The Longhorns start the 2011 season against the Rice Owls
Texas starts its 2011 campaign against the Rice Owls at home. This will be the ideal launchpad for the unranked Longhorns to cope with an otherwise routine schedule, which will seem challenging, seeing as how they're coming off a miserable last season.
After a massive overhaul of the coaching staff, coach Mack Brown will be keen to put the 2010 season behind him. The Longhorns' 12 starting underclassmen coupled with some of their experienced players have the potential to better their 5-7 record of 2010—but then again, no one thought the 2010 bunch was going to fare that badly either!
However, the 'Horns could spring up a few surprises this year, provided they start well against Rice, just like they almost did last year. Last year's Rice game was also a season-starter for Texas, and they did win 34-17. But as is amply clear from the postmortem report of 2010, this win was the start of something completely unexpected and untowardly.
With hope, the Longhorns are a year older and a year wiser, and the same mistakes wont be repeated—at least not repeatedly.
Read on to find out how Texas matches up with Rice.
The eyes of Texas will be on Garrett Gilbert this year
For now, Garrett Gilbert's prevailed in the QB battle that ensued at Texas in the offseason. However, the junior will have to take charge of the Texas offense from the very first snap if he's to stay ahead of Case McCoy in a three-horse race.
Interceptions were a big worry for Gilbert last year casting doubts over his route-reading abilities. His improvement in this department during the offseason was, undoubtedly, the litmus test for him getting the starter's job again. However, the measure of his improvement can only be judged come Saturday.
Even Rice had its very own QB battle, where sophomore Taylor McHargue emerged as the starter over senior Nick Fanuzzi and junior Taylor Cook. McHargue was Rice's starter against Texas in 2010 as well, but he had to sit out almost half of the season due to an injury. A lot is expected from him this season.
Senior RB Fozzy Whittaker
All eyes will be on freshmen Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, who will provide the ideal support structure for senior Fozzy Whittaker. To add to this, Texas also has the option of Cody Johnson at fullback. As a result, the running game is likely to be a big factor for the Longhorns this year.
Even the Owls look strong at running back as they're led by junior Sam McGuffie, who's arguably one of the most exciting players around. Sophomore Jeremy Eddington is also known to be explosive in the backfield and will add to the Owls' depth at this position.
In the preseason, sophomore Mike Davis was demoted to third string receiver, but he managed to reclaim his starting job through a string of good performances. He will be one of the key factors if the Longhorns hope to make an impression with their passing game. It'll also be interesting to watch freshman Jaxon Shipley in action as he tries to live up to his older brother's legacy.
For the Owls, junior Vance McDonald will be a key component on offense. The 6'5" slot receiver is an easy target for QB Taylor McHargue. Senior Randy Kitchens has also proved to be effective since he returned from an injury last year. Besides, there's the ever-present option of throwing at Sam Mcguffie.
David Snow, the senior center, will have his work cut out as he tries to lead the Texas offensive line to a better showing than last year. Along with stopping oncoming traffic, he has to contend with younger, inexperienced colleagues. Snow and co. can't afford a poor showing like the one in 2010, when they allowed more sacks than they could count—and given the depth, or lack thereof, in this department, this remains an area of concern for Texas.
Meanwhile, the Owls offensive line has four senior and one junior starters. Despite all their experience, they are still no match to a defensive line like that of Texas. Rice's 6'3" 290 pound Keshawn Carrington will be the player to watch, as many have predicted him to have a big season this year.
Senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall is one of the most prolific returners to the Longhorns defense. He had 39 tackles last year, 13 of which went for a loss. The Texas defensive line gets a further boost, thanks to junior defensive end Alex Okafor, who registered 2.5 sacks last year. The defensive line will be pivotal in ensuring the 'Horns do better than last year, when they gave over 138 rushing yards per game.
Senior defensive end Scott Solomon's back for leading the Owls defensive unit. He'll be keen to go out with a bang after missing last season due to a foot injury. However, there will be more pressure on nose tackles John Gioffre and Michael Smith after a mediocre showing by them last year.
The Texas secondary has gone through a lot since Blake Gideon got to the Forty Acres. The senior safety has seen his share of highs and lows in the 39 games he's started for the 'Horns. He will be hoping to end on a high note since Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips have shown promise in the offseason. Based on what we've seen so far, this secondary looks strong—stronger than 2010 at least!
On the other hand, Rice lost veteran safety Travis Bradshaw to a neck injury he sustained last month. Senior Xavier Webb will start in his place, and he'll have Paul Porras with him in an inexperienced backfield. Junior Corey Frazier is likely to be the star in this lineup.
Sophomore Demarco Cobbs is indefinitely out with an injured arm, putting a lot of pressure on seniors Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Last year Acho had 87 tackles and he managed to break up six passes, and has looked good coming into this season. This should soften the blow of losing Cobbs early on in the season.
True sophomore Cameron Nwosu, who had a great year in 2010, will be starting for the Owls. Senior Justin Allen, who transferred from Idaho in 2010, will also be hoping to build up on the success he had last year. However, Trey Briggs will not start against Texas, since he's still recovering from an offseason surgery.