There’s still work to be done, but Texas coach Mack Brown was mostly pleased with how his team’s new-look offense and defense performed in the season opener.
A matchup with BYU should give Brown an even better idea of where the 24th-ranked Longhorns stand.
Texas looks to match last season’s win total in Austin on Saturday night when it faces a Cougars team trying to knock off a second straight BCS conference foe.
Most offshore sports books monitored by the SportsOptions odds product opened Texas as a seven-point home favorites, with the total set at 48.
Among the coaching changes from the 2010 team that finished 5-7 – including 2-5 at home in Texas’ first losing season since 1997 – were Bryan Harsin taking over as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach along with Manny Diaz becoming defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Under Harsin, who held the same positions at Boise State the last five years, the Longhorns unveiled a wildcat formation and racked up 506 yards of total offense in last Saturday’s 34-9 home win over Rice. Texas lost one fumble and there were no interceptions by starter Garrett Gilbert or any of the other three Longhorns who threw passes.
Eight Texas players made receptions as Mike Davis led the way with a career-high 115 yards while Jaxon Shipley became the Longhorns’ first true freshman with a receiving TD in a season opener – off a pass from freshman wideout John Harris.
Seven Texas players carried the ball, with freshman Malcolm Brown running for 68 of his game-high 86 yards in the final 15 minutes.
“That’s been a goal of ours for a long time – finish a game with physical toughness like we used to,” said Brown, who was concerned about three penalties that extended each of Rice’s scoring drives.
Diaz, who coached Mississippi State’s defense in 2010, saw his unit hold the Owls out of the end zone and to 224 total yards.
“I felt like we did a great job on possession downs and in the red zone,” Brown said.
However, he wasn’t so pleased by the Longhorns recording no sacks and allowing 130 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
“We were average against the run and we didn’t do a great job with our run fits up inside,” Brown said.
BYU had just 91 rushing yards in last Saturday’s 14-13 victory at Mississippi, but Brown said he’s worried about senior JJ Di Luigi, who finished with 56 yards on the ground and caught four passes for 32 yards. Di Luigi had 1,460 yards from scrimmage last season.
While quarterback Jake Heaps and the Cougars’ offense need to “sustain drives longer,” according to coach Bronco Mendenhall, BYU’s defense is off to a great start after holding the Rebels to 208 yards – 64 on the ground.
After Heaps found redshirt freshman Ross Apo, who originally committed to Texas, for a 19-yard touchdown with 9:52 left, linebacker Kyle Van Noy scored on a fumble recovery to help BYU complete the fourth-quarter comeback from 13 down.
“It was probably one of the most gratifying victories since I’ve been the coach (since 2005),” Mendenhall said after BYU’s first victory as an independent following 12 seasons in the Mountain West.
His Cougars have won four of their last nine matchups with ranked teams and now face a Texas team which rejoined the Top 25 this week for the first time since late October.
Brown is excited about a recruiting class that had 18 true freshmen play last Saturday, but he’s hoping that group will “grow up fast” in what he expects to be a battle against BYU.
“This will be an like an old fashioned street fight,” Brown said. “… It’s going to be about who’s the toughest. It’s a great test for us.”
Texas is 0-2 all-time versus BYU, losing 47-6 in Provo the last time these teams met in 1988. The Cougars set a school record with eight forced turnovers in a 22-17 victory at Austin in 1987.