The question of whether the Texas Longhorns defense is Texas Strong wasn't exactly resolved against a depleted offense after the annual Orange-White game ended in a 38-14 victory for first-team Texas over second-team Horns in a scrimmage that was dominated for most of the first half by both defenses, which combined for eight sacks.
In the first major disappointment of the Strong era, the ones did not go against the ones and so on, as promised by the new Texas head coach last week. Instead, the second-team offense started against the first-team defense and the top units on both sides never went head-to-head. After the scrimmage, Strong said that he wanted his first unit to gain some confidence, presumably referring to his offense.
Senior quarterback Miles Onyegbule started the game with the first-team offense agains the second-team defense and led a long scoring drive that included a bounced run outside on a cutback from sophomore running back Jalen Overstreet on which sophomore linebacker Tim Cole and junior defensive end Shiro Davis both lost contain.
The big play of the drive came on a 3rd and 27 after a sack and a penalty that saw Onyegbule hit redshirt freshman Montrel Meander down the sideline on a go route against junior cornerback Duke Thomas. Known as a deep threat out of high school, the lanky and long-striding Meander had to twist to catch the ball near the goal line to set up a short score by Onyegbule on a bootleg keeper.
The start for sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was much more shaky. Going against the second-team offense, Swoopes threw an interception on his first pass attempt, sailing a ball over the head of senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley that was intercepted by walk-on defensive back Dylan Haines.
It was the first and not the last example of the continued accuracy problems of Swoopes. The line-drive throw that missed Shipley was indicative of the flat throwing mechanics of the young signal-caller, who has trouble adjusting the trajectory of his throws to hit targets over the middle who are sandwiched by a defender underneath and over the top.
In the first half, Swoopes also had two passes that were forced into coverage on short passes and nearly intercepted, then missed Shipley twice on would-be touchdowns.
The first looked like it was on a post route in the red zone and Swoopes was visibly upset with himself after he sailed another ball over the head of the reliable senior.
The second came on a slant-and-go route on a deeper pass. Shipley created separation with his move and gave Swoopes enough room to complete the pass, but the lofted throw was too long, forcing Shipley to dive for a pass he was barely able to get his fingertips upon.
However, much as Swoopes has done over the last several years, he was able to settle down and complete some passes, several of them to the outside to Shipley, where he looked more comfortable throwing the ball than he did over the middle.
One throw on the run came against a pursuing Naashon Hughes, the rangy redshirt freshman linebacker, and saw Swoopes finding the leaping fingertips of senior tight end Geoff Swaim, who extended to make the type of catch he never had a chance at least season.
The chance to work on the outside and then throw on the move appeared to help Swoopes settle down. Then his Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half came on the run from 42 yards out and somehow found junior wide receiver Daje Johnson in the end zone in traffic. It was a wobbly and forced pass, but surely helped his confidence. And surely Case McCoy approved.
Swoopes also threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Shipley in the fourth quarter, a point in the spring game when previous teams would have featured groups composed completely of walk ons.
Perhaps more impressive was a throw earlier in the second half that saw Swoopes step up in the pocket to avoid pressure and then find sophomore running back Jalen Overstreet on an outlet pass to pick up a nice gain. It wasn't the most difficult throw or even the most important, but it was a smart play that showed pocket pressure and good decision-making -- the type of play that extends drives and puts teams in a position to score touchdowns.
Unsurprisingly, the scrimmage was a clear indication that Swoopes is not a finished product and not yet ready to lead a Texas team to contention for a Big 12 title, but there were those flashes that have kept many believing in him when forced right to the brink of giving up.
After that poor start that saw Swoopes go 2-for-9 for nine yards, he finished by completing 15 of his last 21 passes, tallying a line of 17-of-30 for 229 yards and three touchdowns, along with that one interception.
One of the few highlights for the offense was the play of senior running back Malcolm Brown, who truly appeared to be in the best shape of his life and ran hard the entire day, punishing defensive players on numerous occasions and breaking tackles.
Senior linebacker Demarco Cobbs was on the receiving end of one such vicious blow and looked the worse for the wear afterwards, though he had a solid day in his return to the field after missing all of the 2013 season recovering from his 2012 knee injury. It may be time to move from off the potential attrition list -- instead
Brown finished with 82 rushing yards, while Shipley had 92 yards receiving on six catches. Shipley looked like the best receiver on the team, as juniors Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders had forgettable afternoons, though Sanders probably hasn't yet forgetting the hard hit that sophomore cornerback Bryson Echols put on him with a perfect form tackle in the red zone on a pass to the flat.
The defensive line served notice that it is the team's best unit, as expected, holding up well agains the run for the most part and recording a number of sacks against an offensive line that still has a lot of work left to do to get ready for the season.
Sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridegway flashed early with a sack, while Davis was a terror throughout the game with several sacks and pressures. Meanwhile, senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson and junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown both turned in solid performances that should have them primed to challenge for the title of the top defensive tackle duo in the conference.
And as he did last year, sophomore defensive end Caleb Bluiett flashed, recording eight tackles and two sacks. He should figure into the rotation as the back up to both Davis and senior defensive end Cedric Reed.
In the secondary, senior safety Mykkele Thompson had an interception that he returned 36 yards for a touchdown against Onyegbule when he broke on a forced pass on the run and then avoided the former tight end to find the end zone.
Thompson also had a late hit penalty against Meander on a throw down the sideline that helped change field position and represented the type of undisciplined play that he needs to avoid in his final season at Texas.
Senior safety Josh Turner had the other interception on another forced throw from Onyegbule.
In terms of injuries, the Longhorns mostly made it through without anything significant, at least through the first three quarters, but redshirt freshman offensive guard Rami Hammad was rolled up on and had to leave the game hobbling several plays later.
Senior linebacker Kendall Thompson was not dressed and neither was sophomore defensive tackle Paul Boyette. It would be a surprise to see on the team in the fall. Redshirt freshman linebacker Deoundrei Davis did not appear to be in attendance at all.
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