "White Chocolate" McGuffie had about the same stat line as both Johnson and Newton, despite the fact that he looks like a member of Limp Bizkit and nearly committed to Texas A&M.
Johnson's problem was not his weight, or his speed (at least not entirely). His biggest problem was his lack of tenacity when hitting the holes. He would hesitate before being hit, as if he were afraid of contact despite being the biggest player on the field.
The reason Newton will be starting next week against Wyoming is because he showed more explosiveness on his carries. There was less hesitation and more hunger in his runs than Johnson's, especially near the goal line.
While neither runningback showed consistent productivity in the game, remember that the Texas gameplan was extremely simple, almost like the game plan in an NFL preseason game. No shifts, no trick plays, no big misdirection runs.
Still, the running game was underwhelming, and Texas needs one of the two backs to step up and become a somewhat consistent force.
The other issue that stood out in the game was Aaron Williams' punt returning mistakes.
The first mistake was a punt which landed around the 20-yard line that Williams allowed to roll past him to about the ten before finally picking up the ball and being tackled immediately.
The second mistake was in the fourth quarter when a punt bounced off of William's hands and right into the hands of the Owls, who took the fumble and scored on the ensuing drive.
With great overall team speed, Texas should replace Williams at punt returner, who is a vital asset defensively anyway, with a speedy receiver like Marquise Goodwin.
Other than the average running attack and below average return game, the final 34-17 mark wasn't indicative of the talent gap between the two teams.
The flukey tipped-pass touchdown caught by Randy Kitchens to end the first half could have easily been intercepted (or not called a touchdown, the knees were down before the ball crossed the plain) and the other Rice touchdown scored was from the two-yard line by Charles Ross after a Texas turnover gave them the ball with an extremely short field.
As a whole, this game shouldn't be overanalyzed.
Again, Texas came out with a vanilla game plan, and didn't show too much as far as playcalling goes. Hopefully, Texas' running game and special teams will improve when they take on Wyoming next week in Austin.
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