What's eating Garrett Gilbert? Not the enraged Texas fans, for he's still thestarting quarterback
Football season is here.
The University of Texas opens against Rice on Saturday at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and junior Garret Gilbert will be at the helm of the Longhorn offense. Measured by the number of vitriolic blog comments, not a few fans are pretty unhappy about that.
UT coach Mack Brown made the announcement at his regular Monday pregame press conference as he released the current two-deep roster; a roster he insists only reflects the state of the team "today", not necessarily who will start Saturday. He was pretty serious about that, he said it maybe four times.
For perhaps the first time in his athletic career, nothing was being handed to him, he had to fight for his job. Gilbert's problems went beyond passing stats, he lacked leadership skills and carried a sense of entitlement around with his helmet.
From the very start of fall practice Brown, and co-offensive coordinators Bryan Harsin and Major Applewhite, have been leaning on Gilbert. A bottom of the heap quarterback rating and 17 interceptions in the previous season will tend to get coaches on quarterbacks.
Gilbert walked into Texas two years ago as the most heralded QB in a decade. He spent his first year watching and learning from Colt McCoy, and then, when disaster struck in the national championship game, Gilbert came within three minutes of a miracle win.
As great as he played against Alabama, fans and coaches' expectations rose to unfathomable, and probably unreachable expectations for the 2010 season. Last season Gilbert looked nothing like his former national championship game or even high school state championship self, and there was plenty of blame to go around — a revolving carousel of offensive linemen, ham-handed receivers, a complete lack of a running game to keep defenses guessing and a game plan week-to-week so predictable that opposing defenses could confidently sit back and wait for balls to fall into their arms.
2011 is not 2010 — the players changed, the coaches changed, the attitude changed. Brown made clear at the get-go, the quarterback job was up for grabs. Gilbert needed to step up.
For perhaps the first time in his athletic career, nothing was being handed to him, he had to fight for his job. No doubt Brown meant that to happen. Gilbert's problems went beyond passing stats, he lacked leadership skills and carried a sense of entitlement around with his helmet.
Fair assessment or not, Gilbert failed himself and his team. Brown aimed to fix that with some tough preseason love. "I think it's the experience," Brown said when asked about the choice of Gilbert to start the season as the starter. ". . . the on-the-field leadership. He's just older, he's done it before, and that probably helped him as much as anything."
The offensive line is still a work in progress but at least Gilbert knows who will be where. The rushing game is in see-it-to-believe-it territory, but frankly couldn't get any worse. The backup quarterbacks are too young. Gilbert brings Texas the best chance to win, and that's all that Brown is looking for.
"We've had some guys with a lot of experience that were moved to the second team or third team very quickly," Brown said. "We don't care who you are or what your name is, we're going to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win — period."
Brown also sounded like his usual underpromise self, but this year he has a tough guy attitude that we've otherwise rarely seen. "Last year, looking back, we probably didn't make changes that we should have at times," he said, stating the obvious. "That's not going to happen this year."
Rice at home is a game that Texas should win, but it will not be without significant drama, even if that drama all happens on the Burnt Orange side.
Texas is a young team. The depth chart shows 12 freshmen or sophomores starting (if the game were played today of course).
Brown summed up the team by quoting Darrell Royal, "If you've got young players, just hope they're good and young. If they're bad and young, you've got a problem."