It didn’t take the Texas Longhorns long to jump out to a big lead against Rice. Sustaining it proved to be a challenge.
The Texas Longhorns needed a win versus Rice in the worst way last Saturday. Following a 38-3 defeat at Notre Dame the team was looking more like the 2014 version rather than the new and improved product.
There were some positives – and negatives – to take from the Rice game.
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How about Jerrod Heard. The redshirt freshman learns he will get the start during warm ups on game day. Game day.
All he does is throw two touchdown passes and rushes for 96 yards. He showed off the dual-threat capabilities we all knew he had. He protected the ball and helped Texas fans forget Notre Dame, if only for one night.
Heard brought excitement back to a stagnant offense. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but four offensive touchdowns in your debut is impressive. Texas had more points in the first quarter – 21 – than the team had score in its previous three games combined. That’s progress. The job is his to lose.
There was a Daje Johnson sighting. He was spotted all over the place, as in weaving through Rice’s special teams unit for big returns. He had 119 yards on three punt returns. His 85-yarder for a score gave Texas a quick 14-0 lead and helped the crowd relax a little. On a night of big plays, Johnson made his presence felt.
Speaking of big plays, Malik Jefferson and Kris Boyd combined to create another scoring opportunity. Boyd played a sweep perfectly, and his jarring tackle caused a fumble that Jefferson scooped up and ran in for a touchdown. The score pushed the Texas lead to 35-14 and pretty much clinched the victory. Charlie Strong will have to play a bunch of freshmen this year, and it was good to see two of them combine for a big play.
John Burt showed off his sprinter’s speed to run by his defender for a 69-yard touchdown catch to open the third quarter. This was a huge play considering Rice and trimmed Texas’ lead from 21-0 to 21-14 going into halftime. The Longhorns needed to score on its opening drive of the second half to shift the momentum back in Texas’ favor. That play was tremendous in so many ways – Heard’s arm strength was on display, Burt’s soft hands cradling the pass and Jay Norvell’s confidence in calling the play. This is what has been missing from the offense’s arsenal for several years now.
The Texas defense forced five turnovers. Why that is important a little later.
Don’t be surprised to see Jason Hall toting a football around campus this week, trying to keep his teammates from knocking it out of his hands. The safety was gift-wrapped an easy interception in the second quarter. On the return he had the ball knocked loose from behind. Rice recovered and eventually scored a touchdown to cut the first half lead to seven. Sometimes you have to learn a lesson the hard way. At least it didn’t cost Texas the game.
Sep 12, 2015; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns tailback Jonathan Gray (32) runs the ball against the Rice Owls during the first quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
I figured Jonathan Gray would get more than eight touches in this game (the number he had against Notre Dame). He did. Gray touched the ball a whopping 10 times. Granted the offense wasn’t on the field very much, but D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren combined for eight touches. No running back is going to get into a rhythm if he isn’t getting consistent carries. What is Strong saving Gray for? The only positive I can take from this is if it continues, Gray will be fresh for the Oklahoma game.
Every Michael Dickson punt will be an adventure this year.
Rice had the ball for 44 minutes. How a team that controls the ball for 44 minutes and loses is beyond me. Oh wait, you can lose a game like this when you have five turnovers. Rice was its own worst enemy with two turnovers deep in Texas territory. The fumble returned by Jefferson for a score was a back breaker.
Sep 12, 2015; Austin, TX, USA; Rice Owls running back Sam Stewart (24) avoids a tackle by Texas Longhorns linebacker Timothy Cole (30) during the third quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Texas beat Rice 42-28. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
The Owls controlled the line of scrimmage and opened up holes for Samuel Stewart and Darik Dillard. Stewart had 130 yards and two scores, Dillard chipped in with 53. How did the vaunted Texas defensive line – the strength of the defense – get manhandled by a smaller Owl line? That’s what Vance Bedford will be trying to figure out. This cannot happen against schools like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU or it will be a long afternoon for the Longhorns.
The defensive line must get penetration to disrupt plays or the secondary will get picked apart.
The offensive line wasn’t much better. Texas running backs had 45 yards on 17 carries. If it wasn’t for Heard’s scrambling ability the outcome of this game could have been much different.
A win is a win when your program is in desperate need of one. But with a grueling stretch of the schedule starting, it cannot play like it did on Saturday. Like Strong said in his post-game press conference, there is still work to be done.