HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 04: Safety Kenny Vacarro #16 of the Texas Longhorns along with Jackson Jeffcoat #44 and Kheeston Randall #92 jumps on the back of linebacker Keenan Robinson #1 who recovered a fumble and scored against the Rice Owls at Reliant Stadium on September 4 2010 in Houston Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
I spent the entire morning on the phone trying to sort out an issue with my cable box that didn't get resolved by kickoff so I'm without DVR and won't be able to re-watch this one immediately. Still, after coming home and perusing some of the comments, I've got a few quick late night thoughts.
First, on a meta level, I suspect that a lot of the handwringing is tied to the final score, which looks uncomfortably unlike the kind of blowout you'd expect to see of a title-contending team. There are reasons to think Texas is a year away from being a title-contending team, but at least in my view today's outcome isn't really one of them. For starters, this game wasn't all that different from any number of 52-10s that Texas has laid on overmatched opponents. A few bad breaks and botched gimmes are the entire difference -- on the scoreboard -- between this game ending 49-10 and 34-17.
Moreover, a lot of what we saw today portends well for the future. It was choppy, and my God we were tight, but the basic picture was a pretty one. I think it's going to be fairly easy to identify what stands between Texas and high elite status, and my sense today is the same as it was heading into the season -- that the question is more likely when, than if. I'm on record as thinking this year a stepping stone to next, but I didn't see today's performance as guaranteeing that they can't get there sooner.
In other words: Save for a few disappointing missed opportunities, I thought our performance today was just fine. We were solid, mostly quite good, definitely raw in the expected areas, but bursting with promise and plenty capable of overwhelming lesser opponents. As far as I'm concerned, there's not much newly true today that wasn't true heading into the game. And some of the performances from newcomers were even more encouraging than I'd hoped for.
All told, I'll take it. We're still a Big 12 title contender, still capable of losing a game or three, and still capable of quickly jelling into something fearsome pretty quickly. That'll do.
A few quick notes off the top of my head:
- Kenny Fracking Vaccaro. I was high on him heading in because of his instincts, but he was even better in live action today than I'd contemplated.
- I thought Gilbert played not to make mistakes today, and that's fine for the season opener versus Rice. It doesn't concern me, nor do I recommend he adopt the approach heading forward. Cool, it's game one, and the recognition of responsibility is not unappreciated. Gilbert managed the game well, and I appreciate the desire. Now, go get after it. (He will, and with it will come a lot more to like, plus some mistakes.)
- It was weird being out of town for fall practices and having to take everyone's word on Cody Johnson, but at least after one game, I'm sticking with my evaluation heading into the summer. All things considered I'm happy to give it a more extended look, but I didn't see the kind of lateral movement that I suspect our backs will need to succeed. Without watching the game again on DVR, it's tough to say definitively, but my sense from today is that we'll still need a back with some shiftiness and burst. Again, I'll give it more time, but my Fozzy fantasies aren't dead yet.
- That said, our run game didn't benefit much from our approach today. We were deliberate in a somewhat understandable, if unhelpful, way. Coupled with a conservative, avoid-mistakes passing game, our run game isn't powerful enough to overpower opponents regardless, but I can still envision Johnson as the right fit for a more robust attack. So we'll see... If we need the tailback regularly to make lemonade out of lemons, Johnson's probably not the best choice. (That would be Newton.)
- Malcolm Williams impressed me today. That's just worth saying. Because whatever practice issues he's had, he looked like a steady veteran today. Good sign.
- Our punch at the point of attack on the interior of the defensive line was not what it was last year (Randall is so sexy, but we're doomed without him), but we held up well enough, and the play from our ends was, if anything, better than expected (and the expectations were high). As this defensive line hits its stride, we're going to become a tougher and tougher defense to crack. Jackson Jeffcoat is really, really fun to watch. It's shocking that he's a true freshman.
I'll leave it right there for now and head to bed to sleep on it. I'm right about where I was heading into the day, only a hell of a lot happier. Football season is back.