Blake Gideon, junior safety -- Perhaps no other player in the program is as divisive -- and please, please, please save that tired discussion for another time, or maybe just drop it entirely -- than the coach's son from Leander. On Saturday against Wyoming, Gideon has one of his best games of his career. Sure, the targeting penalty extended a drive and handed the Cowboys 15 yards, but it's a penalty resulting from aggressiveness and a difficult one to avoid without deciding to forgo any attempts at big hits on such plays.
One other hit was particularly impressive and earned him the Hard Hat Award for the week, a crunching form tackle finished with viciousness. Overall, Gideon was sure with his tackling and twice nicely undercut routes in the flat to force incomplete passes and end drives. His eight tackles tied for a team high.
Sam Acho, senior defensive end -- At this point, it's easy to take what Acho Ocho Uno does for granted. After all, he's been contributing ever since his first play as a freshman when he recorded a sack. And it isn't easy what he does, he just makes it look that way because he's an excellent athlete and smart and instinctive as hell. Oh yeah, and his motor never stops running, never more evident than when he caught a Wyoming player 12 yards downfield on a screen.
Equally dangerous as a pass rusher off the edge and defending the running game, Acho recorded five tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and three quarterback hurries. Enjoy him while he's still here, Longhorn fans, because the NFL Is about to come calling shortly.
Eddie Jones, senior defensive end -- Acho and his mission work make for a great story, but Eddie Jones has quite the story himself, a story of perseverance and hard work. A story of rehab from the 11 or 12 surgeries (he can't remember now) he has undergone.
For the former five-star defensive end from Kilgore, it's resulted in major contributions on the field this season. Jones tied for the team lead in tackles against Wyoming with eight, a massive number for a defensive lineman, along with a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries. LIke Acho, Jones plays with a non-stop motor.
Fozzy Whittacker, junior running back -- The current Flavor of the Week, Whittaker took advantage of his opportunities in this game, most specifically the 39-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that ignited a listless Texas crowd. Besides his burst, which has always been there, the most impressive aspect of his run was his ability to stay behind his pads and keep his balance while twice splitting two defenders on his way to the end zone. His short-area burst and overall quick feet give him the best chance of the Texas running backs to find a small crease and turn it into a big game. As always, the question with the Mythical Fozzy Creature is how long he can stay healthy -- 15 or more carries in a game seems unlikely as a result.
Defending the zone read -- A week after looking like they had never seen the various plays that make up the zone read series, the Texas defensive ends did a much better job of defending Wyoming's zone read plays. The defensive ends were paying attention to the quarterback -- having surely been told repeatedly by Will Muschamp that Carta-Samuels is a dangerous runner -- and not simply crashing down on the running back as they often did against Rice. Several times, defenders even forced a beneficial read and made the play themselves.
Mike Davis, freshman wide receiver -- Long expected to be a contributor this season despite his youth, Davis failed to record a catch against Rice. That all changed against Wyoming -- with both John Chiles and Marquise Goodwin dinged up in the first half, it was Davis who stepped up and began making plays. The end result was seven catches for 104 yards and a critical 45-yard touchdown catch before the half that turned momentum solidly in favor of the home team.
Davis showed off his sure hands, but also his underrated athleticism. Known as a polished runner in high school, Davis was able to turn upfield and run away from Tashaun Gipson, a solid cornerback in his own right. More than any other Texas receiver though, what Davis appears to have is that shake in his hips, the lateral quickness to make defenders miss in small spaces and turn short passes into big gains.
Put the man on the field and get him the football. And for Texas fan, be thankful that he called up the Texas coaches last fall and told them he wanted to be a Longhorn after attending the first Junior Day and never receiving an offer.
Protecting the quarterback and the football -- Entering the season, the offensive line probably would have ranked among the top one or two concerns and with good reason. After two weeks, though, Texas hasn't given up a sack, one of nine teams in the country to have kept their quarterback clean so far. Combine that with no offensive turnovers for Texas and it's good news for an offense that is still trying to find an identity and consistently produce explosive plays.
Tackling -- After mostly tackling well against Rice besides a couple late misses by Curtis Brown, the Texas defense did a poor job of tackling against Wyoming. All told, Wyoming picked up 75 yards after the Longhorns missed seven tackles.
A handful of those missed tackles can as a result of the elusiveness of Wyoming quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, who was several times able to avoid Longhorn defenders in the backfield. Twice on corner blitzes, once by Chykie Brown and another time from Aaron Williams, the Texas players looked to have clean shots on Carta-Samuels, only to have him step out of the way at the last second. The same thing happened to senior linebacker Dustin Earnest. Against a team that still loves to get their best players in the ball in space, the consequences of missing tackles against Texas Tech could be even more disastrous.
Texas punting game -- Don't look now, but the Texas punting game is not having much success right now, averaging under 35 yards per punt, ranking 110th in the country. Sure, it's only two games, but things just aren't looking promising. It was understandable with the rugby kicks that sometimes they wouldn't travel the intended distance, but John Gold is struggling right now, with his longest kick only 45 yards, right about at his career average. Gold is getting good enough hangtime that opponents aren't having many opportunities to return those punts. The bottom line, though is this -- 35 yards a punt is not enough, not nearly enough.
A major punt of the punting game involves helping out the defense by pinning opponents near the goalline when possible. Many times, kickers will try to "coffin corner" such kicks, sending them out of bounds near the end zone so they don't end up in the end zone after a bounce. On two of the first three punts of the game, the Texas kickers went for such kicks. Justin Tucker only got his kick 17 yards, sending it out of bounds at the Wyoming 27. On John Gold's effort in the second quarter, he fared little better, sending a 27-yard kick out of bounds at the Wyoming 19. Once again, not good enough.
Marquise Goodwin, sophomore wide receiver -- Besides a nine-yard run on the jet sweep that included four broken tackles, Goodwin had a tough day. In fact, it was the end of that run that was a major factor in his difficult outing, as it looked like he either sustained a concussion or at the least got his bell rung a bit. He rarely got in the game after that hit.
It was his uncharacteristic dropped passes that really defined his day. Early in the game, he dropped a pass as he tried to turn up the field before securing the football. Then, late in the game, Goodwin dropped a pass in his hands on an out and up on a perfectly thrown deep ball by Garrett Gilbert. Had he made the catch, Goodwin could have had the big play in the passing game that Texas fans have been expecting ever since his huge touchdown catch against Oklahoma.
Playmaking defense -- Combined with the offense protecting the ball and not giving up any sacks, this defense is starting to look more like the 2008 unit that failed to finish plays and produce turnovers than the 2009 defense that forced fumbles and secured interceptions at an extremely high rate.
Only twice have the Longhorns forced fumbles in two games and the forced fumble against Wyoming was recovered by the Cowboys and nearly turned into an improbable first-down conversion. On consecutive plays in the first half, Longhorn defenders came down with interceptions, but came down out of bounds both times. The second play was extremely difficult, but the first could have been made by Chykie Brown, who did a poor job of making sure that he kept his feet in before trying the catch the football. After all, what good is it to catch the ball if you aren't in bounds?
The defense could provide some major boost to the inconsistent offense by making some big plays and giving Garrett Gilbert and company some short fields to work with. Or put some points on the board themselves.