Texas Longhorns Football: Previewing the Rice Game
Texas' season of redemption is finally here.
After a nine-month offseason filled with a bevy of coaching switches, changes in philosophy and a new breath of fresh air in Texas football, the Longhorns are set to take the field at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium to take on Rice in what will be the start of a new era for the Burnt Orange.
Coupled with the launch of the Longhorn Network, a television agreement between the University and ESPN, the season opener against the Owls will be highly anticipated as Texas will emerge as a completely revolutionized program.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Central Time.
Here are some things to look for on Saturday evening in Austin.
Texas' New Offense
Call it the Boise State offense. Call it Bryan Harsin's offense. Call it the Harsinwhite offense. Call it what you want, but it should be explosive, motion-heavy and ultimately exciting for the Texas faithful.
When Harsin was running things at Boise State, he siphoned every ounce of playmaking ability out of marginal high school recruits. With the talent pool endlessly dripping with blue-chip athletes on campus, nobody should even know what kind of results this offense will yield.
Expect a number of different looks from this Garrett Gilbert-led offense, and don't be surprised to see a wealth of underclassmen shouldering much of the offensive load.
The Longhorns will feature a vast number of underclassmen on both sides of the football, so the expectation of bumps and bruises early in the season is there. But don't let that undermine the kind of talent some of these kids possess.
Texas' offense will be a huge beneficiary of its youth and their contributions. Names like Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley, both of whom are true freshmen, immediately come to mind. Dom Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Mason Walters, all offensive linemen, are expected to start in the trenches.
Overall, there should be 12 freshmen and sophomores starting on either side of the ball.
We know what comes with young players, but the Longhorns could be scary good in November.
Manny Diaz's Defense
Manny Diaz has come to Austin and made us all forget about the impressions that Will Muschamp left behind before taking the Florida head coaching gig. His high-risk, high-reward zone blitzing scheme will be feast or famine early on for the Longhorns, especially with depth and inexperience issues in the secondary.
Texas will feature all underclassmen at cornerback with Quandre Diggs, a true freshman, and Carrington Byndom, a true sophomore, taking up the starting spots. A.J. White and Adrian Phillips, both sophomores, also will fit into the rotation.
Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor arguably represent the deadliest combo in the Big 12. With linebacker being a position of strength for the Longhorns, should Texas shore up its troubles on the interior line, the entire defensive unit will be extremely special.
Speed has been the word used to describe the Longhorns' defense, which could spell trouble for an undersized, though talented, Rice offense.
Rice Returns Experience
Rice finished its 2010 season with a 4-8 mark with wins in its final two games, and statistically they were below average, especially on defense.
However, the Owls are healthy now and return an immense amount of experience on both sides of the football.
Four fifth-year players return to the offensive line, while eight starters come back on defense, including the entire defensive line.
For a program that gave up 38.5 points per game (114th) in 2010, there will be some lingering questions from last season, but the expectation will be a much stronger and more organized.
Sam McGuffie, a former Michigan Wolverine, will line up in the backfield. He rushed for 883 yards on the year, including 419 yards over the last four games. Taylor Cook, a quarterback transfer from Miami (FL), should serve as one of Rice's top receiving options.
By no means does Rice out-talent Texas, but with the Longhorns ushering in new offensive and defensive schemes, starting the game on the right foot will be crucial for both teams.
On paper, Texas should dominate Rice, but we all know anything can happen after kickoff. Let 2010 be a testament to that for the Longhorns.
Nevertheless, the Horns are primed and ready for their comeback season. And under new philosophies, new schemes, new coaches and a fresh take all over the program, expect Texas to come out with an attitude and swagger not seen for over a year.
The matchup is what it is, a perennial powerhouse against a completely average, mid-major program. Texas won the 2010 contest 34-17, but it was ugly and uncovered problems that became exacerbated as the season continued.
Adrenaline could keep the game close early on, but scheme and talent should steal the show in the second half.