The outcome was: A great sign. Last year at this time, we were all trying to convince ourselves that we hadn't just witnessed Texas limp past Arkansas State. This year, Texas flattened its inferior opponent with a display of signs that were far more encouraging than not.
If a naysayer tries to dampen your spirits by curmudgeoning, "Yeah, but Texas was supposed to hammer FAU," try to remember that the heavy favorites oftentimes just prove themselves overrated in these games: Texas' floundering against Arkansas State turned out to be a clear sign of more trouble ahead. Michigan outright lost to Appalachian State. And our little sisters in College Station just christened the Mike Sherman era with... a home loss to Arkansas State.
God is not a farmer.
The Offensive MVP was: Colt McCoy. As I noted in the open game thread, I was happy for Colt McCoy tonight. Many of us--myself included--have been especially hard on Colt when he's struggled. And you know what, that's life as the Texas quarterback.
But Colt's a good kid who plays hard, works his ass off, and competes for every yard and point on the field. If no one's ever going to feel too sorry for the starting quarterback at the University of Texas, I was genuinely happy to see him open his 2008 season with the masterful performance we saw tonight.
Colt's feelings aside, there was a lot to like tonight. Most importantly, his pocket presence was infinitely improved from a season ago, a byproduct of both the solid job our offensive line did and Colt's maturity and decision-making under the lights. I probably don't have to remind you how many footballs Colt through off of his back foot last season; tonight, he stepped into every throw. Better yet, when the throw he wanted wasn't there, he checked down to his outlets underneath, usually McGee, Ogbonnaya, or Irby. And best of all, Colt ran purposefully tonight, a stark contrast to the flee-for-his-life panic at the root of his problems a year ago.
The Defensive MVP was: Roddrick Muckelroy. Fellow linebacker Sergio Kindle was the most fearsome athlete on the field today, but Muckelroy was the only Longhorn in the back seven who played consistently great football. Not only did Muck lead the team with six tackles (including one for a loss), but he was one of the only defensive players who was always right where he needed to be, whether it was backside contain or manning a zone in pass coverage.
The offensive Offensive LVP was: Tray Allen. I have a friend who insists Allen's not cut for left tackle, to which I've always said, "Let's just see." Last night, we saw. He's not ready yet. Or maybe my friend's right--maybe he's not going to be ready. It was just the first game of his sophomore season, but Mr. Allen is not a five-star player at this level yet. Not even close.
The offensive Defensive LVP: Lamarr Houston. My boy. My baby boy. Loses his mind and drives after drinking. With his track record (grades, behavior, reputation, etc), it's a forgivable offense, and like Mr. Melton and Kindle, a three game suspension seems appropriate. To those who want to kick him off the team... I hope you're not in a decision making job which requires dealing with actual human beings. Jesus.
John Chiles Watch: 4 carries, 9 yards / 4-5 passing, 49 yards, 1 TD. Colt McCoy wasn't the only Texas quarterback I was happy for tonight, as John Chiles gets a big congratulations for his first collegiate touchdown pass, a solid strike over the middle to fellow sophomore James Kirkendoll for his first score as a 'Horn. Watching Kirkendoll try to shield himself from Tray Allen's wildly dangerous celebration "pats" on the helmet was a moment of high comedy.
The Q Package: Texas fans got their first look at the much-anticipated "Q Package," though it didn't figure in any scoring or big-gain plays. Honestly, I've had mixed feelings about the Q Package heading into this season, the basic dilemma being this:
On the one hand, when decision makers (here, the coaches) identify a unique element to add to their base package of operations, there's always the worry that they'll either (a) overuse it beyond its practical limitations or (b) equate the addition of this one particular element with the kind of wholesale attention to the system in its entirety requisite for maximum functionality.
To use a non-football, plain language example, think about a relationship. A fellow can stay out drinking and gambling every night for a week and make amends with his love interest with an apology and big basket of flowers. He might even be able to get away with spending the next week's nights the same way with a particularly sweet "I'm sorry" gift. However (provided the girl is self-respecting), he's a fool if he thinks a gift and apology are adequate remedies over any longer period of time.
To use one more example: The marketing staff of a baseball team doesn't base its entire outreach program around July 23rd's Bobblehead Night, even after agreeing, "We absolutely must start taking advantage of a Bobblehead promotion as an avenue of growth." Nor could they run a Bobblehead Night twice a week all season and expect the promotion to have the desired effect.
The same worry applies with the Q Package: I'm fine with (and all for) Texas' coaches creatively using John Chiles on the football field. But it can't be a gimmick nor shouldn't be overemphasized as "The Thing" that Texas does to grow and evolve offensively.
On the other hand, the benefits of proper usage of a wrinkle like the Q Package are indisputable. Most importantly--in my mind--the package (even in its most minimally utilized form) addresses a fundamental tenet of game theory: weakening (or, at the least, further challenging) one's opponent by meaningfully increasing that for which he must account. If you tell a child to guard a small hole in the ground, he may well sit on the damn thing and be done with it, but if you tell the same child to guard five holes spaced five yards apart... he'll be overwhelmed.
And thus the John Chiles opportunity presents itself. So long as Texas doesn't waste the opportunity by using Chiles only as a gimmick or a predictable spoke in the wheel (see: 2007), his presence on the field at the very least makes more complicated the defenders' task. It is in this respect that I was encouraged by what we saw from the Q Package tonight. Chiles was marginally effective as a "traditional" weapon on the field with McCoy (catching a six yard pass, for example), but his presence was more encouraging in less tangible ways, like when on Texas' first snap from scrimmage Chiles darted in off the edge to serve as what looked like the pitch option in a triple option play run through McCoy out of the shotgun. Colt wound up handing off the ball to McGee, but the very addition of Chiles to the mix in a play like that has a real effect on the defense, who must decide to ignore Chiles or pursue more conservatively their assignments.
Texas doesn't need Chiles to be half the story this season, but to whatever extent the coaches use his versatility as a weapon of paralysis on opposing defenders, the Q Package is a beautiful thing.
Cerberus Watch: McGee: 12-63-5.2, 1 TD / Ogbonnaya: 4-17-3.8, 1 TD (rec) / Whittaker: DNP. Fozzy didn't play, but Cody Johnson did, racking up 38 yards on 10 mostly impressive carries, including a touchdown. As I noted in the game thread, he looks like the player we all dreamed Melton was going to be: quick feet on a rocket-propelled dump truck, with a nose for space. Not bad, young man. Not bad at all.
McGee and Ogbonnaya both impressed last night. Vondrell's gotten stuck with the "tough, between-the-tackles" runner tag, but he showed last night why "not Jamaal Charles" does not necessarily mean "not good." As for Ogbonnaya, he looks a lot quicker than last year, a little bit slimmer and scampier. That cut he made on his almost-score (marked at the two inch line) was just gorgeous. Throw in a TD reception (4 catches, 35 yards on the night) and he was a great player for the 'Horns against FAU.
UTEP Fear Factor: 2 out of 10 (5) is the baseline. (-4) for UTEP's defense is worse than FAU's; (+2) for our freshmen DBs can't cover yet; (-1) for McCoy + the OL looking so much better; (+1) for night road game which is opponent's Super Bowl; (-1) for Lamarr Houston's stupidity serving as reminder to the team that this is no time to relax and celebrate.
Heading into next week I feel: Almost perfect. Ironically, I went to bed feeling great last night at 3:15, right at the moment Lamarr Houston was getting pulled over and hauled to jail. My day today began with a text message from Newbs: "Lamarr Houston arrested for DWI." [/awesome happy sleep] Of all the players it could have been, this one stings most. Even so, from everything else I know about this kid, he'll regroup, refocus, learn a lesson, and come out ahead. For now, though, to the bench, young man.
Everything else came up roses last night. The defense has a ways to go, and will get punished brutally at times in the Big 12, but the youth movement is upon us, and eventually, it will pay off gloriously. Offensively, I was more impressed with Greg Davis than I was thrilled we ran roughshod over a bad FAU defense; there are signs he's going to do some different things this year. Overall, this team looks after one game a lot like we thought it might: deep and solid on offense (though big play-challenged), and young and promising on defense (a work in progress that should peak sometime in November).
One for one, fellas.