A Statement Opener
Texas will win, probably big.
If that's all you wanted to know about Saturday night's Texas-Rice football game, well there you are.
On the other hand, this game will tell us a lot about how the Longhorns' season will go. So, if you want to be able to sit at the
game-watching (oops . . . only if you get Grande cable and no one in Houston does, sorry) radio listening party and prognosticate, read on.
Rice represents a challenge for Texas. Not because the Owls are good — they're not — but because they will play over their heads wanting to make a statement (they really don't like their former Southwest Conference rival) and because Texas is trying to find an identity and figure out how its new offense and new defense will work. In other words, one team has nothing to lose, the other, everything to lose.
"I don't know how good we'll be," head coach Mack Brown said. "That many young players, all the new schemes that we've got, it shouldn't work great the first time you throw it all out there together. But I'm excited to watch it. It's time to see what [it will] look like, and I think the players are excited about it, too."
The Texas Longhorns come into the game with a new offense, a new defense, new coaches, a quarterback under fire, and the youngest team Mack Brown has ever coached and a fan base with no tolerance for failure. That my friends is pressure.
There are three goals for Texas, besides winning that is:
1). Build confidence. No team in the league is more in need of a boost. The Longhorns got beat down last season and are rightfully unsure of how good they are. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert was awful last season, barely held onto his starting status, and, to be charitable, does not enjoy much fan support. Gilbert needs to play well.
This is not the time for Texas to test its running game, this is the time to let Gilbert air it out, test his arm and accuracy, and gain some confidence. The same can be said of the offensive line. A little confidence protecting Gilbert, and opening a few holes for the running game would go a long way.
Last season the Longhorns tried to run the ball against Rice. It didn't work on many levels. While the game was never in doubt (well most of it, after the first quarter anyway), Texas proved it could not run well, and Gilbert got nothing out of the game. Texas cannot afford to make the same mistake again.
Look for Gilbert to throw the ball a lot — deep, short, in the flat — all over the field while trying to build camaraderie with his new receivers. Texas should also test Malcolm Brown at tailback. Fozzy Whittaker is fine, but he's not the future, Malcolm Brown is. Texas must give him the ball more than a couple of times.
2). Test the young 'uns. This is a young team. As many as 12 freshmen and sophomores may start the game. "It may be the youngest team we've ever had, as well," Brown said. "And when you start looking at that, Coach Royal used to say something like, 'If you've got young players, just hope they're good and young. If they're bad and young, you've got a problem.' "
If Texas is to be successful, its young players had better be good. Those boys must become men quickly. Rice may not be good, but the Owls will play full speed and they will play hard. This will be a great time to see if the kids have the skills.
"Youth gets hyper in most situations," said co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite,"but you’ve just got to tell them to be here now and focus on what’s important — your job, your assignment. But the scariest thing about youth is the unknown."
Scary is right. Which is why on offense, freshman receiver Jaxon Shipley and freshman running back Malcolm Brown need to touch the ball. On defense, sophomore cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips, freshman defensive back Quandre Diggs and sophomore tackle Calvin Howell need to be pressed and tested.
"AP [Adrian Phillips] and Carrington [Byndom] both played quite a bit a year ago and in big games," said defensive backfield coach Duane Akina. "[In] the Nebraska game, AP came in and did a great job. Against Oklahoma State, Carrington came in and lined up against a heck of a receiver and did an outstanding job. So they came in with a lot of confidence and it continued through."
This is the time for the young'uns to get repetitions, gain confidence and learn how to play against NCAA Division I talent.
3) Build team leadership. I hope the Longhorns face some adversity during the game because I want to see Garrett Gilbert on offense, and Emmanuel Acho on defense, take command of the team and show great veteran leadership, demanding more of those around them.
Texas lacked leadership last year. Gilbert is by nature a shy, quiet guy who prefers to lead by example. To be successful, he needs to grow up and demand more of himself and his team. He needs to occasionally get into a teammate's face. If he can't do it, he won't be starting for long.
Specifically here are some keys to UT success:
- Protect the ball — Zero Turnovers on offense, two or more takeaways on defense. Turnovers were a huge problem last year.
- Throw the ball — Get Garrett Gilbert 40 throws, let him air it out deep, let him play the whole game.
- Run Malcolm Brown — Brown should get at least 12 carries to see what he can do. Can he average more than four yards per carry.
- Hold Rice under 200 yards of total offense. The Longhorns' defense needs to dominate the game.
UT can begin exorcizing the demons of 2010 and find itself. Texas is blessed to be playing a Rice team that will play hard, but one that lacks the talent to win. Now is the time for the Longhorns to set their standard and start over. This game will tell us a lot about where they are.