After a win against Cal on Wednesday night in the Holiday Bowl that included a dominant second-half performance by the defense and some small signs of competence from the offense, the Longhorns go into the offseason hoping that with some more hard work and development, the team can repeat a familiar pattern.
Though the loss to Washington State in the 2003 Holiday Bowl hardly launched Texas into the offseason with serious momentum, Vince Young's progression throughout the 2004 season helped land a Rose Bowl bid. A year later, Young and the rest of the Longhorns were standing on the same field with a crystal football.
The 2007 demolition of Arizona State in San Diego marked the beginning of the same trend -- Holiday Bowl, BCS bid, national championship game appearance.
With the process of recovering from the systemic issues in the program that led to 5-7 now receiving the stage where the process needs to start yielding victories -- and did so against Cal -- the hope is now that Texas can repeat the pattern for a third time.
And now, follow after the jump for a handful of thoughts about the game.
- Mack Brown said after the game that the quarterback competition will still be open through the spring, leaving the door open for Case McCoy or Connor Brewer to claim the job. While that might be true, it seems that the starter against Cal, David Ash, is now the frontrunner after a solid if mostly unspectacular performance. Co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin praised Ash after the game for his ability to avoid turnovers -- and indeed Ash was never especially close to throwing an interception -- and the true freshman appeared to settle down a bit after seemingly being hurried a bit early to go 14 of 23 for 142 yards, a touchdown, and the touchdown catch from Jaxon Shipley. There were several nice throws like his touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin that hit his receiver nearly perfectly in stride, but there was also room for improvement in getting the ball out on time and on target, as Ash missed two potential touchdown passes, one to Goodwin that would have gone for 99 yards and another to Mike Davis that was late coming out and underthrown.
- Especially early, the playcalling left quite a bit to be desired from Harsin, who seemed content to protect his young quarterback early and concede long third downs. Finally, in the second quarter Harsin managed to dial up a few more plays that worked well, including more play-action passes to give Ash more time in the pocket and the reverse pass by Shipley. By the end of the game, the Texas running game created a couple seams and Ash settled in. In the end, it was probably a bit of a mixed bag for the young coordinator with too many screen passes, but just enough brilliance to allow the Longhorns a relatively easy fourth quarter simply by avoiding mistakes and letting the defense make plays.
- Speaking of the defense, coordinator Manny Diaz made himself some money last night. After receiving $625,000 from Texas this season, it's clear that Diaz not only earned every penny, but put himself in line for a substantial rise from the Longhorns, if not some late consideration for a coaching job. If Diaz is in Austin longer past the 2012 season, it would probably be a major upset. Using his favored fire zone, the Longhorns overwhelmed and bludgeoned Cal quarterback Zach Maynard in the second half, bringing up flashbacks to a similar beatdown put on Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter in 2007. Consider Maynard lucky that he didn't make the Texas defense mad with any ill-advised pre-game comments.
- Though the offense struggled to convert turnovers into points, the defense provided a litany of opportunities to do so. Turnover margin was expected to be a huge factor going into the game and the Diaz defense responded with five takeaways. Cal players struggled to protect the football and the swarming Texas defense took advantage by collectively doing an excellent job of punching at the football to force fumbles.
- Maynard tried to pick on Quandre Diggs early, but the freshman cornerback responded with strong coverage, a pass broken up on third down, and an interception. So much for that aspect of the gameplan. Diggs still needs to be able to recover better on comeback routes, where he can give up completions underneath, but he also showed his physicality once again with an open-field tackle on a big Cal tight end and another hard hit on Keenan Allen.
- On the other side of the field, Carrington Byndom was much less visible, in an extremely good way, as he shut down Allen, who is widely projected as a first-round pick if he declares early for the draft next season. Allen had nine catches for 82 yards, but most of those catches were on screens and most of the yards were inconsequential. Byndom made himself some money on Wednesday night.
- How about Kenny Vaccaro vaulting running back Isi Sofele and then sacking Maynard? Not a bad Superman impression. After the game, Vaccaro said that he will be returning for his senior season to try to lead Texas to a national championship appearance and pursue a Thorpe Award. Still, plenty of players have made similar pronouncements in the afterglow of the season only to leave.
- The Longhorns have had the privilege of Achos roaming the defense since 2006 and when the 2011 season kicks off next September, there won't be one in uniform for the first time in six years. That makes today a sad day, but also a proud one, as both will be playing in the NFL next season and both were and will continue to be outstanding representatives for the university.
- Sheroid Evans flashed late in the game with his forced fumble and should combine with Mykkele Thompson to significantly increase the speed in the secondary.
- Even with the departure of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, who both turned in strong performances in their final game as Longhorns, the linebacker position should be in good hands next season, as Jordan Hicks looked fully recovered from the injury that limited him this season and looks poised to become one of the better linebackers in the conference next season, while Demarco Cobbs flashed in some limited action, showing his explosiveness to nearly force a safety pursuing Zach Maynard.
- Calvin Howell forced a fumble and had his strongest game as a Longhorn and Jackson Jeffcoat flashed as well. The defensive line has all the makings of a dominant unit with the best depth in years next season, especially at defensive tackle with the addition of JUCO Brandon Moore and Brenham star Malcom Brown.
- Mike Davis capped off a disappointing season by dropping two passes early and failing to register a catch, though he should have had a touchdown catch late when Ash underthrew him on a post route.
- If Marquise Goodwin could spend the spring and summer working with the quarterbacks instead of running track, he could have the senior season fans have been expecting ever since the tantalizing promise shown during his freshman season. Unfortunately, he's a world-class long jumper and that probably won't happen as he prepares for a chance to compete in the Olympics. Selfishly, it's easy to wish that he wasn't after the spectacular jet sweep that he cut upfield before spinning to break a tackle and then accelerating to nearly score a touchdown. It was perhaps his most explosive play as a Longhorn, and one of the few times that he didn't seem to be fighting himself running in the open field.
- Cody Johnson will be extremely difficult to replace and it was great seeing him get a final touchdown in burnt orange and honor his classmate Fozzy Whittaker by wearing the no. 2 on Wednesday night. What a great career for the big guy, who is now rated as the third-best fullback in the 2012 draft class by ESPN and could work himself into a long NFL career.
- Dom Espinosa had a tough night against a solid nose tackle and could be pushed by Sedrick Flowers next season if the coaches opt to give Flowers a shot at the center position. All in all, it was a solid season for Espinosa, but he has some development to do if he wants to be a four-year starter.
- The rest of the line could benefit greatly by a move back inside by Trey Hopkins, who struggled at times outside.
- Spring practice starts on February 24th and the 2012 season in 247 days. Until then, welcome to recruiting season!