Kenny Vaccaro, sophomore safety -- Watching the game isn't required to understand the impact of the hard-hitting sophomore from Brownwood -- just listen. That delicious smack of pads colliding at high speeds? Vaccaro. Forced to place a bet on the Longhorn player most likely to make the play on the opening kickoff, Vaccaro would have been the easy and there he was, flying down the field and showing off his wingspan on a diving tackle that looked far easier than it really was. There he was shot like a missile into the backfield and bringing a Rice player down well behind the line of scrimmage.
Credited wtih eight tackles on the day, Vaccaro led the team in that category and made a major case for more playing time, whether in the big nickel or possibly even displacing Blake Gideon for some snaps -- Muschamp took a look late in the game at the combination of Vaccaro and Christian Scott at safety, which could have been nothing more than an experiment. Or an attempt to get the best players on the field.
Love the way that kid plays football. Love it.
Keenan Robinson, junior linebacker -- Throughout fall camp, Mack Brown talked repeatedly about how Robinson had added some strength and somehow maintained his speed. For those in the Mad Dog-bashing camp, such claims probably sounded as absurd as Brown making every cupcake opponent into a worldbeater during gameweek. Well, it's all true and Robinson is now an athletic monster turning those gifts into big-time production on the field.
Whether it was from lack of speed or understanding or poor technique, Robinson could often be seen in coverage downfield man-handing opponents -- pushing, grabbing, holding. That's just how he rolled in coverage. No more. His leaping interception attested to that combination of speed and understanding and Robinson was also running stride for stride with his man on Rice's touchdown at the end of the first half, causing the tipped pass that eventually found safety in the hands of another streaking Owl.
Robinson also found himself in the right place at the right time on his fumble recovery that he returned for a critical touchdown to gain some separation during the decisive second quarter.
John Gold, senior punter -- This author has been a fan of Gold ever since the fortunately-brief Trevor Gerland era after seeing Gold boom punts during warm-ups as a walk-on freshman during halftime. After about a two-year dalliance with the increasingly ineffective rugby kicking of Justin Tucker, it looks like it is finally Gold's time to earn his new scholarship. Possessed with a strong leg, Gold also achieves the necessary hang time to allow his coverage unit time to get down the field.
Malcolm Williams, junior wide receiver -- That thud you heard? It wasn't Kenny Vaccaro -- the Longhorns were on offense. No, that was the thud of a Garrett Gilbert pass hitting Malcolm Williams in the chest. Now, he held onto the football each time, which is a positive. Three catches for 77 yards and the longest Texas pass play of the game. So let's just stop there, since this is the sunshine and rainbows and unicorns portion of this post.
Cody Johnson, junior running back -- Coming into the game and expecting the new, svelte version of Cody Johnson to take the running back position by storm and steamroll Rice defenders on the way to 100+ yards was probably never particularly realistic. Especially with the benefit of hindsight.
The big concern was that Johnson's vision looked poor, causing him to tiptoe into the line of scrimmage and keeping him from being able to show whatever burst he gained back after redistributing his body weight. It also kept him from getting that mass moving quickly enough to move those defenders he was running into at the line of scrimmage.
Just one game, obviously, but if judgments were passed based on this one game, it looks like continued running bacy by committee for Texas. Blech.
Chykie Brown, senior cornerback -- Wah, wah. That's the sound of Brown's prediction of seven or eight interceptions and the hope that he could reverse his career-long penchant for making poor plays leaving the building. It didn't take long for Brown to make his impact felt against Rice, in a highly negative way. Caught peeking into the backfield early, Brown gave up his solid coverage and allowed Rice's longest pass play of the game besides the tipped-pass touchdown. Then, later in the drive, a pass interference call in the end zone negated a hold by Rice in the backfield. Then, Brown showed his it's going to be difficult to reach that magic number of seven or eight picks when he dropped an interception that would have easily gone for a touchdown. Same ol' Chykie.
Punt returns -- This is directed at you two, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams. After years of steady play and strong decision-making by the likes of Jordan Shipley, Quan Cosby, and even Aaron Ross, Texas has had a remarkable string of punt returners who had some ability to make plays. What those aforementioned players did really well, however, was make smart decisions. Secure the football. Don't catch punts inside the 10. Stay away from bouncing balls.
Um, not so much Saturday. Both Brown and Williams fielded several punts after they had bounced, but not even on the first or second bounce -- after the ball had bounced multiple times, allowing the Rice coverage team to close in. Neither play fumbled those balls, but could have easily. Then, at the end of the game, Williams attempted to a return a punt late in the game that hit off his helmet and ended up in the possession of the Owls. After Brown specifically instructed him to fair catch the punt in the first place.
Will there be changes to the depth chart this week? That much isn't clear right now, but what is clear is that both Williams and Brown will be getting a tongue-lashing from the coaching staff this week and must make better decisions during games or Texas is going to be turning the ball over with some consistency on punt returns.
Eddie Jones as up man -- Rice was terrified of DJ Monroe and Marquise Goodwin. Like quivering, stain down the leg of the jeans terrified. And with good reason, most likely. As a result, the Owls kicked exclusively to the Texas up man on the kickoff return team, Eddie Jones. Now, Jones is a fine athlete for a defensive end and surely relishes the chance to have the ball in his hands consistently for the firsrt time since who knows when. And he even looked solid catching the ball -- not a danger to fumble, at least on one day.
The problem is that even though Texas will surely have good field position to start a number of drives, Jones provides no upside as a consistent return man. How about putting Malcolm Williams into that slot? Does Texas really need the big receiver on kickoff coverage, a unit he didn't play on last season? If teams do decide to kick deep, as at least a few surely will, then Williams is a more than capable blocker in that position. Just something to think about, Mack and company.
Tight ends in the passing game -- It's almost not even fair to consider this in the category of trending down, considering the absymal production at the position since the injury to Blaine Irby. Without going into further re-hashing, suffice it to say that expectations were increased this season, particularly for Barrett Matthews, and even for EBS, now having come off his second off-season of "Hey, he's lost some weight and he's more agile!!!!1!" talk.
Matthews was a non-factor in the passing game and it looked like Gilbert only targeted him once and wasn't even able to get that pass off downfield with a pass-rusher in his face. EBS was barely move of a factor, catching only one pass, a three-yard gain on 3rd and 17. Call that the EBS special. Not heartening, any of this.
Kyle Hix as left tackle -- Last season, Hix struggled at times with speed rushers off the edge, resulting in a nervousness that led to more than a couple false start penalties. At times, the coaches had to cover him up with a tight end to force the edge rushers wider or give him some help blocking. More of the same this season, except likely with added fear.
Hix had two false start penalties early in the game and the coaches, once again, adjusted pretty quickly by covering him up with a tight end. It seemed to solve the false start problems, but does anyone really have much confidence in him going against players like Jeremy Beal, Von Miller, or Brian Duncan? Unfortunately, there just aren't really any other options, unless Paden Kelley, who was suspended for the Rice game for the always-unspecifided violation of team rules, can step into the mix and contribute, which seems unlikely.
Toss sweeps 30 inches from the goalline -- Hey folks, it's the new I-formation play coming out of your own end zone! Super FAIL! Why help convince your team, which supposedly has a new-found downhill, aggressive, attacking running style, that they actually do have a downhill, aggressive, attacking running style inches from the end zone when you can run laterally with your least effective back moving laterally? Touchdowns are overrated anyway.
This. is. why. people. hate. you. Greg. Davis.
But thanks for the apology though after the game. Glad you realized that was a @#$(* play call.
Who or what is trending up and down for you?