Texas football and head coach Steve Sarkisian open the 2023 regular season slate at home at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Sep. 2 against the Rice Owls. Texas enters the regular season opener this weekend as a heavy favorite over the Owls by a margin of five touchdowns in the opening betting lines.
The long wait is about to be over for the Longhorns faithful, who will finally see their team take to the field at DKR for the first time since last November (not including the spring game).
Sark and Texas enter the 2023 regular season with high expectations. The Longhorns were picked to win the Big 12 in the preseason media poll for the first time since 2009. Texas is expected to contend for its first Big 12 title in more than a decade in its final season in the conference before leaving for the SEC in 2024.
Texas must start to build momentum heading into the massive non-conference showdown in Week 2 against the Alabama Crimson Tide. Sark and the Longhorns must also enter Big 12 play with confidence and momentum.
Why Texas football could score 70+ vs. Rice in Week 1
Here’s a look at three reasons why the Longhorns will pile it on with a massive victory over Rice in Week 1.
Texas’ defensive strength and familiarity with JT Daniels
The strength of the team for the Longhorns this year could be on defense. Texas had one of the most improved defenses in the Big 12 last season, leading the conference in defensive FEI (per Football Outsiders).
Given the upgrades to the secondary and key returning starters at most position groups, Texas’ defense could be even better this fall than last season. Co-DC Pete Kwiatkowski and the Longhorns added former Arkansas senior safety transfer Jalen Catalon and Wake Forest redshirt junior transfer corner Gavin Holmes from the portal this offseason.
Holmes and Catalon join a top group of DBs, including sophomore corner Terrance Brooks, redshirt junior boundary corner Ryan Watts, and senior safety Jerrin Thompson, to form one of the best secondaries in the Big 12 this season.
Junior nose Byron Murphy II and redshirt senior three-tech T’Vondre Sweat lead the defensive line. And the linebacking corps is led by preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, senior standout Jaylan Ford.
Every level of the defense for the Longhorns could be better than last season. And Rice will be the first team that tests that theory this fall, which obviously isn’t favorable for the Owls. Rice will get the brunt of all these new additions, and future NFL Draft picks looking to prove themselves on defense this fall.
Texas has the athleticism and size advantage at just about every position on defense compared to Rice’s offense.
It also doesn’t help Rice that its new transfer quarterback, redshirt senior JT Daniels, had his struggles in the past against the Longhorns at DKR. Daniels faced the Longhorns twice as a starting quarterback at DKR since 2018 (with USC in 2018 and West Virginia in 2022).
Daniels was constantly under pressure in the pocket last season when Texas beat West Virginia by multiple scores. He was pressured 13 times, three of which resulted in sacks. Texas pressured and sacked him the same number of times when the Longhorns beat Daniels and the Trojans at DKR in 2018.
It’s also worth noting that Daniels has only one passing touchdown on nearly 100 passing attempts in his two starts at DKR.