Welcome to football season. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)
The first game of the season can be notoriously difficult to evaluate, even if contests like the opener against Rice in 2010 foreshadowed all the terrible things that followed. For Texas, coming off the reasonably satisfying 37-17 victory over Wyoming to open the 2012 campaign, there's no particular cause to sound the claxon in alarm, but there will be plenty of coaching points for the staff to harp on in preparation for a New Mexico team that would likely take a beating from this Cowboy football team.
With that context in mind, here are 10 thoughts from hip after taking in the game live at DKR (thanks again for the tickets, Craig Blackwell!):
- Wyoming is a pretty solid football team. I told my friends at the game that they should probably win eight games and could even get nine, depending on whether the defensive performance was indicative of serious improvement over last season. Speaking of which, despite losing the best player at every level from last year, the Cowboy unit tonight tackled better and had fewer coverage busts than what they showed against Temple in the New Mexico Bowl. Kudos to new defensive coordinator on having such a positive impact early. Not an easy task. And while quarterback Brett Smith still forced some bad throws into coverage -- the two interceptions -- his deep ball looked significantly better than it did last season and he managed to find some serious holes in the Texas secondary. Kid isn't easy to bring down, either, and looks poised to build on his significant freshman success.
- About the Texas secondary -- the performance tonight from the mostly veteran group that represents the last line of defense for the Longhorns was unacceptably bad. Duane Akina will not be a happy man in the film room. It will take some film study to pinpoint the major issues there, but the bottom line is that there were too many breakdowns, from the tackling on the long touchdown pass to numerous coverage busts, many of which appeared to be the fault of the deep safety, notably sophomore Mykkelle Thompson, who seemed to have an exceedingly poor night. Of all the possible issues in the game, giving up such large chunks through the air against a quarterback who struggled to make those big plays throwing the ball as a freshmen was down pretty far on the list.
- Freshman placekicker Nick Jordan looked like a true freshman tonight. Anthony Fera needs to get healthy this season or Texas could lose a game late on a missed field goal. The first miss by Jordan was just hooked a little bit, and I didn't catch the blocked extra point (likely trajectory issue), but the final attempt was just flat-out poor. The positive here is that Fera should be better when he returns. It looks like Texas will need him. Jordan doesn't look ready.
- The kick coverage was probably the best unit tonight. After speculating that it would make sense to keep the ball from being kicked out of the back of the endzone, which freshman Nick Rose clearly is capable of doing, the Longhorns did exactly that, and were mostly able to pin Wyoming inside the 20 yardline. Sophomore safety Josh Turner and true freshman Dalton Santos looked to these eyes to be the standouts on that unit. And Rose deserves commendation for being able to vary the height on his kicks, while still putting them exactly where he wanted.
- Through the air, the passing game seemed like it was designed to minimize the possibility for mistakes from sophomore starter David Ash, with a lot of wide receiver screens worked into the gameplan. In that sense, it was a success, but Ash needs the reps to improve, and didn't really get them. Still, he did protect the ball when he was throwing it (the bobbled snap wasn't really indicative of any larger issues, hopefully) and was more poised and accurate than he was as a freshman. The issue again was that he left the two deep balls on the field, though he was closer with them than he was last year. There were tangible signs of improvement from Ash tonight, which is the major takeaway from his effort.
- The performance by the interior of the Texas line was not impressive. Besides the long run by Joe Bergeron that included the broken tackles, there wasn't much space inside for either back. The Wyoming defensive tackles, a group that some believe to be the best in the MWC, had a lot to do with it, but there expected improvement just wasn't there in the first game. If there's a major concern emerging from this game, it was that performance up front inside along the offensive line.
- The only truly successful element of the running game was the work on the perimeter, particularly senior DJ Monroe, who seemed like he was about to be cast aside in favor of freshman Daje Johnson before the latter was suspended for the game. Suffice it say that Monroe took advantage of his opportunity, an effort that included the crucial finish on his touchdown run. He ran hard, he ran tough, and he didn't leave any yardage on the field.
- The offensive tackles made it through the game in good health. This is remarkable because the depth there is so lacking. Put them both in bubble wrap until next week.
- It seemed like Wyoming running back Brandon Miller consistently picked up some yardage, but other than his 18-yard run early in the game, Texas held him to 13 carries for 16 yards, which was impressive given the focus on Smith. The Cowboys will probably pick up some big chunks there this season, and the 'Horns defended the diverse attack well. There's a high standard for the run defense and the group met it tonight, allowing only 2.3 yards per carry (including sacks).
- I'm about out of thoughts here without being able to watch the film (need to figure out how to make that happen tomorrow), but football season is back, and even if this victory wasn't as resounding as everyone would like, it was still a solid victory. Is it time to temper expectations? Maybe in the slightest, but not much.