Judged on the first 28 minutes, the Texas Longhorns didn't exactly set the world on fire with their start to the 2013 season against the New Mexico State Aggies, but 56 straight points put some serious separation between the Horns and the Aggies as Texas rolled to a 56-7 victory.
The new-look offense got off to a slow start because of a fumble by senior wide receiver Mike Davis, two interceptions by junior quarterback David Ash, and a turnover on downs. A tipped pass resulted in the second interception for New Mexico State against Ash and a nine-play drive ended in a touchdown as the Godzillatron went as dark as the mood in the stands, which hit a low point with minutes left in the first half as the Horns went down and a handful of boos rained down on the team from unsatisfied fans.
It was then that Ash and the offense finally hit their collective stride and the big plays started coming fast and furious over the next half quarter, as Texas scored before the half on a 54-yard catch and run by junior wide receiver John Harris, followed by a long catch over the middle by sophomore wide receiver/running back Daje Johnson, who took it 66 yards to paydirt, making the Sand Aggies look as if they were playing in sand.
Yardage in massive chunks followed to start the second half, with an explosive touchdown run from Johnson, a long scramble touchdown run by Ash, and a swing pass to junior running back Malcolm Brown on which the San Antonio-area product went untouched to the end zone when Texas caught New Mexico State in a blitz and without a defender to cover Brown.
In less than 10 minutes of game time, the Horns scored five touchdowns on their way to setting a school record for total yards with 715.
Ash exited the game early in the fourth quarter as the fifth quarterback in school history to record more than 400 total yards of offense, completing 20-of-28 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns, along with 91 yards on eight carries, mostly on timely scrambles when he was quick to spot open running lanes and able to keep Texas ahead of the chains.
While it was far from a superlative performance from Ash despite the impressive final numbers, he did once again evidence the ability to recover from some early struggles to find success. Still, mistakes marred the performance early, including a missed touchdowns pass to senior wide receiver Mike Davis was overthrown early and the first interception that was a bit late and thrown with too much air under it, allowing a New Mexico State defender to haul in a pass in the endzone that looked like an easy touchdown as Ash released the ball. The second interception was mostly bad luck, as the ball was tipped at the line before it ended up in the hands of New Mexico State.
It goes without saying that Ash has to be more consistent for the rest of the season for Texas to achieve at a high level.
The defense substituted frequently in the first half against a New Mexico State attack mostly focused on avoiding straight drop-back passes and intent on using play-action bootlegs and waggles to slow down the Texas pass rush. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have to go back and work out some issues with his defense losing offensive players in the flat and not always making the proper decisions on the read the Texas defense wants to give opposing quarterbacks, especially when teams want to arc block -- situations where the Horns are probably better off forcing a give read from the quarterback.
With three forced turnovers, including two ending solid drives by New Mexico State, the defense made enough plays to give the offense the opportunity to find its footing, including strong performances by starting defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, who were active up and down the line of scrimmage for the entire night.
And after so many issues with the linebackers and controlling gaps, Texas spent more time with only one stand-up rusher instead of two, which allowed the defense to better control the line of scrimmage, especially against the run, as the Horns gave up only 2.7 yards per carry, with a long run of 18 yards, good news for the longterm prognosis of a run defense that struggled so mightily last season.
The tackling wasn't perfectly clean, but junior safety Mykkele Thompson looked better tackling space, though the news wasn't quite as positive with senior safety Adrian Phillips, who had an interception, but also missed some tackles himself.
Going back to the offense, Johnson was the breakout star of the game with 129 yards offensively and his two touchdowns. Interestingly enough, when the Horns lined up in the Diamond formation, it was often Johnson who got the carries, including on his touchdown run. Despite talk that Texas might use all three talented running backs in the formation, it was run almost exclusively with a tight end or H-back in the backfield and utilized more often than expected.
On the flip side, other than the touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, Davis didn't have his best game as a Longhorn, coughing up the football on the first possession after reception that would have moved Texas into field goal range, then dropped a pass later on a short route, which New Mexico State was conceding the entire game with the field and boundary cornerbacks both playing nearly 10 yards off the ball on every play.
The performance by the Horns was hardly complete, but Texas did quickly put the game out of reach after the slow start and the final numbers suggest just how much potential this offense has to produce explosive plays, even though the much-discussed mark of 80 plays wasn't reached, in part because head coach Mack Brown took his foot off the accelerator in the fourth quarter when it was clearly out of reach.
Flawed, but still record-setting. On an opening weekend when several BCS teams lost to FCS schools, Brown is probably pretty satisfied with that and what it says about the upside of this Texas team.