Texas football started its 2023 season with a 37-10 win over the Rice Owls. The result, while never in doubt, did raise various concerns about the Longhorns heading into their blockbuster Week 2 battle in Tuscaloosa. That said, many positives remain to take away from the win.
On a macro level, the Longhorns showed a balanced offensive attack featuring some never-before-seen wheels from quarterback Quinn Ewers. No one could cover Xavier Worthy, who finished with seven catches for 90 yards, and Adonai Mitchell hauled in his first touchdown in the burnt orange.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Longhorns completely stymied Rice and JT Daniels. The Owls finished with 176 yards of offense and 27 yards on the ground (1.1 YPC). The Texas defense was sound in its assignments while allowing its playmakers to get after the ball.
With what Coach Sarkisian and his staff have been doing on the recruiting trail, it is no shock that Texas had many underclassmen contributors on Saturday. In this article, I looked at five underclassmen who impressed me the most.
Five underclassmen who impressed for Texas football vs. Rice
1. Malik Muhammad, CB (FR)
One of the biggest recruiting wins for Texas in the 2023 cycle was five-star South Oak Cliff cornerback Malik Muhammad. Muhammad enrolled in January and had been turning heads in practice with his athleticism, defensive IQ, and ability to track the ball in the air.
Heading into Saturday’s opener against Rice, Muhammad was listed as the second-team starter behind senior Ryan Watts at the boundary corner. The rotation in the backend became fluid against the Owls, but one thing stayed consistent: Malik Muhammad’s ability to find the football.
Muhammad played 27 snaps on Saturday, second most by a player in the Texas secondary. He could diagnose what was in front of him, notching five total tackles and two defensive stops. He was also able to break up one pass when he was targeted. Muhammad will be featured a lot during his first season in Austin.
2. Ethan Burke, EDGE (SO)
One of the massive questions surrounding the Longhorns this offseason was who would step up at the BUCK defensive end position. We heard great things all camp about the play of sophomore Ethan Burke, and he proved his merit on Saturday.
On Saturday, Burke tallied three quarterback pressures, two hurries, and 1.5 sacks (the first of his career). The Austin-Westlake product was all over the field and proved he could be successful with and without his hand in the dirt. He led the Big 12 in pass-rushing productivity (among edge rushers) and will look to bring stability to a position that has been a turnstile for Texas over the last half-decade.
3. Jaydon Blue, RB (SO)
The offseason talk about the Texas running back position was how Coach Sarkisian would balance the duo of Jonathon Brooks and Cedric Baxter Jr. Due to an unfortunate rib injury for Baxter early in the second quarter, sophomore Jaydon Blue was given an ample opportunity to prove himself. The Klein Cain (TX) product made the most of his snaps.
Blue carried the ball ten times and led the Longhorns with 55 yards on the ground. He showed an innate ability to bounce the ball to the outside, creating advantageous matchups with stone-footed defenders. Early reports are that Baxter should be back at practice this week. Nonetheless, Blue has proven he should be given his fair share of touches this fall.
4. Johntay Cook II, WR (FR)
Due to the fact Rice kept this game much closer in the first half than many anticipated, Coach Sarkisian could not unleash many of the elite true freshman skill players he brought in this summer. That said, five-star DeSoto (TX) wide receiver Johntay Cook II took the field in the second half and proved why he will be a factor this fall.
Cook played 17 snaps on Saturday, the fourth most among Longhorn receivers. He was targeted three times, securing two catches for 26 yards. Cook also had a nice 10-yard catch and run that was negated due to offensive pass interference on tight end Patrick Bayouth. All of his targets came with Maalik Murphy at quarterback.
The freshman wideout will continue to come along as the season progresses, and I expect him to play a significant factor in a few Big 12 games this season. His game speed cannot be ignored.
5. Kristopher Ross, DL/EDGE (RS-FR)
Redshirt freshman Kristopher Ross was listed as the backup JACK behind Barryn Sorrell for Saturday’s contest. Ross, who played in just one game last season, showed why he will factor into this defensive line rotation with his performance on Saturday.
Despite not finishing with a tackle, Ross notched two quarterback hurries and always seemed to be around the ball. He played 24 snaps on the defensive line, second most on the team. He is a very gap-sound defender and has seemingly gained Pete Kwiatkwoski’s trust this offseason with his ability to get upfield. Ross, a low four-star product out of North Shore (TX), is on pace to be another elite development piece for this coaching staff.